The best independent guide to Central Portugal
The best independent guide to Central Portugal
Tomar is a delightful town that is famed for the Convento de Cristo, one of Portugal’s finest national monuments.
During the medieval period, Tomar was one of the most influential towns of the Iberian Peninsula, being the religious home of the Knights Templar (1119 to 1312), and later the Order of Christ (1319 to 1834). This secretive and powerful religious order was based in the Convento de Cristo, an expansive monastery and castle complex that includes the stunning Charola chapel.
Tomar is also one of central Portugal’s prettiest towns, sitting along the banks of the Nabão River and having a delightful historic centre filled with ancient churches, cobbled streets and traditional houses.
The town could be rushed through as a day trip, but its calm ambience and authentic Portuguese character make it a fantastic location for a longer stay. Tomar is a great base from which to explore the surrounding region, with day trips to Ourém, Fatima, the Castelo de Almourol and Batalha.
Tomar is one of the best tourist destinations between Lisbon and Coimbra, and this article will show you why you should include it in your tour of central Portugal.
The Charola - The magnificent chapel at the heart of the Convento de Cristo, inspired by the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This uniquely designed 16-sided chapel and high vaulted arches allowed the warrior monks of the Knights Templar to enter while riding their horses. The walls of the chapel are adorned with magnificent 16th century artworks, and the Charola is the highlight of any visit to Tomar.
The historic centre – Tomar is a delightful place to explore. There is the pretty Nabão River and a series of medieval streets lined with closely packed houses, while at the town centre is the São João Baptista church and the grand Praça da República plaza. Tomar is not large, but it is a joy to wander and explore.
The Castelo de Tomar - The sprawling 12th-century castle that sits high above the town and protected the ancient Roman road between Santarem and Coimbra. The castle later protected the Convento de Cristo, which was constructed in its grounds. Most visitors rush through the castle to enter the Convento de Cristo, but there is a lot of see here, including restored battlements, the ruins of fortifications and pretty gardens.
The Museu dos Fósforos – A quirky museum that exhibits the world’s largest collection of matchboxes. These boxes traditionally had colourful miniature art works on their sides, which depicted the trends and fashions of the era.
Tomar is not a large town, and its sights and attractions can be easily seen in a single day of sightseeing. This means it could be visited as a day trip from the coastline (such as Nazare) or from Lisbon, however this would be a very long day.
It is a two-hour train journey from Lisbon to Tomar, or a 90-minute drive. It is often a better idea to spend at least one night in Tomar. Once in Tomar, the town is small enough to be explored on foot.
Below is an interactive map for a suggested day tour of Tomar (Note: zoom in and out to see all of the points).
Sights during the tour: 1) Sinagoga de Tomar 2) Igreja de São João Baptista 3) Câmara Municipal de Tomar 4) Porta de Sao Tiago/ Castelo dos Templários 5) Charola - Convento de Cristo 6) Claustro dos Corvos - Convento de Cristo 7) Nossa Senhora da Conceição 8) Jardim da Várzea Pequena 9) Núcleo de Arte Contemporânea 10) Mouchão Parque 11) Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes 12) Igreja do Convento de São Francisco 13) Museu dos Fósforos 14) Igreja de Santa Maria dos Olivais
Note: The suggested walking tour above would take around 3 to 4 hours, or longer if you include lunch.
Tours to Tomar
If you are limited by time but would still like to discover the region north of Lisbon, an organised tour can be fantastic option. Along with removing the hassle of public transport, organised tours provide knowledgeable guides and can combine multiple destinations into a single day.
We have worked with GetYourGuide for seven years, and some of their best tours that include Tomar are:
• Knights Templar small group tour, from Lisbon
• Tomar and Almourol Castles group tour, from Lisbon
• Tomar and Almourol as a private tour
• Tomar and the Knights Templars private tour
Convento de Cristo
The Parque do Mouchão follows the banks of the Nabão river
Tomar is an ideal tourist destination if you are interested in Portugal’s history or culture. There are many interesting historical monuments within the town, many of which are of a religious nature.
The town is calm and relaxed, with very low-key nightlife that is centred around restaurants and a long evening meal. The town is not really suited to families or young children, as there is not much for them to do.
We highly recommend visiting Tomar if you are touring central Portugal or travelling between Lisbon and Porto. A popular holiday route is Lisbon (3 days), Tomar (1 day), Coimbra (1 day), Porto (2 days).
Related articles: Lisbon guide - Coimbra guide - Porto guide
Porta de Sao Tiago is the main gate to the Castelo dos Templários
We strongly suggest spending at least one night in Tomar, but the rich cultural region surrounding Tomar should entice you to stay longer.
With a second day, you would have the opportunity to visit the picturesque Castelo de Almourol, a medieval castle that stands on the banks of the Rio Tejo and was used by the Knights Templar as a stronghold against the North African Moors.
