If you wonder what to see in the sorrounding of Madrid, Toledo is a great solution. The distance between Toledo and Madrid is about 75 kilometres and the two cities are well connected by trains and buses.
During the planning of my trip to Madrid, I had seen some beautiful pictures of Toledo and also read good impressions from people who had been there. Having only three full days, however, I wasn’t sure if including Toledo on the travel itinerary was a good idea, because that could have meant sacrificing some of Madrid’s attractions.
My stubbornness and the fascination that Toledo indirectly had already transmitted to me from the testimonies of others, convinced me even more to go. So, I planned an itinerary so that I could optimally fit the timetables to be able to miss nothing of Madrid.
How to get to Toledo from Madrid
While planning the trip to Madrid, I immediately wondered if it was possible to visit Toledo in just day. The answer is yes. If you don’t rent a car, the two Spanish cities are conveniently connected by trains and buses. Below I explain the difference between the two options:
- Train: the train connection from Madrid to Toledo is managed by the Renfe company through the high-speed service that connects the two Iberian cities in about 30 minutes. Trains depart from Puerta de Atocha Station approximately every hour and the ticket costs € 10,30 each way. As these are high-speed trains, the ticket includes seat reservation and you must use the ticket only for the booked train. To consult the train timetables, I invite you to visit the Renfe website.
- Bus: Madrid and Toledo are also well connected by bus service, managed by ALSA company. Buses leave from the Intercambiador Plaza Elíptica terminal. There are direct connections to Toledo with a journey time of about an hour and others with intermediate stops with a journey time of about an hour and a half. Obviously, the direct bus is the most convenient one. In both cases, the ticket price is € 5.47 one way. For information on timetables and to purchase tickets (you can also buy them at the bus station), consult the ALSA website.
- Organized tours: there is a third option to go to Toledo from Madrid, that of organized tours. Walking through the streets of Madrid you will see merchants everywhere (especially newsstands) selling organized tours to Toledo and other town around Madrid. This can be an option if you don’t feel like organizing by yourself and want something already planned. You can see these organized tours.
What I chose to go to Toledo
I chose to go by train. The idea of going by bus had teased me a lot, since I would have spent half of the cost of the train. Having to deal with the time available and taking into account the fact that I was planning to visit the Prado Museum that day at 6.00 pm, I abandoned the idea of going to Toledo by bus. The main reason was the distance of the Intercambiador Plaza Elíptica teminal from the Prado Museum. On the contrary, Puerta de Atocha Station is just a few minutes walk from the museum.
What to see in Toledo in one day: my itinerary
My day started very early. I had planned to take the train to Toledo at 8:50. I left my hostal early, because I hadn’t bought the train tickets in advance. After buying the tickets and having breakfast, I passed the security checks to “go to the boarding area”. To take the train in Spain, you are subjected to security checks similar to those we usually do at the airport.
On the stroke of 8:50, neither one second more nor one less, the train left for Toledo, arriving at 9:23 right on time. To welcome me there was a light drizzle that thankfully thinned out almost immediately. The Toledo train station deserves to be observed, because it is a building in Arabic style, richly decorated also inside.It is located slightly outside the town centre. But contrary to what appears on Google Maps and what is read here and there on the web, it is possible to reach the Puerta de Alcántara on the bridge of the same name crossing the Tagus River in about ten minutes on foot.
A brief history of Toledo
Toledo has ancient origins. Just think that the Puente de Alcántara dates back to the Roman era, although the Arabs later expanded the project. It became the capital of Spain under the Visigoths in 554 a.C.; the Arabs conquered the city in 712 and from that moment Toledo began to live a period of great prosperity. The Arabs allowed the Christian and Jewish communities to continue to profess their worship. This explains why today Toledo is called the city of the three cultures. Walking through the city, in fact, we find evidence of this period of great tolerance.
The Christian king Alfonso VI conquered the city in 1085, maintaining in the capital of Spain that climate of tolerance that had marked the period of Arab domination. With the advent of the Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of the Jews began. As a consequence of this, the economy of Toledo started to suffer and the situation deteriorated when Philip II decided to transfer the Court, and consequently the title of capital of the kingdom, to Madrid in 1561.
Beyond the Puerta de Alcántara, the great climb to the historic centre of Toledo begins. The town in fact stands on a hill and I recommend wearing comfortable shoes, because the streets are almost all cobbled.
I arrived at Toledo Cathedral when it opened at 10 am. I decided to start my visit of Toledo from there. First of all, beacuse it would have been the attraction that would have required more time for the visit. Secondly, also because I imagined it would have been the most crowded.
