If you enjoy spending a day in old town neighborhoods of European cities (as I do), you’ll really appreciate the experience of spending 24 hours in the walled city of Toledo, Spain. Built on a mountain and surrounded by the river Tagus, this city is remarkably preserved for being more than 2,200 years old and offers stunning views.
Toledo is only a one hour drive south of Madrid and Barajas International Airport (Lukman Sea offers excellent car transfer services), and it’s just a 30 minute ride on the AVE high speed train (check prices for the [adrotate banner=”9″]) from downtown Madrid, which is probably why many people travel to Toledo as a day trip. But why would you want to pass up the opportunity to spend an evening in a medieval city that is excavating and exploring its past?
Toledo is located at the center of the Iberian peninsula, and was the center of Muslim, Jewish and Christian life (and conflicts) that spanned for centuries (i.e., city of three cultures). Its architecture reflects influences of all three peoples. Today, Toledo is filled with churches, monasteries and convents – and remains the spiritual center of Catholic life in Spain. But don’t worry: you’ll have plenty to experience as you lose yourself in Toledo’s narrow cobblestone streets and walkways, discovering stores, shops and restaurants.
About 2 million people visit Toledo each year, including those who attend business conferences in Toledo. If you’re here for a meeting and find some time to explore this ancient city on your own or wish to extend your business travel for day, consider the following travel tips for 24 hours in Toledo, Spain.
View the City from Parador de Toledo
Begin your visit to the walled city by driving (or taxi) just outside of it and to the hill above called Cerro del Emperador. This is where you find the Parador de Toledo. (Paradors are state run hotels and typically located in unique and historical buildings.) Enjoy a quick refreshment on the outdoor patio and gain a stunning and unique view of Toledo from above.
Experience Toledo, Spain with a Guided Tour
The Official Association of Tourist Guides of Toledo offers several different tour options to acquaint you with Toledo. Walk through the city and learn about the three cultures that lived in city, learn about Toledo’s Jewish past, or even take a guided tour at night These guides are knowledgeable about Toledo’s past and willing to share how it is perceived from a modern perspective, including details and answers your questions about Muslim, Christian and Jewish life in Toledo leading up to and after the Inquisition. Bus tours are also available.
Visit Cathedral of Toledo
The Cathedral in Toledo is probably the top tourist draw for its history and architecture. Built where a mosque previously stood before the Christians captured Toledo in the 11th century from the Moors, a new cathedral was built on the same location between the 13th and 15th centuries. The Cathedral of Toledo is an impressive Gothic structure. Inside you’ll find stained glass windows throughout, an impressive two tiers of choir stalls made of hand-carved walnut (and don’t miss the misericord characters). The cathedral also houses a 10 foot high, 15th century monstrance made of silver and later gilded with gold.
Visit Synagogue of Transito & the Sephardic Museum in Toledo, Spain
When people think of Sephardic Jews, they frequently associate the community’s origins in the Iberian peninsula – Toledo was perceived as central to Sephardim for many centuries. Here you will find Synagogue of Transito, Toledo’s second oldest synagogue which dates back to the 14th century. Connected to the synagogue is the Sephardic Museum where there’s an interesting collection of donated artifacts. And it is here where you can get the best perspective of the old Jewish Quarter in Toledo. Santa Maria la Blanca is the oldest synagogue in Toledo, and there you will see an interesting interior of horseshoe arches that reflects Moorish style architecture.
Dine at Cason de los Lopez in Toledo, Spain
If you’re in Toledo for only a day, you’ll want to pick a local favorite for dining. Consider lunch (or dinner) at Cason de los Lopez. On the first floor you’ll find a patio with statues and quick dining on this level. But upstairs you’ll find more formal seating, and can enjoy a long, relaxed meal. They also have a wine cellar that includes both traditional and recent wines. It’s best to make a reservation for Cason de los Lopez about five days in advance, especially if you’re searching for Sephardic meal. Cason de los Lopez makes an incredibly tasty ratatouille. The restaurant’s décor consists of antiques from different periods and styles. Tip: Many restaurants in Toledo will offer Sephardic menus, but you should notify them as many as five days in advance so that the kitchen will prepare a great menu.
Shop in Toledo, Spain
Toledo is known for marzipan, swords and knives. So you’ll find plenty of trinkets and souvenirs throughout the city, and as you make your way through the streets you’ll discover shops like Santo Tomé which has been in business since 1856 is known for its marzipan. Calle del Comercio is one of the most famous shopping streets to find treats and gifts to take home (LaCure Gourmande makes marzipan with orange blossom – a Sephardic recipe). Calle Comercio is near Plaza de Zocodover, a popular and busy main shopping square in Toledo. Catholic holidays are widely celebrated here with religious celebrations and processions in the streets. During Corpus Cristi, the streets are lined with roses and canopies, and the silver and gilt monstrance housed in the Cathedral is carried through the streets.
Dine at Lócum in Toledo, Spain
It’s good to have choices. People don’t eat in Spain, they dine there, so plan on at least a couple of hours. Locum is another five star restaurant in Toledo, and it’s in the historic district located behind the cathedral (established 2003). Maitre d’ and sommelier Eduardo Gallardo provides an excellent lesson in wine pairing in a way that your table will enjoy. Order the lamb and do save room for dessert: the marzipan lava cake dessert with manchego cheese-blueberry ice cream is their own creation (think “chocolate lava cake” concept). You’ll know how fantastic this is in just one taste! Chef and owner Victor Sanchez-Beato is known for taking traditional Spanish cooking and transforming it into something modern. Provide a 2 day notice if you’re interested in a Sephardic menu.
Stroll Toledo, Spain at Night
The evenings are usually cooler and definitely more tolerable in weather than during the daytime in summer. But one of the best experiences about walking in old cities is that you can run into outdoor entertainment. During my visit in June 2011, Ara Malikian, who is known as one of the most brilliant and expressive violinists, was performing a free outdoor concert next to the cathedral at night. Don’t forget, there’s also the option of taking a guided night tour.
Enjoy Nightlife at Circulo de Arte de Toledo
Next, enjoy a few drinks and some music in an old church. Circulo de Arte serves as a cultural center during the day and a disco in the weekend. A range of exhibitions and concerts are also held here. But this wasn’t just any old church. Circulo de Arte is located in what was the Church of San Vincente, an old headquarters during the Inquisition and a place of worship during those days. Yes, times have changed…
Find a Hotel in the Walled City within Toledo, Spain
Located near the famous Alfonso VI gate, Hotel Abad is located on the edge of the old city, and really just a matter of steps away from the new convention center. Hotel Abad is part of the Rusticae chain of hotels and located within the walled city. It’s a small, boutique hotel (3 star) where I stayed, featuring 22 rooms with wooden beams and modern functional furniture. Hotel San Juan de los Reyes is another boutique hotel within the old city (4 star).
You’ll find interesting discoveries throughout the city, such as the excavation around Crosto de la Mosque erected in 999. At one time, nearly 65,000 people lived within these walls, including 15,000 Sephardic Jews. The whole city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 and is incredibly preserved.
Toledo is part of Caminos de Sefarad, a network of 23 Spanish Jewish Quarters focused on fostering quality cultural tourism based on the Sephardic legacy.
Updated. Initially published July 19, 2011.