Toledo, Spain: What to See in the City of Three Cultures

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Toledo is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain together with Segovia, which I really love. It is just 70 km from Madrid and it is a good choice for a day trip. Toledo can easily be visited in one day, but you can also spend a nice weekend here.

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Toledo is the ideal destination for lovers of art, history and culture and it is also an interesting culinary center. There are delicious restaurants where you can enjoy traditional dishes like the typical “perdiz a la toledana“. The river Tajo crosses Toledo, which is perched on a hill and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What I like most about Toledo is that everything is testimony of the people who have dominated for centuries. Walking through the typical streets you happen to find a Gothic church, a Roman or Renaissance building; this is why Toledo was named “La Ciudad de las Tres Culturas” (or “Cities of Three Cultures”), a nickname that refers to the cultures Christian, Jewish and Muslim, who lived within its walls and whose features are recognized in the art and architecture. Visiting Toledo means diving in the past.

CURIOSITY: A legend says that the founder of the city was Hercules. I like to believe it’s been that way 🙂

To get to Toledo don’t take the bus, but choose the train. A round-trip ticket is approximately 20€ and it will take you there in 30 minutes.

I planned a very easy itinerary for those visiting Toledo on foot for the first time. I also added some interesting points of interests if you want to discover the spiritual soul of Toledo.

Let’s start! 🙂

Start visiting Toledo from the outside of its walls. The old Hospital Tavera was the hospital of Toledo and then became property of the Dukes of Lerma. To me, it is not a must, because the entry ticket was 6€, too much compared to what it has to offer. You cannot take indoor pictures, but only of the courtyards. It is a Renaissance building, an imposing religious structure for social purposes. I really enjoyed the patio. But what is more interesting is that this building houses some of the works of Ribera, Zurbarán and El Greco. Inside the chapel, there are some artworks by El Greco like “El Bautismo de Cristo”. I really loved the old pharmacy with stills, pots and dispensaries and also the library with  manuscripts and reports of the hospital. The atmosphere is pretty similar to the one of Harry Potter locations. You can see original furniture, paintings, tapestries, etc. The crypt has a pleasant echo, the acoustics are really amazing!

You can access Toledo through the door of Bisagra in Mudéjar style. This is just one of several doors of Toledo! Take Calle Real del Arrabal, on the right side is the church Santiago del Arrabal called La Catedral del Mudéjar, perhaps built during the reign of Alfonso VI. The tower is reminiscent of a minaret. Puerta del Sol, in Mudéjar style has Arabic features and at the same time Christians. It is flanked by two towers. At the center of the arches are the remains of an early Christian sarcophagus of the fourth century. This door allows direct access to the heart of Toledo.

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Keep walking towards calle Carretas and Calle Venancio González until you reach the Paseo del Miradero,where you can enjoy a wonderful view. Reach Plaza de Zocodover. This square, in the Arab domination age, was called Suk-al-dawad that means “animal market”, because it was the vital center of commerce. In the past, bull run during popular feasts. Today the square is a point where the crowds gather to take part in festivals and ceremonies such as that of Corpus Christi. The balconies are adorned with coats of arms representing the Eucharist and begins the procession through the streets of Toledo.

NOTE: If you love popular festivals there are other celebrations like Semana Santa, the European Days of Jewish Culture, the Festival of Three Cultures.

Visit  the beautiful fortress of Alcázar,with the military museum and the regional library. Once it was the imperial residence. The position of this fortress is amazing. It sits right on the highest hill of the city. The castle has undergone several fires and was destroyed during the war of 1933. From the castle you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the valley. Unfortunately, the castle is not open to visitors, but you can enter the library and go to the bar where to enjoy the view.

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From the Alcázar castle head to calle de Alféreces Provisionales. Continue until you find the stairs that take you to a small square. Here are three impressive architectural buildings: Hospital de Santa Cruz, who welcomed the orphans, the convento de Santa Fe (unfortunately it is not open, there is the beautiful Belén chapel of the XI century in Caliphate style inside of it) and the Convento de la Concepción Franciscana (where the cloistered nuns stay).

