City breaks

Why Toledo should be on your radar

By Jaymi McCann

23 February 20225 min read

A cityscape view of Toledo's old town in Spain with staggered colourful buildings and the Alcazar Fortress

Just a short 25-minute train from Madrid lies one of Spain’s most vibrant and historic destinations – the city of Toledo.

One of the country’s former capitals and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986, this Spanish stunner is brimming with ancient monuments, architectural marvels and enormous heritage.

Whether you’re visiting to soak up the sights or simply wander cobbled lanes and sip sangria, here’s why you should give Toledo a go.

Its architecture is stunning

Toledo’s trifle of architectural styles, built up over three millennia and influenced by inhabitants including the Romans, Visigoths, Jews, Arabs and Christians, is the city’s obvious draw.

Take the Catholic cathedral. The 13th-century Catedral de Toledo is a gothic masterpiece, all intricate spires and arches, and it’s a history lesson in itself, incorporating features of the old city mosque. It’s this Mudéjar style that defines much of the city – the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula moulded much of Toledo’s geography and architecture.

However, the city’s postcard shot is the Alcazar fortress, which looms over the entire skyline. Built during the Roman period, and rebuilt again by successive Royal courts, it now houses the army museum, so it’s one for military buffs.

Toledo’s other primary influence is Judaism – in fact, it’s part of what gives the city its nickname: ‘the City of Three Cultures’. Close to the River Tagus, an intimate cluster of less-opulent buildings was a hub of Jewish life in the Middle Ages. Two former synagogues (both now museums) are also excellent examples of Toledo’s Mudéjar style.

The city’s architecture is best appreciated from the tight lanes of the town centre, but for a bird’s eye view head to the Church of San Ildefonso. It costs around €3 to climb its tower and you’ll see the city in a new light entirely.

You can see some world-class art

The art world knows Toledo for its connection to Greek renaissance artist, El Greco, who was so inspired by its rich history that he eventually settled in the city. His masterpiece, ‘The Burial of the Count of Orgaz’, can be found in situ in the church of Santo Tomé, but some of his finest and most forward-thinking pieces, unique even in his time, are on show in the Museo del Greco.

El Greco’s works are also in the Catedral de Toledo, which is home to an art gallery filled with incredible pieces that wouldn’t be surprising to see in the Louvre.

For more modern art, visit the Museo Victorio Macho. This Spanish sculptor also called Toledo home and left his entire body of work to the city when he passed away. His house is now a small museum, filled with more than 100 sculptures and paintings. Visit the crypt to check out one of his most well-known works.

The landscapes are divine

Set above the dramatic River Tagus, Toledo is in the heart of one of Spain’s most stunning landscapes, which makes getting out of the city high on the must-do list. On the upper banks of the river are the Cigarrales mansions, the old leisure estates of Toledo's bourgeoisie and upper classes where they would go in search of peace. Further afield, hike in the Toledo mountains where you can spot kestrels, eagles and even deer, and appreciate views over the valley and city.

If you have a hire car, head south of Toledo to Cabañeros National Park and explore its vast hectares of grasslands and mountain ranges reaching around 1450m (4,757ft). Here, in mountain streams, turtles, newts and lizards live, as well as wildcats and black vultures. You can even get out of the heat in the holm oak groves, which have an abundant and enchanting forest canopy.

It's a gastronomic delight

Of course, one of the main reasons people flock to Spain is its rich food heritage, and Toledo is no different. The city is bustling with restaurants and bars, enticing visitors with delicious aromas that excite the taste buds.

The cuisine takes advantage of its enviable location, with game, grains, and Manchego cheese coming from the nearby La Mancha plateau.

A must-try dish is carcamusas, a speciality of the city made with crumbling, slow-cooked pork, peas, tomatoes and white wine. It is served in a clay dish called a cazuela and best paired with a glass of something local. The traditional Bar Ludeña is the best spot for unpretentious local food and a buzzing atmosphere.

Toledo is also famous for its marzipan, or mazapan in Spanish, and it won’t be difficult to find some sweet treats while you wander. Head to the Jewish quarter to find Obrador Santo Tome, which makes some of the most delicious examples in town.

You can catch a sunset like no other

After a long day of exploration, head to the Plaza de Zocodover where you can jump in a quick cab out of town and into the hills. Like an expressionist painting, sometimes Toledo is best observed from a distance, so ask to be taken to Mirador Toledo for some of the best views of the city.

If you prefer to relax a little while you take in the scenery, go to the Parador Hotel on one of the hills in the suburbs and enjoy a drink on the terrace watching the sky turn pink behind the Alcazar.

Inside the city walls, the rooftop of the Carlos V hotel is the place to be as the sun goes down, but be sure to get there with plenty of time as it gets busy.

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