Toledo Cathedral from the outside
Toledo Cathedral is dedicated to St. Mary. It was built between 1226 and 1493 and is one of the greatest examples of Gothic style in Spain. The façade has three portals: we find the Puerta del Perdón in the centre, the Puerta del Juicio Final on the right and the Puerta del Infierno on the left. These three doors are kept closed and are only opened on certain occasions. Entrance for visitors is from the side door. On both sides there are two bell towers. The first one, the highest and topped by a spire, can be visited and houses La Gorda, the largest bell in Spain. The other tower remained unfinished and was closed by a dome.
Inside Toledo Cathedral
The cathedral is divided into five naves, in turn divided by 88 columns. It is 120 metres long and 59 high. Inside there are precious works of art, which reveal themselves to the visitor as s/he goes around. Inside you can’t absolutely miss the choir, located in the centre of the main nave and with valuable inlaid stalls depicting episodes of the Christian reconquest of Granada; the main chapel and its late-Gothic altarpiece with polychrome statues, in which episodes from the New Testament are told. Going into the apse area, you can see El Transparente, a sculptural work that culminates with an oculus from which sunlight enters, surrounded by statues of angels and archangels placed in different postures.
The sacristy also houses various works by Raphael, Rubens, Velázquez, Goya, Titian, El Greco. I also really liked the adjacent cloister, accessible directly from inside the Cathedral through a door. You will surely pass from there to climb the bell tower.
Once out of the Cathedral, I headed to Plaza del Ayudamiento, where you can admire the facade of Toledo Cathedral. In this square you can also admire the town hall building (Ayudamiento).
The Iglesia del Salvador
After taking my pictures, I resumed my tour through the streets of the historic centre of Toledo. I had so many things to see, even though the sky threatened to rain at times.
Once I entered the Iglesia del Salvador, I purchased the Pulsera Turística de Toledo. It is a bracelet (paper) which costs 9 euros and allows you to enter seven monuments of Toledo: the Real Colegio de Donzellas Nobles, the Iglesia de los Jesuitas, San Juan de los Reyes, the Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, the Iglesia de Santo Tomé, the Iglesia del Salvador and the Synagogue de Santa María la Blanca. The bracelet is valid for 10 years. This means that you can use it even on a later trip. Good news! Where’s the scam? You will have to be so good as not to break it. I had to break it, because it didn’t come off my arm otherwise. However, maybe you will have better luck than me!
The Iglesia del Salvador is one of the medieval churches with more remains within its walls of late Romanesque and Visigoth buildings. From the ninth century it was a mosque, facing south-east. It preserves a bell tower on the primitive minaret of the mosque, remains of a patio with Arab arches on the Christian cemetery and above all, a single pillar from the Paleochristian or Visigoth period, with scenes from the life of Christ. It became a church dedicated to the Holy Savior during the reign of Alfonso VII (12th century).
The next stop on my one-day itinerary in Toledo was to be the neighbouring Iglesia de Santo Tomé, but when I got there, a religious function was underway and the visits were suspended.I returned twice later, but found it closed. In the end I had to give up.
Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca
I continued to walk through the streets of the centre of Toledo until I reached the Synagogue de Santa María la Blanca. This building was built in 1180 to house the city’s synagogue and maintained this function until 1391, when there was an anti-Jewish revolt. The synagogue was expropriated and turned into a church. Today it still belongs to the Catholic Church, but it is no longer used as a place of worship.
It is a Mudejar-style building, created by Moorish stonemasons. The term Mudejar refers to Muslims who remained in Spain after the Reconquista, ended in 1492. The Sinagoga de Santa María la Blanca has smooth white walls made of bricks, horseshoe arches and octagonal pillars, geometric decorations on friezes and a plant motif on the capitals of the pillars. All these features and the distribution of the spaces, with the five naves formed by a succession of horseshoe arches supported by pillars, tend to recall the typical typology of a mosque.
Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes
Near the Synagogue de Santa María la Blanca, there’s one of the places I loved most in Toledo: the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes. It was built by Catholic monarchs as a sign of thanks for the victory in the battle of Toro in 1476. With this victory, the war for the succession to the throne was definitively resolved in favor of Princess Isabella, sister of the late King Henry IV, already married to Fernando.
The style chosen is Gothic, of the type described as Flemish-Spanish or of the reign of Catholic kings, a mixture of Gothic styles from Flanders, France and Germany. It is characterized by the dominion of spaces and roofs based on complex vaults studded with stone and the Mudéjar developed in Castile, of Muslim inspiration, a lover of decorative luxury on plaster and wood. The Mudejar style is found above all on the ceiling of the second floor of the cloister.
