Three superb monastic complexes are situated in central Portugal half an hour drive from each other and just over an hour each from Lisbon. Each of the three is a UNESCO World Heritage site on its own merit, and each has incredible features well worth exploring.
The imposing façade hides a relatively subdued Gothic interior, but once you start paying attention to small details in the cloister, such as column capitals or gargoyles, you recognize how exceptional the Alcobaça monastery ♥♥♥ is. The Hall of Kings (azulejo wall scenes and statues of monarchs) and the kitchen (incredible enormous chimney) are the outstanding interior spaces. Rooftop terrace provides great close looks over those gargoyles. Every space in the complex has English-language description on an information stand – no audio guide is needed. The monastery feel well tended for, which adds to the positive impression.
The town of Alcobaça has a small pleasant core, crossed by a river, around the monastery. There are many tiled houses and several atmospheric squares.
Batalha Monastery ♥♥♥ is decidedly Manueline in style, with elaborate decorations, but lack of recent care shows. There are three main parts to the complex: an impressive chapel with royal tombs, a beautiful large cloister with several rooms branching off it, and finally a breathtaking unfinished chapel – the killer feature of the place. There is also a second cloister which is much less impressive, but allows access to the upper level; a clock mechanism from the tower can be seen there.
The monastery is in the center of the eponymous town, which felt not historical enough when we were driving through. We did not venture on foot away from the cathedral square.
Convent of Christ in Tomar
Convent of Christ in Tomar ♥♥♥ is a huge complex, comprised of what feels like a dozen of cloisters, with many interesting features. There are some tiled rooms; the principal cloister is simply gorgeous; the Manueline window is one of the acknowledged highlights; and the richly painted and decorated circular church is the prime feature. Signs and descriptions with maps are present in each space, but it is still easy to get lost within the complex. Whereas it is possible to see each of Alcobaça and Batalha monasteries in the space of about an hour, you need at least two hours if not more to see all of the Convent.
There is a decent cafeteria on premises (in a vaulted former study room), and also its sister establishment in the parking lot. The Convent, unlike the other two monasteries, is not located in the village center, therefore there are no other options for food reachable on foot.
If you are staying in Lisbon and intend to see all three of these complexes on a day-trip, keep in mind that the Lisboa Card includes all of them for free. Since the card provides a great value in terms of sightseeing discounts and unlimited local transportation, consider getting a multi-day one that will cover the day of your visit to the monasteries.
Otherwise, a combo ticket to all 3 monasteries – available at whichever one you visit first – saves you €1 per.