Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar. Three cities in the Estremadura region of Portugal. All three famous for their monasteries and all three Unesco World Heritage sites worth a visit. Especially if you like history and cultural sites. As you might know by now, I am crazy for these kind of things, so during our 10-day Portugal road trip, I dragged my boyfriend down the altar (ha!) and explored the amazing monasteries of Alcobaça, Batalha and the Convent of Christ in Tomar. Read about the Heritage Trail and why you should visit. I’ll give you a ton of practical tips to visit these monasteries in Portugal from Lisbon.
Monasteries in Estremadura Portugal
The monasteries of Alcobaça and Batalha and the Convent of Christ in Tomar are all joined together in the Monastery route or Heritage trail. The name shows a hint of what these Unesco sites are all about: Heritage! The Alcobaça Monastery is linked with the Batalha Monastery and the Convent of Tomar by their history. When you visit them, you’ll find historic churches, royal heritage, Medieval cloister gardens and true Unesco splendor.
Alcobaça, Batalha and Tomar are small towns in the north of Estramadura region and Ribatejo in Portugal. They are 65 km (or 40 miles) apart from each other and you can reach them in 1,5 hours drive from Lisbon. A perfect day trip or the perfect excuse to visit this region of Portugal for several days.
We arrived in Alcobaca on our road trip through Portugal. I planned for us to arrive in the afternoon and we’d stay overnight in Alcobaça so we could have a fresh start in the early morning. We stayed in a small guesthouse right across from the Alcobaça Monastery and we could even see the church from our room! Alcobaça is a small town. We first drove through the new town and then found a big parking lot. We dumped the car and rolled our suitcases over to the old town.
Located at a giant square, you’ll find some shops and bars but the main sight is without a doubt the Alcobaça church and monastery.
Alcobaca Monastery (Mosteiro de Santa Maria de Alcobaça)
The first monastery of the day, we entered the church just after 11 in the morning. Just a rainy Wednesday in March, but there were still people visiting.
You can visit the church for free. A giant, sober structure on the inside with Gothic arches and white stone. After your visit to the church, you return to the front to enter to monastery. Here you’ll find the rooms where the monks lived and ate! The legend of the fat monks of Alcobaça is both ashaming and amusing at the same time. Make sure to take a peak into the giant chimney in the kitchen.
a Lover’s Tale
What makes Alcobaça so famous and loved by Portugal’s residents is the love story of Alcobaça. Unknown to most of the world, it matched Romeo and Juliette and Tristan and Isolde in drama. At the back of the Alcobaça church, you’ll find the tombs of Portugal’s crown prince Dom Pedro and his love Dona Înes de Castro (the lady in waiting of his wife and from Spain!). Of course, the king didn’t approve of his son’s love and ordered to assassinate her.
Two years after her death, Dom Pedro became king, lifted her decomposing body from her grave, crowned her queen and made everyone honor her corps. The tomb of the two lover’s face each other, for when the moment comes that they will rise again, they will see each other for the first time as king and queen.
A bit morbid, but I must admit the tombs are elaboratedly decorated and impressive. Together with the story, it brings life to the history. Also noticeable is the Pantheon in the back where you’ll find 1,000 year old tombs and inscriptions.
Read more: Mythical Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra
Convent Garden of Alcobaca
What I loved most about the Alcobaça monastery, was the lovely convent garden of Alcobaca. The square courtyard, with orange trees dotted around, is ligned by spiral mock pilars, gothic arches and wide paths surrounding them. There are 2 levels and the top level gives an excellent view of the church, the convent gardens and the rest of the monastery of Alcobaca.
During our visit, part of the monastery was closed for visiting as it was under renovation. The view from the monks main bedroom gives an excellent idea of the splendor once it will be finished.
Read more: Bussaco Forest in Portugal
After Alcobaca, we drove to Batalha. Only 24 km on the N242-4, we arrived in Batalha under half an hour. The Monastery of Batalha is not to be missed. It dominated the skyline as we approached town. Again, we put our car in a free parking spot and within a minute we gawked at the vast complex of Batalha.
I was amazed! How did I not know about this place? I feel Portugal has many hidden world wonders that can rival the ones in Spain and Italy. But fortunate for us, there were only a few people visiting.
