Fatima and Beyond

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima or “the square”

Fatima is a city in west central Portugal about an hour and half north of Lisbon.  It is famous for the apparition of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in 1917.  Fatima is a pilgrimage destination of devout Catholics, especially on May 13th which is the date when the apparition occurred.

But there is more to see in this region of Portugal than just Fatima.  Within an hour drive from Fatima, we were able to visit the Almourol Castle, Convent of Christ in Tomar, Batalha Monastery and Alcobaca Monastery in the towns that bear the same name.  There is also Aljustrel near Fatima where the homes of the apparition children have been preserved and welcoming visitors. Another castle that we were not able to visit was Castelo de Leiria.

Here we describe our experience in visiting these destinations, especially participating in the evening vigil on May 12th in 2023.  

Time of Visit: May 2023

Duration of Visit: Two nights


The main destination in Fatima is the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima.  The basilica is the huge church while the sanctuary is the even bigger square in front of the basilica (we will refer to the sanctuary as “the square” for the rest of this article). Both are free to enter.  On May 12th, the basilica was fairly empty compared to the crowd that gathered in “the square”.   The Chapel of the Apparitions is located in “the square”.  It is where the apparitions took place in 1917. The chapel is also where people go while walking on their knees.  

The Chapel of the Apparition
A person kneeling towards the chapel

There is a large semi-enclosed burn area behind the chapel. Some blogs called it a “pyre”. This is where people throw candles, big and small, instead of lighting a candle prior to praying.  There was a long line of people clutching varying sizes and amounts of candles waiting for their turn.   

Expect to see many people if you visit Fatima on May 12th and 13th.   There was an endless line of people or “pilgrims” walking alongside the roads going to Fatima.  They were all there for the evening vigil and procession which was held at “the square”.  “The square” is more than five football fields and was filled with people for the evening vigil.  It was a sight to see all those people, including us, holding lighted candles during the rosary and procession.  We left around 10:30 PM even though the event was still under way.

Pilgrims walking towards the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima
May 12th evening vigil

The following day there was an open air mass at “the square”.  Again “the square” was full of people. The Virgin Mary was again in a procession that morning.  It is a good thing that it was not yet hot at that time of the year.

May 13th morning mass at “the square”


Aljustrel is just a few minutes drive from the basilica of Fatima.  Aljustrel is home to the three children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, who witnessed the apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1917.  The place seems to have not changed much.  The streets are still unpaved and the homes and buildings are still made of sticks, mortar and stones. The homes of the three children have been preserved. Only the home of siblings Francisco and Jacinta were open to visitors during our visit. Lucia’s home was temporarily closed for restoration work.

Casa de Lucia
Left photo – siblings Francisco and Jacinta. Right photo – Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta.

Alcobaca Monastery

The monastery’s church from the outside
Inside the monastery’s church

Alcobaca Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is the largest monastery among the three described in this article.   Similar to Batalha, the monastery’s church is open to the public and is worth seeing.  The other place in the monastery that was worth paying the price of admission was the King’s room where it had statues of the different kings throughout the years.

One of the many rooms in Alcobaca Monastery

Batalha monastery

Batalha Monastery

Batalha Monastery is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This monastery is huge. The monastery has some areas that are free to enter while other parts require an entry fee.  The free areas only include the unfinished chapel and the church.  The unfinished chapel is actually impressive to look at as well as the inside of the church. 

The unfinished section of the monastery
Inside the church of the monastery

The fee area includes access to many halls displaying different styles of architectures and tombs of past kings.

Convent of Christ Complex

The Convent of Christ Complex is located in the city of Tomar.  It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city itself is a destination as it is fun to walk its streets that has the charm of an old town.  However, Convent of Christ Complex is the main attraction in Tomar.

The complex was built over the span of five centuries.  If you are a lover of historical architecture, you will be awed by its elaborate and different eras of architectural styles. This include Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque elements. 

The convent’s centerpiece is its 12th century rotunda which is the Oratory of the Templars.  The first word that came out of our mouth was “WOW” when we first saw the rotunda.  Actually, it was the first time we ever saw such a piece of work.  Unfortunately, the camera cannot capture its beauty.  You will just have to see it for yourself.  There are a lot of rooms to explore within the convent.  We allotted 1.5 hours and it went by quickly.

The rotunda

The convent is located on top of a hill.  There is a paid parking lot right next to the convent.  However, it is limited in space. 

Almourol Castle

Almourol Castle is a small castle that is on an island in the middle of the Tagus River.  You have to take a short boat ride to get to the castle.  There is only one boat that shuttles visitors and it seats about a dozen people.  It takes less than 5 minutes for the boat to go from the parking lot dock to the trailhead leading to the castle.  The roundtrip boat ride and admission to the castle costs 4 Euros per person.

Almourol Castle

It is another five minute or so hike to the castle.  There are some stairs to tackle but not terribly high in elevation gain.  We were allowed 40 minutes to roam the castle.

The castle’s towers, walls and structures are intact.  We walked the grounds and the walls like guards manning our posts. There is one tower that we were able to climb to the top.  It provided a feeling of how it would have been like to walk freely within a medieval castle.  Those were the highlights of the castle’s self guided tour.

Walking along the castle wall


Fatima is located in central Portugal about an hour and half north of Lisbon.  The number of visitors in Fatima swells to unbelievable numbers on May 12th and 13th to commemorate the apparition of the Virgin Mary to three young children: Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta in 1917.  Participating in the May 12th evening vigil, watching the procession and the attendees singing and holding lighted candles at night was a one of a kind experience.

Aljustrel, the small village where the three children lived is a worthwhile side trip while in Fatima.  It seems that the place has not changed much as the streets are still dirt and the homes and buildings are not modern.  The homes of the children who witnessed the apparition are still standing. The home of siblings Francisco and Jacinta welcomed visitors.

There is more to see beyond Fatima.  Three huge monasteries, the Alcobaca, Bathala and Convent of Christ monasteries are there to amaze you.  It still blows our minds how people back then were able to construct such huge buildings without the use of modern building materials and equipment.

And do not forget to swing by Almourol Castle and let your mind wonder what it would have been like to be in a castle. 

Whatever your reason to visit Fatima, we are almost certain that the place would connect to you in a much deeper meaning, whether it is just sitting inside the basilica or being one of the thousands of devotees on an evening vigil.  But do not just limit yourself to Fatima as there are more amazing places to visit within an hours drive away!