Toledo, Spain

ToledoThe city of Toledo, Spain is a treasure trove of architectural, artistic and artisanal attractions best explored in a full day or overnight trip. Protected in its entirety as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, just amble along the winding streets of the historic quarter and you'll see why Toledo enchanted the rulers of all Spain's great civilizations (see History of Toledo, Spain).

Though increasingly swamped by and catered to tourists who want to see the legendary "City of Three Cultures," Toledo remains well worth the visit. Everything of interest is located in the historic quarter, radiating out from the centric, soaring gothic cathedral. The narrow old streets can be confusing; however the core of the city is so small that you should quickly get your bearings.

Toledo, Spain's Principal Attractions
Old Toledo is set on a hill enclosed on three sides by the Tajo River, so you can more or less visualize the city as circle with the river as its circumference. The bus and train stations are located northeast of old Toledo, so we'll start at the northern city gates...

Islamic GatesIslamic Gates & Mezquita de Cristo de la Luz
Duck through any of the 3 northern entryways to Toledo - Puerta del Sol, Puerta de los Alarcones or Puerta de Balmardón - and you'll stumble upon the Mezquita de Cristo de la Luz, a mosque built in 999AD, the best preserved Islamic monument in the city. The Puerta de Balmardón is Toledo's oldest standing gate at about 1600 years old.

Museo-Hospital de Santa Cruz
Continue your route clockwise (southeast) from the Mezquita and you should arrive at this 14th century hospital. Originally erected to house the city's orphans and homeless, it now functions as a delightful museum with some of the best El Greco paintings in Toledo. Other highlights include the Plateresque doorway designed by prolific Spanish architect-sculpture Alonso de Covarrubias and a nice collection of paintings by Goya and Ribera. It's open from 10am-6:30pm and 10am-2pm on Sundays & holidays.

alcazar toledoAlcázar
Directly south of the Santa Cruz hospital you can't miss the Alcázar, perched atop Toledo's highest hill. Visigoth and Muslim fortresses occupied this prime spot until Charles V (Carlos I of Spain) reconstructed it in the 16th century as his Spanish base for the Holy Roman Empire. Now it holds a military museum and library open from 9:30am-2:30pm (closed Mondays).

toledo cathedralThe Cathedral
See Toledo, Spain Cathedral

Casa del Greco & Iglesia de Santo Tomé
From the cathedral, head west and slightly south for the finest Greco works in the city. "El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz," a transcendental burial scene depicting mid-16th century Toledan aristocrats, occupies a small annex of the Santo Tomé church. Just behind Santo Tomé on Plaza del Conte is the Casa-Museo del Greco. This was never his house; rather it evokes what a house from his era would look like and holds a significant number of his paintings.

The Jewish Quarter
Toledo boasts one of the best conserved "juderías" in Spain. Of 11 synagogues packed in this area before the Inquisition, 2 remain standing: El Tránsito holds a unique Sephardic Museum (10am-6:30pm Tues-Sat & 10am-2pm Sun).

Getting to Toledo
Toledo is about 70 km (43 miles) south of Madrid. The quickest way to get there is by high speed train from the Atocha train station. If you have a car, get on A-42 towards Ciudad Real; take exit 69 to TO-20 towards Toledo; exit 1 to N-403A will take you to the center of town.

Train: Take an AVANT train to Toledo from Madrid's Estación de Atocha. 30 minutes each way. 8.30€ per way. 1 train leaves every hour starting at 6:50am.

Bus: Continental Auto serves buses between Madrid and Toledo from the Estación Sur de Autobuses (metro Méndez Álvaro). They run on the half hour from 6am to 11:30pm. 1 hour, 15 minutes each way.