Travel Ninja

Explore Toledo, Spain: Best Things to Do

During our last trip to Madrid, we missed the opportunity to visit Toledo, but this time we made it a point to start our road trip with the intention of discovering this beautiful and charming city. Just an hour’s drive from the Madrid international airport, Toledo greeted us early with its picturesque surrounding wall and majestic fortress by the river.

The Alcazar and Cathedral stood impressively in the distance, perfect for great pictures from the many viewpoints. Known as the city of three cultures, Toledo is a fascinating place and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that preserves its original medieval layout. We were glad to spend a couple of nights here, allowing us to do it justice beyond just a day trip.

The historic quarter is a series of incredible buildings, alive both inside and out, and the narrow winding streets invited us to discover its secrets. With its close proximity to the country’s capital, just 70 kilometres away, Toledo is easily connected by a high-speed train that makes the journey in about half an hour. It’s no wonder this famous city is a favorite among travelers.

Visiting Toledo’s Historic Area

Arriving early in Toledo, we quickly discovered that nearly all the attractions were within walking distance in the Old City, making it unnecessary to worry about where to park our car. Despite the small parking garage often being full, our early arrival meant we secured a spot without hassle. Opting to miss anything, we explored the city on foot, savoring each step. Our hotel, the Marriott Autograph collection Eugenia de Montijo, was superb, with an upgraded top floor room offering a stunning view of the Alcazar.

This hotel, previously owned by the famous Spanish woman, Empress of France, Eugenia de Montijo, who was married to Napoleon the 3rd, was beautifully decorated with tributes like pearl-like chandeliers, stained glass skylights, and antiques. The historic home turned castle was in an excellent location for exploring the historic area, just a 10 minutes’ walk to major sites, even without parking on site. Our 24-hour parking garage was conveniently located less than 100 steps from the entrance, a safe spot to leave the car for the duration of our stay.

From there, we walked to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento square, admiring the Renaissance buildings like the Episcopal Palace and Town Hall. The street led us to the Cuesta de la Ciudad, a city hill we climbed to reach the Jesuit church, also known as the church of San Ildefonso, at the Plaza Padre Juan de Mariana. From this highest point in the city, the view over the clustered rooftops and towers of Toledo was simply breathtaking.

Wonderful Things To Do In Toledo

Maximize your time in Toledo and save money on top attractions with a tourist bracelet from the Tourist Office. For just €10, you get entry to many attractions. Start at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento square with its grand Renaissance buildings like the Episcopal Palace and Town Hall.

Wander through the narrow streets to the Cuesta de la Ciudad, climb to the Jesuit church (also known as the church of San Ildefonso) at the city’s highest point for a breathtaking view of Toledo’s rooftops and towers. Nearby, the Plaza Padre Juan de Mariana offers another stunning perspective. The tourist bracelet makes each stop affordable and memorable.

El Alcazar

Perched on one of the highest points in Toledo, El Alcazar overlooks the city with a commanding presence. This old fortress, dating back to Roman times, was rebuilt by Alfonso VI, Alfonso X, and later by Emperor Charles V.

Things To Do In Toledo

Today, it houses a Military Museum that delves into the history of the Spanish army. The building itself is grand, with an impressive main patio and stairs that make it worth visiting. The stunning city views from the top balcony are simply breathtaking.

Mezquita Cristo De La Luz

Located in the heart of the ancient medina, where Toledo’s wealthy Muslim families once lived, the Mezquita Cristo de la Luz is a square-shaped mosque built in 999. This mosque remains in its original state, making it quite special.

Things To Do In Toledo

When the Christians took over Toledo in 1085, they added to the building and converted it into a church. Situated close to the Puerta del Sol, this historic site offers a unique glimpse into the city’s rich cultural tapestry.

Plaza Zocodover

Plaza Zocodover is a large open plaza that connects many of the main sites in Toledo. This connection point has a long history as a natural meeting place for the city and its tourists. However, it also has a dark side; historically known as the «cage of the dead,» where bodies without family were kept before burial, and bullfights and public burnings were often staged in the center of the square. Despite its grim past, the square is beautiful at night, with the surrounding buildings elegantly lit up.

Things To Do In Toledo

Catedral Primada

The main cathedral of Toledo, Catedral Primada, is one of the most majestic structures in the medieval town centre. Its Medieval Gothic style architecture is truly unique and it ranks among the top 10 cathedrals in Spain. Inside, the details are incredibly impressive, with a gallery exhibiting works by El Greco, Goya, and Velazcuez, among other iconic artists. Be sure to climb the tower, which stands 44 metres tall, and relish the incredible city views from the top.

