Just two hours from Lisbon by train, charming Tomar, Portugal, sits in the central part of the country. Often overlooked by mainstream tourism, it’s ideal for visitors seeking an under-the-radar destination. In Tomar, you can stroll about a historic town center and explore quirky museums.
There’s more to do in Tomar than ever before. Tomar maintains its timeless appeal and remains a quieter tourist spot than other more well-known locales in the country. Before the secret is out, go now. Here are my top six favorite things to do in Tomar, Portugal.
1. Convento de Cristo
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is Tomar’s top attraction, presiding over the town from its esteemable hilltop position. The Convento de Cristo (Convent of Christ) originated in the late 12th century when it was built as the headquarters of the Knights Templar and blessed by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques. When the Knights Templar dissolved, the structure housed the Knights of the Order of Christ.
The convent was built over five centuries and showcased a blend of Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque architectural styles. The Oratory of the Templars, Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre Rotunda, inspired by a 12th-century rotunda, is a must-see.
2. Pegões Aqueduct
While visiting the Convent of Christ, don’t miss the aqueduct that dates back to 1614, which was used to bring water into the complex. Or, wander along the base of the aqueduct, seeing the impressive arches. If you don’t mind the height, walk along the top for fantastic views of the surrounding countryside.
3. Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes
If you can’t resist a perfect urban green space, take a breather in the Seven Hills National Forest (Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes). Join the locals as they walk, jog, and picnic in the park. Follow the trails through the forest to the Charolina fountain, built as a meditation retreat by the convent.
4. Old Town and Praça da República
Spend a few hours in the historical center of Tomar, starting on Rua Serpa Pinto, which connects the Nabão River to city hall. Look across the square from city hall to the attractive sculpted-stone Manueline doorway to St. John the Baptist church. Admire the intricate tile work on many buildings and the colorful azulejo tiles. Grab a bite to eat or a coffee at one of the many delightful cafes and bakeries.
From here, make your way to the Praça da República, where you can see the patterned paving stones in honor of the Knights Templar. You’ll see the statue of Guladim Pais, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and the founder of Tomar.
5. Museu dos Fósforos (Matchbox Museum)
Check out the eccentric Matchbox Museum, housed in a series of rooms in the former Convent of São Francisco and housing a collection of 43,000 colorful matchboxes from around the world. There are boxes depicting everything from political leaders to cartoon figures. Collector and Tomar local Aquiles de Monta Lima started his collection after meeting an American matchbox collector during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in London.
6. The Azulejo Studio at Oficina de Olaria e Azulejaria
Immerse yourself in the artistic traditions of Tomar by visiting the ceramics workshop in the corner of the convent courtyard. Watch as the expert ceramicists paint, glaze and shape their pieces – then pick up a few to bring home as souvenirs.
More things to do in Tomar
Despite its small size, there are a surprising number of excellent attractions in Tomar. I suggest including the Church of Santa Maria do Olival, the Synagogue Museum, and the exciting display of presses, mills, and power stations in Levada D’el Rei if you have the time. For history buffs, architecture enthusiasts, art lovers, and anyone seeking an off-the-beaten-path Portugal experience, Tomar makes for a delightful day trip.
Of course, if you’d like to see more photos we took in Tomar, visit us on Instagram. If Portugal is on your bucket list, contact us here to start planning your trip of a lifetime.