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The next stop is the Cathedral, one of the most important monuments of Toledo and in the world, dating back to 122. It is mainly in the Gothic style, although different elements from other cultures converge. The main entrance is formed by three doors, call the Hell, the Forgiveness and the Judgment above which a sculpture representing the “Last Supper” is located. In the façade two towers rise, one of them culminates with a spire in Gothic flamigero style with French mark and the other ends in a Gothic-Renaissance dome. There are several chapels inside the Cathedral. The Mass in a Mozarabic rite is still celebrated in the chapel of Corpus Christi! To enter the Cathedral there are two types of tickets, one costs €10 and let you visit everything but the towers of the bells (but it is from here, from Campana Gorda, that there is an exceptional view of Toledo). If you also want access to the Campana Gorda you have to buy a ticket that includes the complete tour of the cathedral at a cost of €12.50. Learn more here. The audio guide is included in the tickets. You can admire another artwork of El Greco, called  “El Expolio”.

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Go to Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Here are the Renaissance palaces Arzobispal and Ayuntamiento, with two Baroque spiers. Along Calle de Santa Isabel you’ll come across the cloistered convent of Santa Isabel de los Reyes, dating back to 1477. In Plaza San Andrés, there is the church of San Andrés with Muslims and Visigothic elements and a beautiful altar.

Walking along the banks of the Tajo River is a unique experience of its kind. You find yourself immersed in the history and nature at the same time. Right on the river you can see the Alcántara bridge, a roman bridge built between 104 and 106. You can get there from Paseo de la Incurnia.

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NOTE: Castillo de San Servando is an attraction that unfortunately cannot be visited inside but that lends itself very well to take some great pictures thanks to the beauty of the surrounding landscape. You can reach it from the Puente de Alcántara. It is a sixteenth fortress built on top of another castle of Muslim origin, which in turn was built on a Visigoth church build on top of another Roman fort. Today it is a hotel.

During this walk you will find the typical Casa del Diamantino, who now is a school dedicated to restoration. He belonged to the artist Don José Navarro, who sculptured Isabel II crown.

CURIOSITY: the legend tells that Isabel II commissioned a crown for her coronation at the best goldsmith in Toledo. The goldsmith try to draw the outline of the crown, but he did not feel inspired. After many sleepless nights he was tired and desperate and one night he fell asleep. Next morning he found a picture of a beautiful crown, but he could not remember having done. He set to work and began to carve precious stones. He fell back exhausted on the desk, after many hours of work and when he woke up the job was mysteriously moved on. Then he decided to know more about what happened when he slept so he pretended to sleep and saw elves of the Tajo. The next morning he found the most beautiful crown finished.

Keep on walking until San Lucas which is a cluster of ancient and rare beauty buildings. They contain remains of Gothic paintings and a Mudejar tower.

NOTE: Cuesta de San Lucas and Calle de San Juan de la Penitencia, have great views of Toledo.

Walk until you find yourself in front of several buildings and the Posada de la Hermandad which was prison and headquarters of an organization which fought the raiders.

TIP: Toledo is also well known for its artists who work Damasquinado jewelry with chisel and hammer. You could buy nice earrings. Toledo is also popular for swords. A place where to buy Damasquinado stuff is Damascene-Damasquinado at Calle Taller del Moro 7.

Where to eat in Toledo

For lunch nothing is better than the area around the main market of the city, which lies in Zocodover plaza.

If you want to taste a typical dish of Toledo, perdiz a la toledana, go to El Peñon,which is located outside the walls of Toledo in Calle Carrera 31.

To enjoy an inexpensive lunch without sacrificing quality you can taste the delicious tapas at Lo Nuestro in Calle San Juan de Dios 7, try the migas, fried bread with garlic and paprika. Deer meat is good too. The restaurant is very characteristic in typical Spanish style.

