Tomar: The Complete Guide

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Tomar is a charming city known for its rich artistic and cultural heritage, with the Convent of Christ being one of the most impressive examples of Portuguese Renaissance architecture. A visit to the city is not complete without exploring the Templar castle and the Convent of Christ, which includes the oldest part of the complex – the Charola (Rotunda) – built in the 12th century. The complex was renovated in the 16th century and given its current architectural splendour, which earned it World Heritage Site status. Take the time to explore the intricate details of the Convent, such as the Renaissance portal, the Manueline Window in the Chapter Hall, the Main Cloister, and the spaces connected to Templar rituals.

To fully understand the city’s history, it is important to know how the Order of the Knights Templar became the Order of Christ, and the role of important figures such as Henry the Navigator. After exploring the Convent, take a stroll through the Sete Montes Woods to reach the historic centre. Here you can visit the oldest mediaeval urban area, with a convent at each end, and enjoy traditional shops and cafes.

Other notable attractions in the city include the Convent of São Francisco, which houses the Match Museum, the former Convent of Anunciada, and the Convent of Santa Iria. The city also has a rich Jewish history, with the old Synagogue now home to the Abraão Zacuto Luso-Hebrew Museum. The Centre for Contemporary Art and Mouchão Park are also worth a visit.

Tomar is not only a city of great cultural significance but also offers nearby attractions such as Castelo de Bode, one of the largest reservoirs in the country, and Almourol Castle on the River Tagus.

History of Tomar

Tomar, a historically rich town in Central Portugal, has a profound legacy dating back to the 12th century. Its history is deeply intertwined with the Knights Templar, the Reconquista, and the subsequent Order of Christ that played a pivotal role during the Age of Discoveries.

Founding and the Knights Templar

Tomar was established in 1160 by Gualdim Pais, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, a Christian military order formed during the Crusades. The Templars were granted this land by the first King of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, following their vital role in reconquering the territory from Moorish rule. The town was strategically important due to its location near the northern border of the Portuguese territories, which were still threatened by the Moors to the south.

The Templars built a castle in Tomar, which served as a defense outpost and their headquarters. Around this castle, the town developed, flourishing due to the order’s management and the security it provided. The Convent of Christ in Tomar, originally a Templar stronghold, is one of the most significant Templar constructions in Europe, known for its architectural beauty and the famous Charola, the Templar’s oratory.

Transition to the Order of Christ

In 1314, under pressure from King Philip IV of France, Pope Clement V dissolved the Knights Templar. However, in Portugal, King Dinis negotiated with the Pope to establish the Order of Christ, essentially a continuation of the Templars under a new name, which received all the Templars’ assets and properties. The Order of Christ made Tomar its headquarters in 1357, and the town continued to prosper under its influence.

Age of Discoveries

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Order of Christ, with Prince Henry the Navigator as its Grand Master, played a crucial role in Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. The order funded many voyages, including those to West Africa, and the profits from these ventures led to further development in Tomar. The Convent of Christ was expanded and elaborately decorated, reflecting the wealth and power of the order during this period.

Modern Era

After the suppression of religious orders in Portugal in the 19th century, the Convent of Christ was closed as a religious institution. However, its historical and architectural significance, especially its connection to the Templars and the Manueline style of architecture, led to its preservation. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Portugal’s most visited monuments.

Tomar itself has retained much of its medieval charm, with cobbled streets, traditional houses, and historic churches. The town hosts the Festa dos Tabuleiros every four years, a tradition that likely has its roots in ancient harvest festivals, which features a procession of women carrying tabuleiros (trays) decorated with bread and flowers on their heads.

Tomar’s history reflects a unique blend of religious military history and pioneering maritime exploration, making it a fascinating town that embodies the rich cultural tapestry of Portugal.

Visiting Tomar for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Tomar on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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1 Best places to See in Tomar

This complete guide to Tomar not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.

This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Tomar and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!