Batalha Monastery (Mosteiro de Santa Maria da Vitória)
The Church of Batalha is similar to the one in Alcobaça. We entered through the side door and found the same high, thick Gothic pillars. The Batalha Church has some lovely glass stained windows that casted a pink spell across the white interior. The church in Batalha was built to commemorate the battle of Aljubarrota where the Portuguese royals fought off the Moors with success.
Royal Chapel Batalha
Absolutele show stopper of the Batalha monastery is the royal Pantheon (Claustro Real). Just right from the main entrance you’ll find the tombs of the Portuguese royals, Joaõ I and his wife Philippa of Lancaster. They are considered the founders of Portugal and rest with the graves of their children in this spectacular bright dome. Everywhere you look you’ll see Gotic arches and Manueline details. All entangled and flowing in seemingly symmetric patterns.
We continued into the monastery. Again, we were welcomed by the courtyard with a few orange trees and gigantic cypresses. Here, the marriage between Gothic arches and intricate details continues. Twisted colomns, knotted ornaments and trickling fountains. I had a ball walking around, playing peek-a-boo behind the pillars and posing for pictures. Things got a bit more serious when we entered the chapter-house. Here, two soldiers stood guard to the grave of 2 unknown soldiers of WW1.
We excited the monastery and walked outside to the unfinished chapels to the back of the Batalha church. The Unfinished Chapels, or Capelas Imperfeitas were built as a mausoleum with seven chapels. But they were never finished. Here you’ll find the exuberant design in the Manueline style, overgrowing all arches, doorways, nooks and crannies with complex designs and tangled motives. These delicate features look even more fragile as they are exposed to the open air above us as the chapels were never finished.
We returned outside and took another stroll around the exterior of the Batalha monastery. Only now we truly could see the scale of the Batalha church, with the pantheon, the monastery and the chapels.The façade of the church faced an empty square and the main road around Batalha. This seems just as contradictive as the unfinished chapels, like Batalha monastery is turned inside out or facing the wrong way. All in all very impressive.
Convert of Christ in Tomar (Convento de Cristo Tomar)
After all these monasteries in Alcobaca and Batalha, we drove along the IC-9 towards Tomar. It took about 40 minutes to drive the twisting 45 km to Tomar. We grabbed lunch on the way and ate it while overlooking the town of Tomar and the Convent of Christ situated on the hill top.
We drove closer, parked the car in the main parking garage and started the walk up hill to reach the convent. Only to reach the Convent of Tomar and see the parking lot at the top. Duh!
We entered through the main gate and were immediately amazed by the different defence style of this place. After the religious appearance and tidy upkeep of Alcobaça and Batalha, we didn’t expect such a rugid and bold appearance in Tomar.
But it makes sense though. First a Moorish castle, the site that now houses the Convent of Christ in Tomar, was given to the Knights Templar as they conquered Portugal and Europe against the Moors. Maybe I expected some actors dressed up as knights, roaming the grounds or plaques or dusty books remembering of this time but I didn’t find that much of it in Tomar.
What we did find, was the Charola, almost a round church of the Knight’s Templar. Based on Jerusalem design, this 16-sides round altar-like church is the main feature and something I had never seen before. Colourful murals, eastern inspired designs and large figures dominate the round room. Another great feature of the church is the west window. It shows Manueline style in it’s best form with a lot of references to the naval exploration that the Knights funded back in the 16th century.
You can best see the window of the church from the outside, of one of the Tomar monasteries. The Convent of Christ in Tomar is made up of several (7) different monasteries and cloister gardens.
You can find the blue azuljos (tiles) dominated cloisters and many others. From one you can clearly see the ruins of the Knight’s Templar’s castle.
In all honestly, by now I was just so tired. We roamed from one room to another. Going up spiral staircases, landing into another cloister garden. Gazing through eerie looking courtyards, dwelling through the hallways.
At the end of our visit I begged my boyfriend to find the exit and call it a day. Not because the Tomar Monastery wasn’t interesting, but just because I was too tired.
Should you visit Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar in one day?
And that brings me to the next question: should you visit them all in one day? I think you can guess my answer: NO! It was just too much. There is only a certain amount of churches and monasteries and cloister gardens a person can handle in one day and I reached my maximum half-way through Tomar.
Which really was a shame. If we would have visited Tomar first, it might have happened during the last visit. So, if you want to visit all three of them (and you should) then space things out a bit.
