Trying to decide if you want to visit Toledo makes no sense. If you are visiting Central Spain, you want, need or are compelled to visit Toledo. You do not need to question yourself or make a decision.
In a similar way, you do not think about it twice when you encounter the opportunity to revisit Toledo. I stopped by the city more than 10 years ago as part of a month long trip across the European continent. I remember how I walked the narrow streets, stood under the light of El Transparente and marveled in front of El Greco’s masterpiece.
Toledo was my first taste of Europe’s grandiose architecture and rich history. It was a dream come true to return to the place that stole my heart so many years ago.
A Bit of History
Toledo is known as the “Imperial City” for having been the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and as the “City of the Three Cultures”, having been influenced by a historical co-existence of Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Toledo was part of the Roman Empire during antiquity. Once the Empire entered a period of decadency, the city was controlled by Visigoths and later conquered by North African Arabs (this is the period were the three religions co-existed).
The city was taken by the Castilian king during the Reconquest. Toledo continued being a cultural center during that period. Arabic or Jewish texts were translated to Castilian and vice versa.
How to Make the Most of the Day
It feels remorseful to write about how to spend one day in the city. There are more than 30 museums and monuments in Toledo. Plus, there are special exhibitions, interest specific tours, ecological routes and much more.
Yes, it is difficult to narrow a visit to one day but, being realistic, most travelers would visit as a day trip from Madrid. Here are some considerations to make the most of the day:
- The train from Madrid to Toledo takes about 40 minutes
- You will need transportation from Toledo’s train station to the city center. Once at the station, you can take a taxi, public bus or touristic bus
- Try to arrive to the city as early as possible
- Toledo is touristy. There is no doubt about that. Do not worry. Visitors tend to congregate around Plaza Zocodover and the Cathedral. You will be fine once you move from those areas.
- Since the city is so popular with visitors, almost every church, monastery, synagogue and museum charge an entrance fee. Prices range from 2 to 10 Euros. It may be more cost effective to get a touristic card or pass (depending on how many places you want to visit).
- Many tourist companies and vendors are located on the train station. Resist the temptation and compare prices (and ask for advice) at the tourism office located in the city center.
- For folks on a budget, it is possible to enjoy Toledo without entering every single monument or spending a lot of money. This is one gorgeous city!
- A company called Cuentamelo Todo offers free tours of the city
Places to Visit
Mirador del Valle (Valley Viewpoint)
I recommend starting your visit by taking an open bus (or taxi) around the city (outside the walls, on the other side of the river). This is the only way to admire the famous panoramic views.
When negotiating your ride to the city center, ask if you can be driven around the city first. Make sure you will have a stop at the Mirador del Valle. To me, this is a must!
The city’s most notorious building is located on the highest part. Once used as a Roman palace in the 3rd century, it was restored under the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This is where Hernán Cortés was received by the Emperor after the conquest of the Aztecs.
Today, it houses the Army Museum and the Castilla-La Mancha Regional Library.
This small plaza houses the Visitor’s Information Center. It is a nice meeting point but crowded and overpriced. Avoid eating around and staying too long.
Catedral Primada (Primate or Gothic Cathedral)
The cathedral of Toledo dates from the 13th century and it is considered by many experts, to be the magnum opus (the most important) work of the Gothic style in Spain. It was begun in 1226 and the last Gothic contributions were made in 1493 (one year after the discovery of America). It also combines some characteristics of the Mudéjar style.
One of the most outstanding features of the Cathedral is the altarpiece called El Transparente. Its name refers to the unique illumination provided by a large skylight cut very high up into the thick wall across the ambulatory behind the high altar, and another hole cut into the back of the altarpiece itself to allow shafts of sunlight to strike the tabernacle.
Ayuntamiento and Plaza (City Hall)
The City Hall and the Archbishop Palace are located across the Cathedral. There is a nice plaza among the buildings from where you can relax and people watch.
La Juderia (Jewish Quarter)
During Moorish rule, most of the Jewish contingent of Toledo lived in this area. They were allowed to work, raise families and practice their religion. Much of this area has been preserved over the years and is now on display for tourists.
This is where the city’s more interesting architecture can be found. Inquire about guided tours in the Visitor’s Office.
Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes (San Juan Monastery)
This Franciscan Monastery has Gothic and Mudejar architectural influences.
Sinagoga de Santa Maria La Blanca (San Maria Synagogue)
This is considered the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing. Its stylistic and cultural classification is unique as it was constructed under the Christian rule by Islamic architects for Jewish use.
Sinagoga del Transito
This synagogue is famous for its rich stucco decoration. It holds a museum with exhibits about the Jewish history in Spain.
Iglesia de Santo Tome
This small church holds the masterpiece of El Greco, El Entierro del Conde Orgaz. As the name implies, the artist was born in Greece but lived and worked in Toledo for a long period of time. He is considered one of Spain’s Master Painters. A museum dedicated to the artist is located nearby.
Puerta de la Bisagra
This door was built to resemble a triumphal arch. It holds the imperial shield of the Roman Holy Emperor.
Puente de San Martin (Saint Martin’s Bridge)
This medieval bridge has five arches and two doors.
Puente de Alcantara
This bridge has Roman origin and was reconstructed during the Moorish and Christian times.
- For more info about the city, visit this site: http://www.toledo-turismo.com/en
- In addition, try Maribel’s Guide to Toledo (her guides are excellent) or Rick Steves’ Walking Tour
Have you been to Toledo? What are your recommendations?
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