Toledo is a gorgeous place to see. With its majestic castle perched on a rocky bluff, Gothic cathedrals and winding cobblestone streets, the town looks magical, like out of a fairy tale. Due to its proximity to Madrid, Toledo is a very popular day trip for those who visit the Spanish capital.
Toledo seemed like a living museum to me, packed with history, art, and great medieval architecture. Its majestic castle was reminiscent of the castles and fortresses I visited in Romania. We only spent one day in Toledo when road tripping in Spain, but I wish we had more time in this dazzling walled city.
A Brief History of Toledo
Toledo had a tumultuous and fascinating history. It survived the Moors, the Visigoths, and the Spanish Civil Wa. It was Spain’s religious and political center and the main site of the court of Charles V.
During medieval times, the city was a melting pot of cultures. For centuries Christians, Arabs and Jews co-existed peacefully within its walls, which is why Toledo was also 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.
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. And thanks to the high-speed train, you can travel from Madrid to Toledo in just half an hour. There are however several ways to get to Toledo from Madrid.
The cheapest way is by bus ($4 to $10/ticket). You need to buy your ticket before you get on the bus. The ride takes about one hour. The bus leaves from an underground hub in Plaza Eliptica in Madrid. There is also a bus service that will pick you up from your hotel and take you straight to Toledo, but that’s a shared bus and it takes longer (1.5 hours on average).
Organized Trips from Madrid to Toledo
Another possibility is to choose an organized day trip to Toledo and you can find some recommendations on any Spain travel guide. There are several companies that offer all-inclusive guided tours from Madrid to Toledo.
The fastest way to take a day trip to Toledo is by high-speed train, which takes around 30 minutes. The train ride is not only shorter but also more comfortable, as you can stand or go to the bathroom. Trains depart daily from the Atocha station in Madrid.
The cost of the ticket is $14 each way. If you are not traveling during the high season, you do not need to make any reservations. You just show up and buy your ticket at the station. However, during the summer these trains get very crowded because they are also commuter trains, so it’s a good idea to buy your tickets online ahead of time.
Things to Know when Planning Your Day Trip to Toledo
Toledo is probably the most popular day trip from Madrid and as a result it gets crowded in the middle of the day. If you want to avoid the crowds, plan to arrive here before 10 a.m.
There is a Lot of Uphill Walking in Toledo
Whether you arrive in Toledo by train or by bus you’ll have a steep walk up to the city walls and the historic center. If you are in a good physical shape and want to take some picture, you can walk. The shortest path to enter the old city from the railway station is across the Alcantara Bridge. On this road you’ll also get some beautiful views of the Tagus river.
But if you want to save your energy and you don’t feel like walking, you have two options. One option is to take a cab all the way to the Alcazar, which is the highest point, then start walking down.
Or you can take a bus. Busses stop to the right of the train station, on the main street. Busses 5, 5D, 51, 61, and 62 will take one to the Plaza de Zocodover, which is downtown Toledo (up the hill).
Another option to minimize the uphill walking is to buy a ticket for the Toledo Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ($20 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. Since your trip to Toledo is not very long, you probably won’t have much time to go there on foot, so make sure you don’t miss these great lookout points. The panoramic views of the city from across the river are stunning!
Buy a Map
Toledo has 3 major neighborhoods: –the Jewish Quarter, the Christian/Roman Quarter and the Muslim Quarter– all of which are interesting to visit.
The medieval old town is a labyrinth of winding pedestrian streets and alleyways. Finding your way gets sometimes pretty confusing, so 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.
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Things to Do on a Day Trip to Toledo from Madrid
Trying to fit all the attractions of Toledo in one single day is nearly impossible. There are over 30 museums and art galleries, more than a dozen churches and temples, and countless monuments. However, with some good planning you can easily see the main sights of Toledo. So here is what you shouldn’t miss:
1. El Alcázar
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 an Arab fortress from 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, don’t expect to see a beautiful castle interior. 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.