Things To Do In Toledo

Monasterio De San Juan De Los Reyes

Nestled in the heart of Toledo’s Jewish Quarter, the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes is a stunning example of late-Gothic style architecture built in the 15th century to commemorate the political victory of the Catholic Monarchs. The interior is beautifully decorated with intricate late Gothic-style detailing on the bottom floor and elegant Mudejar design on the top floor.

Things To Do In Toledo

Don’t miss the northeastern wall with its chilling depictions of chains from freed prisoners. For a great view of the monastery and the surrounding area, head to the Plaza Virgen de la Gracia viewpoint.

Puente De Alcantara

The Puente de Alcantara is one of the most beautiful and historic bridges in Toledo, gracefully crossing the Tajo river. This old Roman bridge was once the only entry to the city for pilgrims and is situated below the medieval Castle of San Servando. Originating from Roman times and rebuilt in the 10th century after being damaged, it remains a great place for night photography.

Things To Do In Toledo

The view of the Castle of San Servando on one side and the Alcazar lighting up the other side of the old stone bridge is simply breathtaking.

Puente De San Martin

The Puente de San Martin boasts a dramatic history steeped in legend. As the bridge was being constructed, the architect realized a terrible mistake in his calculations but kept silent, allowing the building to continue. He eventually confessed the error to his wife, who, during a thunder storm, lit the middle part of the bridge on fire to make it appear as if lightning had struck and parted the bridge in two.

Things To Do In Toledo

This allowed the architect to make new calculations and correct his initial error, ultimately finishing the impressive bridge. The middle arch, which is 40 metres wide and 27 metres high, had impressive dimensions for its time. Today, the funnest way to experience the bridge is by riding the zip-line across the river to the other side.

Convento De Santo Domingo El Antiguo

The Convento de Santo Domingo el Antiguo is a fascinating medieval building that dates back to the 9th century. As the first monastery in Toledo’s old town, it immediately captures your attention as you walk past. The interior of this special site features a cloister housing the grave of El Greco and a museum that displays his first paintings from when he arrived in Toledo. Besides the paintings, the museum also exhibits famous ceramics and sculptures that are definitely worth seeing.

Monasterio De Santa Clara La Real

Close to the Convento de Santo Domingo el Antiguo, the Monasterio de Santa Clara la Real is a Poor Clares monastery featuring two Mudejar palaces. The interior is beautifully decorated with paintings by important Spanish artists such as Jorge Manuel Theotocopuli, Luis Tristan, and Juan Bautista Monegro. This place is rich in history, and wandering through its interior is a great experience. The patio, the oldest part of the monastery, offers fantastic vistas of Toledo.

Toledo Cathedral

When you visit Toledo, the beautiful Cathedral of Toledo is a must-see pièce de résistance. This massive structure, formally known as the Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, rivals the huge cathedrals of Italy. As a Roman Catholic Church and the seat of the Archdiocese of Toledo, it has a rich history.

Things To Do In Toledo

Built in 1226 by King Fernando III and finished at the end of the 15th century, it features white limestone from Olihuelas, a town near Toledo. Inside, you can marvel at El Greco’s masterpieces on display, and explore the Main Chapel, Cloister, and Bell Tower.

Puente San Martín

Just outside the monastery building, you can follow the trail that descends towards the river and crosses the 14th century stone bridge, Puente San Martín. As you cross over the Tagus River, you’ll have the opportunity to take some great photos of the monastery and the city.

For an added thrill, you can even experience the zipline that spans the river, offering a unique perspective of this historic site.

Alcázar de Toledo

Among the important sites in Toledo, the Alcazar stands out as a huge and prominent structure that dominates the skyline. Originally a Roman palace from the 3rd century, it was restored in the 1500s and later endured a siege during the Spanish Revolution.

Things To Do In Toledo

Now housing an Army Museum, much of the building has been redone with a modern finish, though it retains its charm and is rich in history. This site encapsulates the significance of Toledo’s past while blending it with contemporary touches.

Churches, Churches, And More Churches

Toledo is dotted with interesting and historical churches on every corner, making it a joy to wander through the city. One notable church is Christo de la Luz, one of the oldest churches and a former mosque, definitely worth a visit. While wandering, you’ll also come across the Iglesia de los Jesuitas, where a sign invites you to climb the tower for some great views. The climb is certainly worth the effort, even if it takes many steps to reach the top.

