Tomar, the city of the Templars, is a city with a strong connection to the beginnings of the Portuguese nation. This ancient city stretches along the banks of the river Nabão and is topped by the castle, from which we can see not only the historic center, but also the Convent of Christ, a monument that needs no introduction!
Tomar is a mirror that reflects important moments of our country’s history: first, led by the Order of the Templars, at the time of the Reconquista, and later, by the Order of Christ, pioneer of the Discoveries. Let yourself be amazed by this place full of symbolism! The beauty of Tomar gains a new dimension during its biggest festival, the Festa dos Tabuleiros, in which the streets decorated with flowers result in an explosion of color that is hard to find anywhere else. Not to be missed!
WHERE IS IT AND HOW TO GET TO TOMAR?
Tomar is located in the central region of the country and belongs to the district of Santarém. It is located about 140km from Lisbon and there are several options to get there. By car, take the A1 highway. The trip takes an hour and a half. By bus, the trip from Sete Rios to Tomar costs 10€. Alternatively, you can also go by train, and the prices and duration of the trip vary depending on the type of train chosen.
WHEN TO VISIT TOMAR?
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Tomar is between the months of March and November. This way, you will avoid the months when the weather is colder or rainier in the region. If you plan your visit between June and September, you’ll have a better chance of encountering good weather, with clear skies and higher temperatures. Still, we must suggest that you visit Tomar during the Festa dos Tabuleiros (Festival of Tabuleiros), which takes place in July. This way, besides getting to know this beautiful city, you will also be able to see and participate in one of the oldest festivals of our country and that has such unique characteristics. But beware, the festival only takes place every four years. The next one will take place in 2023.
WHAT TO VISIT AT TOMAR?
Tomar has much to see and experience. Below we give you some suggestions for points of interest and events in the city to help you plan your visit. Below is a map with the location of the main attractions in Tomar.
HISTORICAL CENTER OF TOMAR
Let yourself be enchanted by the historic center of Tomar, which presents a geometry loaded with symbolism and an amazing architecture. Pay attention to the houses painted white, the tiles on the facades and the sumptuous windows found in some buildings. In Praça da República – the city’s main square – you will find the Town Hall, housed in the former Palace of King D. Manuel, as well as the statue of Tomar’s founder, D. Gualdim Pais. On your walk through the quiet streets of Tomar’s historic center, stroll down Rua Serpa Pinto. Also known as Corredoura, this street was used by knights in the Middle Ages on their way to the castle. Nowadays, it is a commercial street, with historical establishments, such as the Café Paraíso, founded in 1911.
Tomar Castle is located on the right bank of the Nabão River, on top of a hill, and is part of the Convent of Christ. During the Reconquest, it was part of the Tejo Line, a defensive line under the responsibility of the Knights Templar. Its construction was ordered by D. Gualdim Pais, due to the need to defend the region, and construction began on March 1, 1160. Later, during the reigns of D. Manuel I and D. João III, restoration work was undertaken. The castle presents several styles, such as Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance. It has come down to us in a relatively good state of preservation. This castle probably served as a residence for Prince Henry the Navigator while he was governor of the Order of Christ. The castle can be visited from October to May from 9am to 5:30pm and from June to September from 9am to 6:30pm.
CONVENT OF CHRIST
The Convent of Christ began to be built in the same year as Tomar Castle, in 1160, on the initiative of D. Gualdim Pais. It was built and enlarged over several centuries (12th to 18th) by some of the most important architects in Portugal. For this reason, it reflects the various eras of its construction, presenting various styles, such as Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance and Mannerist.
The Convent is located within the walls of Tomar and has several spaces of great beauty and historical interest. We highlight the cloister of King João III and the Manueline window in the Chapter Room that King Fernando had replicated in the Pena Palace in the 19th century. It is open to the public from October to May, from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and from June to September, from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
The Festa dos Tabuleiros is the biggest event in the city of Tomar. It takes place in the month of July, every four years. It is one of the oldest celebrations in Portugal and has its origins in the festivals in honor of the Holy Spirit, although it has some aspects of even more remote origins, linked to pagan harvest festivals. During the Festival, the streets of the historic center of the city are abundantly decorated with paper flowers. The celebrations take place over several days, with their high point being the Procession of the Trays. This procession, with a route of 5 km, is made up of girls in traditional dress carrying trays of the same height as themselves. Inside the trays are arranged thirty loaves of bread in a wicker basket, and on top is a crown with the Holy Spirit Dove or the Cross of Christ. Each tray represents a parish in the municipality.
