Things To Do In Tomar – A Day Trip Guide

If like me, you’re a sniffer-hound for historical obscurities, you may have happened upon the town of Tomar in central Portugal for its connection to the Knights Templar. And yet, whilst the Castle And Convent of The Christ (the Knights’ former home) attracts many visitors to this corner of Portugal every year, there are so many other reasons you should be putting Tomar on your Portugal Bucket List.

Aside from being an ancient Templar City, there are plenty of other things to do in Tomar that make this quaint little town a worthwhile day trip. In fact, it’s such a pretty little place we would recommend making Tomar a base if you are visiting central Portugal and want to pull in a few other sights in the area. It has plenty of accommodation options, more than a handful of great restaurants, and is perfectly placed for day trips to the famous Batalha Monastery and the unique assortment of Schist Villages near Penela. (If you want a hotel recommendation, you will find our own personal proposal at the bottom of the article)

So, is Tomar worth visiting? Absolutely… you’re going to love this pretty little town in central Portugal!

Things To Do In Tomar, Portugal

The History Of Tomar In A Nutshell

When you explore this region of Portugal, Tomar is just one of the many places you will come across that started life as a Roman town. It’s no surprise that they would put down roots in this area given its fertile soils and the prospect of olive groves and pine forests. But the real history of Tomar began when the town was granted to Gualdim de Pais, a Templar Knight, from King Afonso Henriques after the Portuguese Reconquista.

Whilst most of Europe had evicted the Templar Knights from their countries, King Afonso Henriques of Portugal saw the wisdom in keeping these super-fighters in his domain. Subsequently, construction began on a city built for security within the walls of the Convento de Cristo. Over the next few centuries, from the town of Tomar, Portugal was kept safe from Moorish invaders essentially as a result of the Knights Templar.

Doesn’t it just make you wonder what the rest of Europe would have looked like today if the Moors had managed to push their way through Portugal’s escorting corridor to Spain, then France, and beyond? The Knights Templar powerhouse is single-handedly responsible for our lack of beautiful tiles and couscous dishes! And camels even?

The Knights Templar ruled from Portugal. Tomar

In 1319 the Knights Templar became the Order of the Christ as Europe continued to snuff out this ancient constitution, and yet again Portugal saw the wisdom in keeping them close. They were an extremely wealthy organisation and in short helped fund Portugal’s maritime discovery period, starting with Prince Henry “The Navigator”. Tomar continued to grow and be enriched by the order of the crown.

One of Henry’s adjustments to Tomar was to control the river Nabão and its swamps by adding in a few dams. This meant the town could expand further and was soon attracting hordes of Jewish refugees escaping religious persecution in Spain. They brought with them trades and wealth and certainly added to the beauty of Tomars appearance today.

Tomar largely remained under the Order of the Christ until the 18th century when the textile industry moved in and took advantage of the River Nabão and its hydraulic resources. The convent of the christ lost its power, the religious order was disbanded and modern life began. Still, Portugal’s Tomar will always be reminded of its past for as long as the Castle and Convent sit on the hill observing the town below.

As you can tell from our short history lesson, the Knights Templar plays an important role in why many people visit Tomar. However, it’s a sweet little town in its own right, and there are plenty of other things to do in Tomar to keep you busy for a while. So without further ado, here are our recommendations – ideas on what to do in Tomar…

What To Do In Tomar…

1. VISIT THE CONVENT OF CHRIST (CONVENTO DE CHRISTO)

Formerly the home of the Knights Templar, you cannot visit Tomar without a trip to this famous UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For your €6 (easy to purchase on the door and reductions for families) you can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the amazing architecture spanning 5 centuries. There are some real jaw-dropping moments amongst the architectural details and paintings and carvings. The chapel and its famous Manueline window usually get the most column space but honestly, the wonders don’t stop there. Visit the gardens and cloisters too. Honestly, the photographs don’t do it justice!

Make sure you accept a free tour guide as their knowledge is invaluable and really adds to the quality of your visit.

It is possible to purchase a combined entrance ticket to Batalha and Alcobaça if you are planning a bit of a central Portugal road trip.

NOTE: Parking is available at the convent if you don’t fancy the steep trek from the town. Or, you can even hire a tuk-tuk to take you!

2. WALK TOMAR’S CASTLE WALLS

Walking the castle walls is one of the best things to do in Tomar for free! Whilst Castelo de Tomar is part of the same site as the Convent, you can visit the two independently and for this outdoor section you do not need a ticket.

I mean, it’s a pretty cool castle! And it’s also part of the defense line of Portugal known as Linha do Tejo – a front of other castles strategically placed to keep those pesky Moors from advancing.

The views from the walls and the towers are pretty incredible over Tomar and the adjacent countryside, it’s an opportunity to put yourself in the shoes of the Templar Knights that would have roamed these walls.

3. EXPLORE PRAÇA DA REPÚBLICA

Praça da República

The main square in Tomar is a beauty!

Some notable features are the church of São João Baptista (John the Baptist), the statue of the founding Templar Knight Gualdim de Pais, the town hall, and the insta-famous black and white tiled floor.

But once you’ve taken a peek in the church (and lingered at the Manueline doorway), and took a selfie with Gualdim, you really ought to just find yourself a cafe chair and order yourself a coffee or glass of wine and while away a half-hour people watching.

