The decorated round church of the Convent of Christ Portugal. A richly painted archway opens to a central octagonal round altar that goes all the way to the ceiling and is covered in gold and paintings.
Monasteries,  Europe,  Portugal

3 Incredible Monasteries in Portugal : Batalha, Alcobaça, Tomar

Amazing Monasteries in Portugal: Batalha, Alcobaça, Tomar

Portugal is a monastery-lover’s dream.

There are three UNESCO World Heritage Listed monasteries in Central Portugal, all within easy driving distance of one another. Further, the monasteries of Alcobaça, Batalha, and Tomar are stunningly beautiful and are all different from each other. Each monastery in Central Portugal has extraordinary architecture and stories. Along with the abandoned Monastery of Santa Clara a Velha in Coimbra, Portugal is one of the best destinations in the world for spiritual and religious travelers.

If you love monasteries, you must put the monasteries in Portugal at the top of our must-see list! Here is a guide to the three UNESCO World Heritage-listed monasteries in Central Portugal that will take your breath away!

The interior of a ruined monastery with a rose window and open to the elements with arches still in place where walls have fallen
The interior of a ruined monastery in Portugal in Coimbra

How to Get to UNESCO Monasteries in Portugal

Because public transportation between the monasteries in Central Portugal is difficult, it really is best to rent a car.

The truth be told: when I went, I was terrified of driving by myself in Portugal for the first time. But, I knew I would regret it forever if I didn’t see these Monasteries in Central Portugal: so I did it.

It turned out that driving in Portugal is very easy.

I drove a car after spending a delightful time in the beautiful city of Coimbra, Portugal.

And in just two days and one night, you can see all three World Heritage Monasteries in Portugal: Alcobaça, Batalha, and the Convent of Christ in Tomar!

If you just want to see the Convent of Christ, or Convento de Christo in Tomar, you can take the train from Lisbon to Tomar and make a day trip.

It’s also possible to take some coach tours to see the monasteries in Portugal. Many of them will also stop at the wonderful Shrine of Fatima, another must for Spiritual travelers in Portugal.

Start in Coimbra, Central Portugal

Coimbra in Central Portugal is the perfect place to begin a road trip to the UNESCO World Heritage monasteries of Central Portugal.

Coimbra is a quaint university town in Central Portugal with lots to do! Most guides recommend spending only 1 day in Coimbra. I spent almost three days there and wished I had more time!

Highlights of Coimbra

  1. UNESCO World Heritage Listed Coimbra University with an incredible library — complete with Bats that eat any bugs that could threaten the books. JK Rowling got a lot of inspiration for Harry Potter from visiting here – and I can see why!
  2. Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Velha is an 11th-century monastery that was flooded and destroyed. You can wander within to your heart’s content. I was the only person there and spending a morning among the ruins was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life.
  3. A beautiful Romanesque Cathedral with dreamy cloisters.
  4. An amazing Natural History Museum.

I loved my stay at Solar Antigua Luxury because it was in the very center of Combira and I could easily walk everywhere I wanted to go. Also, the breakfast came in the sweetest basket and the amenities were top-notch. If you are traveling with a family, the owners have a holiday apartment as well that looks dreamy.

I rented a car in Coimbra on my last day.

I left in time to get to Batalha Monastery in the early afternoon. As a first-time driver in Europe, I was nervous about renting a car in a big city and having to navigate city driving. Luckily, from Coimbra, I only had about 2 minutes of city driving before an easy roundabout and clear, safe, well-marked country highway began.

Ancient cloisters open to the air in Coimbra Old Cathedral in Portugal, Arches in the ceiling make cross formations and other arches look out to a courtyarrd.
Cloister Arches in Coimbra, Portugal

History of Monasteries in Portugal

Not only are the Monasteries in Portugal simply gorgeous and inspiring to visit, but I really enjoyed learning about the history of monasteries in Portugal.

Portugal used to be a haven for Roman Catholic monasteries. Many orders flourished in Portugal: the Cistercians, the Benedictines, and more.

Unfortunately, Portugal went through a brutal civil war in the 1800s. At the conclusion of the war, Portugal terminated the State sanction for its monasteries and disbanded over 500 of them. The lands and possessions of those monasteries were nationalized.

This explains why there are so many abandoned monasteries in Portugal, and very (very) few living and working monasteries. Many of the monasteries were well-preserved, such as Batalha, Alcobaça, and the Convent of Christ in Tomar. Many others have been turned into monastery hotels in Portugal.

