Best Things To Do In One Day In Tomar Portugal

Planning on exploring Tomar? Often overlooked, Tomar is an underrated town hidden away in central Portugal. The town makes a great day trip from Lisbon.

aerial view of Tomar with the Igreja de São João Batista

Tomar is a history buff’s paradise. It’s a place of romantic mysteries, spellbinding history, and centuries old architecture.

For 700 years, Tomar was the headquarters of the Knight’s Templar, an elite crusading force. They were later renamed the Order of Christ.

Because of these crusaders, Tomar boasts one of Portugal’s most important buildings — the Convent of Christ complex.

But Tomar is more than just a one hit monastery town. Straddling the crystalline River Nabão, it’s a medieval town full of cobbled streets, azulejo tiles, and traditional Portuguese charm.

Pinterest pin for things to do in Tomar in one day
Pinterest pin for things to do in Tomar in one day

Overview Of One Day In Tomar Itinerary

Here’s a quick snapshot of the best things to do and see in Tomar in a day.

  • Convent of Christ
  • Tomar Castle
  • Aqueduto dos Pegões
  • Tomar Synagogue
  • Old Town
  • Praça da República
  • Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Conceição
  • Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes
  • Igreja de São João Batista
  • Igreja de Santa Maria dos Olivais
  • Castelo do Bode
  • Anta do Vale da Laje
  • Festa dos Tabuleiros

>>> Click here to book a private tour from Lisbon

Convent of Christ
Manueline details of the Convent of Christ

Who Were The Knights Templar?

The history of Tomar is intertwined with the history of the Knights Templar.

Tomar was a town specifically planned as a branch of the order. It was intended to serve as its home and headquarters.

The Knights Templar was a secret society of devout Christians from the Middle Ages. Their mission was twofold: to protect European travelers visiting the Holy Land and to carry out military operations.

The order has fascinated historians for centuries. It was a wealthy, powerful, and rather mysterious order.

A French knight named Hugues de Payens founded the order in 1118. Initially, the Knights Templar faced criticism from religious leaders.

Church of St. John the Baptist in Tomar's main square
Church of St. John the Baptist in Tomar’s main square

But, in 1129, the pope formally endorsed the order and they gained support from Bernard of Clairvaux, a prominent French abbot.

In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a ruling that gave the Knights Templar special rights, including exemption from taxes.

The order was known for its austere code of conduct and distinctive style of dress, which featured a white habit emblazoned with a simple red cross.

The warrior-monks swore oaths of poverty, chastity, and obedience. They weren’t allowed to drink, gamble, or swear.

At the height of their influence, the Templars owned a large fleet of ships. They were the primary bank and lending institution to European royalty and nobility.

Convent of Christ complex
Convent of Christ complex

The Templars built numerous castles and scored military victories against Moorish armies.

God’s holy order got rich fighting for god … and then lost it all.

In the early 14th century, King Philip IV of France was determined to bring down the order. He owed the Templars money and was in desperate need of cash.

The answer to his woes? Eradicate the knights.

In 1307, in a mass arrest and highly planned sting, Philip seized 1,000 knights and charged them with immorality and heresy. Knights were tortured and burned at the stake.

Knights Templar

Under pressure from King Philip, Pope Clement V reluctantly dissolved the Knights Templar in 1312. It’s thought that the evil king absconded with much of the order’s wealth.

Though the order was fully disbanded 700 years ago, some believe it went underground and still remains in existence today.

In the 18th century, some groups, most notably the Freemasons, revived the medieval knights’ symbols and rituals.

Myths still surround the knights. And they seem to be undergoing a revival.

The popular novel and film The Da Vinci Code theorizes that the Templars were involved in a conspiracy to preserve the bloodline of Jesus Christ. Others believe they kept religious artifacts like the Holy Grail.

Convent of Christ, the top attraction and best things to do in Tomar
aerial view of the Convent of Christ

Best Things To Do & See In Tomar In One Day

Here are my picks for the best things to do in Tomar in a day.

If you need some breakfast before tackling Tomar, head to Café Paraiso first to fuel up.

1. Convent of Christ

Founded in 1160, the UNESCO-listed Convent of Christ is a magnificent fortified monastery complex. It consists of a medieval castle, a church, and Manueline cloisters. It’s the top attraction and best thing to do in Tomar.

As an ancient building that has changed hands, the convent has a mix of Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline architectural elements.

It became a UNESCO site in 1983, and is just a quick walk from Tomar’s beautiful historic center.

>>> Click here to pre-book an entrance ticket

Inside, arrows direct you to two self guided routes you can use to tour the complex. One route takes 60-90 minutes, the other 30-45. There are informational panels in English for you to read.

Before entering, admire the lavishly decorated south portal. Then, begin your tour in the old sacristy.

