Want to see the magnificent city of Toledo, Spain, but only have limited time to spare? Citizen Femme’s Anabelle Paulino shows our readers how to productively see Toledo in just one day! Here’s some tips on tours, travel, attractions, cafes, and gifts!
How to get there from Madrid
Toledo is 74km south of Madrid and it takes only 33 minutes on the Renfe train. You can drive from Madrid, but in my opinion the train system is the ideal way to go. Depending on the season trains leave approximately every hour.
Advice: Purchase the full tour package in the train station upon your arrival for 23 Euros. The ‘pack pulsera’ gets you a tourist bracelet allowing you entrance to 7 monuments, 4 visit guides, a map of the city, a book guide and a round trip in the sightseeing red bus. This bus will get you into town and the tour guides will show you the ‘must-see’ attractions!
Yes, it’s the Red Double Decker Bus! You can get on it after exiting the train station and it will take you on a full ride around the entire city of Toledo; it even stops at the top of a hill where you have a panoramic view of the city – the ideal spot for the first photo op.
A quick history lesson
Toledo is an ancient city set on top of a hill above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain. According to the oldest historical notes, Toletum was founded in 192 A.C. The city is surrounded by mural walls and the famous río Tajo. Both make for an ideal military defense that protected the city many times over. The roman city was lost to the Visigoths (nomadic tribes of Germanic people) approximately 476 D.C. It was then colonized by the Muslims/‘Moors’ in 711 who took it as their job to change the urbanization and architecture of the city. This was the start of a rich mélange of cultures: Muslim, Christian and Jewish religions all in one place. Alfonso VI (King of Castilla y León) reconquered what is today known as Toledo in 1085.
The city of Toledo was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1986 for its cultural and monumental heritage and the historical co-existence of 3 different cultures. It is often called the city of “Three Cultures”.
It was also the former home of Mannerist painter El Greco.
Your 24 hour go to….
Catedral de Toledo: The most recognized monument in Toledo is its famous Roman Catholic Cathedral. It is considered to be the magnum opus of the Gothic style in Spain. The building of the Cathedral started in 1226, under the rule of Ferdinand III, and was modeled after the Bourges Cathedral. It combined Mudejar style with the cloister, the ambulatory vaults, and the multi-foiled arches in the triforium, made entirely out of limestone.
Cost: 10 Euros
Museo del Greco: Paying homage to Domenikos Theotokopoulos – aka “El Greco” – this museum consists of two 16th and 20th century buildings recreating his home. It houses many of his late paintings. The audio tour is a quick 30 min tour that teaches you about El Greco: a Greek man, a father, and an artist of many trades who came to consider Toledo his real home.
Cost: 3 Euros (The season and exhibitions can change the price)
Puerta de Bisagra: The Bisagra Doors – coming from the Latin word – “Sacred Route” – is a beautiful icon of the city. Built during the Islamic reign it has been restored several times therefore serving as an iconic mix of several cultural times. Like this door, there are dozens around the city, each contributing its share of what makes Toledo so special. The Alcantara bridge is also a staple you must walk on.
Cost: Free with the tour
El Alcazar: This large stone fortification is located in the highest part of the city. It was initially constructed to be a Roman palace and since then has served the city as a place for multiple governmental functions. The Alcazar inspired the name of the far-right newspaper that began during the civil war and ended during the Spanish transition to democracy. Being severely damaged after the war it now houses a regional library and the Museum of the Army.
Cost: Free with the tour
Santo Tome de Toledo Church: This is one of the many churches in Toledo and is famous for being the home of the world-renowned painting: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz (Oil on canvas 1586). The painting depicts a local legend set within a large 2 panel piece of canvas. The painting shows the heavenly above and the terrestrial below, depicting the burial of a local legend who left large sums of money to the Santo Tome church. According to Lambraki-Plaka “It is the living encyclopedia of his (El Greco’s) art without ceasing to be a masterpiece with organic continuity and entelechy”.
Cost: Free with the Tour
My lunch spot recommendation:
La Abadia Cerveceria Artesana is a great lunch spot and a local hidden-gem. Recommended by several of the vendors I meant along the way, this little restaurant’s lower level is a natural cave fit for the ideal traditional Spanish meal. The wines are also quite enjoyable. If you are a true beer feen this artisan beer spot is the place for you. Try to avoid the tourist traps and find your way here!
Petit Cafe El Greco: This is the ideal place to stop by for a quick coffee and a morning or afternoon snack in between touring around. It’s a small coffee shop next to Santo Tome de Toledo Church. Make sure to take a deep breath, a bathroom or water break before entering Santo Tome and feasting your eyes on one of El Greco’s most world-renowned pieces of art.
Convento de San Clemente: This convent is one of the two supposed birth places of marzipan, the famous confection made of sugar or honey and almonds. This is a staple of the town and the perfect gift to take home.
The many doors, cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, museums, cafes and bars make up this truly beautiful encounter of three cultures. It’s one of the best day trips in Spain that is worth the visit!