Medieval synagogues

When we visited Toledo, the medieval Synagoga del Tránsito and its Sephardic Museum were a highlight, showcasing one of the three medieval synagogues left in Spain. The incredible ceiling and small treasury with historical artifacts were fascinating.

We then explored the second medieval synagogue in Toledo, the Synagoga de Santa María la Blanca, a beautiful 12th century Moorish-style synagogue now functioning as a church. Its windows and beautiful garden added to its charm. On a different trip, we also saw the third medieval synagogue in Cordoba, which we mentioned in our Cordoba post.

Refreshments At The Alcázar Fortress

After exploring the Alcázar fortress, it’s the perfect time to stop for a cup of coffee or a snack. There are several cafés with outdoor terraces in the area, but the café in the Castile-La Mancha library, located in one of the towers, offers a panoramic view. The spectacular aerial view of Toledo through the window is breathtaking and makes the visit even more memorable.

The Grandiose Cathedral

Leaving the Alcázar and walking through the streets, you will soon reach the Cathedral via Calle Cardenal Cisneros. This imposing structure is a must-see and can occupy you for hours. Inside, the Monarch’s Chapel, gold monstrance, and magnificent paintings in the sacristy and choir stalls are breathtaking.

Things To Do In Toledo

A curious tradition on 15 August during the feast day of the Virgin of Sagrario involves a drink from earthenware pots, jugs, and glasses filled with water from a well in the cloister, believed to have miraculous properties. Make a note for future visits to experience this unique custom.

A Tour Through The Jewish Quarter

After a good meal, head to the city’s Jewish quarter for a delightful exploration. A 15-minute walk brings you to Plaza del Salvador, where you can see the Municipal Archive in modern style, resulting from restoration works on the old church of San Marcos. The building is unusual, with archaeological remains integrated into its structure. Continue along Calle de Santo Tomé to Santo Tomé Church, which houses the painting, “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” one of the masterpieces by the famous painter, El Greco.

From there, stroll down Calle San Juan de Dios to the Tránsito Synagogue and Sephardic Museum, where you can admire the decorative plasterwork and learn about the Jewish tradition in Spain. Nearby, visit Santa María la Blanca on Calle Reyes Católicos, known for its intricate filigree and details on the capitals.

Don’t miss the imposing monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, built by the Catholic Monarchs. The area is filled with crafts and souvenir shops where you can watch craftsmen at work, creating damascene work, ceramics, leather, embroidery, and the famous Toledo steel swords.

In The Neighbourhood Of The Convents

Strolling down Paseo de la Virgen de Gracia avenue, you’ll find yourself amidst Toledo’s convents, an ideal place for a gentle stroll. These convents are havens of peace and tranquillity, with some even selling sweets and pastries handmade by the nuns.

Notable convents like San Antonio, San Clemente, and Agustinas Calzadas feature raised walkways used to move between buildings unseen by the public. Continue on to the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz and the Puerta del Sol, and make sure to visit the church of Santiago del Arrabal and the inside of the Bisagra Gate.

A Great Panoramic Spot For Watching The Sunset

After exploring the bustling Plaza de Zocodover square, grab a taxi from the nearby taxi rank and head to the Parador hotel nestled in the hills on the outskirts of the city. Enjoy a refreshing drink on the terrace of the hotel’s café as you admire the superb view of Toledo. As the sun goes down, this spot offers the best reward for a day of sightseeing.

Museums

Museo de los Concilios y la Cultura Visigoda

One of Toledo’s hidden gems is the Heritage Museum, a nice church museum that offers a unique glimpse into the past. This site was once a church, and during renovations, ancient Roman ruins and treasures were discovered beneath its foundations. These findings led to the church being converted into a museum to display these incredible artifacts.

Things To Do In Toledo

Museo de Santa Cruz

The Museum of Santa Cruz is an important museum in Toledo that houses an impressive collection of archeology pieces, ceramics, and 16th and 17th century paintings by notable artists like El Greco and Luis Tristán. Located near the Plaza de Zocodover square, the Santa Cruz Museum consists of the old Hospital de Santa Cruz and the Santa Fe Convent, both refurbished and converted into a cultural venue hosting major temporary exhibitions.

Things To Do In Toledo

Enter the convent building from Calle de Santa Fe, where contemporary elements and materials have been incorporated into the historic structure. A vast glass window offers stunning views of the Paseo del Miradero avenue, the gardens of the new Conference Centre, and the River Tagus. Don’t miss the Santa Cruz Hospital building with its beautiful courtyard, marble staircase of Covarrubias, and enormous arches inside.

