As an expert tourist would say: He who never been to Toledo, had never been to Spain. And he would be absolutely right. The ancient city, which at different times was an integral part of the Roman, Visigothic, Arabic, and Spanish cultures, was poetized in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s and Lope de Vega’s works. It gently keeps the spirit of historical events, and attracts with its magical architecture of the old churches, synagogues, and former mosques. Even today, the city serves as a background for significant historical films and serials. Brave Don Quixote la Mancha, who fought with white windmills, became a lucking symbol of Spain a long time ago. And which you can view in the vicinity of Toledo.
Attractions of Toledo
Toledo is the city that remained the features of the Spanish Middle Ages up to now. Everything is real here — from paver tones to the walls of ancient churches. Approaching Toledo, and watching the prospect of the Tagus River banks, you immediately feel the old spirit of the town. No coincidence, this is the most attended city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona.
In 712, the Moors conquered the territory. After the Visigoths’ banishment, the Moors renamed Toletum into Ṭulayṭulah. But in 1085, Alfonso VI of Castile oppressed these lands and located the residence of the Castilian kings. Once, the Muslim city Ṭulayṭulah became the Christian Toledo. The residence occupied the place for 5 centuries, until 1561, when Philip II of Spain removed his possessions to Madrid.
During the wars on the Iberian peninsula (the Reconquista epoch), Toledo was the capital of Spain and carried a name of the City of the Three Cultures. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim movements were deeply intertwined in all the fields, that Toledo wore the name of the Reconquista symbol.
Since the 16th century, under the reign of Charles I of Spain, Toledo became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. However, Toledo lost its position as a capital to Valladolid, and then — to Madrid.
The Spanish Civil War overtook Toledo, along with Spain, from 1936 to 1939. About a thousand of general Franco’s supporters, led by general Moscardó, captured the ancient fortification Alcázar in 1936 and held the building 70 days against overwhelming Spanish Republican forces. Then, the Francoist forces, who came to help, deblocked the Alcázar and brutally avenged the citizens.
Fortunately, the event of the wars of the 20th century didn’t cardinally affect the town image, and most parts of its ancient architecture remained up to now.
Today, Toledo is the capital of the similar province and the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It has preserved the features of the Medieval town and now gratifies tourists with unique narrow streets, ancient temples, castles, and fortresses against the background of rich nature. Toledo has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1986.
Before the trip, you should calculate the approximate budget that you will require for the travel:
The best time to visit Toledo
Beer lovers should plan to visit the ancient Spanish town in October when I Domus Week Beer Festival is held.
If you are an admirer of El Greco’s art, visit multi-level stylized Sercotel Pintor EL Greco hotel with mansards and underground rooms. It is located in the center of Toledo and has its own parking.
The best souvenirs you can bring from Toledo are leather items, calking, ceramics, knives, weaponry, carved wooden sculptures of religious content.
Do not risk buying the real swords and blades. You won’t be able to pass the security, leaving the country.
It is forbidden to take pictures in stores. If somebody calls the police, you will have troubles.
Use commuter trains, if you want to save your time. They are faster than busses, and lower in cost.
While walking around the city, have a passport with you. Watch your wallet in crowded places — the whole caste of pickpockets is just waiting for you.
You can reach the Old Town from the bus station by the aerial tramway, just a 10-minute walk.
If you came to the city without a clear plan to visit attractions, use the travel agency services, that offers twelve interesting routes through ancient Toledo.
What should a tourist do in Toledo
- Take a walk in the old town. The great history made this territory, without exaggeration, unique — narrow streets, quiet courtyards, stone buildings. Here Cathedrals and Synagogues are next to the Moorish and Roman cultures like the past and the future. Do not pass by Plaza del Pozo Amargo (in translation — The Bitter Well). This well has a legend about a beautiful woman Raquel, who used to meet here with her beloved Fernando. But one night, Fernando didn’t come as he was murdered on the same street, not far from Raquel’s house. Ever after, the heartbroken Raquel would sit, while the tears flowed into that well, which remained on Pozo Amargo till this day.
- Take in the beauty of Toledo Cathedral. The building was constructed in the 13-15 centuries, and used to be basilica as well as the mosque. The foundation of the Cathedral is Roman. The Gothic style is effectively supplemented by the Spanish Renaissance in this architectural masterpiece. Pay special attention to the interior of the Cathedral. It has five naves, 88 richly decorated columns, 750 exquisite stained glass windows, and the grand chapels. The ceiling is 32 meters high. Here, one can find the art collection of priceless paintings of El Greco, Morales, Anthony van Dyck, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, and Titian.
- Visit the Jewish Quarter and the oldest synagogue building in Europe, Santa María la Blanca (erected in 1180). The plain white interior walls, octagonal supports with horseshoe arches and geometric patterns will definitely get your attention. In the Jewish Quarter stands the bust of the famous treasurer of king Pedro I "the Cruel" — Samuel ha-Levi.
- Stop by the Iglesia de Santo Tomé church to see the original painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz by El Greco (1585). The painting is on the arc of the chapel, which means it had never left a building. The church dates back to the 12th century and is considered to be a model of the Mudéjar style, since it was originally a mosque. In the 14th century, the bell tower was installed here instead of the old minaret.
- Enjoy the cityscape, climbing on the watchtower of the Jesuit church of San Idelfonso. This is one of the highest sites with a view of Toledo Cathedral framed by the breathtaking panorama of Toledo. The temple itself is a Baroque architecture masterpiece of the 17th century.
- Plunge into the Middle Ages, viewing the Castle of San Servando. It is situated upland near the Tagus River. The Alcázar fortress lies opposite of it. The building of the 14th century draws attention with its facade with embrasures, and towers with castellations. At first, it was the Roman construction, then — the Visigothic church, and later — the Arabic fortress.
- Climb the ancient Alcántara Bridge that is more than 700 years old. It is built over the Tagus River, and often becomes a picturesque scenery for historical movies. The latest one is the series Toledo.
- Travel to the suburbs to explore one of the biggest complexes of Don Quixote windmills. It is situated 100 kilometers from Toledo (near the city Campo de Criptana).
- Try local food. Toledo is called the gastronomy capital of Spain. Local restaurants and cafes maintain this status and treat guests with delicious courses. Start exploring Spain with paella and tortilla. After, you might as well try a piece of delicious stewed venison. Don’t forget about marzipan. It is believed that this sweet dessert of almond meal, made better than anywhere in the world. And surely, give yourself a treat with Spanish wines.