Another place is the Comes, in Calle Sierpe 4, where you can enjoy tasty tapas and hamburgers. I chose the chicken with rosemary potatoes and a nice big salad. Brownies with ice cream are sooo tasty!
For dinner my top restaurants are Alqahira Rincón de Oriente in Calle La Ciudad 7, if you love Arabic cuisine. I chose delicious tajine and kebab.

Or La Orza, but it is not cheap. I tasted cheeses from La Mancha with nuts and raisins jam and lomo de orza and cod. The portions are not abundant but however I felt satisfied.

Another top restaurant is Tobiko which presents Spanish dishes with a touch of Orient. It is at Ronda Buenavista 27 and there is also a fixed.

Where to stay in Toledo

Two of my favorite hotels in Toledo are:

Hostal Casa de Cisneros, 10 minutes from the Zocodover square and just in front of the Cathedral. The staff is polite and friendly. The hotel is beautiful and in the typical Toledo style. The rooms are named like the cardinals of the Cathedral, who once stayed here.

If you prefer staying in modern hotel choose Antidote Rooms in Calle Recoletos 2,in the center of Toledo. The hotel is housed in a historic building, carefully restored. Rooms are nice, there is also a private terrace with an excellent view of Toledo. Breakfast is tasty, with home-made cakes.

The spiritual side of Toledo in Spain

If you still have time you can integrate your itinerary with these attractions in Toledo (they are all in succession to make your itinerary easy to follow). They are nice to visit if it is not your first time in Toledo and want to linger on spiritual and religious points of interest, or if you decide to stay one more day.

NOTE: Many travellers talk about a must place to visit: the Mezquita of Cristo de la Luz. I am so disappointed and honestly I would not recommend. It is a small mosque with Romanesque frescoes, inscriptions and horseshoe arches… It seems that the horse of Rey Alfonso VI was attracted by the dazzling light emanating from inside the mosque.

Cathedral of Toledo. It is a gem that you should not miss.

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Church of El Salvador. It is in the area of  the Jews of Toledo. It was built in 1041. In the past it was an ancient mosque.

Taller del Moro. It is opposite the church of El Salvador. It is in a Mudejar style. Here the carved marble of the Cathedral were built. Now the museum is geared to Arabic and mudejar applied arts.

Church of Santo Tomé. It is next to the Taller del Moro and it has a beautiful Mudejar tower dated  XIV, but it is popular because it keeps inside the artwork of El Greco “Burial of the Conde de Orgaz“, rich in spirituality. Painted in 1586 it represents the Burial of Count Orgaz by St Augustine and St Stephen, poised between earth (earthly life) and heaven (spiritual life). Heaven and earth are linked by the ascent of the soul, all under the watchful eye of the artist retracted under the angel’s wing.

Synagogue of Tránsito. It is in Calle Samuel Leví and it is also a Sefardí museum. It was built in 1357. The walls adorned in arabesque style, the Hebrew inscriptions and the Castile weapons are the main features of the synagogue. The museum exhibits various Sephardic pieces. It is closed on Monday.

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Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca. It is in Calle Reyes Catolicos 4. It is in Mudejar and arabesque style with arches.

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Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. It is among the Escuela de Artes y Oficios Aplicadas Artísticos, and it is an example of Gothic flamigero. Inside you can admire the church with beautiful decorations and the cloister. The chains on the walls are a sad testimony of Christians imprisoned and then released during the war.

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Walk along Calle de los Reyes Católicos. From calle de los Alamillos de San Martín, you get to the Puente de San Martín dated XIII which still retains its defensive towers. Along the river banks to the Plaza de San Martín, take the Paseo de la Ronda, and arrive at puerta Cambrón which in the origin was in Visigoth style, now it has a Renaissance look. What you should not miss is the famous Cristo de la Vega a Mudejar hermitage which is located next to the archaeological remains of Santa Leocadia basilica, where the most famous Visigoth kings were buried.

As you can see Toledo in Spain is a very cute town deeply linked to spirituality. It is worth it to visit!

Have you ever been to Toledo in Spain? What dod you like most?

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