Our day in Toledo started with a train trip through the fog.
Very, very dense fog. We’d only decided to take a trip to Toledo whilst on the high speed train to Madrid the previous day, and done a quick google for day trips from the city. After boarding our local train at 8AM, bound for Toledo, we only made it a few kms before our view was blanketed in white. It got thicker the further we got. By the time we arrived at Toledo train station, we couldn’t see a thing. We weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
Why is Toledo special?
Perched on top of a gorge, Toledo is known as the “city of the three cultures”, because Christians, Arabs and Jews lived together there for centuries, in relative peace. You can see signs of each religion in the city itself, which was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. Toledo is full of churches, palaces, fortresses, mosques and synagogues, all combining to create a unique little town unlike any other I have visited. Best of all, its just a quick day trip from Madrid .
How can I get to Toledo from Madrid?
By a fast and comfortable high speed train, which leaves Atocha station every one or two hours starting around 7:00 am weekdays and 9:00 on weekends and holidays. The last train to return to Madrid leaves between 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm, depending which day of the week it is. The train costs around 21 euros return, and only takes half an hour each way.
What is there to see?
When you arrive in Toledo, you’ll find that there is a bit of a walk from the train station to the town. You can catch a bus, but we walked. Straight into the fog. When we arrived at what appeared to be the base of the hill that the city sits on, we couldn’t see a thing beyond the Puente de Alcántara. Awkward.
Anyway, we weren’t going to let a little bit of fog get in the way of a good day! We crossed the bridge across the Rio Tejo and started ascending the many steps up to the city.
One important thing to note – this isn’t the main entrance to the city, nor is it the most magnificent. To enter the city via its most famous gate, head around the corner and go via the Puerta de Bisagra.
As you may have noticed from reading some of my previous travel blogs, we often don’t do all of the attractions in a location. We are the kind of travelers that like to meander and admire more than visit a lot of places. However, I’ve listed the attractions we did see, and what you might like to visit and enter if you go to Toledo. Most of all, though, you should take time to stroll the streets of the small town, visiting the back alleys and admiring the beautiful architecture that hides around every corner.
Oh, and the fog burnt off, resulting in a beautiful, sunny day.
The Jewish Quarter
The Judeira district is what once used to be the city’s Jewish quarter, and remains one of the most beautiful parts of the city, with some excellently preserved buildings. Translating to ‘the city of the Jews’, it is home to the Sinagoga del Tránsito, built in 1355 by special permission from Pedro I. The synagogue now houses the Museo Sefardí. Look for the little tiles on the ground showing menorah, and you’ll know you’ve enter the area.
With an obvious French influence, the Toledo Cathedral is the central focal point of the small town. It was finished towards the end of the 15th century, taking over 200 years to build. To me, it is fascinating that such a huge cathedral was built here. I guess this alludes to the importance of religion to the Spanish people, and also the nature of religious buildings being the true heart of each medieval town. There are several masses each day, so the Cathedral is open for visit from 10am to 6:30pm during the week and from 2pm to 6pm on Sundays. Tickets cost €11.
At the highest point in the city is the famous Alcázar. Rebuilt under Franco, it has been reopened as a vast military museum. While we didn’t visit, you can get a fantastic view from outside the massive building. If you want to see the exhibits inside, it costs €5. It opens from Tuesday-Sunday.
Wandering the city streets
Even during the winter, off-peak season, we found the streets of Toledo buzzing with visitors. It wasn’t busy like in summer, but it was pleasant. As well as your normal, boring chain stores, there are many small artisan shops. Cafes and restaurants line the streets, and local artwork is on display. If you venture off the main route, you’ll find side streets of beautiful little residential buildings. Local people busk and play music. It’s really a lovely experience.
Targus River walk
If you have time, head down to the river and walk around the Alcántara bridge to get spectacular views of the city from below. This was a peaceful and quiet walk on the day we visited, and we hardly saw anyone else. We did, however, see a gang of geese having a spectacular vocal goose-war with a rival gaggle across the river. Unexpected.
What should I buy in Toledo?
The town is famous for an eclectic mix of intricate ceramic tiles and swords. For centuries the city was one of the main producers of arms for the Spanish Imperial Army. The swords on sale in the local stores are strictly decorative, however, if you’re into replicas, you’re in luck. Copies of famous swords throughout history – and fiction – are prevalent, and you can even get your very own Oathkeeper made. If you want a souvenir less likely to set off alarm bells at customs, you can purchase some locally made Marzipan or ceramic tiles in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours.
Don’t miss the Nun cafe!
Toledo’s cuisine is renown for game meats such as venison, partridge, and quail. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of such delicacies. What I am a fan of is churros. Luckily, we visited el café de las Monjas. This little cafe is cheap and cheerful, and run by local nuns. You can try some of the marzipan they produce locally. The TripAdvisor reviews are a bit ho-hum, but lets face it – this isn’t high cuisine. It is, however, a nice break from the bustle of the town at midday.