Updated 09.01.2018: Most travelers who visit Spain spend at least a few days in Madrid, wandering through its impressive museums, lounging in Retiro Park, and sampling the endless tapas. However, guest contributor, Kirsten Gallagher, is here to tell us how to get outside of the capital by taking a day trip to Toledo, Spain, a medieval city and UNESCO world heritage site.
Tips for a day trip to Toledo, Spain
The trapped-in-time feel of Toledo presents a refreshing contrast to modern, metropolitan Madrid, and makes for a perfect day trip. Over the centuries, three different faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have harmoniously co-existed in Toledo and given it a rich spiritual history waiting to be explored.
How to travel from Madrid to Toledo by train
The fastest way to get to Toledo is to book a high-speed train through a company called Renfe, which can be done online. Book several days in advance to ensure that the better train times are available.
Head to Puerta de Atocha, Madrid’s main train station to catch your train. You’ll be in Toledo in less than three quarters of an hour. Once there, the older, medieval part of Toledo, which is surrounded by stone walls, is almost within sight.
Purchasing a Toledo Card is another option. The one-day card includes high speed train transport to and from Madrid, admission to Toledo’s major monuments, and guided tours, as well as access to the Toledo tourist bus with audio commentary.
Stop to admire the Alcántara Gate
Take the road that leads uphill, stay left, and round the bend. Within minutes, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Alcántara Gate, an enormous stone structure originally built by the Romans.
There is a long bridge that leads you to the Alcántara Gate straddling the Tagus river far, far below. If you can handle heights, take a few moments on the bridge to look up and imagine what it must have been like to approach the formidable walled city centuries ago.
Beyond the gate, there’s a fair bit of uphill walking to do, so wear suitable shoes. Soon you’ll encounter a cocky-looking statue of Cervantes and, like most tourists, be tempted to pose for a picture arm-in-arm with the Spanish Shakespeare.
Toledo tourism begins at Zocodover Square
A lively square surrounded by shops, restaurants, and cafes was once the heart of Toledo; it was the Zocodover, or market place. Here, people came to buy, sell, and trade goods of all sorts amongst each other, regardless of religion. At one time, Toledo had a reputation for producing fine metalwork – blades, in particular. Stores continue to hawk knives, daggers, switchblades and the like, even today.
In Zocodover Square, as it is now known, you’ll see the pick-up point for a trolley ride. While you can see much of Toledo on foot, the advantage of taking the trolley ride (40 minutes, €5.50) is that it winds through the city center and then exits it, heading well outside for more generous views. You’ll be able to appreciate the splendorous sprawl of Toledo from afar, and likely get the best pictures during one of the trolley’s short stops along the way.
Boarding the Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing bus at the train station is another option. Here’s how to purchase tickets ahead of time.
The best things to see on a day trip to Toledo, Spain
Hours can be spent meandering through the labyrinthine streets of Toledo, marveling at the ancient places of worship. The “City of Three Cultures,” as Toledo has been known, has a vast array of synagogues, churches, and former mosques.
In the Jewish quarter (the Judería in Spanish), you’ll find El Transito Synagogue, arguably one of the best examples of sephardic architecture in Spain. The structure and decor of the synagogue bear the influence of the Moors, and inscriptions are written in Hebrew and Arabic.
Not too far away from the Jewish quarter is the Toledo Cathedral, which is hard to miss due to its immense height. The cathedral was built in the 13th century in the Gothic style.
Inside, Toledo Cathedral is cavernous and still. There are a great many artistic masterpieces within the cathedral, including one by El Greco (as you might guess, a Greek who made his mark on Spanish painting), entitled The Disrobing of Christ, and one by a notable Spanish painter, Francisco Goya, entitled Arrest of Christ.
Take a guided tour of the Toledo Cathedral to make the most of your visit.
Where to eat in Toledo, Spain
You’ll be due for a bite to eat at some point in the afternoon and despite its small size, there is plenty of choice in Toledo. Avoid Zocodover Square and find something tucked away down a side street.
La Perdiz (Calle Reyes Católicos 7) is a small, bright restaurant that offers a no-fuss atmosphere, tasty Spanish food, and more than reasonable prices. (Editor’s note 06.16.2018: this lovely restaurant is no longer in business.) Afterwards, treat yourself to some marzipan, famous in Toledo for being invented by nuns who found themselves with a surplus of almonds and sugar on their hands. Like metalwork, it’s on every corner in Toledo.
Explore Spanish art at the El Greco Museum
If you’re an art lover then the El Greco Museum should be on your list of things to see in Toledo. The museum is located just before you encounter Zocodover Square and so it might be wise to plan to see it either first or last in the day.
El Greco was an influential artist who lived for a time in Toledo and whose strongly expressive style (all art is expressive of course, but in this context, the word expressive is in contrast to representational) was carried on by other artists centuries later. His willingness to distort form and use color to evoke emotion links him directly to the Impressionists.
The museum has a number of his important works, among them View of Toledo and Christ with the Apostles. It is adjoined by his former living quarters, renovated and staged to give an idea of what it might have looked like during El Greco’s time.
More things to do in Toledo, Spain
- Explore Toledo with a local on a private tour
- Go wine tasting in Toledo
- Tour Toledo by Segway
- Private tour to Toledo from Madrid.
Only a short trip from Madrid, Toledo should not be left off your itinerary on a boomer travel adventure in Spain. A visit to Toledo is a way to appreciate the braided history of Spain, an interweaving of various faiths and cultures that does not cease to inspire.
Have you seen our Spain Travel Planner? Click through to start planning your Spanish boomer adventures!
More charming day trips from Madrid:
- How to take a day trip to Toledo, Spain
- Tips for taking a day trip to Segovia
- Visit Caceres, the city of birds.
- Enjoy the charming day trips from Girona
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