This was a trip I really wanted to tick off the bucket list! Spain’s old capital had this magical aura about it in my mind, the pictures I had seen in a Toledo travel guide of this historic city jutting up from the ground with the Tagus river swirling round it appeared almost mystical! It had to be done!
As you approach the city it is easy to see why people settled here and why it became such an important city. Any Toledo travel guide has to start with a brief explanation of the history of this amazing place…so here goes! The natural characteristics, being perched upon a hill with the river acting as a moat almost begs for a fortified city to be built here! Romans settled here around 192BC, the Visigoths then made it their capital and the Moors arrived in 712AD. It became one of their most important outposts and really thrived under their rule, this continued when King Alfonso VI took control in 1085 and made it the capital of the Kingdom of Castile . Under Christian rule it was used as a base to launch attacks against the Moors, however it was still a tolerant free thinking city and people of all religions lived side by side during this time, it wasn’t till the time of the Spanish Inquisition that this stopped. This city, although small, is soaked in history, and you really get a feel for it whilst strolling the streets and it is easy to imagine how it was during the medieval times as it is so unchanged and unspoiled.
The story of the siege of the Alcazar during the Spanish civil war in 1936 is interesting as well. The nationalist rebel Colonel José Moscardó and his military cadets had to seek refuge in this impressive building, along with around 100 left wing hostages. They were able to hold out for two months in this fortress against attacks with armies ranging from 1000-5000 strong, they attempted to blow the building up, set it on fire, but it seemed indestructible! Eventually the nationalists sent support and took control of the city, Franco entered the city after the victory and a day later he was named head of state.
The city itself has been listed as a national monument and designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1986 for it’s cultural and monumental significance and historical co-existence of people of differing religions. It was also immortalised in the numerous awesome works of art of El Greco.
Enjoy Being Lost!
It’s inevitable! Those of you who have read my Venice guide will have heard me describe it as a city which is fun to be lost in, the same can definitely be said for Toledo, and trust me it really is easy to get lost here! The buildings seem to almost be built on top of each other in a real jumble and all sense of direction is lost as you stroll through the narrow streets up and down the hill sides…but…relaxing and taking it all in is a brilliant experience, and all of the sights I had made a mental note of wanting to see seemed to just appear in front of us!
Luckily for us when we went it was just outside the peak season so it was easy being relaxed and lost! …but be warned talking to others who have been here during peak times it can get massively busy. It is, unsurprisingly, a really popular coach day trip destination for holiday makers and I can imagine it being a bit claustrophobic in crowds.
Wandering along the cobbled streets, stopping off at the tapas bars and cafes along the way is a great way of spending a day.
I’m not usually one for souvenir shops with the cheap gimmicky stuff on sale in them (although we have to get a fridge magnet every where we go…it’s law) but here there was something I had to do. Toledo is famed in history in part for it’s steel, so much so that even some Japanese samurai are said to have ordered blades from here…if they thought they were that good…I had to get something for myself.
At a push maybe you could cram in all of Toledo’s major sights in a day or two, but it is such a fun place to wander and just be in that you really should stay for longer if possible. We had a limited time here whilst travelling between Madrid and another of my favourite places in Spain, Seville. However you really will miss out on the real magic of this place and part of it’s charm is the unexpected that you will bump into. If ever there is a country for slow travel, Spain is it!
The main attractions are really densely packed into the small area of the historic centre of the old capital and are all easily explored on foot, exploring this city by foot is best, and really good fun!
The mighty metropolitan cathedral took 286 years to build, the result of the many years of hard labour and dedication is massively impressive. The towering 100 metre high spire, the beautiful facade which fronts out onto the Plaza del Ayuntamiento with the Town Hall pretty much opposite(another pretty building). This was probably my favourite little corner of Toledo. Entering the cathedral is another big wow moment and the interior is right up there with that of major cathedrals across Europe!
This imposing fortress now houses a military museum and a little tip is that it is that although the 5 euro fee to enter is really really good value anyway…it’s free on Sundays. Built on the site of a Roman palace in the 16th century it has been rebuilt numerous times since and following the civil war Franco had it completely rebuilt as a celebration of it’s defenders during it’s siege. Check any Toledo travel guide and this will be right up there as a must visit…not to be missed.
Mezquite de las Tornerías
This beautiful mosque dates back to 11th century and has been carefully renovated, it regularly houses craft fares selling souvenirs worth spending a bit of money on (instead of thinking you are a samurai!) all created by local people. Only open to the public Mon-Fri 10-2 though.
The Museo del Greco
A museum showcasing El Greco’s works, the highlight for me being the view and plan of Toledo c.1610. It is worth visiting for 3 euros to see the work of this artist so closely linked to Toledo.
Hospital y Museo de Santa Cruz
This really cool museum is set in an amazing building and houses works of art inside to match. Some of the most important El Greco paintings along with paintings by Goya and Ribera. Again for only 5 euro’s it is definitely worth looking round.
There’s a reason El Greco did so many paintings of Toledo, it’s spectacularly beautiful and the views of the capital from afar are incredible. But also don’t forget to wonder to the top of the city walls and check out the views of the landscape below…and make sure you’ve got space on your memory card for the pics!
Toledo is easily reached from Madrid by train (about 30 mins) from the Atocha Station, or by bus which takes about an hour to an hour and a half from the Pl.Eliptica bus station.
A quick search on Opodo (who are consistently giving me the best prices for flights at the moment) for a long weekend in October I found return flights to Madrid for £36.85 per person 13th-17th October…crazy!
Plus 3 star hotels for as little as £209 for the entire stay, and check this out, Artiem is the number 2 ranked hotel in the whole of Madrid on tripadvisor and is just £78 a night on opodo and Expedia that’s amazing value. Trips to Toledo from Madrid can also be booked through Expedia and this deal for £50 seems quite good as the train is around 20 euros return on it’s own.
Thank you so much for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed!
So we are now just 9 days away from our month away taking in Canada, New York, and Iceland…EXCITED!!! Keep in touch on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for up to date…er…updates!