Tomar: One-day trip guide to the city of the Knights Templars

It is the city of the Knights Templar, of the castle and the Convent of Christ, but Tomar has much more to see. The beautiful city bathed by the Nabão river promises a day well spent.

The Convent of Christ is what brings us to Tomar. A World Heritage Site since 1983, it is one of the largest European convents and a Renaissance masterpiece. This is where we start our visit to Tomar.

Climbing the hill and after parking, we enter the Templars’ Castle, the cradle of Tomar. The grounds were donated by King Afonso Henriques to the Order of the Knights Templar, in recognition of the role played by the warrior monks in the battles against the Moors, and the castle was founded in 1160 by Master Dom Gualdim Pais.

The early church of the Convent of Christ in Tomar is Byzantine in style
The Charola was the place of worship of the Knights Templar

The castle then housed the town and was developed between the walled town and the Charola. The Charola is, in fact, what has the greatest impact on visitors on their first contact with the site. This was the original place of prayer of the Knights Templar and the beginning of what is today one of the most important European convents.

Entry to the Convent of Christ is compulsory and well worth the 6 euro ticket (it is free on Sundays and public holidays). This is one of the finest examples of Manueline and Renaissance architecture. Take your time, appreciate the cloisters, the charolais with its decoration and, of course, don’t miss the famous Janela do Capítulo and its intricate stone work.

After a lengthy visit to the castle and the Convent of Christ, it is time to descend into what is now Tomar town centre, with an obligatory stop at Mata dos Sete Montes. The former convent fence is now a national forest with a formal garden at its centre. Here we find Renaissance tanks, the little water trough, the Pegões aqueduct and various fountains, especially the Jasmines fountain and the Blood fountain.

Let us take advantage of the shadows of the Sete Montes forest to learn a little more about the history of Tomar and better contextualise our walk through its historical centre.

The city began to take the shape that we know today from 1420 onwards, the date on which Prince Henry the Navigator moved to Tomar as governor and regent of the Order of Christ, an order which in Portugal continued that of the Knights Templar.

He was responsible for the major transformations in the convent, which were completed by King Manuel I, and also in the city. It is to his rule that we owe Tomar’s layout in the shape of a cross and the development of its streets in perfect squares.

The centre of Tomar and the old bridge across the Nabão River are perfectly aligned with the entrance to the castle and this was the route taken by the knightly monks. But we’ll get there in a moment. For now, we are in the Mata dos Sete Montes.

On the way out, there’s the statue of Prince Henry the Navigator (and now we know why he’s being honoured) and the tourist office, which was the first in the country to be built specifically for this purpose. Get a map of the city and follow us for a walk that is as easy as it is pleasant.

We walk down the avenue and take the first right towards the Church and Convent of São Francisco. The Mannerist temple with a rare calvary houses the Match Museum, the estate of Aquiles da Mota, who started the collection on the liner that took him to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of England.

Let’s return the way we came, cross the avenue and enter Rua Infantaria XV, where we find the Paraíso cinema-theatre, heading for the heart of the city: Praça da República.

Here, we will linger for a while because there is a lot to see. The eyes are inevitably drawn to the Church of São João Baptista. The church, which is Tomar’s parish church, surprises us with its Manueline doorway and the brown stone tower, where we can see some very interesting details. Inside, we find the peace of the great churches, but also a good collection of 16th-century paintings. After leaving the church, let us look at the square, of great harmony. In the centre stands the statue to Master Gualdim Pais, the founder of the city, and on the other top are the Paços Reais de D. Manuel I, today the Town Hall.

Gualdim Pais was the founder of Tomar
Gualdim Pais and the Church of S. João Baptista

Facing the church again, let’s take the street that runs to the left of it towards the river. Named after the explorer Serpa Pinto, it is known by all as Corredoura, because it was the path that the knights used to take. This is the main shopping street in the centre of Tomar. Let’s follow it to the end, where we come across the so-called old bridge which, despite having undergone a number of renovations, still retains its Roman features.

Let’s go left and enjoy the river bank. On the other side, we have the pleasant green “mouchão”, where there is a reconstitution of a hydraulic wheel, just like the many there were around here and which were an important part of the irrigation system of the fields. It was here that we met the Festival of Statues.

But if we don’t turn towards the “mouchão”, in the houses facing the small footbridge we find the Núcleo de Arte Contemporânea, the building that houses the collection of the art critic José Augusto França. Made up of 500 pieces of painting, sculpture and photography, the collection spans the entire 20th century, particularly modernism and surrealism. There are works by Almada, Vespeira, António Pedro, João Cutileiro, José Guimarães and many others to see. This is a place not to be missed.

Manueline buildings house the Levada cultural centre
The King’s olive presses

At the exit, let us take the border street, Rua Dr. Joaquim Jacinto, and in one of the first houses on the left side we come across the Casa Memória Fernando Lopes Graça, the place where the composer was born and which is now a museum. If we continue along the street, in the middle of the second block, we find the Tomar synagogue, which is probably the oldest Hebrew temple in Portugal, and where the Abraão Zacuto Hebrew Museum is located. Currently, the synagogue is under restoration works and part of the collection can be seen in the Levada cultural complex.


We cannot end our tour of Tomar without visiting the Church of Santa Maria do Olival. To get there we have to turn back towards the river. When we get there, we turn right and continue walking along the street until we reach the roundabout. If we look ahead, we see, on the other side of the Praça Alves Redol (that’s what it’s called), the Estaus, a set of three arches that are the last vestiges of the pensions ordered by Infante D. Henrique to receive the strangers who could stay overnight there.

Cross the river and at the top of Avenida Norton de Matos, on the right hand side, stands the Church of Santa Maria do Olival. The temple, in the most perfect Portuguese Gothic style, was the pantheon of the Templar Masters. We are almost done. From here we follow Rua de Santa iria until the end. We have the old bridge just to our left, but before crossing it, let us look at the Church and Convent of Santa Iria, with its portal of the so-called Coimbra Renaissance School. The building was erected on the site of the martyrdom of Saint Iria, the city’s patron saint.

Do not cross the bridge. Let’s go right along the river and take the opportunity to rest on the beautiful terrace, where we have a panorama over the Nabao, the city, the Templars’ Castle and the Convent of Christ. We see what we have covered and thus consolidate the memories of an extremely well spent day.

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