The church was completed in 1495 and fully corresponds to the style of the period of Isabella of Castile, that is with a single nave and side niche chapels. Coeval with the church, the cloister houses a garden populated by myrtles, cypresses, oranges, and pomegranates perfuming the air and giving beautiful colour notes to the building.
Iglesia de San Ildefonso (Jesuit Church)
I would have stayed in the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes for hours, but unfortunately time was running out and I had other things to see. I resumed my one-day itinerary in Toledo with a sky that threatened rain. After losing myself a couple of times in the narrow streets of the centre of Toledo (with Google Maps in hand), I finally arrived at the baroque Jesuit Church.
It is dedicated to San Ildefonso, patron saint of Toledo. Its construction began in 1629 and lasted about one hundred years. It is located on land acquired by the Jesuit Order and was the birthplace of San Ildefonso, to whom the church is named. The interior of the church, entirely white in colour, has a single Latin-cross nave, surmounted by a large dome.
The exterior of the dome, due to its size and the position of the church, is one of the highest points in Toledo, in addition to the Cathedral of Santa María and the Alcazar, of which it offers an extraordinary view. It is possible to climb the towers where, in addition to the panorama from above of Toledo, it is possible to see three bronze bells. The view from up there is breathtaking, though the rain tried to ruin it.
Mezquita of the Cristo de la Luz
After leaving the Jesuit Church, it started to rain heavily. In the neighborhood I couldn’t find a place to repair myself, since the balconies there were very narrow. Thus, I continued to walk towards the Mosque of the Christ of Light.
It was built in 999 in Mudejar style and is located in an area of the city once inhabited by wealthy Muslims. A legend tells that during the triumphal entry of King Alfonso VI, the horse of El Cid knelt in front of the mosque as a sign of veneration towards an image of Christ remained hidden during the years of Muslim domination. The building was converted into a place of Christian worship when King Alfonso VII donated it to the Order of the Knights of St. John.
The interior is really small, divided into three naves with four columns, which create nine square rooms surmounted by different times. Its decorative elements seem to recall the style of the Mezquita of Córdoba.
Alcazar of Toledo
When I left the Mezquita, the sun was shining again in the sky. It was lunchtime and I decided to buy a bocadillo de jamon ibérico to eat while walking.
I arrived in front of the Alcazar and after taking some pictures outside, I decided to enter. The Alcazar is located in the highest point of Toledo and dominates the whole town. Today it houses the Army Museum. I was undecided whether to visit the interior or not. I’m not a big fan of armies, wars and weapons, so I was afraid that the museum might bore me a little. In the end I decided to enter, because I was curious to see the building and the inner courtyard. So, I paid the 5 euros for admission. As I feared, the museum didn’t excite me very much. It’s probably just a matter of personal taste, because the museum itself is well structured. Perhaps it is more suitable for people who are passionate about battles and armies.
Mirador del Valle
I left the Army Museum at 3.45 pm. I had bought the ticket for the 5:25 pm train to return to Madrid. But there was one last thing I absolutely wanted to do before leaving. I wanted to go to the Mirador del Valle, a viewpoint outside of Toledo, more precisely on a hill on the other side of the Tagus river. From there you can enjoy the most beautiful view over the town of Toledo and take the picture postcard that every visitor has to take home. So why shouldn’t I have done it too?
My mission to get to the Mirador del Valle
Consulting Google Maps, I saw that I could reach the Mirador del Valle in about 40 minutes on foot. In addition to walking, it can also be reached comfortably by the hop-on/hop-off tourist bus or by a nice little train. Normal people would have done this, but not me obviously. I didn’t want to pay for the ticket, all the more knowing that anyway on the way back I would have had to walk back, because the bus or train would have taken me back to the centre and I had to catch the train at 5:25. So I would never have got to the station in time and missed the visit to the Prado Museum at that point.
So, I started marching, in the true sense of the word, because I started to walk very fast. From the Alcazar I went down (luckily the road was all downhill), I passed the Puente de Alcántara and entered an extra-urban street with sidewalk. I walked (maybe I should say ran) for about 20 minutes, and the last stretch was a bit tiring to do at a brisk pace, as it was uphill with an important slope. But in the end I did it and found myself in front of this breathtaking view.
The race and the effort had been abundantly repaid with that breathtaking landscape. But unfortunately I could enjoy it just for a few minutes, just enough time to take some photos and record a video. I started walking again and arrived at Toledo station on time to catch the train back to Madrid.
Here is a video of my day in Toledo: