This is by far the town's biggest draw, and one of the must see sights of Portugal, let alone Tomar. It is the former headquarters of the famous (possibly infamous) Knights Templar, and as such reflects the vast amount of wealth and power they accrued from their crusading exploits, and subsequent money lending enterprises. As the Knights Templar were both a Christian and Militaristic order, so the convent is both a religious and military centre. The convent part of the complex is a round church, focused around the magnificent central Charola.
Unfortunately when I was there the Charola, like much of the best sights in Portugal right now, was under reconstruction. There was an ugly piece of draped over scaffolding blocking the entrance to the inner circle, and a number of the paintings appeared to have been taken from the walls for restoration. Unlike Tomar the convent was crawling with tourists, most of whom seemed to be French. I am guessing that the recent success and controversy of the Da Vinci Code novel has sparked an interest in that country for the Knights Templar in particular.
I really enjoyed walking around the convent and imagining what it must have been like to have been there back when the likes of Prince Henry the Navigator would have been wandering around its hallowed halls. I buried myself away in a quiet corner of the two storied nave adjoining the central Charola. It was totally quiet there due to it being strangely overlooked by the other tourists as they were drawn to the painted Charola like bees to a flower. There I sat in the snug of a and on the cool stone benches tucked away from the main hall to give privacy. Here I imagined the furtive, perhaps even heretical, discussions of the Templar monks from centuries earlier.
World Heritage to UNESCO, this is the highlight of the town.
Special attention must be given to the main door, the "Charola" a chapel inspired in eastern architecture, and above all, the Manueline window, considered the top of that Portuguese style. But even the cloisters and the functional area of the convent deserve your attention, if you have a good guide to explain you how things used to work.
In my recent visit the Charola was closed to maintenance, and could only be seen from the entrance. I don't know how long it will take, but you better be aware of that small drawback.
Close to the Convent, and working as its entrance, allowing to see both monuments in a single visit, this stronghold from the 12th century still keeps some ow the ramparts and doors.
As a passing way to the marvelous Convent, I think that no one gives it the proper attention, but, in the way out, why not a closer look?
One of my memories from school was the strangeness of the nomination of a window (yes... a window) as one of our more remarkable monuments.
Being part of a bigger (and beautiful) monument why was that window so special?
Well, it's really special, and fairly considered the top example of Manueline style. So, if you go to Convento de Cristo don't miss it. And BE careful about that, because in the maze of the convent's corridors, and amidst so many interesting spots, you do risk to miss it. You know - it's only a window.
The Castle of the Templars and Convent of Christ more or less the same complex are extremely beautiful. Both are listed as world heritage of the UNESCO and I think once you have been there, you know why.
Check the link for information about the history of this place!
You'll feel in a maze, passing from one cloister to another, but you will notice that they are all different, until you notice that you are in the upper floor of the same cloister you saw from below.
At the end you will not be able to count how many cloisters did you visit (five, I think!). Don't worry! you will not get lost, and at the end you will appreciate the adventure.
During your visit to the Convent of Christ you should not forget to have a look at the famous manueline window. It is said to be one of the masterpieces of manueline art in Portugal. The window of the designer Diogo de Arruda is visible from the Saint Barbara Cloister.
In the middle of the old town you will find the nice main square.
On the upper side there is the city hall. Here D. Manuel I had lived for a while before he became king of Portugal.
In the center of the square you will see a statue. It is Dom Gualdim Pais who lived from 1118 to 1195. He was the founder of the city of Tomar.
On the lower side is the Church of São João Baptista.
During daytimes there are two cafes open with tables on the side of the square.
Just a about three kilometers away from the convent you can have a look at the well preserved aqueduct which used to supply water to it. At the parking it is possible to climb it, but I am not sure if the statics of it allows to cross it. At least no signs were visible saying anything against it.
I think it is absolutely worth to come here and if you have time you can even walk here from the convent.
The Templar Castle is part of the entire convent complex, but unlike the convent you can visit it for free. The walls offer amazing views of the town, the best you can find anywhere, but they are a little difficult to find your way up to them. I almost missed them. If I hadn't doubled back on my way out of the convent and made a determined effort to discover how people were getting up onto them I might have missed out. To your right as you enter the castle walls and walk towards the convent, there is a path that winds behind some bushes and leads up and over the main entrance. Once you are on that path you can walk the entire length of the walls that remain as the encircle the convent and the castle gardens.