2. 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 Cathedral of 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!
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3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
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Shopping in Toledo
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 and had a lot of hassle bringing them back home, in California.
But if you are into swords, knives and amours, you should at least 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.
More Than One Day in Toledo?
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.
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Tips for Visiting Toledo in One Day
- 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 organized 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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Am eagerly awaiting the all clear for covid so I can walk the last stage of el camino de Frances then use Madrid as a base for a fortnight. Toledo is definitely the first sway city on my list.
Thank you for your informative post.
We are all waiting for this pandemic to be over. Hope traveling will not loose its appeal because of what we’ve been through…
How is Toledo for kids? We’ll be visiting with a 10 year old and 7 year old. I’ve heard the streets can be steep as you mentioned, do you think it would be too much?
I don’t think the streets are too steep for a 10 and a 7 years old. Besides, if they get tired there are lots of places to stop. Also, there are many of souvenir shops with fake swords, armors and other toys that kids enjoy. Our son had a lot of fun in Toledo and he was only 12 at the time.
This is our first stop on our first trip to Spain! Traveling with 4 young grandkids, three girls, 9, 7, 5, and 2 year old boy. Any suggestions on what would hold their attention? We’ll be there on a Monday all day and Tues morning.
I envy you, Karen. We have 3 grandkids too, but our daughter in law would never let them go with us to Europe. At any rate, I think the kids will have a lot of fun in Toledo. There are lots of souvenir shops around, selling toy swords, princess dolls and other fun things. If you want to capture their interest for what they see, arm yourself with some stories about each place you visit. Toledo Cathedral has lots of stained glass windows with stories from the Bible. They may love seeing the glass cabinets filled with relics, or the jewels lining the walls of the treasury. The Army Museum may also be a fun place for them. Not sure about the 2 year old though. He is too young and will probably get tired quickly.
What a beautiful city to explore. I can see why it was the highlight of your time in Spain. Great tips about getting in early and leaving late, to maximise time in town and not in traffic.
I visited Toledo for a day drip when I was in Madrid. It was a beautiful place with rich history and stunningly architecture is definitely worth the visit.
Toledo is a perfect example of a town where you can soak in the essence in a capsule…and also spend a couple of days knowing more. And so conveniently located, close to Madrid. I loved the Jewish Synagogue and El Greco’s masterpieces.
Pity I missed Toledo when I was in Madrid. I didn’t know that it’s so close and only takes 30 minutes by train! I’m a bit like you guys too, I prefer to walk around on my own as opposed to going on tours. I love getting lost in old cities. Toledo sounds a bit like Granada, which also has Jewish, Christian/Roman and Muslim Quarters. I adore the ornate architecture of San Juan de los Reyes, and Museo de Santa Cru sounds like a must-see especially for El Greco’s paintings.
Toledo is known for its swords? – well that sounds like a medieval gem to visit. It looks absolutely magnificent and this couldn’t come at a better time, considering I am planning a trip to Spain soon. The architecture is magnificent its no wonder it took 267 years to build! Is it worth spending a week there to relax and enjoy the sites? Great tips.
I am still guted that I missed Toledo and drove straight pass it, now I wish I didnt now I seen your photos and read this post. Hopefully heading back to central Spain in the summer so its defo time to check it out!
La Catedral Primada took 267 years to build? How is that even possible? It’s as gorgeous as the La Sagrada Familia. That monastery looks like a piece of Vatican for me. Toledo I think is a great place for Roman Catholics and lovers of heritage. I will definitely add this on my list when I have a chance to go to Spain.
Mei and Kerstin
Toledo is one of our favorite small cities in Europe. We first visited 14 years ago on a day trip from Madrid, and finally returned again two years ago. It was such a blast and we ended up staying for 3 days. This beautiful town can certainly by explored during a day trip from Madrid, but we seriously think that any visitor should spend at least an overnight in Toledo, because once the daily tourists are gone it becomes quieter and it’s truly magical to stroll through the city in the evening and nighttime! This being said, your post covers most of the awesome things to do and see in Toledo, and we think that it’s very useful for those who don’t have more time. 🙂
I’m hoping to return to Toledo myself too, Mei. I miss it already.