Castelo de Tomar

Castelo De Tomar
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Sergei Gussev
In 1983, UNESCO recognized the Templar Castle and the Convent of the Knights of Christ in Tomar as a World Heritage Site, highlighting its significance in Western history. This monumental complex, originally a site of Roman worship, spans seven centuries of Portuguese history and encapsulates key events that shaped the Western world. Afonso Henriques, the […]
Location: Castelo de Tomar, Estrada do Convento, Tomar, Portugal | Distance: 1.20km
Visiting Castelo de Tomar

Best Time to Visit Tomar

Tomar, a captivating town in central Portugal known for its historical and cultural significance, offers a delightful experience year-round. However, the best time to visit Tomar largely depends on the weather and what you want to do during your visit. Here’s a seasonal breakdown to help you plan your trip:

Spring (March to May)

Spring is an excellent time to visit Tomar. The weather starts to warm up, and the landscape is lush and green. Temperatures are comfortable, typically ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F). This season is perfect for exploring outdoor attractions like the Convent of Christ and the Templar Castle without the summer crowds. Spring also sees fewer tourists, making it a great time to enjoy Tomar’s sights and local life at a leisurely pace.

Summer (June to August)

Summer is the peak tourist season in Tomar, and it coincides with several local festivals. The most notable is the Festa dos Tabuleiros, held every four years in early July. During this festival, the town celebrates with elaborate processions, traditional music, and cultural performances, which are a fantastic spectacle but also mean larger crowds. Temperatures in summer can get quite warm, often rising above 30°C (86°F). If you’re visiting during this season, be prepared for hotter days and more tourist activity.

Autumn (September to November)

Autumn is another favorable time to visit Tomar. The weather remains warm in early autumn but cools down pleasantly towards November. The changing colors of the foliage offer a beautiful backdrop for sightseeing and photography. Like spring, autumn provides an opportunity to explore the town in cooler temperatures and with fewer tourists compared to summer.

Winter (December to February)

Winters in Tomar are mild compared to northern Europe, with temperatures rarely falling below 5°C (41°F). While it’s cooler and there might be occasional rain, winter is generally a quiet season, ideal for visitors looking to avoid crowds. It’s a good time to explore indoor attractions like museums and churches at your own pace.

Best Times to Visit

The best times to visit Tomar are during the spring and autumn months, when the weather is most pleasant and the tourist crowds are smaller. If you’re interested in experiencing local culture and don’t mind the busy atmosphere, visiting during the summer to catch the Festa dos Tabuleiros can be a unique and memorable experience. For a quieter visit, consider late autumn or winter, when Tomar showcases a more relaxed side.

Average Temperatures in Tomar

  • January 16°C 9
  • February 19°C 9
  • March 20°C 10
  • April 26°C 10
  • May 29°C 6
  • June 30°C 2
  • July 36°C 0
  • August 35°C 1
  • September 33°C 5
  • October 29°C 11
  • November 20°C 11
  • December 17°C 11

How to get to Tomar

Getting to Tomar, a historic town in central Portugal known for its Templar castle and convent, is straightforward whether you’re coming from within Portugal or abroad. Here’s how you can reach Tomar:

By Air

The nearest major airport to Tomar is Lisbon Airport (Lisbon Portela Airport), which is about 135 kilometers away. Lisbon Airport is well-connected to cities across Europe and beyond. From the airport, you can continue your journey to Tomar by train, bus, or car.

By Train

Taking the train is a convenient way to get to Tomar from various parts of Portugal. Tomar is connected by regular train services from Lisbon’s Santa Apolónia or Oriente stations. The journey takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours depending on the service. Trains in Portugal are comfortable and offer a scenic way to travel, especially as you move through the Portuguese countryside.

By Bus

Buses to Tomar can be another practical option. Services from major cities like Lisbon are available, although they may not be as frequent as trains. The bus journey from Lisbon to Tomar takes about 2 hours. Buses might be a cheaper alternative to trains, and they can be more direct, depending on your starting location.

By Car

Driving to Tomar offers flexibility to explore the region at your own pace. From Lisbon, the drive takes about 1.5 hours via the A1 and A13 motorways. Renting a car at Lisbon Airport or in the city itself is straightforward, and having a car is particularly useful if you plan to visit other nearby attractions or rural areas where public transport options are limited.

By Taxi or Rideshare

For convenience, you might consider a taxi or rideshare service like Uber from Lisbon or other nearby cities. This is the most expensive option but could be worthwhile if you’re traveling in a group or with lots of luggage.

Local Tips

  • Train Travel: Check Comboios de Portugal (CP), the national railway company, for train times and fares.
  • Driving Directions: If driving, ensure your GPS is updated as some roads can be narrow and winding, especially in rural areas.
  • Public Transportation: Plan ahead if relying on public transport, especially on weekends or holidays when services may be less frequent.

Tomar is a charming town with rich historical significance, and reaching it from Lisbon or other major cities in Portugal is relatively easy with a range of options suited to different travel styles and budgets.

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