Fatima is a small town north of Lisbon, with a population of fewer than 8,000 people. Once a sleepy backwater in Portugal that depended upon the production of olive oil, today Fatima derives the bulk of its wealth from religious tourism and pilgrimage.
Unlike most pilgrimage destinations, Fatima's holy claims derive not from Medieval events (pilgrimage was very popular in the 11th and 12th centuries), but rather from 20th-century apparitions. On the 13th of May in 1917, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in a flash of light to three shepherd children near Fatima in a field called the Cova de Iria, urging them to return to the same spot on the 13th of each month.
Calling herself The Lady of the Rosary, in October, she revealed the three "Secrets of Fatima," relating to peace and world events, to one of the children. Now pilgrims will travel to Fatima to catch a glimpse of the Virgin Mary. Plan your trip to the small town with this guide.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Between May and October as the weather is most agreeable during that time. May also has the largest religious gathering.
- Language: Portuguese
- Currency: Euros
- Getting Around: The city is small enough to travel on foot and buses and trains easily transport travels to other areas of Portugal.
- Travel Tip: Fatima is most popular on the May anniversary, but smaller pilgrimages are held on the 12th and 13th of every month.
Things to See and Do
Most of the main sights and activities in Fatima center around religion. Religious tourism centers around the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, an extraordinary complex for a small town. These are some of the most popular sites to see:
- The Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima, a national shrine, is built in a neoclassical style with a tall central tower. Construction began on May 13th, 1928. The tombs of Lucia (currently in the process of beatification as she passed away recently), Saint Jacinta, and Saint Francisco are inside the Basilica, which is free to visit.
- Walk and see the Hungarian Stations of the Cross consist of 14 chapels built along a 1.9-mile (3-kilometer) stone walkway leading uphill to a marble monument of Christ on the cross.
- Visit the Homes of the Children, which has largely been unchanged in 80 years and offers an excellent chance to see what life was like in those times in Portugal. It can be visited in Aljustrel, just over three kilometers from Fatima.
- If you want a more in-depth experience, consider seeing Fatima on a private tour.
What to Eat and Drink
As to be expected, Portuguese food is the standard in Fatima. There aren't a ton of restaurants to try, but each is serving delicious Portuguese fare.
Where to Stay
For the full experience many pilgrims will camp in the countryside. There are a number of campsites that can accomodate tent campers, as well as those in caravans, or motorhomes. Most first timers will want to stay in the city center, close to the action but staying in a more remote area can mean a more luxurious hotel room. There are guesthouses, hotels, and campgrounds for travelers of all budgets. Remember to reserve your rooms well in advance if you plan your vacation during the celebration periods or the high period from May to October.
You can take bus or train to Fatima from Lisbon or Porto. Be aware that there is no train station in Fatima itself, but shuttle buses connect the Caxarias station to Fatima (or you can take a taxi). The train/shuttle bus route will take a little over 2 hours. Rede Express buses run from Lisbon's Sete Rios station. The trip takes about 90 minutes.
By car, Fatima can be accessed from the A1 motorway. Exit at Fatima and follow signs to the Santuario. If you do decide to drive, be prepared to spend a lot of time hunting for a parking space.
If you're flying to Fatima, you'll be landing in the Lisbon airport. After clearing customs you can take a train, bus, or rent a car.