Tomar is incredibly pretty. While standing in the middle of the town square, you’ll want to slowly revolve and snap pictures of every corner, including the beautifully tiled pavement. Next it’s time to take a short walk uphill. The Tomar Castle and Convent of Christ are the area’s shining jewels catching visitors’ attention from their hilltop perch. Built in the 12th century, these medieval buildings incorporate a mix of Portuguese Manueline architecture (the signature style from the Age of Discoveries) with Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and hints of other styles. The castle walls actually wrap around the convent and it’s common to call the entire complex the Convent of Christ.
In Tomar, charming and centuries-old chapels can be found on each side of town and the rural homes, some white-washed and others made of stone, add to the traditional feel.
The Knights Templar connection
Remember the religious military order mentioned in the Da Vinci Code? Dan Brown fans and history buffs interested in the Knights Templar can add to their fun by searching for Templar secrets when visiting Portugal. Tomar was a city planned for a branch of the Knights Templar, intended to serve as a home and headquarters, and it remained that way after the Templars reorganized themselves as the Military Order of Christ. Not only are the Tomar Castle and Convent of Christ considered Templar museums but the town center was planned as a cross. All around town are landmarks connected to this ancient group.
It is believed that the Order of Christ was partially responsible for funding Portugal’s voyages during the Age of Discoveries.
Traditional Portuguese charm
Tomar is a lovely town characterized by narrow-cobbled walkways, the mosaic-tiled squares, and a laid-back pace of life that’s typically experienced in Portugal. It’s easy to feel like you’ve traveled back through time while visiting this ancient town. Best of all, the friendly locals are happy to share their culture and stories with visitors, especially during long late-night dinners fueled with food and wine.
Beautiful gardens and parks
Around the Convent of Christ complex are small gardens and forested parks, including the National Forest of Seven Hills, just perfect for spending a peaceful day walking.
It has an aqueduct from the 17th century
There is something extraordinary about medieval aqueducts (check out Segovia, Spain). The amazing 6-kilometer-long Pegões Aqueduct was built to direct water to Tomar and, in particular, the Convent of Christ. Comprised of two levels of arches, it is one of the largest aqueducts in Portugal.
Traditional regional food
One of the best experiences in Portugal is the culinary experience (characterized by simple recipes that are full of flavor) and the local family-run restaurants are great spots to taste regional dishes.
Even the local sweets are romantic!
Really! Among the local sweets are conventional favorites called “Beija-me depressa” translating as “kiss me quickly” and they even come in pink vintage boxes reminiscent of a 1950s style. Small, orange in color, and soft, they are like biting into sweet pieces of heaven made of custard (if you like traditional Portuguese pastries, they’re definitely worth a try). You can find them at the Pastelaria Estrelas de Tomar, a local pastry shop near Tomar’s riverbank.
Pastelaria Estrelas de Tomar: R. Serpa Pinto 12, Tomar, Portugal +351 249 313 275
It has a festival that only happens once every four years
One of Portugal’s more colorful and unique Christian festivals happens in Tomar only once every four years in July, a great reason to visit if you time it right. The highlight of the Festival dos Tabuleiros (Festival of Trays) is easily the parade characterized by two long lines of women carrying tall trays on their heads filled with bread and flowers, but the week around the festival is full of dancing, drinking and plenty of delicious Portuguese food. This also happens to be one of the country’s oldest festivals, dating as far back as the 1300s, and the next one will be in 2019 (start planning!).
One of the country’s wondrous castles is nearby
The Castle of Almourol is one of Portugal’s more popular and beautiful castles and only a half hour drive from Tomar.
A great location to go trekking
Central Portugal is an excellent destination for hikers in general. In Tomar, you can walk through town, head up to the castle and church, and then continue on for 3 kilometers to the Pegões Aqueduct. It’s also near part of the pilgrim routes to Fátima and Santiago de Compostela.
The town is a living museum
Tomar is an exciting town for history enthusiasts, architecture lovers, and travelers who appreciate culture.
How many times can you say you visited a matchbox museum?
Tomar’s Museu dos Fosforos is filled with 43,000 beautifully decorated matchboxes collected from countries around the world, perhaps a strange concept but nonetheless a unique and interesting sight and it’s the largest museum of its kind in Europe (maybe even in the world).