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 undoubtedly 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 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, a 12th-century rotunda was inspired by Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre Rotunda, is a must-see.
2. Pegões Aqueduct
While you’re visiting the Convent of Christ, don’t miss the aqueduct that dates back to 1614, which was used to bring water into the complex. If you don’t mind the height, walk along the top for fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. Or, wander along the base of the aqueduct, seeing the impressive arches.
3. Mata Nacional dos Sete Montes
If you can’t resist a good 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 of the 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 laid 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
Azulejos tiles, Portugal (photo courtesy of Pixabay)
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
There are a surprising number of excellent attractions in Tomar despite its small size. I suggest including the Church of Santa Maria do Olival, the Synagogue Museum, and the interesting display of presses, mills, and power station 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.