Practical tips to visit Alcobaça, Batalha and Tomar
Ok, here comes the bit with all the information about the monasteries in Alcobaça and Batalha and the Convent of Christ in Tomar.
Costs to visit Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar
Each of these sights can be visited individually. You do not need to visit all three of them. You will pay €6 entrance fee for each. But you can also buy the Heritage Trail ticket to combine all three of them. This card is valid for 7 days and this way, you’ll save €3 and pay €15 in total for Alcobaça, Batalha and Tomar. Click each link to find detailed information about prices and discounts.
Opening hours of the monasteries
Alcobaça is opened from 9am. In winter (October to March) they are open until 6pm and in summer (April to September) till 7 pm. Batalha and Tomar also open at 9am but they close at 5.30pm (winter) and 6.30pm (summer). They will be closed on January 1st, March 1st (check), Easter Sunday, May 1st (check), August 20th and December 24th & 25th.
Visit by car
We rented a car in Lisbon and drove north for 10 days. We stayed overnight in Alcobaça and visited all three monasteries from there. This is by far the easiest way to see one or two of the monasteries (let alone all 3!).
About cheap parking
In Alcobaça there is big free car park right outside the old town (set your navigation to R. Dr. Brilhante and you’ll see it). It is only a 3 minute walk from there to the Alcobaca monastery. You can also park in front of the church but it is paid parking with a time limit.
In Batalha, the monastery is surrounded by parking spaces. Most of them are paid, but we found a small patch where it was free to park. (navigate to R. António Cândido da Encarnação and you’ll see it).
In Tomar we opted for a paid underground parking lot as the town was much bigger. We parked at the parking of Praça da República and only had to pay €0,90 for 2 hours. You can also park right at the top at the Convent of Christ, but I’m guessing it will be more expensive.
Day Trip from Lisbon
If you’re based in Lisbon, you can also join a tour that brings you by mini-van or coach to the Estremadura region to explore Batalha and Alcobaça. Most likely they will include Fatima and they all seem to have a very religious character. As I don’t have any experiences with this, I cannot recommend a tour. You can also take the bus or train but you can only visit one of these sites in a day. I’d recommend to rent a car in Lisbon and drive north to see at least two monasteries.
Comparison guide: Alcobaça, Batalha or Tomar?
So… I visited all three of them, but which one would I recommend to you if you can only visit one? Or maybe, at most 2? Well that is a difficult one. As always, I will not tell you what to do, but I will compare the monasteries of Alcobaça, Batalha and the Tomar Convent and help you make a decision.
What Alcobaça, Batalha and Tomar have in common
Highly religious character and spiritual background
They are all Unesco World Heritage sites
They all have a church and adjacent cloisters
Great cultural and historic significance
Gothic designs and Manueline architecture
All 3 towns are small and have not much else going on besides these highlights
Unique features of the Alcobaca and Batalha monastery and the Tomar Convent
So what sets them apart? Here are some impressions from me:
Most gorgeous cloister garden: Alcobaça
Best tragic love story: Alcobaça
Most dramatic location in the town: Alcobaça
Most impressive church: Tomar
Best architecture goes to: Batalha
Most unexpected designs: also Batalha, due to the unfinished chapels
Serene regal pantheon: Batalha
Most dramatic ruins: Tomar
Best panorama facade: Batalha
Most diverse cloister gardens and monasteries: Tomar
Well, I can go on a bit more. All three of them were equally amazing and I was happy we visited Alcobaca, Batalha and Tomar. At each site, I saw things I had never seen before. We took some half decent pictures, enjoyed the quiet hall ways and learned a ton about Portuguese (royal) history.
I definitely recommend to visit the Estremadura region to visit Alcobaça, Batalha and Tomar. If you have time, stay overnight and pop over to see Fatima too. The castle in Ourém is pretty impressive too and I regret that we didn’t have time for the caves of Mira de Aire. The little medieval town of Óbidos was a historic gem, so there is plenty to see and do in the area.
Which one of the monasteries appeals most to you? Would you visit Alcobaça or Batalha? Would you pop over to Tomar to visit the Convent of Christ too? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.
All my opinions and experiences are my own. This post does contain affiliate links. If you decide to book a service via one of my links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.