Toledo

Nestled at the banks of the Tagus in central Iberia, Toledo is one of well preserved cities in Spain and has played an important role in the country’s long history. This ancient city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage.

This rocky site is known as the “Imperial City” when it served as the main venue of the court before Charles V relocated the capital to Madrid in 1561. It is also called the “City of Three Cultures” due to its cultural influences and historical co-existence of Muslim, Christian and Jews throughout its history.

Best Time to Visit

Toledo can be visited throughout the year. The ancient city is located at Central Spain where the weather is rather dry and pleasant all year long. The winter between November and February only expect to have 8 days of rain per month. Either way, a trip to Toledo won’t be much affected because most tourist sites are within indoors.

If you love a cool and breezy weather like me, the preferable time to visit is spring between March and May or autumn between September and November. I visit this old city in mid-October and the weather was lovely and makes walking more relaxing.

You might want to avoid the travel peak season between June and August if possible. The city will be packed with tourists and expected long queues to famous attractions like Toledo Cathedral. The weather will be extremely hot as well and need to take frequent break in between.

Getting There

By Train

Toledo is just 72 kilometers away from Madrid and easily access by AVE Renfe high-speed train. The train from Madrid’s Puerta del Atocha Station to Toledo Station takes just 33 minutes. It is fast, comfortable and affordable which costs only €11.10 one way. The earliest train departing from Madrid n is at 6.25 am and the last train leaving Toledo back to the capital city is at 9.30 pm.

When you arrive at the train station, you can take a leisure 20-minute walk to Plaza de Zocodover by crossing Puente de Alcántara and take the Escaleras Mecánicas (escalators) up to the old town. Alternative, you are hop on a local bus No. 61 or 62 from the bus stop outside the train station to the plaza which costs €1.40 one way.

Train tickets can directly be bought from Renfe’s official website without any additional booking fee and only need to show your e-ticket before boarding the train.

Getting Around

Toledo is one of the best cities in Spain that is suitable for tourists to explore on foot. The city is built around with narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways. Although the narrow streets are accessible by small to medium vehicles, it is still perfectly safe to wander around. The historic buildings, churches, taverns, cafes, restaurants, convenience shops and souvenir stores are all located in close approximate and do not need a car to get around.

The Best Day Trip to Toledo

With stunning cathedral, churches, museums castles, fortresses and synagogue, Toledo definitely deserves to make it to the top of travel list for any history buff out there.

You can catch an early train from Madrid before 7 am and take the last train back at 9.30 pm. This gives plenty of time to venture around Toledo and even have dinner before making your way back to Madrid.

Travel tips: Get yourself a Toledo Tourist Bracelet at one of the monumental sites for €12 to help save some money. Single entry to each site cost €3. The bracelet covers 7 monuments in the old town: Iglesia de los Jesuitas, Real Colegio de Doncellas Nobles, San Juan de los Reyes, Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, Iglesia de Santa Tomé, Church of El Salvandor and Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca.

Admire the extraordinary Toledo Station

Once you arrive at the station, don’t just rush off to Toledo old town!

There is no reason why not to miss out this charming Toledo station. Once entering its lobby, you feel like entering a Mudéjar cathedral where its interior is truly remarkable. The building has been declared a Cultural Interest and a “monumental station” since 1991.

The station was rebuilt in 1919 with brick and stone. Its plasterwork was done by Ángel Pedraza, woodwork by Cristino Soravilla, tiles from Seville’s Casa Mensaque and iron forged by Julio Pascual. There is a small chapel near the arrival gate and four clocks attached on each side of the top of the tower.

Take a glimpse of Castillo de San Servando

This 11th century medieval castle was once a Benedictine monastery used by the monks dating back to the 7th century. Until the early 14th century, King Alfonso VII gave the monastery to the Knights Templar, who converted the building into a fortress to protect the Puente de Alcántara against the Moorish invasion.

Following the dissolution of the Templar in 1312, the castle slowly fell into disrepair. It was later restored into a youth hostel.

Address: Cta. de San Servando, s/n

Step into the past through Puente de Alcántara

Crossing Puente de Alcántara make you feel like traveling back in time. The ancient arched bridge was built by the Romans between 104 and 106 AD when they founded the city. The word Alcántara comes from the Arabic word meaning “arch”. It was one of the gateway into the old town and entry point for pilgrims to cross the Tagus River during the Middle Age.

Begin the Toledo trip at Plaza de Zocodover

Located in the heart of this historic center, Plaza de Zocodover is the main square of Toledo and become a natural meeting place for tourists and locals.