MATA DOS SETE MONTES
Mata dos Sete Montes (or Cerca do Convento de Cristo) is the ideal place for a walk with your partner or for a relaxed family picnic. It is an area of park and forest of considerable size and is sometimes called the “lung of Tomar”, as it is a green space of 39 hectares. Located between the Convent and the city center, this forest was created in the 16th century when King João III decided to acquire all the properties around the Convent and donate them to the monks. In the center of the forest there is a frescoed house called “Charolinha” which, according to tradition, was used by the monks for moments of contemplation and recollection. You can enjoy Mata dos Sete Montes from April to October from 8:30am to 7:30pm and from November to March from 8:30am to 5:30pm.
The Tomar Synagogue is a place of worship that operated until the end of the 15th century. It is located in the old Jewish quarter, in the historic center. It is the only pre-Renaissance synagogue in Portugal. This synagogue was founded after the Jews expelled from Castile settled in Tomar and was ordered by Prince Henry the Navigator. During the reign of King Manuel I, the forced conversion of Jews in the kingdom was decreed, so the synagogue was eventually closed.
In 1923, Samuel Schwarz acquired the monument, carried out renovation work and later donated the old synagogue to the state. Currently a museum is installed inside, where artifacts and documents related to the Jewish presence in this region are exhibited. It can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday. Between April and September the hours are from 10am to 6pm and between October and March from 10am to 5pm.
TOMAR OLD BRIDGE
The D. Manuel I Bridge or Ponte Velha, as it is known by the locals, is one of the postcards of the city of Tomar. This bridge that crosses the Nabão River was the main access to the historic center and it is possible that the initial construction dates back to the Roman period. It is possible to circulate on the bridge on foot and, although cars are allowed, traffic is not heavy. We suggest you take a walk across this bridge and take the opportunity to see the river up close and take some pictures, since from the bridge you can capture perfectly the silhouette of Tomar.
SANTA MARIA DO OLIVAL CHURCH
The Church of Santa Maria do Olival was built in the 12th century, on the site where there used to be a Benedictine monastery from the 7th century. Like other important monuments, its construction was ordered by D. Gualdim Pais. This church was the headquarters of the Order of the Knights Templar and pantheon of their masters. Later it becomes the headquarters of the Order of Christ. D. Afonso III undertook several reforms in the church, which was enlarged and took the shape we know today.
It is a monument of extreme importance, since it was determined by two papal bulls that this church would be the Mother See of all churches founded in the territories conquered during the Discoveries. In the 20th century works were done to give it back its Gothic appearance: a rose window was placed on the main façade and the Romanesque door was removed.
Pegões Aqueduct was built to supply water to the Convent of Christ. It was the connection between the Convent and the town of Pegões, which gives it its name, where there were four springs. Its construction began in 1593, during the reign of Filipe I of Portugal. This is one of the most imposing aqueducts in the country, with six kilometers long and the highest point reaching thirty meters in height. It is located 3km from the historic center of Tomar but we are sure you won’t regret making this little detour!
LEVADA DE TOMAR
The Levada de Tomar is a group of buildings along the banks of the river Nabão in the historic center of the city. The oldest buildings date back to the Middle Ages and several industrial activities were carried out there. The river current was used to feed mills and mills, and later factories and a power plant. The power plant, easily recognized by its brick chimney, is currently a museum. Since 2011, the Levada has been undergoing renovation works to become a museum, the Museum of the Levada of Tomar. The spaces can be visited by the public at the following times: Tuesday to Sunday, between April and September from 10am to 6pm and between October and March from 10am to 5pm.
