TOLEDO: SECRET TIPS OF THE OLD CAPITAL OF SPAIN
If you happen to travel to Madrid, plan a day-trip to Toledo. You won´t regret it! Every time a friend from abroad visits me, I take him there as is one of my favourite towns around Madrid. Until the XVI century was the capital of Spain and is the hometown of one of the most famous Spanish artists: El Greco.
Toledo is also known as “The city of the three cultures” as all over the old town you will find traces of Moorish, Jewish and Christian art and architecture. Both cultures lived together in peace for centuries.
If you are coming by train, once you get out of the station just follow the arrows you will find on the floor. You will cross the river and then you will see the escalators that will take you up to Zocodover square, right into the old town.
In this square, you will find the information office where they will give you the best advice of what to see including a free map of the old town.
The best viewpoints in town
There are 2 spots you cannot miss if you like viewpoints, one located in the centre and one outside of the centre. My recommendation is to check both as from one you will observe Toledo´s rooftops, architecture details and streets. And from the other one, you will see the old town´s configuration and a real taste of what it looked like during the Middle Age.
When walking around the old town, check for Jesuitas Church (Iglesia de los Jesuitas). Is located in the centre and is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture. It only costs 2,80€ to get in and after climbing an infinite amount of stairs in one of its towers, you will be transported to another world.
The other viewpoint is the Parador de Toledo. Is a hotel out of the city up in the mountain chain that surrounds the city. My advice is to go here at the end of the day once you have finished your journey through the city.
To get there you can go either by bus or by taxi. For bus, timetable ask at the information point. If you decide to take a taxi, walk down to the Bisagra door (Puerta Bisagra). This way you will see the main door which was the entrance to the old town and is part of the wall that centuries ago protected the town from the invaders. From there, a taxi shouldn´t cost more than 10€. Once you arrive just enter the building, cross the hall and you will arrive at the bar. From the bar, you can go outside to the terrace and enjoy the beautiful views of Toledo. Is completely free to go there and you don´t have to buy any drink or snack to enjoy the view. Anyway, the bar has affordable prices so if you have time, have a glass of white wine will watching the sunset.
The three gems of the three cultures
As mentioned before, the city is famous for having three cultures living together in past times. I highly recommend you to just get lost around the small streets and allies and discover what the city has to offer. But if you want to go into the main stuff or don´t have time, here are the three main places you should see that represent the three main cultures.
Head to the Town Hall square and there you will find the magnificent Toledo’s Cathedral (Catedral de Toledo). Is the second biggest Gothic Cathedral of Spain and I do suggest you get a ticket and go inside. To get in go to the side wall of the Cathedral and buy the ticket in the souvenir shop located at the front of the entrance. Unfortunately, the ticket is pricey, 10€ or 12,50€ including the museum, but it is worth to get in. Is just gorgeous and you will be mesmerized by the coloured glass windows, the chapels, the arches and the sculptures. A majestic piece of art from the Gothic.
Remember to dress properly to get in. Preferably no short shorts or tank tops for both men and women.
The Synagogue (Sinagoga Santa María la Blanca) is a beautiful Jewish building from the XII century. The entrance costs only 2,80€. From the outside doesn´t look anything special but inside is fully decorated so you won´t regret getting in.
And last but not least is the Cristo de la Luz Mosque (Mezquita Cristo de la Luz). The ticket also costs 2,80€ and it was built in the X century. Inscriptions, arches and decoration characteristic of the Moorish art.
To visit the main attractions of the town and save some money (excluding the cathedral) you can buy a bracelet for 9€. You can purchase it at the entrance of any of the following monuments which are also the ones included with the bracelet:
-Jesuitas Church or Iglesia de los Jesuitas.
-Cristo de la Luz Mosque or Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz.
-Santa María la Blanca Synagogue or Sinagoga Santa María la Blanca.
-Doncellas Nobles Royal School or Real Colegio Doncellas Nobles.
-San Juan de los Reyes Monastery or Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes.
-The most famous painting of the Spanish artist El Greco: El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz.
-Salvador Church or Iglesia del Salvador.
Another good thing about this bracelet is that as long as it stays in your arm, you can use it as many times/days as you want.
Toledo´s streets are packed with beautiful souvenir shops. One of the most typical things to buy in Toledo are the beautifully decorated knives and swords. Be aware that if you are going back by train, you won´t be allowed to bring with you any of those as the train involves airport-style security and no opportunity to check bags. If you go back by bus, you won´t have that problem.
Visit the Factory of Swords Mariano Zamorano, where the master Mariano will show you the process of forging and manufacturing a sword. He still uses his hammer at the forge and creates awesome steel details on each sword.
Apart from this, jewellery, Spanish fans, mud vessels and armors fill the shops and remind of the Middle Age times.
Mazapán and tapas in Toledo
Food all over Spain is delicious but in Toledo is to die for. First I have to mention is a small sweet typical from Toledo, the Marzipan or Mazapan in Spanish. Is main ingredients are almonds, sugar and eggs. It´s said that it was brought to Toledo by the Arabs during the invasions that took place during the VIII century.
You can buy it in pieces, in a box or a packet. You can find them all over the town and the prices vary but a small packet with 4-5 Marzipans costs around 3-4€.
One of my favourite shops is Casa del Mazapán. The girl that works there was so nice when I went there. She gave me one Marzipan to try and then recommended me what to buy. Apart from Marzipan, they have so many different pastries also typical from Toledo.
For lunch, you have many restaurants that offer the famous “Menú del día”. It usually includes a starter, a main course, a dessert, bread and a glass of wine or water for 10-12€. The quantity is enough to get your belly full and you can try different traditional dishes. I have been to Toledo many times and every time I will go to a different restaurant. Honestly, all of them are really good so you don´t have to think much of where to go for lunchtime.
Try the garlic soup, the lamb stew, the “Cocido de tres vuelcos”, a mix of meat and chickpeas, the partridge pate or the “Arroz a la Toledana”, rice with meat, calamari and mushrooms.
If you are not into art but still don´t want to leave Toledo without visiting a museum, this is your place. In The Torture Museum, you can have a glimpse of the torture instruments used during the Inquisition.
For those not very updated with European or Spanish history, the Inquisition was a group of institutions within the government of the Catholic Church whose main mission was to chase heresy. It was created in the XIII century and Spanish Inquisition was famous for being the cruelest one.
People accused of heresy will go through a trial. Sometimes during these trials, torture artifacts would be used to get the confession of the accused. Some other times they will be used as a punishment after the confession.
The museum is small so you won´t spend there more than 40 minutes, and the price is 5€.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Madrid, you can rent a car, go by train or by bus. The train is the fastest option as it will only take you 33minutes to get there. Unfortunately is not the cheapest one as it will cost you 12,90€ one way. There are many trains daily from Madrid and they all depart from the Central Train Station, Atocha. Watch out if buying the tickets online as there is another city called Oropesa de Toledo. Select the option TOLEDO, that´s your city.
To purchase the tickets, this is the official website of the Spanish Railway:
The bus is the cheapest option but it will take you 1h30m to get there. It costs 5,37€ one way and buses leave almost every hour from the Plaza Elíptica bus station (metro station to get there has the same name). To purchase tickets online this is the official website of the bus company that goes there:
Buses are very comfortable with Tv screens on each seat, plug, a bottle of water, etc.
Toledo is one of my favourite cities in Spain and if you go I hope you enjoy walking around as much as I do.