The name ‘Zocodover’ was originated from an Arabic word meaning “market of burden beasts”. From 1465 until 1960s, The plaza was the scene of the city’s Tuesday market and an Arab souq ad-dawab– livestock market, hence the name. It was also used to host fiestas, bullfights and public executions in the past.

Snack some marzipan

Have a bit of sweet tooth? Toledo is well known for its freshly-made marzipan. Marzipan is a type of confection made into simple animal shape with sugar, honey and almond meal . It is a traditional Christmas dessert that dates back to 1512 in Toledo, but today can be eaten all year round.

There are a few shops around Plaza de Zocodover. The famous Confitería Santo Tomé has four of its stores scattered around the city.

Legend says that it was in fact invented by the nuns of the San Clemente convent in the 13th century during a famine, who only had almonds and sugar since wheat was hard to come by.

Take a picture with Estatua de Miguel de Cervantes

When walking through Arco de la Sangre, you will be greeted by the statue of Miguel de Cervantes. Standing in the center of the pavement, he is one of Spain’s most popular writer known for writing the novel Don Quixote. If you in Madrid, you can also find his statue located in the heart of the city in Plaza de España.

Marvel the iconic Alcázar of Toledo

Situated at the highest point of the city, the Alcázar of Toledo is one of the most symbolic buildings in the city. The old fortress dates back to the Roman times in the 3rd century, but was rebuilt by Alfonso VI and Alfonso X and later by Emperor Charles V. It served many purposes, from being used as a castle, a fortress, a prison, the King’s residence and a military headquarters.

After the building suffered severe damages during the Civil War, restoration works were done and is now home to the Castillia- La Mancha Regional Library and the Museum of the Army.

Address: C. de la Union, s/n

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm

Entrance fee: General entry: €5

Be fascinated by sword and armory shops

It is pretty interesting to find shop owners who sell swords, armors and metal objects in Toledo. This ancient city was once the center of traditional sword and metal-making for thousands of years. The history of city’s weaponry dates back to the Roman Empire when emperors were impressed by the blades crafted here due to their strength and high quality alloy.

Sword-making has brought attention to the Romans when these deadly weapons were used by Hannibal in the Punic Wars. The swords were designed to make the wounds inflicted more fatal. It later became a standard source of weaponry for Roman legions.

Today, there are only two remaining artisan steel-producing workshops in the city. They still preserve the traditional techniques, methods and quality of steel production.

Explore the heavenly Toledo Cathedral

The highlight of the trip to Toledo is certainly be the famed Santa Iglesia Cathedral Primada de Toledo, simply known as Toledo Cathedral. Completed in 1493, this 13th century High Gothic cathedral is one of the most stunning structures in this ancient city.

In fact, it is ranked the top 10 must visit cathedral in Spain. As part of your day-trip, it’s worth spending a dedicated amount of time to explore this Roman Catholic church.

Seeing to believe how impressive is the features of Baroque altarpiece El Transparente. It creates an impression that the Heavens have opened and spilled their angelic contents onto the back of the altar. The building holds a gallery exhibiting works by El Greco, Goya, Velazcuez and many more iconic artists.

Make your way to the sacristy with a spectacular treasure exhibition that displays a ten-feet tall Great Monstrance of Afre. The eye-catching treasure is made out of 18kg of gold and 183kg of silver.

The striking glided retable hidden behind its Renaissance ironwork is one of the last example of Gothic works. It was commissioned by Cardinal Cisneros and the work started from 1497 until 1504. Among the features of the altarpiece are a monumental scene of Christ’s crucifixion at the Calvary and his life and passion of Jesus.

Address: Calle Cardenal Cisneros, 1

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday from 2 pm to 6 pm

Entrance fee: General entry: €10 (Guided tour including the tower costs €12. Tickets are sold across the street from the entrance of the cathedral. Ticket entry includes an audio guide)

Visit Iglesia del Salvador

Iglesia del Salvador is one of most underrated sites to visit in Toledo but yet filled with lots of history. The church was built on the same site as the earlier 11th century Taifa mosque, which was an expansion of the site of a Visigoth religion building. Several pillars with some carvings by the Visigoths are still visible, though the faces were destroyed by the Muslims.

What makes this church interesting is the basement where you can look at the archeological site and find the remains of a small medieval Christian cemetery, as well as Visigothic and Roman remains.

