Set along the margins of the Nabão river, Tomar is one of Portugal’s last Templar towns. Looming over it is the Convent of Christ, a World Heritage site founded in the 12th century by the Knights Templar Order. As you arrive in Tomar, it’s impossible not to catch a glimpse of this astonishing monument and the lush trees surrounding it.
The convent may be the town’s crown jewel, but its charming features don’t end there. There’s the old town with its pedestrian-friendly streets, beautiful churches and two large parks that deserve a visit, one along the riverside and the other attached to the convent.
Every four years Tomar hosts the Festa dos Tabuleiros, a summer festival where locals parade with tall crowns on their heads made up of bread and flowers. But even if you don’t make it in time, the town has plenty of attractions to keep you busy all year round.
Below is an itinerary of what to do in Tomar, including where to eat and where to stay.
On your way to Tomar, you can pass through the Aqueduto dos Pegões. This impressive aqueduct with 180 arches connects the village of Pegões to the Convent of Christ in Tomar. Completed in the 17th century, it helped supply water to the monks living in the convent at the time. The structure is six-kilometres long, and if you’re not afraid of heights, you can take a stroll along the top, which goes up to 30 metres.
Standing high above the town, the Convent of Christ is one of the best attractions in Tomar. For nearly seven centuries, Tomar was in the hand of the Knights Templar Order, and it was them who erected the imposing convent you see today.
Founded in 1160, it continues to amaze visitors with its stone-carved walls and beautiful cloisters lined with tiles. Walking around it, you’ll notice a mix of architectural styles ranging from the Gothic to the Renaissance era.
In the same grounds is the old Templar castle, one of the many defensive structures in Portugal built by the Order to protect the region from Moorish attacks.
Stretching for 39 hectares, Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes is a large park that links the convent of Tomar to the old town. At the bottom part, there are curated gardens with trimmed shrubs and stone vases, and at the top, a woody path lined with cypress and oak trees. As you walk through the park, keep an eye out for the Charolinha, a small replica of the Convent towers standing amid a water tank.
Praça da República is the town’s central square. Standing in the middle of it, you’ll find the statue of Gualdim Pais, a Knights Templar Master and the founder of Tomar. Opposite that is the Igreja de São João Baptista, a Gothic-style church that dates from the 15th century. From the outside, the church draws visitors with its pointy bell tower and Manueline doorway, but it’s worth going inside to admire the Renaissance paintings and traditional Portuguese tiles covering the altar.
After touring the old town, you can go for a walk at Mouchão Park. This green oasis stands on a small island amid the Nabão river, which you can reach by a series of pedestrian bridges. Near one of these bridges, is a large wooden waterwheel which is worth capturing. The park itself features a bandstand, a kid’s playground and plenty of benches to sit under the shady trees. There’s also a soccer field and a camping site nearby.
Housed inside a 17th-century convent, the Museu dos Fósforos features one of the largest collections of matchboxes in Europe. The boxes were gathered by a single local man called Aquiles da Mota Lima, who donated them to the town in 1980. There are over 40,000 matchboxes inside this quirky museum from all corners of the world, ranging from the 1800s to the mid-1980s. Every box is different with designs covering anything from movie stars to royal portraits and national flags. The museum is only a few steps away from the train station, so if you’re arriving by train, you can always make a stop here first.
Like the Convent of Christ, this church is also part of the Knights templar route. Dating back to the 12th century, it was once the burying site of the order’s Grand Masters. It’s here you’ll find the grave of Gualdim Pais, the founder of Tomar. The church’s façade features a beautiful rose window and just ahead of it is an imposing bell tower.
If you’re coming to Tomar by car, you should visit the Castelo do Bode dam. Located on the Zêzere river, it’s only a 15-minute drive from the town and holds a large lake surrounded by a pine forest. You can park at the top of the dam to admire the views, or you can spend the night here to make the most of this serene landscape. There are plenty of accommodation options in the area, including a camping site and a hotel on an island called Ilha do Lombo. In the summer, you can enjoy the river beaches, practise water sports or take a leisurely boat trip along the lake.