Only half an hour from Madrid by train, Toledo is a favourite for day-trips from the Spanish capital. But this is one of Europe’s prettiest walled cities – it deserves so much more than a quick rush around the sights. Our two-night stay was nowhere near long enough, but gave us time to fall in love with the city famed for marzipan and swords.
Located 71km south of Madrid, you can get to Toledo easily from Madrid’s immense Atocha station. High-speed trains take just 33-minutes, and stop at Toledo’s gorgeous railway station which has surely won an architectural award or two over the years. Once the capital of Spain itself, Toledo is now firmly a tourist town in the same vein as the likes of Venice and Bruges. If you haven’t been yet, what are you waiting for?
The old city is dramatically sited high on a hill in a meander of the River Tagus. To get there from the station, you can either take a short taxi ride (about €5), or go the quirky way by using the free escalator. As we were arriving quite late after a long day’s travelling, we got straight in a taxi which rattled through the cobbled streets and dropped us at our hotel in five minutes. I imagine the narrow, windy streets of Toledo would make a good car-chase scene for a future Bourne film – I was certainly glad I wasn’t driving out here. Some streets are not much wider than a small car, and drivers frequently had to do three point turns to get around tight corners.
One of Toledo’s most popular sights is its huge gothic cathedral (above), which we had the perfect view of from our hotel’s rooftop terrace. We checked-in and wandered up Calle de Comercio in search of a bar showing the Euro 2016 semi-final between Wales and Portugal. After sampling pinchos and the locally brewed Domus lager at Lizarran while Ronaldo ran riot, we moved on.
I was glad I had a map with me, and was fully expecting to get lost a few times in the coming 48 hours. This main street is lined with souvenir shops selling swords, knives and shields. Toledo is famous for its manufacture of steel swords, and any warrior worth his salt would have chosen a sword made of Toledo steel. I didn’t fancy my chances of bringing one back into the UK with Ryanair, so I saved my money for the city’s second claim to fame.
According to legend, nuns in the city’s convents invented marzipan when they mixed sugar with almonds during a famine. Every shop in Toledo sells either swords or marzipan, and we headed to the city’s main square, the majestically named Plaza de Zocodover, to enjoy plates of the latter at El Foro.
The next morning, we returned to Plaza de Zocodover, and boarded the 10.30 tourist train for a 45-minute loop around the old city before heading back down the hill and alongside the river. This is a great way to see the city from down below, and we were grateful when the driver pulled in to allow us to take photos of Toledo from the other side of the river. Clearly visible from outside, and dominating the city is the impressive hilltop fortress, the Alcázar, which now houses a military museum. Although it may look a bit grey and grim from my photos, the temperature didn’t drop below 38C – it was just our luck to get rare cloudy days.
After our train ride, we walked to the Puente de San Martin bridge for more photos of the old city, and thought it must have narrowly missed out to Dubrovnik as the setting for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Alongside the bridge is Fly Toledo, which claims to be “Europe’s longest urban zip-line” across the river. It’s only €10, and I regret not having a go now.
We then took a stroll from the bridge through the old city, marvelling at the different architectural styles and thinking a week wouldn’t be long enough to see everything Toledo has to offer. Known as the city of three cultures because of the historical co-existence of Christians, Jews and Muslims you will find churches, synagogues and mosques, and the whole old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also the Spanish home of the Greek painter, El Greco – there is an El Greco museum and walking trail if you want more culture.
By day, Toledo is packed with day-trippers, but after dusk there’s a more relaxed feel and you can pick and choose from the many bars and restaurants. Annoyingly, the prime spots in Plaza de Zocodover are taken up by McDonalds and Burger King, but we found another pretty little square, Plaza San Justo, and enjoyed a jug of sangria sitting outside a bar called Virtudes amongst trees and stray cats. The bar has an outdoor stage for live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Unfortunately, we left Toledo on a Friday morning but if we are lucky enough to return one weekend, we will be heading back here (after the zip-line, that is).