Good to know that you can do Tolefo in a day. I definitely would love to see Alcazar. It has always fascinated me… Good tips on how to get there from Madrid.
Anda, you’ve reignited my desire to see Toledo! It was actually one of the first foreign cities I learned about as a boy, mostly because the phrase “Holy Toledo” was popular. I was sure that the city was named for that; you can imagine how my young mind was blown when I learned it was a very old city! As I learned more about it, I wanted to go explore – and still do! 🙂
Hahaha, I didn’t know about that phrase, Rob. Toledo is very beautiful, you should go visit it.
It looks like an amazing city, and as usual, your photos are stunning! I haven’t been to Spain (yet), but when I eventually make it there, Toledo is going to be on my list.
I´ve enjoyed reading your post and seeing pictures so much! I´ve also been to Toledo once, as a day trip from Madrid. It´s such a gorgeous city and I really liked The Cathedral ´s architecture and interiors. I´m planning to go back soon, it´s been almost 6 years since my last visit to this medieval capital!
We just spent 3 days in Madrid and toyed with the idea of going to Toledo but ultimately decided not to. I’m now going to spend this whole weekend kicking myself! It looks incredible and you’ve got so many great suggestions of ways to spend the day. Oh well, guess it just means I have to go back!?
If you only had 3 days in Madrid, there wasn’t enough time to go to Toledo, so don’t be sorry. Madrid is such a great city to visit too.
Did you use Hop-on-Hop-off bus to get to those places in Toledo?
No, the tour bus will drop you at the edge of the town. Toledo is too small for a hop-on-hop-off bus.
I’ve not been to Madrid or Toledo and this all looks lovely – the architecture in particular is very beautiful 😉 I’d probably need at least 1 day or more to explore here.
I agree, Jessica. We were sorry we couldn’t spend more time in Toledo.
My Spanish teacher in high school was from Spain and I remember her teaching us about Toledo. Then my husband went there on a business trip and I was so envious. Stunning city and stunning photos! I sure hope I can explore Toledo – and Spain – someday!
Toledo has been on my list for a long time, so I’m quite glad to hear your praise for this city! Makes me want to go only that much more!!
Spain is not so far from you, Lolo. You should go.
Cynthia | Adventuring Woman
What beautiful pictures, so many wonderful things to see! I have fallen in love with it already! It sounds like Toledo might be worth more than a day trip. If you had to do it over again, would you stay overnight or even longer?
I definitely would. I was sorry for not planning more time there.
Wow, I’d never heard of Toledo before (outside of the US version), and I’m so glad that I clicked on your post, because far out, it seems amazing. All of those medieval buildings! And your panoramic shots are gorgeous… I’m pretty sure I’d be in heaven here.
Hope you’ll get to visit the historic Toledo someday. What you’ll discover has no resemblance with its US counterpart.
Toledo is an amazing city. There is so much to see and I couldn’t fit it all in with an overnight stay. I enjoyed the Old Jewish Quarter and particularly liked all the El Greco museum as well as seeing his most famous painting in the Church of Santo Tome. I like the idea of taking the high-speed train from Madrid. Your highlights to see on a day trip to Toledo are spot on.
Thanks, Rhonda. You were lucky if you could spend a night in Toledo. We only had time for a day trip to Toledo.
I have not made it to Toledo yet, but it looks like a great day trip. The architecture there is stunning, especially the Cathedral. It does look like a great city to walk around and explore.
It is a great place to visit, Anisa. You should go.
Oooh, I love this post! I studied in Salamanca and simply love this region of Spain. Toledo is such a rich city!
It is, isn’t it!