During my time in Madrid I opted for a one-day trip to the ancient city of Toledo – a beautiful little town with so much history that I simply could not pass up. Toledo dates far back to the Roman occupation, 192BC. After the Roman empire Toledo came under Muslim rule until it was finally recaptured in 1085AD. Toledo is a truly fascinating place I couldn’t help myself from capturing this quaint little town on my camera.
The narrow, cobbled streets and beautiful architecture along with the rich history of Toledo beckon a visit here to anyone visiting Madrid or even Spain for that matter. The list of sites to visit is extensive – I was only able to visit a handful of the highlights, but still had an amazing time. I visited during a hot weathered day, which made it an exhausting excursion. Getting around on foot is the optimal choice for taking pictures and seeing every detail, but it’s taxing on the body – especially with all the inclined streets and stairs to climb. I was pretty dang exhausted by the end of this trip, but it was worth it!
Toledo is a stunning city – I didn’t have anything booked or planned it was purely a spontaneous trip that payed off pretty well I think. I bought my tourist train and bus pass from the Madrid-Chamartin Station and departed from there to Toledo Station early one morning. Once I arrived at the Toledo Station I boarded a sightseeing bus that came as part of the tourist pass I purchased.
Toledo is a tourist town, so anyone headed that direction is likely to be a tourist. My advice is to make sure and sit on the right side of the upper deck on the tourist bus – you get the better views from that side. The bus stops a couple of times and one of the stops is from a high vantage point, this is the optimal time for panoramic shots, you get to see Toledo’s full scale from here. The stops, however, are quite brief and you’ll be battling the other passengers taking selfies and group photos for some elbow room. I managed to get a fair share of good photos before having to return to the bus.
Once you get dropped off at the base of the city, you have to make your way up a long steep hill which is essentially how you will be spending the rest of your time in Toledo. At this point it is advised to to head straight to the Toledo Cathedral for a guided tour, which only lasts about 30-40 minutes. The cathedral guides work on tips and are quite knowledgeable – our guide in particular was an Italian women but spoke pretty good English.
The High Gothic architecture is said to be influenced by French Gothic style of the 13th century with a Spanish touch; this cathedral is one of Spain’s three High Gothic Cathedrals. The art found within the cathedral walls is gorgeous – even though it is a big tourist attraction it is a fully functioning church with regular service hours. Inside you will find several chapel and art rooms which seem to transform this cathedral into a living museum. There is so much to see in here, the decor and detail selected for this cathedral make it obvious to understand why this cathedral is recognized as as masterpiece.
At every corner there is something to gaze and marvel at – the high ceilings and close attention to detail truly create an atmosphere like no other. Perhaps the most notable feature is the open air skylight which gives direct sunlight to the tabernacle just below it. The concept was to create a sort of transcendence to heaven via the beam of light. When the sun is at the highest from the east and the most ambient light shines through is when this spectacle comes to life. I was fortunate enough to come on a fair weathered day to see it in its glory.
If that wasn’t enough to brighten your morning there are over 750 stain glassed windows surrounding this cathedral which bring it to life each day. I began my inner tour of Toledo with this cathedral and was truly impressed with all that I saw. Even for a christian baptist like me I was able to appreciate the great amount of effort put into creating this sanctuary.
One other site not to miss is the 13th century cathedral or the Alcázar – it sits atop the town and is one of the most noticeable structures to see during the panoramic photo ops provided by the touring bus. Facing the city from the panoramic view you can see it sits towards the east of the Toledo Cathedral.
The entire city of Toledo was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986; as a visitor, we are not allowed to collect or take anything from within the city since it considered one large monument. The good news for tourists is that there are tons of souvenir and memorabilia shops throughout the city. The truth is that this ancient city fully operates on money being brought in by tourists and onlookers. There are hotels and restaurants designed for visitors just on the other side of the Tagus River that encircles this ancient city. Since I only intended to spend a day here I was on a tight schedule to see and do as much as I could for the next set of hours.
Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes
The Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes was built from 1477 and completed in 1504 – it is located on the outskirts of Toledo and is a beautiful open air monastery. Much like the Toledo Cathedral this monastery is a fully operational and services are regularly held so it’s alway best to be mindful when visiting such places. Luckily it was quite empty during the time of my visit so I was able to take lots of unhindered photographs.
The architecture found within the monastery is fantastic, plus it was great to get out of the sun for a while. My next stop was to the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, a visit to this pearl white synagogue was refreshing and well worth the effort.
Synagogue of Saint Mary the White
This once Islamic synagogue was built in 1180 and is now a functioning museum owned and operated by the catholic church. The feel inside is quite different from the other structures found in Toledo – it was a nice surprise and well air-conditioned which was a major plus and reason for my visit. So far each site that I had visited offered something unique, but by now I was beginning to feel pretty exhausted from the high heat and length of time walking.
I enjoyed simply walking down the narrow streets and snapping pictures – the hike back from these outskirt attractions are taxing, so stopping every so often to snap some pictures seemed appropriate.
The Wishing Well
On my way back I ran into this souvenir shop that offers a wishing well in the basement, El Pozo De Los Deseos is a “free” attraction, the only requirement is that you purchase something from the shop above for the shopkeeper to grant you access. I wouldn’t recommend coming here except for the fact that I did manage to find some pretty cool Don Quixote coin pouches, which made my visit totally worth it! This place screams tourist trap, but hey, this trip was a one time deal for so I could afford to spare a few minutes.
Even though this is a “wishing well”, you are to refrain from throwing coins inside. The water here is said to be sacred so you are only allowed to snap some pics, gaze at the well and keep moving along. Since I hadn’t boughten any souvenirs yet, I felt I was getting a two for one deal, but maybe i’m just optimistic.
One of the most widely known books to come out of Spain is the Don Quixote de la Mancha novel and Toledo is among several provinces that appear in the Don Quixote book. During my visit I ran into a couple of Don Quixote statues and thought it would be a nice touch to finish my time here in Toledo by greeting Don Quixote himself.
If I had more time to spend in this region I would have happily gone on a scavenger hunt to find traces of Don Quixote – the provinces include Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo. Toledo is an ancient city that offers a lot to its many visitors, I truly enjoyed my time here and would happily return for more city exploration if I was afforded another opportunity. I would like to finish this post with one interesting fact, the saying, Holy Toledo, comes in reference to a place no other than this one! It’s an exclamation of natural surprise referring to the Holy City of Toledo. If you find yourself traveling to Madrid, I would suggest considering a day-trip to Toledo – you won’t regret it and you’ll leave feeling, well, holy! Happy Travels!