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9 Fascinating Things to do in Tomar Portugal in a Day

Discover things to do in Tomar Portugal. Make the most of one day in Tomar with this helpful travel guide. Learn about the Festa dos Tabuleiros & more

Tomar is a charming town in central Portugal situated on the banks of the Nabão River and boasts a population of around 40,000 people. Did you know that Tomar reached its zenith of importance in the 15th century when it became a hub of Portuguese overseas expansion led by Henry the Navigator?

Located about an hour from the Portuguese capital, Tomar is an ideal destination for a day trip from Lisbon or as a stopping off point en route to places further afield in Central Portugal

We decided to stop and sample some of the many cool and historic things to do in Tomar on our way home from Castelo Branco and the Festa da Cereja near Fundão.

Read on and find out why Tomar is worth adding to your Portugal itinerary. 

Defensive wall of Castelo do Tomar

Getting to Tomar

There are several ways to get to Tomar from Lisbon. You can take a train from Santa Apolónia station in Lisbon. Rede Expressos and FlixBus offer direct service from Lisbon to Tomar. Both bus and rail options take about 2 hours. 

Tour operators often bundle Óbidos and Tomar into an ambitious day trip. 

One of the cloisters at Convento de Cristo in Tomar Portugal

Alternatively, you can drive from Lisbon to Tomar in less than 90 minutes. Traveling by car like we did will give you the most flexibility. Tomar is an excellent stopping point on the way to or from destinations in Central Portugal. We visited on our return drive from Castelo Branco

There is free parking on the street near the train station. Tomar is a relatively compact city and is easy to get around on foot.

Things to do in Tomar

Now let's take a look at some of the popular and more off the beaten path things to do in Tomar if you visit for a day.

1. Visit the Tomar Tourism Office

The tourism office in Tomar is a great place to start your visit. We picked up a map of the city and information about the various attractions. We were excited to see a tabuleiro on display in preparation for the upcoming festival in July. 

It was made of flowers and bread with a crown on top. A Festa dos Tabuleiros is held every four years. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, the festival was held every year. 

Interior of the tourism office in Tomar PortugalTabuleiro in the tourism office in Tomar Portugal

Couples parade in pairs with ladies carrying tabuleiros on their heads. What is a tabuleiro? It’s a symbolic hat made of 30 stacked pieces of bread, decorated with flowers and topped with a crown.

The rituals of the Festa dos Tabuleiros date back to the 13th century and are tied to the Culto do Império do Divino Espírito Santo (Cult of the Empire of the Holy Spirit), the same cult that gave raise to the beautiful Terceira Impérios in the Azores

2. Walk to Castelo do Tomar and Convento de Cristo

It takes about ten minutes and a steep uphill climb to get from the tourism office to Castelo do Tomar and the Convento de Cristo, two of Tomar's most popular attractions. 

Castelo do Tomar dates back to the 12th century when Gualdim Pais, a Portuguese knight and a Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was granted the lands in the region of Tomar. 

Tomar soon became the Templars headquarters in Portugal and remained so until the 14th century when the Order of the Knights Templar was disbanded.

Wall of Castelo do Tomar in Portugal

We were delighted to discover that the convent is free for Portuguese residents to visit on Sundays if you enter before 2 pm.

The recently cleaned facade of Convento de Cristo in Tomar

The round Charola church at Convento de Cristo dates back to the 12th century and has a colorful interior. The paintings and statues appear to have been lovingly restored. 

Walk around the circular interior and take some time to explore the 8 cloisters and Manueline architecture of this 16th-century convent. The Convento de Cristo is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I could easily tell why. The building just drips history from every pore.

A cloister at Convento de Cristo in Tomar Portugal

The Dormitory at Convento de Cristo in Tomar is lined with 17th-century geometric tiles. To learn more about the history of azulejos in Portugal, I definitely recommend a visit to the National Tile Museum in Lisbon.

17th century azulejos in the dormitory at Convento de Cristo in Tomar Portugal

I always thought convents were for nuns, but in Europe, I discovered that the term convent is more general and refers to any religious community living together. This one housed monks. 

Ruins of a cloister and view of the church at Convento de Cristo in Tomar Portugal

I do not recommend walking to and from Castelo de Tomar if you are not sure-footed or if the weather is bad. The climb is relatively steep and has uneven stones. Be careful!

Cobbled street leading to Castelo do Tomar and Convento de Cristo

3. Explore Praça de República

Our climb down from Convento de Cristo led us to Praça da República and Manueline Igreja de São João Baptista. Take a moment to steep in the well-preserved core of Medieval Tomar. Another tabuleiro was on display inside the church. 

Igreja de São João Baptista and patterned tiles on Praça de República in Tomar PortugalTabuleiro and interior of Igreja de São João Baptista Tomar Portugal

4. Get in the Festa dos Tabuleiros Spirit

Suddenly, the church bells started tolling and we could hear a band approaching. We rushed outside to see the seventh of eight processions of crowns that take place between Easter and the Festa dos Tabuleiros in July. 

5. Dine al Fresco at Canoa Wine Bar

R. da Silva Magalhães is a narrow street that branches off from Praça da República in Tomar. The street is flanked by eateries and cafes. We stopped for a glass of wine and a cheese platter at Canoa Wine Bar.

Bread cheese and wine at Canoa wine bar in Tomar Portugal 

It was delicious and the proprietor was a real character! She even ran next door to get a special dessert for a couple visiting from France.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Looking for other things to do in Central Portugal? Why not: 

6. Walk Along the River

The area along the river near Ponte Velha in Tomar is particularly picturesque. Take some photos of the town and castle above. Stop to admire the historic wooden water wheel.

Wooden water wheel in Tomar PortugalView of Tomar from the river

We even saw some people along the river who appeared to be practicing carrying the tabuleiros balanced on their heads. 

People practicing carrying tabuleiros on their heads in Tomar Portugal

7. Visit Capella de Santa Iria

The Capella de Santa Iria is worth a stop to learn about a 1,500-year-old legend. In the year 653, Iria was destined to devote her life to the church. 

Interior of Capella de Santa Iria in Tomar Portugal

However, two unrequited lovers and a potion that made the virgin appear pregnant resulted in her death at the hands of the monk Ramiglio. The story felt to me like a twist on the traditional Romeo and Juliet theme.

8. Experience History at One of the Oldest Synagogues in Europe

Did you know that Tomar is home to one of the oldest Medieval synagogues in Europe that still stands today? Now the building is home to a few artifacts and a video on the history of the Jews in Portugal. Visit for free. The synagogue is just a short walk from Praça da República. 

Small cobbled street lined with flowers in Tomar Portugal

9. Look for Tabuleiro Photo Ops

Keep an eye out as you pass shop windows in Tomar. You may catch a glimpse of a famous bread hat. 

We spotted a tabuleiro gracing the interior of a local bank. I'm wondering: do they replace the bread every day or somehow preserve it for the duration of Festa das Tabuleiros?  

Close-up of a tabuleiro bread hat in Tomar Portugal

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: 9 Fascinating Things to do in Tomar Portugal in a Day
9 Fascinating Things to do in Tomar Portugal in a Day
Discover things to do in Tomar Portugal. Make the most of one day in Tomar with this helpful travel guide. Learn about the Festa dos Tabuleiros & more
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog