Make the most of your day trip to Toledo
When in Madrid, it's vital (a cultural MUST-DO) to take a day trip to Toledo, a small city encircled by the Tagus River whose marvelous old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Traveling to Toledo is simple enough, perhaps one of the easiest day trips I've experienced thus far in Spain. Hourly trains depart Madrid's Atocha station, and the high-speed trip to Toledo is a mere 30 minutes. Cheap too at USD 20-25 for a round trip!
From the Toledo train station, the old city is but a gentle country stroll...until you actually reach the city. Then you have a massive set of stairs and hills to surmount...or you can take the elevators so nicely provided by the tourist bureau.
The city itself is a gem to wander. With its twisting streets, sweets shops offering almond-fruity mazapán (not to be confused with marzipan, which is an almond paste), stores selling famous quality-crafted swords, and just its pure bad-ass "medieval-ness," Toledo holds a magic to charm any tourist. The city was once Spain's capital until the 16th century and it still maintains the same layout as it did in the Middle Ages. The winding alleys boast wooden doors adorned with fantastic iron knockers, brick facades and tiny footpaths leading in all directions.
Toledo is recognized throughout history for its religious tolerance. Hence, the Muslims, Jews and Christians all lived together inside the comfortable walls of Toledo's harmonious embrace. With such a diverse religious heritage, the city's mosques, cathedrals, monasteries and synagogues are an architecture aficionado's dream come true, and the different structures shout tribute to the city's diverse multi-religious history.
Perhaps Toledo's most famous structure and one of Spain's special Christian landmarks is the soaring Gothic cathedral, once home to Europe's most powerful king, Charles V. The beautiful interior boasts paintings from El Greco, Toledo's beloved spiritual artist. The cathedral's construction began in the 13th century on the site of a Muslim mosque, but it wasn't finished towards the end of the 15th century, more than 200 years after construction began.
Another great building is the dominating Alcázar. Built by emperor Carlos V as a royal residence, this ancient Moorish fortress maintains a rather commanding presence atop its hillside location. It's a square building with four Renaissance-style towers on its corners.
We spent the better part of our day discovering the most captivating parts of Toledo, what makes it a veritable "living museum." We took our time strolling beautiful cobblestone streets, peaking into sword shops (yes, we bought some), sampling various goodies and taking in the general slow pace of the city. Since 500 BC, Toledo's economy has been based largely on the the steel-working industry, and artisans are still crafting a variety of fine swords and knives. Browsing the sword shops was especially interesting!
Following an afternoon of aimless wandering, we stopped for a late lunch and jug of sangria. Toledo has a wonderful selection of quaint restaurants and cafes. Though a bit pricey due to the tourist footprint, the tapas were indeed delicious!
That wrapped up our Toledo adventure. After a short walk back to the train station, we boarded our train back to Madrid.
Have you been to Toledo?