The best of Tomar Portugal 2024: from must-see to hidden gems

O que visitar em Tomar: o Convento de Cristo.
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Tomar is a city located in central Portugal, rich in history and culture.

Some of the best things to see and do in Tomar include visiting the Convent of Christ, the Castle of Tomar, as well as exploring the historic center of the city… and a few more places that I reveal throughout this article.

By the way, if you visit Tomar in the summer, you will appreciate the freshness of the gardens and the riverside area next to the Nabão River.

Visitors can experience the local cuisine, including sweets, and taste some of the region’s wines.

In this article we are going to look not only at the two of the main attractions of Tomar: the Convent of Christ and the Castle of Tomar, but also at other lesser known places in Tomar, such as the Mata dos Sete Montes.

Do you accept the challenge of exploring this beautiful region?

Best things to see and do in Tomar Portugal

If you are looking for a list of what to do in Tomar Portugal, then you are in the right place!

Here are nine suggestions for what to do in Tomar, so you can organize your itinerary.

Visit Convent of Christ (Convento de Cristo)

Convento de Cristo em Tomar.
Convento de Cristo in Tomar.

The Convento de Cristo is a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the town of Tomar, Portugal. It was founded in the 12th century by the Knights Templar, a military order of Christian warriors. It was built to be a place of worship, but it also served as a fortress to defend against attacks from the Moors.

The Convento de Cristo is known for its impressive architecture, which blends Romanesque, Gothic, and Manueline styles. Also, the main chapel, the Capela do Fundador, is decorated with intricate carvings and stained glass windows. The convent also has a cloister, a refectory, and a library, all of which are open to the public.

One of the highlights of the Convento de Cristo is the Charola, a circular chapel that was built by the Knights Templar. 

The Charola is decorated with symbols and motifs that are associated with the Templars, such as the cross pattée and the two knights on one horse.

In addition to its historical and architectural significance, the Convento de Cristo is also renowned for its role in the Portuguese Age of Discovery. The convent was the headquarters of the Order of Christ, which was responsible for sponsoring many of the voyages of exploration that were undertaken by Portuguese sailors during this period.

Note: since mid-2022, the famous Window of the Chapter (Janela do capítulo) has been undergoing conservation works, that is, it is not always visible to visitors. As far as I know, there is no scheduled date for completion of the works.

Visit Tomar Castle (Castelo de Tomar)

Castelo de Tomar. O que visitar em Tomar.
Tomar Castle.

The Castle of Tomar is a medieval castle located in Tomar, Portugal, and is part of the Convent of Christ complex. 

It is a National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features elements of military architecture in Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles. 

Some believe that there may be remnants of an earlier military structure dating back to Roman times on the site. 

The castle consists of two belts of walls enclosing the primitive intramural village and main square, and is reinforced by semi-circular and quadrangular turrets. 

Despite the many alterations to the castle over the centuries, it still has many significant Romanesque elements, including the Keep. 

The castle was built in 1160 by the Master of the Knights Templar in Portugal and was later the seat of the Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It withstood a six-day assault by the Almohad Caliphate in the 1190s.

It is part of the group of castles known as the Linha do Tejo, which includes Almourol, Castelo Branco Idanha, Monsanto, Pombal, Torres Novas and Zêzere. 

Stroll in the Forest of the Seven Hills (Mata dos Sete Montes)

Mata dos Sete Montes is a large and lush forest located in the city of Tomar, Portugal.

It is known for its diversity of plant and animal life, as well as its hiking and cycling trails.

The forest was named Sete Montes, after the seven hills it encompasses, and one of the most popular attractions in the forest is the Convent of Christ, which I mentioned earlier.

Despite being quite frequented by residents, visitors do not usually give due value to this space.

In addition to its cultural and historical significance, Mata dos Sete Montes is also a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts as it has many species of birds and other wildlife, making it a great place for bird watching.

Walk the city center

O que visitar em Tomar: o centro histórico.
City center.

The historic center of Tomar is comprised of Praça da República and the streets that depart from this location.

Among the monuments to visit in this area of Tomar are the Church of São João Baptista, the Town Hall and the statue of the city’s founder, Gualdim Pais, located in the center of the square.

Serpa Pinto Street, formerly known as Corredoura, is very interesting as it has a view over the Templar Castle at the top of the hill.

When walking through these ancient streets, don’t miss the Synagogue and the various historical and architectural elements, such as the Renaissance windows and portals found in the Tourism Building.

