Central Portugal, including Fatima and Tomar, is a unique area that most visitors skip in favor of the cities or the ever popular Algarve. However, you’d be mistaken to overlook it. So much of this area is steeped in Portuguese tradition and culture.
Fatima is a great base for sightseeing in central Portugal. We stayed here for three nights during our road trip through central Portugal. While visiting Fatima itself can easily be done in one day, the surrounding areas offer a multitude of great day trip options- including our favorite, Tomar.
Make sure to check out our post dedicated to all things Sintra. It will help you to plan your visit to the beautiful hilltop castle town.
Where to Stay in Central Portugal
The Luz Charming Houses were honestly our main draw to the area. We knew we wanted to stay somewhere between Sintra and Coimbra, but had a difficult time making a decision.
Ultimately, we decided on Fatima after finding the Luz Houses. Their unique accommodations were exactly what we were looking for and centrally located to several sights we had pegged. Apparently, we can easily be swayed by a cool hotel.
Luz Houses are located just three minutes outside of downtown Fatima, but it feels like another world. Surrounded by trees, the bright orange buildings on the property lend a quirky vibe to the serene landscape.
Designed to look like a small village, each building pays homage to traditional Portuguese architecture in the 19th and 20th centuries. Inside each room, the simple, white walls are juxtaposed by earthy touches like bamboo and images of straw. The atmosphere here is cheery, yet relaxing.
The main house, where breakfast and dinner are served, contains the reception area. The staff here are very friendly and helpful, answering any questions you may have. The common area has a fireplace, a few games, and an honesty bar stocked with coffee, teas, beer, wine, and a few liquors.
The breakfast is varied and plentiful, with the usual European suspects of locally cured meats and cheeses, fruit, and pastries. You can request eggs, pancakes and a few other options too. They also have a small dinner selection, should you choose to stay in for dinner.
The onsite pool and lounge area is only steps from the three buildings that comprise the rooms. There is a small onsite spa, which, sadly, we did not try. Looking back, I really wish we would have.
We planned to stay three nights, hoping to sightsee in the mornings and spend the afternoons by the pool. In reality, we only had one afternoon laying poolside due to the weather.
Fatima is much higher in the mountains than we realized. Apparently, this area commonly holds the morning clouds that roll in. During our visit in July, the clouds never really burned off, leaving the days overcast and chilly. Obviously, this is no fault of the hotel, but you might consider this when making plans. It wasn’t exactly “hot” like we expected of Portugal.
Where to Eat in Fatima
We only had two meals out in Fatima, both of which were both amazing. I’m sure there are other great restaurants, but these were both local spots with only a few tourists. The food was delicious, service was good, and both were so well priced.
Fado’s Lantern: Located about seven minutes from Fatima, this cozy restaurant is amazing. We went here hoping to hear Fado, traditional Portuguese music, but ended up going on the wrong night. Regardless, the food was delicious.
While Fado’s Lantern did have a menu in English, the translation left a lot to the imagination. We finally just asked the waitress to help us narrow down our options. We ordered the lamb in the oven, which came with a side of rice, and wild boar. The boar, cooked with spices, chestnuts and onion, was served with a red onion and orange salad. This meal was one of our favorites in Portugal!
They speak limited English here. It wasn’t a problem at all, as the waitress knew enough to help us. You can probably email them or have your hotel call ahead to check on the nights they are offering Fado if you’re interested. I do think it would’ve been an awesome place to see it, as it seems to be a place where many locals go.
O Crispim: Another great traditional restaurant. It looks like nothing has changed in the 45 years they’ve been in business, which makes it that much better.
We were seated in a cozy room with about six other tables. Again, very little English was spoken here. However, with an English menu and some hand gestures, we were able to easily order.
We decided to try the house wine, which came out in a wooden jug! I’m not kidding. This thing was massive. I bet it held the contents of two normal bottles of wine! David got the spare ribs “friginada”- meaning they were served with a white garlic marinade and fried in a clay pan. They were mouthwatering.
I got the “Lagareiro” codfish with potatoes and a stuffing on the side. I’m not sure exactly what the translation was on that, but it was the best cod I had of the entire trip.
Things to do in Central Portugal near Fatima
Visit the Batalha Monastery
Located in Leiria, about 30 minutes from Fatima, its name literally translates to Monastery of the Battle. It was built as a thank you to the Virgin Mary as a thank you for delivering Portugal from the hands of the Castilians in 1385, with construction taking over 100 years.
Many Portuguese royals from the 15th century are buried here at the Batalha Monastery. The famous Capelas Imperfeitas (Unfinished Chapels) were started in 1437, but as funds started being funneled to other projects they were left unfinished.
When we visited there were no maps, and we didn’t see an option for a audio guided tour. There also were very few placards, all of which were in Portuguese. All that said, we didn’t have much context for what we were seeing.
While an amazing architectural display, we didn’t love it here due to the lack of information. If you find an option for a guided tour, I would definitely consider, as it would really add to the visit. Otherwise, only plan to spend about an hour.
