It is true that you will have been given indications and advice, but the direct experience will undoubtedly be very different from everything you have been told. Visiting Toledo is a unique experience in many aspects, an experience on several levels that remains forever in our memory.
Yes, let’s start with the memory, with the past of this city that is shown as the remnants of a Spain that was shaped over the centuries, and Toledo since ancient times, has been a land visited by many cultures and peoples who left an indelible mark. Today we can walk through it again so as not to forget its ancient history.
Thus, as if by magic, to visit Toledo is to become a Celtiberian, a Roman or a Visigoth, a Muslim or a Jew, and all of them, perhaps just like you, arrived one day and stopped their destiny here, shaping an amalgam of vestiges that make up “Toledo”.
Toledo, as the axial axis of the Iberian Peninsula, was and still is the center where all roads lead to, the inland port where everything begins and everything ends. Its strategic location has given it a vertebral sense and it is seen as a place of passage but also of permanence.
To visit Toledo is to take a walk through Universal art, because to take a look at more than two thousand years of history is to soak up something sublime. Perhaps some of you feel it as Garcilaso, El Greco, Bécquer, Rilke or Buñuel himself felt it in the past, and thus you will be able to codify in art what Toledo sometimes provokes, a beautiful impact that leaves its witness in cinema, poetry or painting.
Toledo is a labyrinth for the senses, and confusion is mixed with beauty. There is no need to explain its style, Toledo is chaotic in its internal order and here lies its charm, part of its mystery and a piece of its soul. Do dreams appear orderly? Toledo is real, but its mere manifestation seems dreamlike.
Everything you can visit in Toledo with our tours
But the better question would be, how many days do you have to visit Toledo: a couple of days, a weekend, a month, a lifetime?
We begin with our particular guided tour of Toledo, which is intended to be an approach to what we consider most important in your visit to Toledo. If we walk outside, we recommend visiting the ruins of the Roman Circus, pale but interesting reflection of what was one of the largest circuses of the Roman Empire, with capacity for about thirteen thousand spectators. If we wander around this area, we will come across the small and coquettish Chapel of Cristo de la Vega, a curious Christ because one of his arms has been removed from the cross, and immortalized in several legends of which José Zorrilla bequeaths us the best known. And if time and distance permit, we recommend a long walk along the road around Toledo bordering the Tagus River to reach the popular Ermita de la Virgen del Valle, enjoying in these surroundings the best views of Toledo outside the walls.
If our steps are directed towards the interior of the historic site, we are welcomed by the spectacular Puerta de Bisagra, the work of the architect Alonso de Covarrubias whose shield of a double-headed eagle, reminds us that Toledo was one of the seats of the Spanish Empire at the time of Charles V, hence its nickname of Imperial City. Right at its feet, reminding us that the past also had its glory, we find the Gate of Alfonso VI or Puerta Antigua de Bisagra.
Once inside we find the church of Santiago del Arrabal or Santiago el Mayor, known for its size as the “Cathedral of Toledo Mudejar”, a portentous example of this architecture that dates from the second half of the thirteenth century.
And it is our turn to climb a hill, if we have not already climbed one before, remembering that Toledo puts us to the test so that we can discover all that it has inside, like a treasure chest about to be discovered. It is worth it, and more than worth it. Our ascent will be quickly rewarded with the Puerta del Sol, another Mudejar architecture of Nasrid influence, which invites us to pass through its large horseshoe arch, spotting a central medallion with a sun and a moon from which it gets its name.
In this place we recommend that you take just a few steps to climb just behind, a stone staircase that will take you directly to one of the most unique buildings in our city. This is the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, a small oratory or Koranic school (Madrasa), which is the only example of Muslim religious architecture that is preserved intact since 999, just during the time of the Caliphate of Cordova. To it was added a Romanesque apse of the twelfth century, whose frescoes of a Pantocrator are a clear example of the reuse for various cults and religions of a single space.
Continuing our artistic wandering, we leave again by the Puerta del Sol through the steep street-cuesta de las Armas, until we reach the most popular square of Toledo, Zocodover, neuralgic and social center, whose name comes from an Arabic expression that means “market of the beasts”, and that gives us an idea of its initial commercial use. The history of Toledo has passed through this space that has seen from festivities and celebrations with bullfights included, duels and revenge in the so-called mentidero, to inquisitorial trials with the unpleasant exhibition during a time, of the prisoners executed in a cage of death called clavicote. Lights and shadows in the most bustling square where the visitor can rest until the next stop.
Crossing the famous Arco de la Sangre, we find one of those characters that are already the focus of all the cameras when it comes to portray our visit to Toledo. It is the street of Cervantes, a well-known character and icon of Spanish literature. It is assumed that in the now disappeared Posada de la Sangre, located just in front of the statue, the inspiration of our literary obtained its fruits in the Exemplary Novels and in particular in his work La Ilustre Fregona, set precisely in Toledo.