Address: Plaza del Salvador, s/n

Opening hours: March 1 to Oct 15: Daily from 10 am to 6.45 pm/ Oct 16 to February 28: Daily from 10 am to 5.45 pm

Entrance fee: General entry: €3

View El Greco’s painting at Iglesia de Santa Tomé

Iglesia de Santa Tomé is famed for its 4.57 meters height Burial of Count Orgaz painting by the most renowned Spanish painter El Greco in 1586. According to the legend, Saint Stephen and Saint Augustine descended in person from the heavens to bury the Count into the tomb with their own hands in front of the mourning people.

Address: Plaza del Conde, 4

Opening hours: March 1 to Oct 15: Daily from 10 am to 6.45 pm/ Oct 16 to February 28: Daily from 10 am to 5.45 pm

Entrance fee: General entry: €3

Discover the amazing Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca

Lies in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca is by far considered the oldest synagogue in Europe still standing. It was built by the Jews in a classical Mudéjar style in the late 12th century under the order of the Christian Kingdom of Castile. However, the architects behind it were Muslim. This is a prime example of unity that once existed between the three religions here.

Established in 1180, the synagogue was converted into a church in the 15th century when the Jews were exiled from Spain. It was only handed back to the Jewish community as a symbolic gesture in 2013. Now no longer host any religious ceremonies, it houses a museum and became the third most visited historic monument in Toledo.

Address: C/ Reyes Católicos, 4

Opening hours: March 1 to Oct 15: Daily from 10 am to 6.45 pm/ Oct 16 to February 28: Daily from 10 am to 5.45 pm

Entrance fee: General entry: €3

Wander around Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes

The elegant Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes was founded by King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I in the 15th century to commemorate the birth of their son, Prince John and the victory of the battle of Toro. This Isabelline style Franciscan monastery was originally meant to be the final resting place of this Catholic monarch, but they later chose Granada instead.

The monastery suffered heavy damage by the Napoleon’s troops during the occupation of Toledo and leave abandoned in 1835. The building was finally restored to its former glory in 1967 and is beautifully decorated on its interior and exterior.

The two-level cloister is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The lower level ceiling consists of German cross vaults, craved in stones with figures of saints, plants, animals and mystical motifs. The upper floor reveals a harmonious four-sided space with rich mixed-style arches and a ceiling painted with allegorical symbols of the Catholic Monarchs.

Under the order of Queen Isabel, its granite exterior façade is adorned with the manacles and shackles worn by Christian prisoners from Granada held by the Moors who were later freed.

Address: C/ Reyes Católicos, 17

Opening hours: March 1 to Oct 15: Daily from 10 am to 6.45 pm/ Oct 16 to February 28: Daily from 10 am to 5.45 pm

Entrance fee: General entry: €3

Visit the Real Colegio de Doncellas

Founded in 1551 by the archbishop of Toledo, the Real Colegio de Doncellas Noble is a former girl’s school to educate young women to become good mothers. Some of the students came from humble families and noble families across Europe.

The founder of the school took pride of his project that he chose to be buried here. At the moment, the King of Spain is co-patron here.

Address: Plaza del Cardenal Siliceo, 1

Opening hours: March 1 to Oct 15: Daily from 10 am to 6.45 pm/ Oct 16 to February 28: Daily from 10 am to 5.45 pm

Entrance fee: General entry: €3

Iglesia de Los Jesuitas

The Iglesia de Los Jesuitas, known as San Ildefonso is one of the finest example of Baroque style church. The church was built between 1629 and 1765 over the land where Saint Ildefonso’s birth house once stood.

The best view of Toledo’s old town can be enjoyed from the towers of the church. You will find the entrance to the bell towers on the far left side of the side aisle and climb 138 steps to marvel the gorgeous city views.

Address: Plaza Padre Juan de Mariana, 1

Opening hours: March 1 to Oct 15: Daily from 10 am to 6.45 pm/ Oct 16 to February 28: Daily from 10 am to 5.45 pm

Entrance fee: General entry: €3

Travel Tips

  • Buy a Toledo Tourist Bracelet at one of the 7 monumental sites only for €12 and it will help you save some Euros. Entry to each monument will cost €3.
  • Check out any discounted rates or free entry to the city attractions for youths, students, adults above 65 years old, and person with a disability regardless of the nationality of a country on their official website to save some money on your travels. Remember to bring your I.D. as proof of identification.

Going Elsewhere in Spain?

If you are looking for more adventure in Spain, you can look at my other posts for some travel guides:

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