In many ways, I wish there were more working monasteries in Portugal to visit. Still, I’m grateful that some of the most magnificent monasteries in Portugal have been so well-preserved.

Batalha Monastery Portugal an intricate monastery with lots of pointy spires with a cloudy sky and a tree in the foreground
The outside of Batalha Monastery in Central Portugal. I visited on a cloudy day!

Entrance Tickets to UNESCO Monasteries in Portugal

An important tip for visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Monasteries of Central Portugal: Each monastery costs 6 Euro to visit. The churches themselves are free. However, you can buy a ‘passport’ for all 3 monasteries that costs 15 Euro. The ticket-takers will stamp it at each entrance. It’s great fun to collect all three stamps! Find out more about Tickets to UNESCO sites in Portugal at the Patrimonia Cultural website (English available).

Visiting the Monastery of Batalha

Hours: Open daily 16th of October through 31st of March, 9:00 am – 6:00 pm. 1st April to 15th October, 09.00 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. (last admission 30 minutes before closing) Closed: 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May and 25 December

Batalha Monastery, or the Mosteiro de Batalha, is one of the best-preserved monasteries in Portugal. Yet, Batalha monastery is still very atmospheric…and almost a touch creepy when you think about all the tombs there and how long it has been abandoned.

Batalha Monastery was commissioned by one of Portugal’s kings, King João. The monastery was to celebrate a victory in a huge battle that took place in 1385. Hence — the name, Batalha, which means “Battle”!

One style of architecture you will hear a lot about in Portugal is “Manueline”. This is a richly intricate style of architecture that is most obvious in the intricate and ‘frilly’ Cloister Windows of monasteries like Batalha or the famous Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon.

Batalha Monastery was built right in the middle of the transition from Gothic architecture to Manueline. As a result, Batalha has all of the flying buttresses and vaulted ceilings loved in Gothic Architecture. Added to that, there is an intricacy and the flourish of Manueline lattice-work, especially obvious in the cloisters.

A window at Batalha Monastery Portugal. Intricately carved with cross shapes and spiraling, carved pillars, looking out onto Cloisters at ground level.
A window in Batalha Monastery

Touring Batalha Monastery

The church is massive, with impossibly-high stained glass throughout. In the ticketed section, you can visit two sets of cloisters, both of which are un-missable.

Inside Batalha is a special room with a memorial for an Unknown Soldier. This room is guarded by military officials, but you are welcome to pay your respects.

Don’t miss the beautiful fountain in the Manueline cloister, and the older cloister which harkens back to the traditional Gothic style. Batalha offers a wonderful chance to understand these styles of architecture.

Lastly, Batalha has a unique unfinished chapel.

This was my favorite part of Batalha, hands down. This chapel is a Manueline chapel meant to be a resting place for the king, but unfortunately, he died before it was finished, and then the architect died. It is open to the elements, and birds fly through. The stone is gorgeous and there are some beautifully carved tombstones and remnants of stained glass throughout.

Windows and a tombstone of a King and Queen in Batalha Monastery Portugal. The windows are multicolors and there is mold creeping into the chapel with no roof.
One of the unfinished chapels at Batalha Monastery, Portugal

Where to Stay in Batalha, Portugal

Since I chose to stay in Alcobaça so I could visit the Alcobaça Monastery first thing in the morning, I didn’t stay in Batalha.

If you want to stay in Batalha, there are many highly-rated hotels there:

Mid-Range Hotels

The Hotel Lis Batalha Mestre Afonso Domingues is right near the monastery and has a restaurant on-site. As you’ll see, the hotel has great reviews, rates under $100 when I checked, and looks adorable. Right in the heart of Batalha, if you want to park and walk to the Monastery of Batalha, this would be a great choice.

Budget Option

The Lagar do Sapateiro is a farm stay, which definitely intrigues me! This is 3.4 miles from Batalha, and has a budget room under $50. I would absolutely pick this one if I were visiting Batalha with a rental car again! How cute is this place?! The breakfast is rated as “Excellent”.

The facade of Alcobaça with three square towers and a large portal against a blue sky with clouds. The imposing building has one big rose window in the center.
The facade of Alcobaça Monastery in Portugal

Visiting the Monastery of Alcobaça

Hours: October – March Open Daily 9-6 pm, April – September Open Daily 9-7 pm (last ticket sold 30 minutes before closing!) Closed on: 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 20 August and 25 December.