Sometimes there are musicians playing, sometimes there are little markets (the main Friday one is elsewhere however) but whatever the time of year you will want to spend a bit of time in this beautiful place. It’s especially sweet in the evening when it’s all lit up.

4. TAKE A STROLL DOWN RUA SERPA PINTO

Rua Serpa Pinto is the main pedestrianized route from Praça da Republica down to the river and is a feast for the eyes of Azulejos tiles and pretty storefronts. Family-owned businesses and traditional houses line the cobbled street and drop you at the Ponte Velha over the river Nabão.

Explore the network of cobbled streets in Tomars old town whilst doing a spot of shopping at some really quaint artisanal shops. The locals are all so lovely, and accomodating, even when neither of you speaks each other’s language!

5. SAMPLE SOME TOMAR DELICACIES AND LOCAL FARE

If it’s one thing we really do our homework on before we visit a new place, it’s where to experience the best food in town!

First of all you need to try the Tomar sweet delicacy known as Beija-me depressa (Kiss-me-quickly in English). Custard treats pop up all over Portugal since the convent nuns had a surplus of egg yolks in their kitchens once they’d starched their underwear with egg whites! And Tomar has its own version of a convent sweet. They are literally only found in one bakery in town, Estrelas de Tomar, so this really is one of the most unique things to do in Tomar!

On our last trip to Portugal in October 2021, our kids nominated one of our meals in Tomar as the best of the whole trip. It was at a place on Rua Serpa Pinto called Panorama Drinks and we sat outside under the umbrellas to a feast of meat and cheese tapas. The bread was fresh, the wine was GOOD and the platters of tapas were of extremely high quality – it’s the perfect place for lunch or some tapas with evening drinks.

Another place that came highly recommended to us was Taverna Antiqua in the main square. You may think that given its central spot and a healthy number of tourists passing, this convenient restaurant could get away with substandard fare but they don’t. It’s the perfect spot for an evening meal when the candles come out and this is really good traditional Portuguese food accompanied by local wine and staff dressed in medieval clothes. It has the potential to be gimmicky but you cannot overlook the amazing meals.

Or, if you just fancy a cold beverage down by the river, Orquestra De Sabores has the perfect terrace for a spot of duck-watching as you sip.

6. TAKE IN SOME GREENERY

what to do in Tomar, Portugal. Go for a walk among the gardens at Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes (or Seven Hills National Park

There are a few places to have a pleasant stroll in Tomar, especially if you are here for longer than just a day trip.

First off, there’s Park do Mouchão down by the River Nabão. We spotted a fair amount of wildlife there too when we visited.

Overshadowed by the Convent, Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes (Seven Hills National Park) has some lovely ornamental gardens close to the entrance. It’s a popular spot for locals and a great place to find a bit of shade in summer.

7. VISIT SOME OF TOMAR’S MUSEUMS

We never had a chance to visit any of the museums on our last trip – darn Covid! However, I did hear good things about the Museu dos Fósforos (Matchbox Museum) – Tomar’s quirky collection of colourful matchbox-related paraphernalia. There’s a cool little back story to it too. We’re really sad it was closed.

I’m not sure anyone would necessarily visit Tomar for its museums, however, it does have a fairly strong connection with modern art. Important Portuguese art-critic José-Augusto França was born in Tomar and he has donated hundreds of pieces of modern art to the Núcleo de Arte Contemporânea baring his name. If I could have ditched the kids for an hour, this place sounded really interesting.

And last on my bucket list, had it been open, was the Museu Luso-Hebraico Abraão Zacuto held in Portugals oldest synagogue. The history of the Jewish people in Tomar is a fascinating one and I was eager to learn more. I suspect I might have left a little more somber than when I entered, but more informed nonetheless. Next time, hopefully.

8. NEARBY DAY-TRIPS CLOSE TO TOMAR

If you were to make Tomar a base for a few days, here are some of the sights you could incorporate into your trip within a stone’s throw to the town…

  • Aqueduto dos Pegoes – one of the largest and most impressive in Portugal. Built to supply water to Tomars convent.
  • Almourol Castle – a fairytale castle on an island, built by the Templar Knights and part of the Linha do Tejo.
  • Agroal River Beach – if you’re in Tomar with the kids they might appreciate this litttle river beach 15 minutes from town for a cool down. Adults can sip a cold Sagres in the beach bar.

Tomar Hotel Recommendation

As we mentioned earlier, we think Tomar is the perfect place to base yourself for a visit to the central Portugal region. It’s only an hour from the beautiful university city of Coimbra and less to the beach resort of Nazare, the historic Schist villages and tourist destinations like Buddha Eden, Fatima, Almourol Castle, the caves at Mira de Aire, the Batalha Monastery and more.

We particularly love the ‘Castle, Terrace & Relax‘ apartment on Rua Sacadura Cabral. It’s perfectly central but not on the busiest of streets. And if you’re a regular reader you may have noticed from some of our other recommendations we love a balcony, or terrace; somewhere to relax with a glass of wine with a nice view. This particular apartment has, in our opinion, the best evening view in Tomar…from the private terrace you get a beautiful view of the castle all lit up in its glory every evening. It’s stunning. The apartment is spotlessly clean, has all the amenities and landlady Elsa is very friendly and helpful should you need her. For the best deals click here.

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We loved Tomar and we made it a stop on our recent Portugal road trip around the central region. Sign up to our blog below and we’ll notify you when we bring out more posts about our Portugal highlights…

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