Let's start with the basics: how to get there. Toledo is one of the provinces of Castilla La Mancha and is located near the border with the Community of Madrid. Therefore, from the Spanish capital there are different daily routes that reach Toledo:
- Train: without any doubt this is the most comfortable and easiest option. From Madrid's Atocha station, the train-shuttle AVANT offers the Madrid-Toledo route in about 30 minutes with a price of 12.70€ each way (25.40€ round trip). Trains depart almost every hour from early morning, but on the website of RENFE it is also possible to check the schedules. To get from the Toledo's train station to downtown Toledo you can walk (20-25 min.), take a taxi (less than 10€) or take the public bus (between 1€ -2€) to Plaza de Zocodover (Zocodover Square).
- Bus: the trip to Toledo by bus takes between 1h and 1.30h from Plaza Eliptica or Eliptica Square (metro line 6) and the trip costs 5.43€ per way (9.77€ round trip). Although the tickets are sold directly at the Eliptica station, in this link from ALSA bus company the timetables are at least available. To get from the bus station to the center of Toledo you can walk (20 min.), take a taxi (less than 10€) or take the public bus (between 1€ -2€) to Zocodover Square.
- Scheduled Tour: tourist agencies as Pullmantur (located in Plaza de Oriente), organize excursions to the city of Toledo with tour guide, etc.
TOLEDO AND ITS HISTORY
On the way to Toledo, it is necessary and interesting to briefly know the varied history of this city. In celtíberos time, Toledo was already an important town which was later conquered by the Romans. Vestiges of this era (like the circus) are numerous and it ended when the city became the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom with the meetings of the Councils of Toledo. In the 11th century, Toledo joined the Kingdom of Castile and took its Christian character officialy, pledging to respect Muslims who had previously entered the city impregnating customs, aromas and flavors mixed with the ones from the Sephardic Jews community, another thriving group who came after. Jews formed with Muslims and Christians an era called the Three Cultures Era. Harmony among them, who lived together and in peace in Toledo left interesting vestiges such as the School of Translators of the 12th and 13th centuries or fine Mudejar art demonstrations, an Hispanic-Muslim art that resulted from the coexistence of these cultures. In the 15th century famous Catholic Monarchs established in Toledo the Inquisition Tribunal and also signed the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews, accusing them of being guilty of a serious economic crisis. From that moment Toledo lived a time of bright expansion until year 1561, when King Philip II moved the national capital to the city of Madrid, leaving Toledo alone with its narrow streets and its past memories.
Zocodover represents the social and cultural center of Toledo since medieval times. The Arabic origin of its name means 'market of workhorses' and here took also place the bulls runs and different games that amused the locals during some traditional festivals. Zocodover was also used at the time of the Inquisition to publicly execute the prisoners.
From the center of the Plaza, a building with a huge bow in the center will probably catch your attention. Go there to enter Miguel de Cervantes street and go down some stairs to see the statue of this famous writer. Keep walking a few more steps on the same street and at your left you will have the Santa Cruz Museum (Monday to Saturday from 9h to 19h; Sunday and holidays from 10h to 14h; price 6€). The museum is set in an old hospital and it exposes Roman Archaeological vestiges, Visigothic, Arab and Moorish. Its facade and its interior cloister deserve a calm walk.
** Tip: there is free acces to the Santa Cruz Museum on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 16h. 19h. and Sundays from 10h. to 14:30h. The Museum ticket includes also the visit to the Councils and Visigothic Culture Museum on San Roman Street.
To continue our walk, you must return to Plaza de Zocodover. On your way and if you are already hungry, you can turn right once you have reached again the statue of Cervantes and at the end of the Santa Fe Street you can enjoy tapas or appetizer at Cerveceria el Trebol.
Back at Plaza de Zocodover, continue on to reach the Cuesta Alcazar and Cuesta Carlos V Streets that will take you directly to the gates of the Alcazar of Toledo, the imposing four towers which dominates the skyline of the city. Built by Emperor Charles V as his residence in Toledo, each facade of the building shows the artistic example of when it was built during each phase of the Spanish Renaissance. Anecdotally this great palace was never abode of kings, although (widow) queens like Mariana of Austria lived finally here. It currently houses the Army Museum (open daily from 11h to 17h except Wednesdays; price 5€; free on Sundays).
** Tip: Toledo streets are plagued of stores swords, armor and shields. Buy some souvenirs in them and try to get a picture of you as a medieval knight with helmet and sword. Some movies like Lord of the Rings acquired here the swords they used during filming!
