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What to see and do in Tomar, the famous Portuguese templar town?

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Joanna Horanin

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Last updated at 21/06/2024, 18:15

Hi, I'm Joanna, the author of The Blond Travels. In the worlds of Thailand and Portugal, I feel like a fish in water - and it's no coincidence! I've been exploring Thailand for over a decade, and I've settled in Portugal for 6 years now. My mission is to support Dreamers - just like you - in discovering these fascinating countries and helping those in love with them find their own place on Earth, preferably for good! Let's uncover these unique corners of the world together.

We haven’t had a car for a while. We have other financial priorities, so we decided to give away the ones we had on lease. We were left with either renting a car in Portugal or using public transportation, which is not ideal here, but it can get us to a couple of cool places from Lisbon. One of them is Tomar, a small town north of the capital. That’s where we went some time ago on a day trip. Find out what to see and what to do in Tomar.

Tomar attracts many people with its undeniable charm. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal (in my humble opinion). It looks fantastic in the sunshine. The main cathedral and castle harmonize brilliantly with the blue sky and extensive gardens surrounding the attractions. In addition, a trip to Tomar is certainly an excellent history lesson about the country and its people.

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    Tomar is located in the Santarem area, Portugal. It was founded in the 12th century by Gualdim de Pais, who was Grand Master of the Templar Order. Tomar was the last city constructed by the order in Portugal and is certainly an architectural gem of the country. The city developed especially in the 15th century, when it became the center of geographic expeditions under the command of Henry the Sailor.

    Nowadays, it is a great place to visit, to take a trip outside of Lisbon and to spend a few moments somewhere that is not crowded and charming.

    If you are planning your vacation in Portugal and want to visit something interesting or get out of Lisbon for a day, Tomar will certainly be the perfect solution.

    Here’s what to do and see in the town of Tomar, Portugal.

    Tomar, Portugal
    The town is very charming.

    Convento do Christo – The monastery

    We started our tour at Convento Christo, the Order of Christ. From the Tomar rail station, it’s about a 10-minute walk to the monastery. The road climbs uphill, but is not very difficult.

    When we got there, we first toured the gardens and then went inside. At first it seemed that there was nothing to see there, but this soon proved to be untrue. We spent quite a bit of time there.

    A big balcony and terrace in a castle in Tomar.
    The monastery in Tomar is huge and it takes a couple of hours to visit.

    Convento do Christo, or Monastery of the Order of Christ, is the city’s head attraction. The building dates back to the 12th century and was a defensive bastion and a symbol of the fight against the Moors at the time. The city owes its defensive walls to its survival of the Moorish invasion from North Africa in 1190.

    The monastery was also the headquarters of the Knights Templar, who enjoyed the favor of the royal family. The size of the monastery is evidence of how much privilege the monks enjoyed.

    While visiting, don’t miss the round Charola church, which is beautifully maintained and is a truly unique structure worth seeing.

    Two columns surrounding a small altar in a round church
    The church is oval and its architecture is very unique.

    The tour of the monastery is a good couple of hours. From the outside it doesn’t seem that big, but once you enter you wander through the corridors. There is a description of the attraction next to each major hall, also in English (although you can see that Google Translate was used to translate it, as some passages don’t make much sense). You can also hire a guide.

    The monastery can be reached on foot, via a paved road. Wear good shoes, as it is quite steep. If you have a car, you can drive up to the entrance on the main paved road that winds around the monastery.

    A window of a monastery
    There are so many places that are perfect for photos.

    I recommend visiting the gardens and roads around the building first. The entrance is through one of the main gates, accessed by the cobblestone road mentioned above. This part is open to the public for free.

    The entrance to the monastery is next to the gate. Admission costs 10 euros. If you are a resident of Portugal, admission is free on Sundays and holidays.

    Map

    The old town

    From the monastery we walked downhill, back into town. Tomar is a typical Portuguese town, with narrow streets. Laundry hangs in the windows, and there are cafes with umbrellas and tables outside. The whole center is not large, so it didn’t take long to get around it.

    A small street in a Portugal town
    The streets here are so charming.

    The charming streets invite you to wander around the neighborhood, peek into courtyards and small alleys. You are sure to like the small, white and yellow houses, narrow cobblestone streets and the ever-present peace and quiet.

    Praça da Republica

    The Praça da Republica is the most important point of Tomar. On one side of it is the town office, on the other is the Church of John the Baptist (São João Baptista). In the middle of the square stands a statue of Gualdim Pais, the founder of the city, a Portuguese Templar.

    A square in a Portuguese town.
    The main square in Tomar is a nice place to rest.

    On one side of Praça da Republic you’ll find small cafes, whose white umbrellas blend in perfectly with the architecture of the area.

    I really liked one of the streets leading away from the square, with an old movie theater that has already closed and an old-school sign.

    Map

    Park Muchão

    Right after lunch, we walked across the street to check out this park and the market taking place there.

    A river with a park and trees in Portugal.
    This park is in the middle of the town.

    If you get tired of sightseeing, for a rest you can go to the nearby Muchão Park, which is located on the river and separated from the street by a bridge. A small wooden mill under a willow tree is a beautiful addition to the landscape.

    In the park, of course, you can relax, have a cup of coffee and take a stroll. A weekend flea market is also held here.

    Map

    Mata Nacional dos Setes Montes

    A beautiful addition to the town of Tomar is the Forest of Seven Hills. It may not be a must-see on the list of attractions in Tomar, but it is nicely maintained, clean and is a favorite place for locals to stroll. It provides a nice break from sightseeing.

    A park in Tomar
    This place is amazing for an afternoon stroll.

    The Matches Museum

    The attraction may not be very obvious, but if you have some time, take a look at the matchbox museum, located right next to the train station. Here they have collected matchboxes from all over the world. Try to find your country!

    A glass cabinet with match boxes
    I found Poland!

    We went here for a while, because we still had an hour to catch the train. It was fun to walk among the exhibits and invent countries we knew. The matchbook museum in Tomar is definitely a treat for collectors.

    The entrance is free.

    Map

    Visiting Tomar – Information

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    • You need a couple of hours to explore the city. Tomar is not big.
    • We had lunch at Restaurante Lusitânia – it was tasty and well-priced.

    Where to stay in Tomar?

    We returned to Lisbon late in the evening. The return trip by train was terribly long for us. The train was starting from Tomar, so we managed to find seats, because along the way it stopped in larger towns and suddenly there was quite a squeeze.

    I would really recommend Tomar to you for a trip outside of Lisbon or for a short stay. I think it would be fun to spend one night there on your way to northern Portugal. I’m sure you will enjoy Tomar and will be impressed by its beautiful architecture for a long time to come.