Our day trip to Toledo from Madrid was the highlight of our trip to Spain. With its majestic castle perched on a rocky bluff and the Tagus River meandering around it, Toledo is a gorgeous site to see! The city’s mysterious winding streets, cobblestone squares and Gothic cathedrals made me feel like I was part of a fairy tale. Toledo seemed like a living museum, packed with history, art, and great medieval architecture. I’ve only got to spend one day in Toledo, but this ancient walled city dazzled me more than any other place in Spain.
Toledo had a tumultuous and fascinating history. It survived the Moors, the Visigoths, and the Spanish Civil War; it was Spain’s religious and political center and the main site of the court of Charles V; Toledo was a melting pot of medieval cultures. For centuries Christians, Arabs and Jews co-existed peacefully within its walls, making it known as the “City of Three Cultures.” One of Toledo’s biggest draws is the combination of architectural styles that derived from the mingling of these three cultures: Islamic, Jewish and Christian.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to Get to Toledo from Madrid
- 2 What You Can Expect on Your Day Trip to Toledo
- 3 How to Spend One Day in Toledo
- 4 Tips for Making the Most of Your Day Trip to Toledo
How to Get to Toledo from Madrid
Toledo makes a great day trip from Madrid. That is of course if you have more than just one day in Madrid. There are several ways to get to Toledo from Madrid. The cheapest and most convenient way is by bus. There is now a bus service that will pick you up from your hotel and take you straight to Toledo.
Another possibility is to choose an organized day trip to Toledo. There are several companies that offer all-inclusive guided tours from Madrid to Toledo.
The fastest way to get from Madrid to Toledo is by high-speed train . I think this is the best alternative if you plan to visit the city independently. Trains depart daily from the Atocha station. The ride costs €13 each way and takes about 30 minutes. You do not need to make any reservations, just show up and but your ticket at the station. The time tables change quite frequently, so make sure to check the them before departing for the station.
What You Can Expect on Your Day Trip to Toledo
Trying to fit all the attractions of Toledo in one day is nearly impossible. There are over 30 museums and art galleries, more than a dozen churches and temples, and countless monuments. But with some careful planning you’ll be able to visit the most important landmarks that define Toledo.
If you arrive in Toledo by train, you will have a short walk up to the city walls. The streets in Toledo are quite steep, so if you want to minimize the uphill walking you have two options. One is to take a cab to the historic center (around €7) and get off at Alcazar, which is the highest point.
The other option is to buy a ticket for the Toledo Hop-On Hop-Off Bus (€14 for one day). Before entering the old town the tour bus goes first on the other side of the river and stops at some great viewpoints. Whether you go there by bus, by cab, or by foot, make sure you don’t miss these lookout points. The panoramic views of the city from across the river are stunning!
The medieval old town is a labyrinth of winding pedestrian streets and alleyways. Finding your way gets sometimes pretty confusing, therefore it’s a good idea to buy a map before you start your walk. Certainly, you can book a guided tour of Toledo if you choose to, but we preferred to explore the city on our own.
Toledo is divided into 3 major neighbourhoods – the Jewish Quarter, the Christian/Roman Quarter and the Muslim Quarter – all of which are interesting to visit.
How to Spend One Day in Toledo
A good place to start your day in Toledo is in the main square, where the tour bus will drop you. This is the highest part of town where you’ll also find the palace-fortress of El Alcázar. The original building was a fortress built by the Arabs in the early 8th century. Later on the Spanish kings expended the fortress and eventually converted it into a royal residence.
El Alcázar is today the site of the Army Museum. The museum has a huge collection of army-related artifacts, from knights on horseback to modern aviation, toy soldiers and all things military. We decided to get in, but soon realized that was a mistake. The museum is outstanding, but way too big to be experienced properly if you only have one day in Toledo.
If you want to spend time visiting the Army Museum is fine. However, if you are expecting to see a beautiful castle interior you’ll be disappointed. Alcázar doesn’t look anything like a palace inside and there are hardly any views from its windows. So if you are only interested in visiting the building, the best experience is the exterior view.
La Catedral Primada (Toledo’s Cathedral)
The Cathedral of Toledo (La Cathedral Primada in Spanish) dominates the city both architecturally and artistically. It is the second largest cathedral in Spain, after the one in Seville. Erected on the site of a former mosque, the Cathedral took 267 years to build. That seems like a great deal of time for a construction! But when you look at this marvelous building you’ll understand why its completion took so long. The Cathedral is absolutely stunning, with elaborately carved portals, a soaring 300 feet tower, and five naves stretching over 120 meters in length.
The interior is also jaw-dropping. There are so many artistic and religious artifacts! I was blown away by the sparkling gold reliefs, wood sculptures, decorated columns, and stained-glass windows. Don’t miss the religious paintings of the great Spanish artist El Greco when visiting the cathedral!
The Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes
This church was originally planned by Ferdinand and Isabella as their last resting place. They changed their plans later and chose to be buried in Granada.
The most remarkable part of the church is its double cloister, which is decorated with carved stone arches and pillars.
Museo de Santa Cruz
Hidden behind Plaza de Zocodover is Toledo’s most interesting museum and art gallery: Museo de Santa Cruz . The original building was a hospital during the 16th century and was built in the shape of a Greek cross. Besides containing a great art collection and many paintings by El Greco, the building’s beautiful architecture is a draw in itself.
This place is worth visiting even if you are not a big fan of museums. It is also a good choice if you want to skip visiting El Greco Museum, yet see some of the artist’s famous paintings.
Puerta de Bisagra (the Gate of Bisagra)
Puerta Vieja de Bisagra is only remaining part of the Moorish town walls. It’s easy to imagine the strength of Toledo’s ancient walls was when you stand before the monumental Gate of Bisagra! To get a good look at it from the distance, you’ll have to basically leave the historic old town and cross the highway. Then you’ll have to return and pass through it again. Puerta de Bisagra is the kind of landmark that you’ll only enjoy for a brief couple of minutes, while you pass through it. Nevertheless it’s worth seeing.
Toledo is known for its traditional crafts, including antique-inspired swords. It’s hard to resist the temptation to acquire one of these marvelously crafted swords that are on display We bought three! If you are into swords, knives and amours, walk into some of these shops to admire the big variety. Some stores also explain and demonstrate how the swords are forged, using the damascene technique. It’s quite an experience.
There are many other interesting sites to see in Toledo, like the El Greco Museum, the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, or the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz. Unfortunately, you can only do so much on day trip to Toledo from Madrid. In the end, how you decide to spend your available time in the city depends a lot on your travel style and interests.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Day Trip to Toledo
- Try to arrive very as early as you can (before 9am if possible), and leave late. Toledo is a very popular destination, so many tourists will follow the same itinerary as you.
- Before you plan your day trip to Toledo, bear in mind that some attractions are closed on Mondays.
- Wear comfortable shoes. The streets in Toledo are quite steep and walking can be physically demanding.
- If you choose to book an escorted day trip to Toledo from Madrid, be advised that you will not be allowed to stop in and shop as you please. You can only visit the stores that the tour company has an “agreement” with. And those are usually the most expensive ones.
- It is possible to enjoy the city without spending a lot of money. You don’t need to visit every museum, or get into every church. Simply walking the streets and admiring the landmarks can be a lot of fun.
If you have never visited Toledo, make sure to include it into your next European itinerary. There is so much history in this city, so many great sites to see, and good food to taste!
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