7 Reasons to Take a Day Trip to Toledo

The Puente of Alcántara bridge in Toledo, Spain.
Toledo from across the river, with the Puente of Alcántara bridge (built by the Romans in the Middle Ages) on the left.

When I was planning my trip to Spain and France, people kept suggesting to take a day trip to Toledo from Madrid.  When I asked why, everyone was speechless. After a dozen people recommended it we put it on our itinerary, and on our last day in Spain we took the train to Toledo for the day.

The verdict?  Our day trip to Toledo was one of the most memorable days of my entire 15-day trip to Spain and France.  Because so many people struggled to explain what made Toledo so amazing, I came up with some arguments.  So here are 7 reasons to take a day trip to Toledo from Madrid (or anywhere else nearby).

7 Reasons to Take a Day Trip to Toledo from Madrid

The Puente of Alcántara bridge in Toledo, Spain.
Toledo from across the river, with the Puente de Alcántara bridge (built by the Romans in the Middle Ages) on the left.

1. Toledo is only a half-hour train ride away from Madrid.

The train system throughout Spain (and Europe) turned me into one jealous American during my trip.  Toledo is 45 miles away from Madrid but on a high-speed train traveling at 300 kilometers per hour (that’s 186 mph to us), it’s a quick 32 minute ride.  And for around $25, it’s cheap, too.  Consider this my official vote for high speed trains throughout the U.S.

Tip :: Several Toledo-bound trains leave Madrid’s Puerto de Atocha station in the morning and return at night.  Tickets can be purchased online at Rail Europe or at the station prior to boarding.

The Puerta del Sol gate in Toledo was built in the 14th Century.
The Puerta del Sol gate in Toledo was built in the 14th Century.

2. Toledo is a walled Medieval city with a moat. (How cool is that?)

Before Madrid became the capital of Spain in 1561, the Spanish kings and queens ruled from Toledo.  The city was bustling with thousands of people and, in order to protect them, a series of walls were built around the city for defense.  Most of the walls still exist today, including the many gates that mark the city entrances.  One gate even survives from the 10th Century!

A narrow street in Toledo, Spain.
Some of Toledo’s streets are the size of alleys.

3. Walking through Toledo is like walking back in time.  (Way back!)

Toledo has been populated since the Bronze age and its 2,000 year history makes the entire city a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was conquered by the Romans in 193 BCE, then became the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom, and later taken over by the Moors in the 8th Century.  Bits and pieces of that past still remains in the city, like the bridge built by the Romans that we walked over to enter the city.  I was fascinated by how narrow the streets were in Madrid but was blown away that they were even tinier in Toledo.  Walking along them was like walking through history.

The Santa María la Blanca synagogue in Toledo, Spain.
The Santa María la Blanca, built in 1180, is the oldest synagogue still standing in Europe.

4. Toledo is a mixture of cultures and religions.  (It’s nickname is “The City of the Three Cultures.”)

Toledo is known for its history of religious tolerance in a country with a bad reputation for persecuting non-Christians (remember the Spanish inquisition?).  Muslims, Jews, and Christians all lived peacefully together in Toledo and the architecture reflects the influences of those cultures.  That is, until 1492 when the Jews were forced to leave.  But there are cathedrals, mosques, churches, monasteries and synagogues, all neighboring each other.

Swords made with Toledo Steel on display in a souvenir shop.
Swords made with Toledo Steel on display in a souvenir shop.

5. Toledo is famous for making the best swords in Europe. 

Toledo was once known for its unusually hard steel, known as Toledo Steel, especially for its excellent sword-making quality.  The city has been a steel-working center since 500 BC and rumor has it that Toledo was where the Roman legions got the steel for their weapons.  Today novelty swords and other steel items are sold throughout the city.

The view of Toledo from the Church of San Ildefonso.
The view of Toledo from the Church of San Ildefonso.

6. Toledo is tiny so all of its sites really can be seen in a day.

There is a lot to see in Toledo — impressive cathedrals, monasteries, temples, ancient roads, Spanish history — but it’s all within a few square miles so it really you can see all of Toledo in one day.  We walked the entire Old City, weaving through its hundreds of tiny streets and, while we were exhausted, we saw everything we wanted and still had time for a leisurely lunch and an afternoon cocktail break.

The best part is that we saw everything to see in Toledo by wandering around ourselves, without a tour.

The cloisters of the Monastery of Saint John of the Kings in Toledo.
The cloisters of the Monastery of Saint John of the Kings.

7. Yes it’s touristy, but use that to your advantage.

Toledo is sort of like Disneyland for adults.  Flocks of tourists are everywhere and it’s obvious the city thrives on them. While that takes away some of the authenticity, take advantage of it by buying a day pass at a tourist booth that offers a set fee for many of the museums and sites throughout Toledo.  It’s a convenient way to avoid paying 3€ (or more) at every stop.  We had to wear wristbands, adding to that terrible Disneyland feel, but once we saw some of the places, we stopped worrying about looking like tourists pretty quickly.

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Toledo was one of my favorite parts of Spain.  I will remember those tiny streets, the Toledo Cathedral that rivaled the Notre Dame in Paris, and the city walls for the rest of my life.  There are a lot more than 7 reasons to visit Toledo, but for the rest, you’ll just have to visit the city to see them yourself!

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