Also noteworthy are the windows with rounded edges and the late-Renaissance corner windows on Travessa do Arco, and the corner window with balusters at Casa Manuel Guimarães on Rua Silva Magalhães, by João de Castilho.

Rua do Camarão, close to Largo do Pelourinho, also has one of the most beautiful windows in the city, that is, it should be part of your itinerary in Tomar!

Believe me, it’s really worth dedicating several hours to exploring the lesser-known corners of the historic center of Tomar!

Discover the Jewish legacy at the Synagogue of Tomar Portugal

Museu Luso-Hebraico Abraão Zacuto.
Luso-Hebrew Museum Abraão Zacuto.

This synagogue, built in the 14th century, is one of the oldest in Portugal and is a fascinating example of Sephardic architecture in Portugal.

Also, the Synagogue of Tomar is the only surviving Proto-Renaissance Hebrew temple in Portugal.

It displays oriental influences in its quadrilateral design and vaulted roof supported by columns and corbels embedded in the walls.

As I mentioned, it was built in the 14th century but closed in 1496, when the Jews were expelled from the country.

It was later converted into a prison and, in the 17th century, referred to as Capela de São Bartolomeu. In the 19th century it had several uses, such as a hayloft, barn, grocery store and storage room.

Only in 1921 was it recognized as a National Monument, and in 1939 it was transferred to the Portuguese State to become the Museu Luso-Hebraico de Abraão Zacuto.

Excavations in 1985 uncovered evidence of water heating systems and sculptures indicating the presence of a purification bath.

Tomar’s Jewish community has a long history dating back to 1315 and played a significant role in the city’s growth in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.

Indeed, in 1609, the City Council of Tomar cited the large number of wealthy Jewish residents imprisoned or exiled by the Inquisition as a reason for the city’s poverty and inability to provide financial support for the visit of D Filipe II.

Therefore, to get to know the Jewish legacy in Tomar, I recommend that you watch the video and the artifacts on display in this museum.

Admission is free and it is well worth dedicating a couple of hours to exploring the Luso-Hebrew Museum of Abraão Zacuto.

Cross the Old Bridge (Ponte Velha)

Ponte Velha.
Old Bridge in Tomar Portugal.

The Old Bridge, also known as Ponte Dom Manuel, is a well-known landmark in the city of Tomar Portugal. It crosses the Nabão river, a tributary of the Zêzere river and is a nice place to spend some time.

The bridge’s exact origins are uncertain, but it is believed to have been built over or using an earlier Roman structure, or possibly dating from this period.

The Old Bridge is located next to the Convent of Santa Iria and serves as one of the main accesses to the historic center of the city.

Throughout its history, the bridge has undergone several changes, including the placement of guards in 1710 by King D João V, as well as a statue of São Cristóvão, which is now located in the Convent of Christ.

Although it is possible to get around by car on the old bridge of Tomar, my suggestion is that you take a walk.

On both sides of the bridge there are a number of things to see and do, as this is where the cafes, restaurants and shops of Tomar are concentrated.

Regain strength in Mouchão Park (Parque do Mouchão)

Parque do Mouchão.
Mouchão Park.

Parque do Mouchão is a green oasis located on the banks of the river Nabão in the center of Tomar. 

It is connected to the city by pedestrian bridges and offers a serene escape from the bustle of urban life. 

The park is filled with trees, grassy areas, and flowering plants, providing a peaceful setting for relaxation and leisure. 

On hot summer days, visitors can find shade under the trees or have a picnic with their family. The park also features the Roda do Nabão, a large wooden waterwheel built in 1906 that was used to water nearby fields and operate mills and vats. 

Powered by the force of the river, the waterwheel is a fascinating example of hydraulic engineering that still functions today. 

In addition to the waterwheel, the park has a bandstand, sports equipment, and nearby cafes and restaurants. 

There is also a large playground nearby that is popular with children. Parque do Mouchão is a great destination for those seeking to spend time in nature or simply enjoy the outdoors.

Taste the typical sweets of Tomar Portugal

Beija-me...depressa, doce tradicional em Tomar.
Beija-me…depressa (kiss me…quickly), traditional sweet in Tomar.

Tomar is home to a delightful sweet shop that offers a wide variety of rich and sweet desserts.

Some of the most popular treats include Espadas de D. Gualdim, Barrigas de Iria, Pimpinelas, Estrelas de Tomar, Janelinhas do Capítulo, Nabantinos, Telhas do Convento, Beija-me Depressa, and Bolos de Cama.