The monastery of Alcobaça (Al-co-ba-sah) is only about 11 miles or 18 km from the monastery of Batalha. Since they are so close together, there is a bus that travels between them once daily.

When driving, it only takes around 30-40 minutes to drive between them. The countryside is gorgeous and I highly recommend doing this drive while there is some morning or evening light to truly appreciate it.

The Monastery of Alcobaça is in the town of Alcobaça. The town has some fabulous seafood restaurants and cafés. The entire town is very walkable! I found a hotel with parking for the car that was less than a 5-minute walk from the monastery (which also serves as the town center).

In the interior of the Cathedral at Alcobaça. Plain columns rise to a high arch and repeat through a long nave of a church towards the altar.
The church at Alcobaça

Touring Alcobaça Monastery

Alcobaça Monastery in Portugal was built in 1153. The monastery was built by the very first Portuguese King. One of the many reasons Alcobaça Monastery is unique is because it was the first Gothic church and monastery in Portugal. Alcobaça was built earlier than Batalha monastery and is in the crux between Romanesque architecture (generally a bit heavier) and Gothic architecture.

At its height, Alcobaça Monastery was a center of power within Portugal and beyond. The Scriptorium, where Monks copied and decorated books by hand, was famous. Sadly, during an invasion in 1810 many of the books were stolen and destroyed.

Along with the beautiful Cloisters of Silence you can visit the Chapter House, the kitchens (with really cool chimneys) and many other highlights of the Monastery.

The he most famous part of Alcobaça is the area that holds the Royal Tombs.

Alcobaça Monastery is the center of a famous, tragic, and slightly creepy love story in Portugal: Pedro and Ines. The story goes that the married Pedro fell madly in love with Ines. Unfortunately, he wasn’t allowed to be with her, and then Pedro’s father had Ines killed. Pedro later became king, and apparently had Ines’s body dressed up as a bride so he could finally marry her – yikes! Pedro and Ines are buried together at Alcobaça. Their tombs are beautiful and have scenes from their lives carved in the sides.

The tomb of Pedro and Ines at Alcobaça with a bright red flag in the corner. An intricate white marble tomb has the statues (laying down) of  Pedro and Ines, angels attending them, and very detailed scenes from their life carved into the side.

Where to Stay in Alcobaça, Portugal

The Chalet Fonta Nova is a beautiful, affordable boutique hotel right near the Alcobaça monastery. The hotel offers free covered parking and has beautiful rooms. I felt like a Portuguese Queen staying there!

The Chalet Fonta Nova also had one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had! Everything was really fresh and delicious. The Chalet Fonta Nova definitely feels like a luxury hotel and has beautiful gardens and huge windows. I highly recommend it!

The entrance view to the Castle of Tomar and the Convento de Christo. A wide gravel path leads to an imposing circular castle in the distance. People mingle on the path and to the right are manicured gardens. The picture is taken from above, standing on the castle ramparts.
Convento de Christo entrance in Tomar, Portugal. A Castle & Monastery in One!

Visiting the Convento de Christo in Tomar

Hours of Convent of Christ, Tomar: October to May, 9:00 to 5:30pm
June to September, 9:00am – 6:30 pm (last entry 30 minutes before closing).
Closed: January 1st, 1st March, Easter Sunday, May 1st and December 24th and 25th 

The Convent of Christ, or Convento de Christo, in Tomar, Portugal may be the best of the monasteries in Portugal. The Convent of Christ was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage monastery in 1983.

This is especially one of the best monasteries in Portugal if you are visiting with kids and you happen to love touring castles as much as monasteries.

The Convent of Christ in Tomar is a 12th century Templar stronghold, which makes it a Castle and Monastery in one.

One of the really cool parts of visiting Tomar, Portugal is that there are actually four monasteries there. The town is based on a cross-shape with a monastery in each corner. The Convento de Christo in Tomar is the Western-most monastery.

The round church in the Convento de Christo in Tomar. Gold is everywhere and an archway rich with paintings leads to an octagonal Charola, or round church, with an altar in the center.
The famous octagonal charola of the Convento de Christo

Touring the Convent of Christ, Tomar Portugal

As soon as you enter the Convento de Christo, you can admire the ramparts of the castle. You can walk along the ramparts and in the gardens of the Castle. After enjoying the Templar architecture, you enter the Convent.

Once inside the Convent you can tour eight different cloisters, each unique and with a different architectural style. The Great Cloister is the most magnificent, with spiral staircases in each corner you can climb to a second level.