Further day trips could include the walled town of Ourém, which is just as scenic as Obidos, but without the hordes of day-trippers. There is the important pilgrimage town of Fatima, or Castelo do Bode with its lake and forested hikes.
For a longer stay, Tomar has a pleasant, relaxed ambience and is the perfect destination to relax, unwind and embrace the Portuguese way of life.
Tomar does not have a vast selection of hotels, and they tend to be independent or family-run. The largest and most reputable is the 4-star Hotel Dos Templarios, which overlooks the Mouchão Parque. The newly-opened Casa dos Ofícios Hotel offers atmospheric rooms and a charming setting, while the 2-star Hotel Kamanga provides highly rated, affordable comfort.
The map below shows the location of the hotels and rental rooms in Tomar. If you adjust it to your holiday dates it will display current prices and availability.
The best sight of Tomar is the Charola church at the heart of the Convento de Cristo. This unique circular church followed the design style of the great temples in Jerusalem and the interior is decorated with some of Portugal’s finest sacred art.
The beautiful interior of the Charola, decorated with 16th-century religious art
The Museu Dos Fosforos houses the world’s largest collection of matchboxes and is a world-class art gallery and museum, but on a miniature scale!
This incredibly niche museum has been beautifully curated to reflect the values and changing interests of the world’s smokers from 1890 to the 1980s, spanning over 125 countries. The box artwork is so varied; certain box sets celebrate the achievements of countries, while other sets are humorous and sometimes controversial.
Matchboxes from the 1950s depicting Portuguese characters from the different regions
Tomar was established as the religious centre for the Knights Templar by the Grand Master Gualdim Pais in 1160. The lands surrounding Tomar and Santarem were gifted to Pais by King Afonso Henriques for his services during the Battle of Ourique, in which the Christian Crusaders defeated the North African Moors.
This close association of the Knights Templar with the Portuguese monarchy allowed the establishment of the Order of Christ after Pope Clement V disbanded the Knights Templar in 1312.
It is widely believed that the Order of Christ provided the knowledge and funding that began the ‘Portuguese Age of Discovery’, in which Portuguese explorers crossed the oceans.
The statue of Gualdim Pais stands in front of Tomar town hall
Lisbon is connected to Tomar by a direct but slow regional train service. The train takes 2 hours, and the fare is €10.85/ €19.40 (adult single/return), which does make it possible to visit Tomar as a day trip.
In Lisbon, the train departs from the Santa Apolónia station and passes through the Estação do Oriente. The latest timetable can be seen on the Comboios de Portugal (CP) website:
In Tomar, the train station is located to the south of the historic centre, GPS 39.598, -8.413 (link to google map) and is situated next to the bus station. From the train station it is an 8-minute walk to the Praça da República and a 17-minute walk to the Convento de Cristo entrance.
The town is often visited as part of a tour of central Portugal, but there is limited public transport to the surrounding region. There are bus services from Tomar to Fatima, provided by the RodoTejo bus company: www.rodotejo.pt/. For intercity express buses from Tomar, see the Rede Expressos website: rede-expressos.pt
The best way to travel to Coimbra from Tomar is by train, but the journey is not direct and will require a connection. The regional train service costs €10.35 and takes around 2 hours 25 minutes. There are more expensive express trains, and full details can be seen on the Comboios de Portugal (CP) website: www.cp.pt
Related articles: Lisbon to Tomar
Tomar train station is the final stop along the railway
The Igreja de São João Baptista, a 15th-century Catholic church, features Manueline architecture and was constructed under King Manuel I, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.
This national monument, situated in Tomar's main square, boasts a flamboyant Gothic portal, a Manueline tower with a 16th-century clock, and interior columns with decorated capitals, alongside panels painted by renowned Renaissance artist Gregório Lopes.
The Igreja de São João Baptista sits on the on the Praça da República, the main plaza of Tomar
The Church of Santa Maria do Olival, established in the 12th century by Gualdim Pais of the Knights Templar, serves as a historic resting place for Templar knights and later the Order of Christ.
Renowned for its early Gothic architecture, this national monument features a distinct, free-standing bell tower, a rose window, and an interior marked by a Gothic ribbed vault and pentagram-shaped tracery on the nave's eastern wall.
Within the church is the tomb of Gualdim Pais, who died in 1195.
The Sinagoga de Tomar is a medieval synagogue constructed between 1430 and 1460. It is one of Portugal's two pre-expulsion synagogues, and today houses the Abraham Zacuto Portuguese Jewish Museum.
The synagogue served Tomar's significant Jewish community, which formed around the 14th century, and functioned actively until the expulsion of Jews in 1496. Later it had various uses, including a Catholic chapel and a warehouse.
The building is architecturally discreet, with a whitewashed exterior that is only marked by a Star of David above the doorway. Its interior features Gothic vaulting supported by columns symbolizing the four matriarchs and twelve brackets representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
The entrance to the Sinagoga de Tomar
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