Tomar, a charming town situated in the heart of Portugal’s Centro region, is an inviting destination filled with history, culture, and natural beauty. Founded by the Templar Knight Gualdim Pais in the 12th century, Tomar is particularly famous for the Convento de Cristo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was once the stronghold of the Knights Templar. The city’s fascinating blend of religious and military architecture provides visitors with insights into various historical periods, including the time of the Templars, the Renaissance, and the Manueline era.
Nestled on the banks of the Nabão River, Tomar’s streets are adorned with traditional houses, beautiful gardens, and a range of inviting cafes and restaurants. The picturesque town centre, with its cobbled streets and ancient buildings, exudes an old-world charm, making it an ideal place to wander and explore. The town’s bridge and riverside parks offer idyllic settings for relaxation and enjoying the lush surroundings.
Tomar is not only steeped in history; it’s a vibrant and lively town. It hosts several annual festivals, including the Festa dos Tabuleiros, a centuries-old tradition that celebrates the town’s agricultural abundance with colourful processions, traditional music, and dance. The town is also a gateway to the surrounding region, with nearby natural parks and river beaches providing opportunities for outdoor adventures, including hiking, swimming, and fishing.
The blend of historical significance, natural beauty, and contemporary vitality makes Tomar a compelling destination for travellers seeking to explore Portugal’s rich heritage and diverse landscapes.
Useful Resources for Your Trip to Tomar
Here’s our top tips and tricks for getting the best deals for your trip to Tomar.
- Accommodation: Booking.com and Airbnb are the two most comprehensive websites for finding hotels, hostels, apartments, and other types of accommodation in Tomar.
- Car Rental: Discover Cars and Rental Cars are the two most useful sites for booking local car rental.
- Airport transfers: There are taxis and Ubers at Lisbon and Porto Airport, but you can also pre-book an airport transfer with Welcome Pickups.
- Tours & Things to Do: Both Get Your Guide and Viator list lots of local tours and activities in Tomar and the surrounding Central Portugal region.
- Luggage Storage: Luggage Hero and Bounce are two great sites for finding places to store your luggage in Portugal.
- Public Transport: Cp.pt is the main website for trains in Portugal. For longer distance buses, see Rede Expressos. Flixbus.pt often has cheap tickets between cities in Portugal.
- Flights: Skyscanner and Google Flights are the two most useful websites for finding flights to Portugal: The nearest airport to Tomar is Lisbon Airport.
What to do
Convento de Cristo
The Convento de Cristo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Tomar, is a must-visit for anyone interested in history, architecture, or religious heritage. This monumental complex was originally built in the 12th century as the headquarters of the Knights Templar in Portugal, and its construction continued over successive centuries, reflecting a fascinating blend of architectural styles, including Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, and Renaissance.
Upon entering the complex, visitors are greeted by the iconic Charola, the original Templar oratory, and an outstanding example of Romanesque architecture. The ornate Manueline window in the Chapter House is another highlight, showcasing the intricate and unique Portuguese style developed during the Age of Exploration. The complex also includes cloisters, dormitories, a church, and defensive structures, each a testament to different epochs of Portuguese history.
Guided tours are available, providing in-depth insights into the historical and cultural significance of the Convento de Cristo. These tours help visitors to understand the role that the Knights Templar and later the Order of Christ played in Portugal’s history, especially during the period of overseas expansion. There are also many beautiful artworks, including frescoes, sculptures, and tilework, that adorn the walls and halls, enriching the visual experience.
Igreja de Santa Maria do Olival
Igreja de Santa Maria do Olival is a significant historical church located in Tomar, Portugal. Built during the 12th century, it served as the pantheon for the Knights Templar and later the Order of Christ. The church holds a special place in Portuguese history, and its architecture and cultural significance make it a noteworthy destination for visitors exploring the region.
The church showcases a blend of Romanesque, Gothic, and Manueline architectural styles, with a simple façade that belies the beauty contained within. Inside, visitors will find a nave supported by elegant columns and decorated with Gothic details. The main chapel hosts the tomb of Gualdim Pais, the founder of Tomar and a master of the Templar Order, among other notable figures from the era.
The Igreja de Santa Maria do Olival is not only valued for its architectural features but also for its spiritual significance. It was once the mother church of the maritime provinces under the Order of Christ, reinforcing its connection to the age of Portuguese exploration and expansion overseas.
Nearby there’s a Tower, which is connected to the Church of Santa Maria dos Olivais. The towner has a rectangular plan consisting of two floors. Initially it was designed to be a watchtower, but it was adapted into a bell tower during the reign of King Manuel I.
For anyone interested in religious history, architecture, or the story of the Knights Templar, a visit to the Igreja de Santa Maria do Olival is highly recommended. Its serene ambiance and rich historical tapestry provide an enlightening and contemplative experience. Take the time to explore the interior and the peaceful surroundings, including the ancient olive tree that gives the church its name (Olival means “Olive Grove” in Portuguese).