From there, you enter two separate cloisters — the Laundry Cloister and the Cemetery Cloister. The latter has beautiful 17th century blue and white azulejos on its walls.

You’ll see more chapels and the new sacristy. Then, you arrive at the magnificent 16th century church.

The Templar Church has a massive Gothic nave, ornate ribbed vaulting, and an intricate altar.

The most famous part of the church is the Chapter House’s incredibly ornate 16th century window. It’s the pinnacle of Manueline style, a monument to Portugal’s maritime mastery.

The roots of a cork tree climb up to two ships’ masts on either side of the window. They transform themselves into a combination of maritime and royal motifs.

You’ll see a profusion of seaweed, knots, ropes, coral chains, leaves, etc. The magnificent window was created by architect Diogo de Arruda.

After admiring the church, head downstairs to the Great Cloister. It’s a stunning example of Renaissance architecture with Manueline decoration, which also reflects Joao III’s passion for Italian art.

A spiral staircase in one corner leads you up to a terrace with views.

To get the full historical scoop about the Knights templar, you may want to book a small group guided tour or a private tour of the convent.

Tomar Castle
Tomar Castle

2. Tomar Castle

This castle was the headquarters of the Knights Templar and the most important Portuguese military building from the 12th century.

It’s in the same compound as convent. The castle walls actually wrap around the convent. The castle walls and towers are still adorned with the Cross of Malta and other arcane symbols.

At the time of the Reconquista in the 12th century, the castle was on the Linha do Tejo, a horizontal line of castles between the future Portuguese to the north and the Moors to the south.

It’s hard not to be wowed by the scale and preservation of the castle. You can almost imagine the knights on the lookout for possible invaders.

There are Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance remnants, and every point of interest is labelled with a sign.

3. Stroll The Old Town

Tomar itself is also charming, sliced in two by the Nabao River. The main square is Praca da Republica. It’s so pretty you’ll want to snap photos of every nook and cranny.

The old town is filled with lovely whitewashed homes, a 15th century church, and a black and white checkerboard pavement. Flowers tumble over garden walls. There’s a web of old lanes.

Head down the Via Rea de Serpa Pinto, the main shopping street, for a picturesque stroll of the town.

4. Lunch

For lunch you can pop into O Tabuleiro or Ravenna Antiqua.

For dessert, stop in at bakery to try one of Tomar’s special sweets, Beija-me Depressa, which translates to “kiss me quick.” It’s a sugar coated pastry full of custard.

Nossa Senhora Church
Nossa Senhora Church

5. Basilica Nossa Senhora da Conceicao

After lunch, head to the historic Nossa Senhora da Conceicao Church.

This beautiful 16th century basilica is situated on the slopes of the hill leading up to the Convent of Christ. The tiny building is the oldest medieval church in Portugal.

The architect is throught to be Francisco de Holanda, working at the behest of King Joao III. The simple exterior contrasts with the ornate Renaissance interior.

Inside, there are three towering naves, delicately carved Corinthian columns, and Manueline designs.

Pegoes Aqueduct
Pegoes Aqueduct

6. Pegoes Aqueduct

Dating from the early 17 century, Pegoes Aqueduct is a four mile aqueduct that was used to transport water from Pegoes to the Convent of Christ.

It’s a stark design with 180 arches. The best thing about it is that you can walk on top of it and climb the towers, if you’re adventurous. Certain parts have no hand rails.

7. Tomar Synagogue

Tomar’s synagogue is a 15th century building and Portuguese national monument. Built in 1430, the synagogue ceased to function in 1497 when Manuel I forced Jews to either convert or leave town.

The vaulted room in the synagogue now holds the Museu Luso-Hebraico Abrraao Zacuto. He was a famous mathematician and astronomer. The museum displays Jewish memorabilia and tombstones.

Igreja de São João Batista
Igreja de São João Batista

8. Igreja de São João Batista

One block north of the synagogue is the 15th century Gothic Church of St. John the Baptist. The church boasts one of the finest views in the city, including of the convent, so it’s one of the best things to do in Tomar.

It was most likely the first seat of the Order of the Temple. The building reflects the transition from the Romanesque style of architecture to the Gothic.

It has a plain facade but flamboyant Manueline doorway, complete with the coat of arms and a rosette symbolizing the Knight Templars.

Inside is the funerary monument of Guladim Pais, founder of Tomar and other Grand Masters of the Order. You’ll also find 16th century paintings, including a Last Supper and gory painting of the beheading of St. John the Baptist.

There’s also an octagonal belfry with a clock. The church square is the focal point of the Festa dos Tabuleiros, which I discuss below.

Igreja de Santa Maria dos Olivais
Igreja de Santa Maria dos Olivais

9. Igreja de Santa Maria dos Olivais

The Church of Santa Maria dos Olivais is a temple dating back to the 12th century. Dedicated to Santa Maria, the original church was built by Gualdim Pais.