The “Market of the Republic” is an event that results from the initiative of the Portuguese Folklore Federation and that takes place in Praça da República, in the historic center. This historical recreation event aims to replicate a market from the beginning of the last century, in the same place where it was held at the time. In this market, products from the region are sold and the vendors dress in the fashion of the time. The market takes place during one day and begins with the arrival of the products in the square. The afternoon is characterized by various moments of animation, with emphasis on music, played live with traditional instruments.
VIRTUAL TOUR TO TOMAR
WHAT TO VISIT NEAR TOMAR?
Take 3 days to calmly visit and get to know the city of the Knights Templar! If you have time to spare, also visit some of the nearby attractions. Here are our suggestions: Dornes, Almourol Castle, Constância and Castelo de Bode dam.
Dornes is a small village situated on a peninsula on the Zêzere River. Of an unusual natural beauty, it is sometimes called the “Mythical Land of the Knights Templar”. It is a very quiet village that lives mainly from tourism. Dornes is the perfect place to rest but it also pleases those who like adrenaline, because it offers the possibility to practice several radical sports, especially those connected to the river.
Almourol Castle is built on a small island in the Tagus River. Like Tomar Castle, it was part of the Tejo Line at the time of the Reconquista. Built in 1171, this castle controlled the trade of goods such as olive oil and wheat. Almourol Castle is, without a doubt, one of the symbols of the Knights Templar Order and of Portugal’s origins.
Constância is a town in the district of Santarém, which became famous for being the residence of Luís Vaz de Camões, where he wrote some poems. The small town has some interesting monuments, as well as a beautiful river beach, which is the ideal place to spend a few hours on a hot summer’s day.
The Castelo do Bode Dam is located on the limits of the municipality of Tomar and is one of the most important dams in the country. Very popular with water sports enthusiasts, it is used for activities such as windsurfing and jet-skiing, but also for sport fishing. In its reservoir there are two fluvial beaches, Alverangel beach and Montes beach, which are known for their enormous quality.
TOMAR TYPICAL CUISINE
In Tomar you can enjoy good typical Portuguese food. Since Tomar is located in one of the most fertile regions of the country, the quality of its local products is indisputable. These serve as the basis for dishes that are “to eat and cry for more”! The offer is very varied, but we want to give you some suggestions of dishes you should try if you want to get to know Tomar’s gastronomy. These are the Cabbage à D. Prior, the Rabbit in the Pumpkin and the Snails Feijoada. During your visit, don’t miss the opportunity to taste the sweet delicacies that Tomar has to offer! The Café Estrelas de Tomar is the place where you can taste several sweet treats from Tomar. We highlight the Queijinhos Doces, the Fatias de Tomar and, of course, the Beija-me depressa.
RESTAURANTS IN TOMAR
You can eat well in Tomar! There are many restaurants and good options for all tastes and wallets. Here’s our suggestion based on our Google search and ratings.
Cheap restaurant. It has over 200 reviews on Google and a 4.4 star rating (out of a maximum of 5). A restaurant in the historic center of Tomar. It is a cozy space, with very good food and great value for money.
The region where Tomar is today was urbanized during Roman times and was known as Sellium. It was an important region, located on the route between the current cities of Lisbon and Braga. D. Afonso Henriques manages to reconquer the region from the Moors in 1147 and donates the land to the Order of the Knights Templar, whose function was to defend and manage it. Tomar becomes the headquarters of this Order. In 1160, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, D. Gualdim Pais orders the construction of the castle and the convent of Tomar and, two years later, grants it a charter.
With the extinction of the Templar Order, the king orders that all its members and goods be transferred to the Order of Christ. In 1356, Tomar becomes the headquarters of the new Order. Tomar is a city with a strong connection to Prince Henry the Navigator, who was governor of the Order of Christ and took measures to enlarge and modernize the region. In the 15th and 16th centuries, many Jews settle in Tomar after being expelled from Castile. Their presence will have an impact on the configuration of the historical center and the activities developed there. Already in the 18th century, Tomar stands out as an industrial center. It is during this time that several important factories are built here. In 1844 it is elevated to the category of city.