The Aqueduto do Convento de Cristo – Troço Pegões Altos, or simply the Pegões Aqueduct, is a remarkable piece of engineering and architecture located near Tomar, Portugal. Built between 1593 and 1614, this aqueduct was constructed to supply water to the Convento de Cristo. The structure spans an impressive 6 kilometres, standing as a testament to the advanced engineering capabilities of its time.
This aqueduct consists of 180 arches, which are built across 58 semicircular arches at its highest point. The structure is 30 meters tall at its highest point and is truly a sight to behold. The design was commissioned by Philip I of Portugal and overseen by the architect Filipe Terzio, one of the main architects of the Mannerist style in Portugal. The elegant form of the aqueduct blends harmoniously with the natural landscape, creating a captivating panorama that draws visitors and photographers alike.
Visitors can walk along the upper path of the aqueduct, enjoying not only the marvel of its construction but also the stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The walkway provides a unique perspective of the structure and the opportunity to appreciate the intricate details of its construction.
Praça da República
Praça da República is the main square and the heart of Tomar, Portugal. Known for its charming ambiance and historical significance, it is lined with traditional Portuguese buildings, including the notable 17th-century São João Baptista Church, which stands prominently at one end. Cafés, restaurants, and local shops surround the square, providing a lively atmosphere where locals and tourists alike can enjoy outdoor dining or simply relax and absorb the local culture. Praça da República acts as a hub for many local events and festivities, making it an essential stop for any visitor seeking to experience the authentic spirit of Tomar.
Igreja de São João Baptista
Igreja de São João Baptista is a prominent church situated in the main square of Tomar, Praça da República. Constructed in the 15th century, the church exhibits an impressive combination of Manueline and Renaissance architectural styles, reflecting the artistic and cultural trends of the period. The main facade is adorned with intricate sculptures and decorations, including the ornate portal and a remarkable rose window. Inside, the church hosts an impressive collection of religious art and notable azulejos, traditional Portuguese tiles that add to the visual splendour of the space.
Explore the old town
Exploring Tomar’s old town is like stepping back in time, with narrow cobbled streets, charming squares, and well-preserved medieval architecture that reflects the city’s rich history. As you wander through the maze-like alleys, you’ll encounter beautiful churches, quaint shops selling local crafts, and traditional restaurants offering local cuisine. The old town’s serene ambiance is perfect for leisurely strolls, and every corner seems to tell a story, from the ancient Jewish quarter to the beautiful façades adorned with azulejos (traditional Portuguese tiles).
As you walk around, you’ll notice interesting remnants that show the impact of the local presence of the Knights Templar, such as on the cobblestones.
Take a Break in Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes
Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes, or the National Forest of the Seven Hills, is a lush and tranquil oasis located in Tomar. Spanning around 39 hectares, this park is a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, offering visitors a chance to reconnect with nature. Here, you’ll find well-maintained walking paths meandering through dense forest, beautiful gardens, and even some historical elements such as the Charolinha, a miniature temple. The park also features a variety of native and exotic plant species, providing a habitat for local wildlife. Whether you’re seeking a peaceful spot for contemplation, a romantic walk, or a family outing, Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes offers a refreshing respite filled with natural beauty.
Museu dos Fósforos
The Museu dos Fósforos, or Matchbox Museum, in Tomar is a quirky and unique attraction that houses one of the largest collections of matchboxes in the world. With over 43,000 matchboxes from more than 127 countries, the museum showcases a wide variety of designs, advertising themes, and historical references. Founded by a private collector, Aquiles da Mota Lima, the museum reflects a passion for an often-overlooked object of daily life. Visitors are frequently surprised by the artistic and historical value found in these small packages, making the Museu dos Fósforos a fun stop during a day exploring Tomar.
The Ponte Velha (Old Bridge) in Tomar is a significant historical landmark that spans the Nabão River. This medieval bridge, consisting of multiple arches, has been a vital connection in the town for centuries. The structure’s elegant stone construction, graceful arches, and cobblestone walkways reflect the architectural style of the period and have become an emblematic image of Tomar’s rich history. Visitors often enjoy walking across the bridge, taking in the scenic views of the river, and photographing the picturesque surroundings.
- Flying: The nearest international airport to Tomar is Lisbon Airport. From there, travellers can take a combination of trains, buses, or rental cars to reach Tomar, located approximately 1.5 hours away.
- Train: Tomar has a train station that is well-connected with major cities like Lisbon. Regular services operate to and from Lisbon, with the journey taking around 2 hours. The train station is located conveniently close to the town centre. For tickets and timetables, see cp.pt.
- Bus: Various national and regional bus lines service Tomar, connecting it with other parts of Portugal. The bus station is situated near the town center, making it a convenient option for travellers. For tickets and timetables, see Rede Expressos or Flixbus.pt.
- Driving: Tomar can be easily reached by car via the A1 and A23 motorways. It’s about a 1.5-hour drive from Lisbon and offers well-marked routes and scenic views along the way. Parking facilities are available in and around the town centre.