To fully enjoy these delicacies, it is recommended to visit several of the city’s pastry shops, such as Confeitaria Estrelas de Tomar in city center.

The desserts from Tomar are traditionally inspired by convent recipes and are primarily made from egg yolks, sugar, and almonds.

One of the most distinctive desserts from Tomar is the Fatias de Tomar, a sweet made with eggs and sugar that is said to have been a favorite of the friars of the Convent of Christ.

The Fatias de Tomar are prepared by beating egg yolks and cooking them in a bain-marie in a pan that is specially made for this purpose in Tomar.

Be amazed at the Pegões Aqueduct (Aqueduto de Pegões)

O que visitar em Tomar: o Aqueduto de Pegões.
Pegões Aqueduct.

The Aqueduct of the Convent of Christ, also known as the Aqueduct of Pegões or Aqueduct of Pegões Altos, was a project commissioned by King Filipe II of Spain to provide water to the Convent of Christ in Tomar from four different springs. 

It’s about 6 km long and was designed by Filipe Terzio and completed by Pedro Fernando de Torres in 1614, with the Main Cloister fountain being finished in 1619. 

The aqueduct has been classified as a National Monument in Portugal since 1910 and was in use for over 330 years until the middle of the 20th century. 

It is an example of hydraulic engineering, with 180 arches and a stretch over the Pegões valley made up of 58 full-round arches. 

Also, the most interesting part of the Pegões aqueduct is precisely this section over the Pegões Valley.

It was built to address the lack of sufficient water for cultivating the land around the convent, as the cisterns of the Joanine convent were only sufficient for the needs of the friars.

Accomodation and where to stay overnight in Tomar Portugal?

As you may have noticed, it’s a good idea to stays several days in Tomar.

I stayed at the Hotel Cavaleiros De Cristo, a budget hotel in the center of Tomar, but it was really very basic.

If you can, invest in a more comfortable accommodation, such as the Casa dos Ofícios Hotel, which, in addition to having more modern facilities, has the option of leaving your car parked in the public car park for €6 per night.

On the other hand, if budget is not an issue, the Hotel República is a 5-star hotel with an excellent location, free use of bicycles and parking for €6 per night, like at Casa dos Ofícios.

If you don’t like any of these suggestions, check the availability of hotels in Tomar.

How many days to stay in Tomar?

Weel, how many days should you stay in Tomar? I was in Tomar for three days and I think it’s the right time for, for example, a quiet weekend.

That is, go on a Friday and return on a Sunday.

So, on Friday discover the historic center of Tomar, including the Jewish quarter, on Saturday go to the Convent of Christ, the Castle of Tomar and the Mata dos Sete Montes, and on Sunday explore the Mouchão Park and visit the churches and museums that he didn’t visit on Friday, including a detour to the Pegões Aqueduct.

Of course, you can add another day to visit the magnificent Castle of Almourol, or do the Walkways to Almourol, if you have more time, but that depends on the total time available.

A brief history about the Convent of Christ in Tomar Portugal

Janela do Capítulo.
Chapter Window (Janela do Capítulo).

The Charola was a private chapel used by the Knights Templar, located within the fortress.

It was built in the Byzantine style, which incorporated elements of the Romanesque style that was popular during the Crusades.

The chapel’s layout features a central space, in this case an octagonal prism or drum, which opens into an ambulatory with sixteen faces. The Charola was completed in 1190 and originally had an entrance facing east. However, King Manuel I later added a nave and moved the entrance to the south.

During the time when the Convento de Cristo was the headquarters of the Order of Christ, Infante D. Henrique made alterations to the Charola in order to accommodate the liturgical functions of the contemplative brothers that he had introduced to the Order.

He added two large windows to the walls of the ambulatory facing west and installed a wooden choir. He also added four chapels to the walls of the ambulatory, facing northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest, and placed altars in the remaining spaces.

When King Manuel I expanded the liturgical space, the Infante’s modifications were removed and the large windows were reduced in size to make way for a triumphal arch connecting the Templar space to the Manueline nave.

The Charola was then used as the chancel of the convent’s church and adorned with sacred art, including sculptures, paintings, and stucco. In recent years, Manueline paintings on the vault of the ambulatory were discovered and restored between 1987 and 2014.

A brief history about Tomar Castle

The Castle of Tomar is a medieval castle and it is part of the Convent of Christ complex.

