The sleepy town of Fatima in Portugal is a worldwide pilgrimage destination and draws millions of visitors each year. It became famous in 1917 when the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children.
Whether you’re a Catholic or not, there are plenty of things to see in Fatima. We’ve rounded up the top five places to visit in this historic town.
1. The Sanctuary of Fatima
If you’re a religious devotee or simply curious, the Sanctuary of Fatima is one place you won’t want to miss. This awe-inspiring complex is home to two grand churches bookending a vast esplanade.
While this complex is primarily a Catholic destination, it’s also very welcoming to non-Catholic visitors. During the busiest commemorations (13th May and 13th October), expect to see millions of pilgrims on their knees, praying to the Virgin Mary.
You’ll find plenty of opportunities to get closer to the apparitions’ story when you visit Fatima, including exploring nearby Aljustrel where the three children were born and Valinhos, where one of the apparitions took place. If you’re looking for something else to do during your stay, there are a few other great attractions in the area.
2. The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary
If you’re Catholic, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is a must-see in Fatima. It’s one of the largest Catholic churches in the world and boasts a 65-metre bell tower.
Inside, huge letters arc across the ceiling above the altar offering up a request for Mary in Latin: “Queen of the Holy Rosary of Fatima, pray for us”. The church is flanked by chapels dedicated to the stations of the cross and the tombs of Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
You’ll also find the Chapel of Apparitions, where the three children reported their first apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1917. You can pray there, but it’s best to sit quietly and take in the peace that surrounds you.
3. The Chapel of Apparitions
The Chapel of Apparitions is one of the most important attractions in Fatima. It is a beautiful Gothic church that has been built on the exact place where the apparitions took place.
The chapel houses a renowned thousand-year-old icon of Our Lady. It also has a magnificent altar, gilded cornices and bronze statues.
This is an ideal spot to visit if you are looking for a peaceful and serene atmosphere to pray in. It has many prayer areas for different devotions such as the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Confessions.
The apparitions of Our Lady in 1917 were the catalyst that transformed this small village into a huge tourist attraction, with millions of pilgrims flocking here each year to pay homage and ask for their prayers. This year, the site was visited by Pope Francis to mark the 100th anniversary of the first apparition.
4. The Shepherds’ Houses
The shepherds’ houses are a must-visit on any pilgrimage to Fatima. They’re located in Aljustrel, just a few kilometers from the sanctuary and are where the three shepherds lived.
They’re hand-crafted, with a wood-burning stove, stable door and double-glazed windows. They’re perfect for a romantic escape with your special someone or a family getaway.
Many of these huts are now equipped with fully plumbed bathrooms, so you can enjoy a shower when needed. They’re also insulated, so you’ll stay warm no matter what the weather.
5. The Museum of the Apparitions
The Museum of the Apparitions is a fun attraction that is worth a visit for kids and adults alike. It offers an array of optical illusions and mind-bending hijinks, such as a mirror room, an infinity room, and a vortex tunnel.
The museum is not overly large, but it has a surprising number of well-designed exhibits. Many are small displays showing a random oddity, but others are larger, and some even have an interactive element.
It can be a little daunting for kids to be surrounded by so many exhibits, but the staff is always available to help them with the illusions and snap photos. The cost is reasonable and it’s not too long of a trip, so it’s definitely worth a visit.