The best independent guide to Central Portugal
The best independent guide to Central Portugal
Tomar is a delightful town famed for the Convento de Cristo, regarded as one of Portugal's finest national monuments.
During the medieval period, Tomar was one of the most influential towns on the Iberian Peninsula, serving as the religious home of the Knights Templar (1119-1312) and later the Order of Christ (1319-1834). This secretive and powerful religious order was based in the Convento de Cristo, an expansive monastery and castle complex, which 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.
While the town can be covered as a day trip, its calm ambience and authentic Portuguese character make it a fantastic location for a longer stay Tomar serves as an excellent base for exploring the surrounding region, with potential day trips to Ourém, Fatima, Castelo de Almourol, and Batalha.
Regarded as one of the finest tourist destinations between Lisbon and Coimbra, this article will provide insights into why you should consider including Tomar in your tour of central Portugal.
The Charola - This magnificent chapel at the heart of the Convento de Cristo is inspired by the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The 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 artworks from the 16th century, and the Charola is a highlight of any visit to Tomar.
The historic centre of Tomar – A delightful place to explore, from the pretty Nabão riverside and medieval streets with their closely packed houses, to the towering Igreja de São João Baptista on the grand Praça da República. Although compact in size, Tomar promises a joyous visit.
The Castelo de Tomar - This sprawling 12th-century castle, which sits high above the town, once guarded the ancient Roman road connecting Santarem to 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 to see, 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 featured colourful miniature artworks on their sides, depicting the trends and fashions of their era.
Despite not being a large town, Tomar hosts a number of sights and attractions that can be comfortably covered 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, but would be a very long day. It is a two-hour train journey from Lisbon to Tomar or 90min 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 3-4 hours, and this duration will increase if you include a lunch break.
Tours to Tomar
If you are limited by time but still would like to discover the region north of Lisbon, an organised tour can be a 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 six 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
Tomar is an ideal tourist destination for those interested in Portugal’s history or culture. The town boasts numerous historical monuments, many of which hold religious significance.
Tomar is a calm and relaxed town with a low-key nightlife centered around restaurants and extended evening meals. The town is not really suited for 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 itinerary is: Lisbon (3 days), Tomar (1 day), Coimbra (1 day), and 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 be to 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 Fósforos 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 some 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 Igreja de São João Baptista on the Praça da República
There is a regional train service connecting Lisbon to Tomar, which takes 2 hours, and has a fare of €10.10/ €18.15 (adult single/return). The train departs from the Santa Apolónia station in central Lisbon and passes through the Estação do Oriente. The latest timetable can be seen on the Comboios de Portugal (CP) website:
When Tomar is included as part of a tour of central Portugal, it is often combined with Fatima or Coimbra. There are numerous bus services from Tomar to Fatima, and the train is needed to travel to Coimbra. Tomar bus and train station are next to each other, on the south side of the city.
Related articles: Lisbon to Tomar
The regional train in Tomar station
Discover more of central Portugal with our guides