It has been a National Monument since 1910 and a World Heritage Site designated by UNESCO since 1983.

The castle was built by the Master of the Knights Templar in Portugal, D. Gualdim Pais, in 1160, in order to serve as the headquarters of the Order in the country.

It is not known for certain why Tomar was chosen as the site, but some believe the location was strategically advantageous.

Others speculate that the site was chosen because of its position on the line of 34° in relation to the Meridian of Paris, a common feature in Templar architectural projects.

In 1162, D. Gualdim Pais granted the first charter to the town of Tomar and the Order received the domains of Idanha and Monsanto in 1165. Then, in the 1190s, during the reign of King Dinis (1279-1325), the castle withstood a six-day assault by the Almohad Caliphate, led by caliph Iakub Almançor.

The defense by the Templars was so fierce that the gate through which the Moors entered the castle became known as the Blood Gate. When the Order of the Knights Templar was dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1312, King Dinis created the Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ in 1321 and transferred the assets of the former Order to it.

The seat of the new order was later moved to Tomar around 1338. The castle was later renovated and expanded by Infante D. Henrique, Governor of the Order of Christ, and by Kings D. Manuel (1495-1521) and D. João III (1521-1557).

The Paços da Rainha were also expanded in the early 16th century. In the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, the castle suffered damage but was later restored.

Free parking in Tomar

Castelo e centro histórico de Tomar.
Castle and historic center of Tomar.

It’s not easy to find free parking in Tomar Portugal, however, with these tips, you might be able to save a few euros. This, of course, if you don’t choose a hotel with parking.

First of all, you should bear in mind that in the city center there are parking meters on almost every street. When the parking meters are working, you can still find some empty spaces. This happens mainly in the city center.

Therefore, please note that there are parking spaces without a meter next to the Estadio de Municipal, and if you don’t mind walking a little, after the Old Bridge towards MacDonalds, as there are several parking spaces also without a meter.

In the latter case, count on walking for about 15 minutes. Hope this helps!

Best things to see and do near Tomar Portugal

Lago Azul em Ferreira do Zêzere.
Blue Lake (Lago Azul) in Ferreira do Zêzere.

There is so much to see near Tomar that the hardest part is choosing.

So, if you have to choose, try to include in your itinerary around Tomar the Templar Village of Dornes (29 km), the Albufeira da Barragem de Castelo de Bode (13 km), Lago Azul (23 km), the River Beach do Agroal (14 km) or the Templar Castle of Almourol (26 km).

Gastronomy and Restaurants in Tomar

Salada de Polvo no restaurante Clandestino.
Octopus salad at the Clandestino restaurant.

In my experience, threre are great restaurants in Tomar… really great. But before giving you some suggestions of restaurants for lunch and dinner in Tomar, I would like to point out that, as you can understand, this list is very short.

That is, on the days I stayed in Tomar I tried some restaurants, which I liked a lot, but I’m sure that there are others that are also worth trying.

On the other hand, I must say that it was my children who chose the restaurants, and on those summer days they preferred to eat on the terraces.

After this brief context, in Tomar I can suggest the two restaurants I tried: Clandestino and Enigma.

So, Clandestino is a tapas bar with a terrace overlooking the historic center of Tomar. The octopus salad was delicious, as well as the pica pau and the bitoque. Torricado de bacalhau (Cod) is famous in this house, but that day it was not available.

Enigma, on the other hand, is an artisanal hamburger joint with restaurants in Tomar, Batalha and Fátima, whose concept is based on unlikely combinations, and I would add… that go together very well! The names of the hamburgers are creative, such as Pica Miolos, Incógnito and Brutamontes. They also have craft beers and the juices of the day are very good. I have to say that we liked this restaurant so much that in Fátima we went to the other restaurant in the group.

Where is it and how to get to Tomar Portugal

Tomar is a city located in the center of Portugal, that is, in the district of Santarém.

It is located about 200 kilometers from Porto and about 140 kilometers from Lisbon.

If you are planning to visit Tomar by car from Porto (rental cars here), you can take the A1 motorway, which connects Porto to Lisbon. The departure for Tomar is halfway between Porto and Lisbon and the journey from Porto to Tomar should take around 2 hours.

Alternatively, if you depart from Lisbon, you will have to drive along the A1 towards the North, until you find the exit for Tomar. It is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes by car.

If you prefer to travel by train, there are trains from Santa Apolónia that reach Tomar in about two hours, but from Porto Campanhã there are no worthwhile connections to Tomar.

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