An often overlooked gem, Toledo sits majestically above the the Tagus River. The history of Toledo dates back to Roman occupation (Toletum) circa 192BC. The ruins of the Roman circus are still visible just outside the walls of the city. Roman occupation was followed by Visagothic rule, Muslim rule and finally the Reconquest of Toledo in 1085AD. Toledo was the capital of the Spanish empire until the mid 1500's when the royal court moved to Madrid. The winding, cobbled streets of the old town are often crowded with locals and tourists, as well as a surprisingly large number of cars and vans. Don't miss the 13th century cathedral or the Alcázar which sits atop the town and dates back to Roman times.
Denoted a UNESCO heritage site in 1986, Toledo represents a very worthwhile day-trip from Madrid. Arm yourself with a map to avoid getting completely lost!
From Madrid, Toledo is about 70 km southwest on the A-42 freeway, which is marked "Toledo" on all road signs. This used to be labelled the N-401, and old maps or signs may still refer to that, although almost all road signage appears to have been updated. There is often spot congestion during peak hours, sometimes as far out as Parla (25 km).
Buses run between Toledo and Madrid's Plaza Elíptica bus station (on the grey Circular metro line) every half hour until 21:30. The company is Alsa (old Continental-Auto). The trip takes about one hour and a return ticket costs €8.42. From the Toledo bus terminal it is a steep but picturesque 20 minute walk up to the old town. A local bus service is also available.
The AVE high-speed train takes 30 minutes from Madrid's Atocha station to Toledo and costs €15 for a same day round trip. Be sure to arrive on time, at least 1 hour before scheduled departure time in Atocha. Boarding starts 30 minutes prior to departure and the gate will close 5 minutes before schedule. Procedures are less strict upon returning from Toledo however keeping a 30 minute margin here is recommended.
From Toledo station, urban bus number 22 (departs from the train station door) will take you to the centre.
The Cathedral is the centrepiece of Toledo. It sits on top of the hill and is deceptively large. When you enter you will be confronted by sparkling gold reliefs, huge oil paintings and portraits of all of the Toledo Cardinals going back at least 500 years. The baroque Transparente, behind the main altar, is like nothing you have ever seen. The Cathedral also has a great art gallery with works by Raphael, Rubens, Goya, Titian, and one of El Greco's major works, The Disrobing of Christ.
The Alcazar is a large square building on the outskirts of the old city. It looks across the river at Franco's old military barracks. The origin of the building dates back to the presence of a Roman camp in the IIIrd century. The Muslims built there a keep transformed later by Alfonso VI and Alfonso X, which was the first Alcazar.
The Military barracks.
San Juan de Los Reyes, another beautiful church near the Jewish quarter.
Jesuits Church offers great views of Toledo and the surrounding region from its twin spires. It is set in the highest location in the city. Toledo was one of the most important centers of the large jewish comunity of Spain, two of the ten synagogues that served the comunity are among the jewels of Toledo: 1. "Sinagoga El Transito", which hosts the Sefardi Museum, 2. "Santa Maria la Blanca."
One of El Greco's most famous and recognized works "El Entierro del Senor de Orgaz" is housed in Iglesia de Santo Tome.
Avoid paella. Toledo is definitely NOT a seaside town! Try Bar La Boveda, just off Plaza Zocodover, for great, cheap sangria (6€ jarra) and good sandwiches. Enebro in Plaza San Justo serves a plate of free tapas ranging from french fries to croquettes to mini pizzas with every beer or glass of wine -- check it out on Real Madrid game nights, where the place fills up with loyal fans. Meson de la Orza great food, great service, not so cheap, but it is worthy
Another good Italian place is Mille Grazie, just off Zocodover. Lots of charm with exposed brick walls. Great pasta and pizza, and a very attentive staff. Fills up pretty quickly at dinner. Closed Mondays.
Try Picaro or Circulo de Arte for a hip night scene, Circulo de Arte is in a renovated church and plays good dance music. It also has some of the best batidos (milkshakes) in town! O´Brian's serves good tap beer, and boasts a strong tourist and student crowd most nights.
Casona de la Reina (***)
Hotel Imperio, Cadenas 7 - situated conveniently close to Plaza Zocodover. (**)
The gold and black enamel work by local artisans is known throughout Spain. Many shops in Toledo sell decorated plates, shields, spoons and key rings.
Sword - Toledo is well known for its swords, so be sure to look for a conquistador sword, which should set you back around US $300. As you can't bring it on a plane, you'll need to send it. Fortunately, many shops will ship it for you for a reasonable price.
Ceramics - Talavera de la Reina (outside of Toledo) has a centuries-old tradition of glazed ceramics. Toledo is filled with handpainted ceramics of varying degrees of quality (upscale shops and boutiques are pricier, but generally carry higher-quality pieces).
Damascene - Another famous handicraft of Toledo is damascene, from the ancient Moorish art of interlacing gold on iron or steel, then firing it so the underlying material oxidizes and becomes black, with the gold in sharp relief. Every shop in Toledo will carry some form of damascene work, most frequently as small decorative plates and jewellery. Damascene also tends to be on the expensive side, so be sure to comparison shop around Toledo. The traditional manufacturing process consists of several steps, as it is shown in MadeInToledo.com .
The region around Toledo and southward in Castilla La Mancha produces typical almond sweets known as Mazapán, which is not to be confused with the tough, white icing used on wedding cakes that we call "marzipan". Mazapán is glazed, and sometimes decorated with pine nuts (piñones).
The usual advice about sexual relations applies. Use protection. In particular, herpes is rampant in Toledo and the surrounding areas.
Due to the location of Toledo upon the top of a hill, the city is exposed to quite a bit of sunshine in comparison to Madrid. Therefore the average temperature you sense may be considerably higher than what you would expect from the forecast. Temperatures can be in the high 30´s (100F) as late as nine in the evening. Be sure to bring plenty of water or get some refreshments in Toledo to support the local shopkeepers. Do not forget to put on sufficient sunblock on a hot summer day or try to stay in the shades of buildings and trees.
The historic center of Toledo is rather steep and hilly and most streets are cobblestone, so sensible shoes are a must.
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