Tour the Gruta de Mira de Aire
This impressive cave was discovered in 1947 and continue down for 180 meters (about 590 feet)- making it the largest in Portugal. The guided tour lasts about 60 minutes, starting with a quick video in Portuguese (with English subtitles) and continuing through the cave.
The guide goes through how the cave was formed, how and when it was discovered, and makes sure to answer any questions. This would be an easy tour with kids (interesting and safety guard rails where needed). We’ve done several cave tours around the world, and this may have been the most impressive so far.
Visit Rua da Pia do Urso
This adorable little village has been historically preserved. There isn’t much “to do” here besides enjoy the simple architecture. There is a great little trail built for kids with interactive games and play areas. They also have picnic tables if you want, but I’d opt for the restaurant. Definitely plan to stop here if your kids are tagging along.
There are two restaurants, only one of which was open when we were there. Restaurante Piadussa, the one that was open, was fantastic. We had the most amazing bacon wrapped filet with house wine, bread and cheese, a dessert and an espresso each for 20 euro!
They didn’t speak much English, but like everywhere else they have an English menu and we managed with a few hand signals and google translate.
Visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady Fatima and The Basilica of the Holy Trinity
These famous churches share a common plaza so they are easy to visit together. You will see several people finishing the pilgrimage through Spain and Portugal. Unless you are a devout Catholic, I’d only plan to spend about an hour total between the two. For more information on the two and the history of Fatima’s fame, check out this article.
Visit the Moeda Grottos
This is an alternative to the Gruta de Mira de Aire. From what we could tell, this isn’t quite as large, but make sure to visit both if you really like caves or if you would rather stay closer to Fatima due to time constraints. Be sure to check their site for more information.
This historically preserved town of Talasnal is everything you imagine of an early mountain town, beautiful little houses stacked side by side overlooking the valley below. You can stay in this area in various rentals. This is a popular area for hiking, so if you can, plan to stay a night or two and hike to the various villages. For more info on Talasnal and other schist villages, you can visit this site.
Take a Day trip to Tomar
Tomar was our favorite village in central Portugal. There are lots of beautiful sights, cute little streets, and some great restaurants.
You could easily spend the better part of a day in Tomar, the highlight being the Convent of Christ. Since it is the most popular attraction, I would start my day here to avoid any crowds.
The original fortified walls were a stronghold for the Knights Templar built in the 12th century, providing protection from the Moors. Inside there was a castle, a church, a nave, and several cloisters that housed the monks.
The church with its famous round walls, was truly fascinating.
The architecture and beautiful carvings and paintings rival those in any of the famous churches in Europe. This was our favorite place we visited in the Fatima area. It is a must do.
Things to know About the Convent of Christ
- There is parking at the top near the entrance. We arrived about an hour after opening during our July trip. We immediately parked at the bottom and walked up thinking parking would be limited. While the lot is small, the lot was nowhere near full. If you don’t want to walk, I’d definitely try the lot at the top. However, the walk uphill was gradual and treelined, so we enjoyed it.
- There is a cafe near the entrance for any snacks or drinks you may need.
- There are often free tours given by local high school students. We opted for one of these, and it made the biggest difference. We learned so much, and it truly helped to provide the context needed to appreciate the Convent Christ.
- Make sure to grab a map if you don’t do the guided tour. The maze of chapels, room, hallways, and cloisters can get confusing.
- If you plan on visiting the Bahlata Monastery and/or the Alcobaça Monastery then make sure to buy the combo ticket, which will save you a few euros.
- Make sure to take any pictures you want as you go, because you exit through a different area. You can walk the grounds and castle walls before going in.
After leaving the Convent Christ, walk to Restaurante Beira Rio for lunch. This place was packed, and for good reason. We weren’t able to snag a table on the patio, but luckily we were able to get one inside. We split a delicious steak with fries and salad.
After lunch, spend a couple of hours walking and seeing all the sights of Tomar. You can find maps at the Convent Christ and in a few places around town. Visit the various chapels and museums, including the Synagogue, the Old Bridge, and the Church of São Joã Baptista.
Once you’re ready to leave Tomar, make your way to Almoroul Castle. This is a quick stop located about 25 minutes outside of Tomar on the way back to Fatima. A simple castle located on a river island, the visit only takes about thirty minutes.
When the water is low, you can walk across the rocks. Otherwise, if the water levels are up too high, you can wait on a boat to take you over.
Things to Know about Tomar
- Tomar is hot! Make sure to dress appropriately. It was 8°C hotter in Tomar than at our hotel in Fatima (that’s a difference of 46°F!)
- Most places take credit/debit cards, but make sure to keep change for parking meters.
I hope you enjoy Fatima, Tomar, and the rest of Central Portugal as much as we did. It truly gave us so much insight into Portuguese tradition and allowed us to see this beautiful part of the country. For more information on our trip, check out our post on our ten day trip through Portugal.