The church of the Convent of Christ is Manueline. Inside the Church is a unique charola. This octagonal altar is richly decorated because of the wealth of the Templars in the 12th century. The charola is stunning. You can walk around it to see all of the paintings inside. Outside, you can admire the Manueline windows in the Chapter House.

The facade of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Tomar with a blue sky. A white church building with an intricate Manueline door with a brick church tower to the left with an octagonal spire.
The Church of St. John the Baptist in Tomar with a Manueline Door

Where to Stay in Tomar, Portugal

Hint: If you need a place to store your luggage in Tomar while you are visiting for a day trip, there is a hotel right across from the train station that will kindly do so for you. The Hotel Travador stored my luggage in a closet while I spent the day in Tomar. Consider showing your gratitude with a tip.

There are lots of highly-rated hotels in Tomar.

I did not stay in Tomar, but went on to Lisbon from the train station conveniently in the heart of Tomar.

I regret that! Tomar is such a beautiful town!

I really wish I had stayed at least one night in Tomar after visiting the Convento de Christo. The river running through the town is beautiful. I had one of the best meals in my whole time in Portugal in a little café by the river.

Mid-Range Hotel

The Casa des Oficios hotel in Tomar is centrally located and has great reviews. Rooms when I checked (July 2020) seem to run between $100-140 USD a night. The hotel looks amazing with traditional Portuguese tile, exposed brick, and even a library! Breakfast is included in the rate at Casa des Oficios hotel in Tomar.

Budget Hostels

There are a few backpacker hostels in Tomar. Both offer private rooms if you prefer that, at around $50 a night when I checked in July 2020. The Residencial Avenida Hostel is right around the corner from the Train Station and people rave about the owner, Antonio. Hostel 2300 Tomar offers all the typical hostel amenities, a self-service breakfast, and comfortable beds. Both of these hostels are frequented by Pilgrims walking the Caminho Portugues — so you might meet some very cool people there!

Pinterest image with text "Stunning Monasteries in Portugal" of cloisters at Batalha with intricate lattice-work on windows are arched triangular ceilings.
Portugal Monasteries pinterest image with "Pretty Monasteries in Portugal you Have to Visit" and a picture of Tomar's Convento de Christo round church opulent with gold decoration and paintings .

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  • Sue Davies

    I very much enjoyed learning about and seeing the photos of the monestaries. Thye all look beautiful. I’ve only been to Portugal once and am planning to go back. I’ll keep your post in mind.

  • Sarah Wilson

    I used to live just down the road from Alcobaca – I love Portugal’s Romeo and Juliet’s love story, but yes, its a bit creepy. There was a coffee shop just opposite the monastery that did the most amazing pastel de nata – could just do with one of those now. Thanks for bringing back great memories.

    • Marilyn

      Such great inspiration (however, not that I need any when it comes to visiting historical sites and soaking up the history). I greatly appreciate learning about historic locations and you’ve certainly provided great photos of the monestaries. I’ve only been to Lisbon and will look forward to an opportunity to return to Portugal when the time presents.

  • Renata

    I’ve visited Portugal some time ago and absolutely loved it. I’ve visited the monastery in Coimbra and also one in Belém which was just breathtaking. This heritage is just fantastic.

  • Angela

    I would never have realised there were so many monasteries in Portugal and all so beautiful. I especially like the one that is a castle and monastery, Convento de Christo.

  • Larch

    I lived in the Algarve for 4 years, but never really explored the north. The monastries look beautiful and I particularily like the Alcobaça one with its tragic story of Pedro and Ines. Hope to get to see them one day.

  • Yukti Agrawal

    I was planning for Portugal for this summer break but cancelled my visit after this pandemic. But in near future when travel resumes then I will truly visit this wonderful place. Good to know that there are so many monasteries here and all look worth visiting. I loved arched alley of the church at Alcobaça.

  • Karthika

    I loved all the monasteries in Portugal but I have to say Tomar was perhaps my favorite. I just felt like I was transported to the time of the templars as we wandered around…so beautiful!

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    We saw a lot of churches and monesteries in Portugal. But missed the ones that you have detailed. We saw the outside of the one in Belem but did not have time to get inside. Definitely another way to enjoy the beautiful architecture in Portugal.

  • Jan

    I enjoyed reading through your blog and learnt a lot. It is always an awesome experience walking through the monasteries, being astounded by the huge structures and architecture, and the peace and quiet that accompanies those visits. Also, it was interesting to learn about bats that eat any bugs that could threaten the books at the Coimbra University library! 🙂

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