Museo Cromática

For a truly unique experience, visit the eclectic painted musical instrument museum, Museo Cromática. Run by a 4th generation family member, this beautiful museum is housed in an ancient convent. Inside, you’ll find exquisite painted instruments including guitars, saxophones, pianos, and harps. The price of admission even includes a drink, and the friendly hosts make the visit enjoyable. We went during the winter, and the spectacular pieces were a highlight of our trip.

Things To Do In Toledo

Museo del Greco

The El Greco Museum is a beautiful museum dedicated to the paintings of the famous painter El Greco. This collection, mostly of religious context, includes sculptures and is housed in an old home, a recreation of El Greco’s home. Although the beautiful garden was under renovation during our visit in February, it was still a fantastic opportunity to see the renovations taking place in the off season.

Things To Do In Toledo

The museum, founded by the Marquis de la Vega Inclán, who mistakenly believed he had purchased the run-down 14th-century house that was once the painter’s home, is located in Toledo’s old Jewish Quarter. It opened in 1911 and consists of two buildings with a beautiful courtyard and garden. Besides El Greco’s paintings, the museum also features works by other Spanish artists from the 17th century, as well as furniture and ceramics.

Termas Romanas

One of the intriguing sites in Toledo is the historic Roman baths, reminiscent of the cool ones in Rome like the Baths of Caracalla. Although not much remains compared to the complete Roman baths with their tiles and structures, the visit is free and worth a quick 5-minute look.

There is a guided tour that takes you to a different area, but it operates at fixed hours in Spanish, so planning ahead is essential. These baths were discovered in 1986, with archaeological remains dating from the end of the 1st to the mid-3rd century.

Food In An Old Toledo Mansion House

For lunch, head to Calle Alfileritos, a charming street filled with bars and restaurants perfect for a relaxing meal. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, as many of these eateries are set in old Toledo town houses and small palaces spread over several floors. These buildings have been reformed to preserve their characteristic decorative features.

The menu often includes traditional dishes like ‘cocido’ (a hearty meat and chickpea stew), ‘carcamusas’ (a savory stewed pork with tomato), partridge, venison, and other game dishes, all paired with the region’s Denomination of Origin wines. Nearby, the former San Pedro Mártir convent, now part of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, has interior cloisters that are perfect for stopping and enjoying a moment of calm.

Other Scenic Landmarks

Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets of Toledo, you’ll encounter beautiful historic buildings everywhere, each with its own unique story. The public squares, like the Zocodover Plaza, a large square in the historic part of town, are especially charming. Despite the occasional fast food American burger chains with prominent signs, the area is filled with delightful local churros and tapas restaurants.

The gates of the city are noteworthy, particularly the Sun Gate, a beautiful medieval archway that served as one of the main entrances to the walled city. Another impressive gate is the 10th century Puerta de Bisagra, a monumental stone gate marking the entrance to the city of Toledo.

Toledo Marzipan

One of the delightful experiences in Toledo is visiting the many shops selling marzipan, a specialty made by the Toledo nuns. These marzipan treats come in various decorated shapes and sizes, making them a visual and culinary delight. We bought some at the Convento de Santo Domingo El Antiguo, where a pastor explained the fascinating history behind them.

During the siege by the Moors, when there was nothing to eat, the nuns used almonds and the monks contributed sugar to make marzipan, which helped the town survive.

Toledo Impressions

Overall, we absolutely loved the city of Toledo. The friendly people and the fact that it’s easy to visit on foot, despite being a bit hilly, made our stay enjoyable. Everything was reasonably priced, with a meal costing around 10 euros and a t-shirt for 14 euros. We would recommend spending 1-2 days here at a relaxed pace. We visited in February when some things were closed and the gardens were sparse, with roses and annuals freshly planted.

February in Spain is much warmer compared to February in Canada or the northern US, and many places took the opportunity to renovate during the off-season, causing some closures or partial closures. The weather was great for roaming around with a light jacket and a sweater in the morning, but March might be a better time to visit.

Where To Stay In Toledo

When it comes to accommodations in Toledo, we highly recommend staying in the old town where you will spend most of your time exploring. For those seeking reasonably priced options, Agapo Home offers shared bathroom and kitchen facilities in the back streets near Plaza Zocodover. The owner is super friendly, and the rooms are simple and clean.

We recommend warmly this place as one of the best-priced accommodations in town, easily bookable on Booking.com. For a more classier hotel experience, Hotel Boutique Adolfo is perfectly situated with astounding views of the square and its surroundings. Check out their prices and availability on Booking.com.

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