Going down just a few meters to our left, we come across a beautiful building of Plateresque Renaissance style called the Hospital de la Santa Cruz, current Museum that houses both fixed collections (archaeological museum and museum of decorative arts and ceramics), as well as traveling exhibitions. It is obligatory to mention in this case the famous exhibition of the work of El Greco in commemoration of the fourth centenary of his death in Toledo, held in 2014.
And now we must be prepared to visit in Toledo, one of its most internationally recognized symbols, the Alcazar. Military fortification defense since ancient times, has suffered immense vicissitudes, wars and fires, and now shows us as an example of the union of ideals (apparently opposed) of the pen and the sword, with room in the same place of the Regional Library of Castilla la Mancha in its upper part, and its remaining dependencies, plus a building built ex process, the National Army Museum. As we say, a living symbol that embraces new times with the spirit of culture filling its reconstructed walls.
Following our steps along Comercio Street, popularly known as Ancha Street, we will find in the distance a pinnacle that defies the heights, it is the tower of the Cathedral, a place of obligatory pilgrimage for being one of the most exceptional temples of Christianity. Santa Maria de Toledo or the Dives toledana (the rich Toledo), is an example of a Gothic cathedral with a unique style for its variable adaptability to the prevailing canons of the time that sometimes are modified, to leave us a gigantic and monumental space difficult to describe for its originality and interior beauty.
The Town Hall of Toledo, in which the architects Jorge Manuel Theotocópuli (the only son of El Greco) and the great Juan de Herrera worked in perfect harmony, the result of the Toledo consistory being compared to a miniature copy (saving the distances) of El Escorial.
Passing through the shed that surrounds the Town Hall, we will discover the Plaza de El Salvador, whose church was used as an Islamic temple when the aljama or major mosque disappeared, built precisely where the Cathedral of Toledo is located today. We recommend a visit and highlight inside a Visigothic pilaster, in addition to its free-standing bell tower, which recalls its past as a minaret.
11 things to see in Toledo during your visit
Shall we continue visiting Toledo? If the answer is yes, we change area and go to the Jewish quarter, walking along the street of Santo Tomé to reach the church of the same name.
1. Santo Tomé Church
There you can let yourself be enraptured by one of the most spectacular artistic works of El Greco, we refer to the painting The Burial of the Lord of Orgaz, for many, the maximum culmination of the Cretan’s pictorial work in our city.
2. Santa María la Blanca Synagogue
Visiting Toledo through the Jewish Quarter, is to do it through a scenario that seems not to have changed so much, it is evident that modern life clouds this magical atmosphere, but still, in some of these alleys, one can almost be transported to a distant time with another rhythm of life. And to fully immerse yourself in this culture, we suggest the entrance to the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, one of the oldest in Europe.
3. Museo Sefardí
It is located in the Synagogue of El Tránsito.
4. The Franciscan Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes
A few meters in the direction of Puerta del Cambrón, the main access to the Jewish quarter, we discover one of the wonders of Elizabethan Gothic, the Franciscan Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, an example of harmony and beauty hard to beat in its lower and upper cloisters, which will leave visitors with a good taste in their mouths on their visit to Toledo.
But we still have many other places to visit, that’s the good thing about Toledo, which always requires as a faithful beloved, that we return with an open heart to discover new wonders and discreet treasures. Among these, we also propose you:
5. Museum of the Councils and Visigothic Culture
It is also known as the San Roman Museum. It was created in 1969 as a subsidiary of the Museum of Santa Cruz de Toledo. Here are displayed some of the vestiges of what was the ancient capital of the Visigothic Kingdom of Toledo.
6. Victorio Macho Museum
This is the house and workshop of the sculptor Victorio Macho. Inside, you can enjoy many of the sculptor’s works and portraits of personalities as characteristic as Unamuno or Galdós.
7. San Martin Bridge
It is a medieval bridge over the Tagus River built in the Gothic period. It was part of the defensive system of the city along with the Alcántara Bridge.
8. The Puy Du Fou Park
It is a theme park where you can see the history of Spain represented by actors, scenery and epic themes worth enjoying.
9. The Cave of Hercules
The cave of Hercules is the symbol of the space where magical teachings were imparted, a place where secrets and occult sciences were revealed, a school or classroom open to heterodoxy where only the chosen ones could have access.
10. Museum of Magic Spain
It is a space converted into a subway and dungeon from the thirteenth century and today preserves frescoes representing the magical beliefs of the Islamic culture.
11. Museum of Torture
A museum where you will find the darkest history of Toledo and the tools that were used for the persecution of heresies and everything that was far from what was imposed by the civil and religious powers.
Convents, palaces, squares, alleys, sheds, infinite nooks and crannies for a city without end or beginning, Toledo is a microcosm where the traveler is always in an eternal and enriching search.