** Tip: the Cathedral opens from Monday to Saturday from 10h to 18h and Sundays from 14h to 18h. The entry price is 8€ including audio guide for museums and 11€ adding the tower if desired. The only way to avoid queues is to acquire the Toledo Pass (explanation below). A quick visit to the Cathedral will take you more than 1 hour.
Leaving the Cathedral you have probably already passed your usual lunch time, but remember that you are in a country where lunch time happens pretty late. Returning your steps to the junction of streets at the Hombre de Palo one, the Adolfo restaurant offers innovative and healthy recipes with la Mancha flavors (la Mancha is the area where Toledo is located). After enjoying it, have a coffee and... let's continue!
The afternoon starts in Toledo and with it... the race of the Three Cultures (Toledo is also known as 'the city of the three cultures'). You have chosen to visit the Imperial City in a day and to get it, you will have to hurry. From the Hombre de Palo Street, take Trinidad Street until Camino del Salvador Square. Here is the Church of the Savior (daily from 10h to 17.45h; price € 2.50), built on a primitive mosque that they are still digging at the back of the church, which was also the place where Joanna of Castile or Juana la Loca, daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, was baptized.
** Tip: next to the church is a small and primitive well covered by a glass accessible by its antique stairs on a visit which includes the church and the well on Tuesdays at 11 am and 17: 30h for free.
From the Church of the Savior, continue the way through Santo Tome Street. On this one you will find several bakeries that offer typical marzipan, Toledo's traditional sweet. You are now in the Jewish quarter. When you pass next to a large statue of Christ crucified on the wall (obviously much modern), turn left at the next tiny street to get to the Conde Square, where you will find the Church of Santo Tome, house of the famous painting The Burial of Count of Orgaz by painter El Greco (daily from 10am to 17:45h; price 2.50€). El Greco has a special importance in the city and his paintings and memories permeate many of its areas. In fact, down the Conde Square you will find Descalzos Street to get to Catholic Monarchs Street, facing the river, where the Museo del Greco is located (Monday to Saturday from 9h to 18.30h; Sundays and holidays from 10h to 15h; price 3€). Beside it you will find the Synagogue of El Transito (Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30h to 18.30h and from May to October from 9.30h to 20h; Sundays from 10h to 15.00h; price 3€). The Synagogue of El Transito currently houses the Sephardic Museum, with interesting remnants of the Jewish Toledo. Continuing down the Catholics Monarchs Street, you will reach a second Jewish temple converted to Christianity, the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca (every day from 10h to 17.45h, from May to October from 10h to 18.45h; price € 2.50) which undoubtedly deserves a visit for its architectural beauty and for being a landmark in Jewish culture. And a few steps from Santa Maria la Blanca, the impressive Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes (daily from 10h to 17.30h, from April to September from 10h to 18.30h, price 2.50€) is also a must. Its cloister is one of the most beautiful ones in its artistic movement and walk inside its walls will give you a real trip to the past.
** Tip: if you aree lucky and you still have time, down from the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes to San Martin Bridge, a magnificent medieval bridge that will offer you some beautiful views of the city.
Your very last steps in the history of the city will take you back to the Hotel Real to get Real del Arrabal Street. A few meters from there you will see the Puerta de Bisagra (Bisagra Gate), the most monumental gate in Toledo and with which you will say goodbye to this place. Erected in 1550 on an old door of Muslim origin, the Bisagra one has on its top the imperial sign of Charles V and a statue of an angel that, as they say, protects the city. With its image, you will leave the magnetism and magic of Toledo, a city that probably has plunged you into the lively story of its walls and towers. From here, it will not be too difficult to get a taxi to the railway/bus station or take your steps back to the transport that will return you to Madrid, leaving Toledo in a dream that your memory will confuse between reality and fiction.
TOURIST BRACELET AND TOLEDO CARD: SAVE TIME ON YOUR VISIT
Although this route is specifically designed to enjoy one day in Toledo, the city night unfurls its charm in curvilinear streets shaped snakes with the yellow lights on the stone walls. If, nevertheless, you are still thinking to visit it in a day, these two tourist resources can help you:
- Tourist Bracelet: the first is the so-called tourist bracelet. With a price of 8€ it includes the entrance to the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, Church of Santo Tome, Church of the Savior, the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca and the Jesuit Church. The bracelet can be purchased at any of these sites and it is a good option if your alarm clock has not done its job and the day has become a half day in Toledo. Also, if you only wish to see these places, with the bracelet the price will be cheaper, since access to each of them individually is 2.50€.
- Toledo Card: on the official website of Toledo Card all the different options are explained: some include train journeys from Madrid combined with entrance to many museums and temples or panoramic route by bus in the city. The biggest advantage of them all is that with the card that includes a visit to the Cathedral... you avoid the queues!