To say that Toledo is “a melting pot of cultures” sounds like a hackneyed expression taken from a travel guide with already yellowed pages, but of course we refer to it as “the city of the three cultures” is completely indisputable. For centuries it was populated by Christians, Jews and Muslims, which left in it a rich heritage legacy in its historic center, which since 1986 has been considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Toledo is one of the most touristic cities in Spain. It has plenty of reasons to be, but also its proximity and good connection with Madrid makes it one of the unforgivable getaways for many who visit the capital of Spain. Especially for many foreign tourists looking for a place with medieval charm within easy reach. And yes, Toledo could be visited in one day, in a hurry and overlooking many things, so if we can dedicate a whole weekend to it, all the better.
There is much to see and the map of Toledo is anything but simple. The difficult thing is to find a straight street or two that are parallel, so it is convenient to be clear before getting disoriented in its charming, labyrinthine and convoluted old town. But if you have time, do it. Get lost. Stroll around. Discover. Only then can you truly experience what neighborhoods as intoxicating as its old Jewish quarter transmit. And then, to avoid overlooking anything, make sure you don’t miss out on anything we tell you below.
The Mirador del Valle
Before even entering the city, we could make the first stop at the Mirador del Valle. Toledo grew up in a meander of the Tagus River and here, from the other bank, is where you get one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the city that you can see. The Alcazar and the Cathedral draw the silhouette of the historic center and if you want the picture to be even more beautiful, try to visit it at sunset.
The Alcántara Bridge
Of Roman origin and built on the Tagus, the Puente de Alcántara is one of the most beautiful roads to reach the walled city. It was rebuilt by Alfonso X and the Catholic Monarchs, and next to it the Puerta de Alcántara gives access to the interior of the historic center. If you want to enter from the other end of the city, the medieval bridge of San Martín is not far behind.
The gates of Toledo
When you have a walled city you need doors to enter and exit, and many of these entrances end up being monumental. In addition to the Puerta de Alcántara already mentioned, in Toledo there are a few more accounts that are worth seeing. The New Gate of Bisagra is one of them, but there are also the Old Gate of Bisagra or Alfonso VI, the Puerta del Cambrón, the Bab-al-Mardum or Valmardón Gate and the Puerta del Sol.
The Primate Cathedral of Toledo
To start getting into the subject you have to go to the cathedral. The Cathedral of Santa María is in the Gothic style and was built between 1226 and 1493. Its three facades are from different times, the Puerta de los Leones was the last to be built and the Puerta del Reloj the first. Originally, two towers were going to be built, but only one was built. Of course, neither more nor less than 92 meters. Inside, it is as impressive as the outside, with a spectacular Main Chapel and works by important artists, such as Goya or El Greco.
The Plaza Zocodover
The Plaza Zocodover surely will not need to look for it, because without much effort you will pass through it several times. It is the nerve center of the city, the square with the greatest atmosphere of all the ones you will see. It is triangular in shape, surrounded by noble buildings of Castilian architecture and of all the entrances it has there is one that will especially attract your attention: the Arco de la Sangre. Of Arab origin, from the 10th century, which communicated the Alcazaba with the Medina.
The Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes
This Franciscan monastery was built in 1476 by order of the Catholic Monarchs as a tribute to the victory achieved in the Battle of Toro. It is in the Elizabethan Gothic style and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Toledo, so you should not skip it. Its two-story cloister is its most characteristic element, a masterpiece by Enrique Egas, as well as the polychrome wooden ceilings.
The Synagogue of Santa María La Blanca
It is located in the old Jewish quarter of the city, it was built as a synagogue in 1180 and transformed into a church in 1391. Perhaps when you enter it will seem like one of the most beautiful places in Toledo, because its five naves with horseshoe arches, its gleaming white color and its elaborate Mudejar-style interior are no wonder. It is owned by the Catholic Church, works as a museum and can be visited.
The Mosque of Cristo de la Luz
The words “mosque” and “Christ” do not match much if we refer to the same place, so it is interesting that you know its history. It is located near the Puerta de Bisagra, it was built in 999 as a mosque and is the best preserved element of the city’s Muslim past. After the conquest it became a church and despite the fact that some renovations were carried out, most of its original structure was preserved, something that you will see when you identify its many horseshoe arches.
The Alcazar of Toledo
The Alcázar of Toledo will be the building that most attracts your attention before even entering the city, as it is by far the one that stands out the most when you see the city from afar. Its origins date back to Roman times, it has been used as a fortress, castle and palace, and the one you see was ordered to be built by Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany in the mid-16th century. After the heavy siege suffered during the Spanish Civil War, it had to be rebuilt or restored between 1939 and 1957. Today inside you can find the Army Museum and the Library of Castilla La Mancha.
The Church of Santo Tomé
The Church of Santo Tomé should be visited not only to know the church, but also because it contains one of the most famous works of El Greco: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz. This large 4.80 x 3.60 meter oil painting was made between 1586 and 1588 and is one of the masterpieces of the painter of Greek origin. If when leaving you want to know more about Doménikos Theotokópoulos, just a couple of minutes walk away you will find the El Greco Museum.
The Synagogue of Tránsito and the Sephardic Museum
This old synagogue is located within the Jewish quarter of Toledo, where else, and was built in the fourteenth century under the patronage of Samuel ha-Levi, treasurer of King Pedro I of Castile. It boasts of being one of the most beautiful synagogues in medieval Europe and after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 it was converted into a church. Since 1964 it houses the Sephardic Museum, a national reference on Spanish-Jewish culture and society in Spain.