It was meant to be the final home of the Templar Masters. Gualdim Pais himself is buried here in a tombstone in the second chapel.

The church you see today was built in the mid-13th century in a beautiful Gothic style. The facade has a magnificent glass rosette that illuminates the interior of the temple.

It’s a three nave church, which became the model for the Church of São João Baptista.

10. Matchbox Museum

The Museu dos Fosforos is the product of the determination and curiosity of one man, Aquiles da Mota Lima.

The museum houses his private collection. It consists of 43,000 matchboxes on display and 16,000 matchboxes found in scores of books.

The oldest matchbox covers date to the 1800s. They’re arranged by country of origin and theme.

It’s a huge and fascinating collection. The museum is located in a courtyard in the Convento de São Francisco, next to the historic church of the same name. 

Almourol Castle, one of the best things to do in Tomar
Almourol Castle

10. Almourol Castle

Almoural Castle is an overly romantic castle built by a grand master of the Knights Templar. You can’t spend one day in Tomar and not stop here too.

The castle is 14 miles south of Tomar. It sits majestically on a rocky island in the Tagus River.

Built on the site of a Roman fort, the castle has inspired countless legends and literary references. Unfortunately, the castle was abandoned when it became obsolete for defense.

A small boat ferries visitor to and from the castle. Legend holds that the ghost of a princess haunts the castle.

The castle is open from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm & 2:00 pm to 5:20 pm. The last boat leaves 20 minutes before closing.

This Knights Templar themed tour from Lisbon includes a visit to both this castle and Tomar.

11. Festa dos Tabuleiros

Aside from the convent, Tomar’s other claim to fame is the Festa dos Tabuleiros, or Tray Festival.

This festival is held every four years in the first week of July. The festival honors Isabel, the wife of King Denis. But it has pagan roots too.

The festival features a spectacular procession of 400 young women dressed in white. Each balances a towering tray of paper flowers and bread on her head, which are later distributed to needy citizens. The trays are traditionally as tall as the woman herself.

Once Tomar is in full festival mode, the streets and houses are adorned with colorful paper flowers, some draping down from balconies.

view of the town of Abrantes from its castle
view of the town of Abrantes from its castle

12. Abrantes

Just 30 minutes from Tomar is another interesting town you may want to visit, Abrantes. It’s known for its renovated 12th century castle.

The castle crowns a plateau in the narrow streets of Abrante’s medieval quarter.

Within the castle walls, you’ll find a Visigothic necropolis, a governor’s palace, and the beautiful 15th century Santa Maria Church (now a museum).

The church houses some exceptional tombs, Roman artifacts, and a Gothic-Manueline retable.

The Igreja de Sao Vicente is also worth visiting. The church was built by the Order of Christ. It’s a Mannerist style structure with nine altars inside.

Convent of Christ
Convent of Christ

Tips For Spending One Day In Tomar

1. How To Get To Tomar

Tomar is located in central Portugal about 87 miles northeast of Lisbon.

By Car:

Tomar is just a 1.5 hour drive from Lisbon and a 2 hour drive from Porto.

By Train Or Bus:

There’s a direct train that connects Tomar and Lisbon. It takes approximately 2 hours. The train takes 3.5 hours from Porto, so if you’re coming from Porto, you should drive.

view of Tomar

Tomar’s train station is just outside the historic center.

You can also take the Rede Expressos bus from both Lisbon and Porto.

By Guided Tour:

You can also visit Tomar on a small group day tour from Lisbon. You can also book a longer day tour that includes Tomar, Obidos, and Nazare.

2. How To Get Around Tomar

Tomar is a small compact city. It’s easy to get around on foot. You can also use the green and blue bus lines to get around town.

exterior of Templar Church
exterior of Templar Church

3. Where To Stay In Tomar

Tomar makes a great place to base in if you’re on the monastery trail. It’s close to Batalha Monastery and Alcoabaca Monastery.

There are some fairly good hotels.

Casa dos Oficios Hotel is a nice 4 star hotel with a good breakfast. Thomas Boutique Hotel is a small hotel with breakfast and a terrace with views.

Hotel Republica is a 5 star hotel in a beautiful location. It has a restaurant and bar terrace with views of the town.

main plaza of Tomar, Republic Square

4. is Tomar Worth Visiting?

100% yes!

It’s a great place to learn about Portugal’s history and the Knights Templar. The Convent of Christ is one of the most spectacular monuments in Portugal.

Plus, it’s a beautiful little town with old world charm.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the best things to do and see in Tomar in one day. You may enjoy these other Portugal travel guides and resources:

If you want to spend one day in Tomar, pin it for later.

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