I had heard that Toledo was a special place, but it blew my expectations out of the water from the moment we pulled up. We drove along a narrow road hugging the side of a rocky hill. Looking out the window we saw a city perched on a hill, surrounded by the river on three sides. Known as the “City of Three Cultures”, Toledo shows influences of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish culture. Toledo is filled with representations of these three cultures in the form of its architecture, art, and gastronomy. I visited Toledo on a trip with my school but it can be easily visited as a day trip from Madrid.
What to do
If your bus doesn’t stop here on the way in, make sure you get over to the Mirador de Valle. This scenic viewpoint offers panoramic views of the city and the surrounding natural beauty.
Most likely you’ll start your day in Plaza Zocodover in the city center. Surrounding the square there are plenty of little bakeries and cafes to grab a quick bite to eat. Or, you know, there’s always a Mcdonald’s if you’re feeling like that kind of tourist – no judgements.
If you’re an architecture or history buff, Toledo is the place for you. The churches, synagogues, and monasteries boast influences from each of the three cultures of Toledo.
My favorite site in Toledo was the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca. Built in 1180, it’s the oldest synagogue building still standing in Europe. The interior of the building contains beautiful white arches and pillars with gold details, which shows evidence of the Muslim influence during that period. The Muslim influence is apparent in its white arches and pillars. The structure is considered to be a symbol of the cooperation of the three cultures during the Middle Ages.
Other impressive pieces of architecture located within the city are the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, completed in 1504, and the Iglesia de San Román, a 13th century example of Mudéjar architecture. San Román was my other favorite site. At the back of the church, there was a tiny spiral stairway that lead to the tower of the church with incredible views of the city.
What to eat
If you’re on a budget, there are lots of little stores to pick up cheap sandwiches or pastries. A coffee and pastry should set you back about €2.50, while a basic sandwich will cost under €3.
We opted for the budget bites, but if you’re in the mood to splurge, Toledo has some unique dining options. Voted Spain’s 2016 Capital of Gastronomy, regional dishes include a lot of game-meat stews and sheep’s milk cheeses. Try a bowl of Ciervo en Salsa (venision stew), Partridge stew, or Queso de Ovejar (aged sheep’s milk cheese) for an authentic taste of Toledo.
What to take home
Walking down the winding streets of Toledo, we found endless stores selling swords and marzipan.
According to some theories, marzipan was invented by the nuns of the Convent of San Clemente in Toledo. It’s said that during a period of famine, the nuns made a paste of almonds and sugar to feed to the undernourished people of the city after the Battle of las Navas de Tolosa.
Swords and other steel goods have been famous in Toledo since pre-Roman times. Nowadays, the swords are mostly used for decorations, and for the film industry. Toledo’s swords have been featured in numerous productions, the most famous being Lord of the Rings.
If the weather cooperates, you may be able to zipline past the San Martín bridge, one of the most visited monuments in town. Each jump costs €10 and you can buy your tickets directly at the Zipline booth. A few people in our group did this activity, but most of us enjoyed watching from the picturesque bridge instead.
If you have time, you can pay to enter the Toledo Cathedral. The admission price scared us off at €12.50 but it’s known as one of the most important cathedrals in Spain. We opted instead to wander the city a little more and find some snacks.
Where to Stay
Toledo is a perfect day trip from Madrid but if you want to stay overnight it also offers some high quality accommodations.
Budget: Oasis Backpackers’ Hostel
With an onsite bar, restaurant, and free Wifi, even the budget accommodation in Toledo offers a little bit of luxury. This hostel is located right in the city center, within walking distance of all the famous sites of Toledo.
Midrange: Hostal la posada de Zocodover
One of the top rated hotels in Toledo, this property is less than half a kilometer from all the major sites of the city. Rooms include air conditioning, private bathrooms, free wifi, and flat-screen TVs.
Luxury: Eurostars Palacio Buenavista
Pamper yourself a little bit more with a spa, swimming pool, and high-quality breakfast. Each room is equipped with a flat-screen TV, hot water kettle, free toiletries, and a hairdryer.
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