There seems to be a heated cyber debate as to which city is better, Toledo or Segovia. While I have not been to Segovia yet, I can say that Toledo should not be missed. It is an easy 30 minute non-stop train ride from Madrid to the base of the city’s historical center, and there is so much to see and do. It warrants at least two full days. We only went for a day trip this time but we will definitely be going back at some point to spend a night.
Actually, what I consider to be one of the most beautiful things Toledo is it’s surroundings. The Tagus river (which is the longest river in Spain) nearly surrounds this hilltop city, creating a little canyon around it. In the past it played a strategic role in the city’s defense, today it just adds to it’s charm. The views from anywhere along the river are amazing and if you just want to take a stroll or do some fishing, there is a lovely walking/biking path around the base of the hill.
While most people take the bus to the main plaza from the train station (which is beautiful btw), it’s just as easy to walk. In 10 short minutes, the walk brings you to one of the two beautiful old bridges that cross the Tagus: the Alcantara bridge. From here, there are wonderful views of the Alcazar, parts of the old wall, the medieval castle of San Servando, and of course the river. We went thru the keyhole shaped entrance at the other side of the bridge which lead up LOTS of steep steps until we reached the old part of the city very near the main plaza. After walking around the city all day, one thing becomes very apparent: it’s a steep, hilly city built with lots of rocks and bricks. I’m really glad I wore my walking shoes!
Our goal this trip was to get to know the city and avoid other tourists as much as possible. I think we did a pretty good job considering it was a Saturday. We managed to visit two museums (El Greco and Santa Cruz), one mosque (Cristo de La Luz circa 999AD), the oldest synagogue in Europe (Santa Maria Blanca), one church (San Ramon), both historic bridges, the Puerta Bisagra and the Puerta del Sol. We literally walked all over the city. In the process we ate pastries, did some window shopping, had a deliciously long Spanish-style lunch (with a bottle of wine), bought some mazapan (Toledo’s traditional sweet), and took LOTS of pictures.
We also saw lots of places we will try to visit next time we are there including the famous cathedral, the monastery, and the Alcazar (military museum). By the end of the day, I noticed something interesting about this town. Though it’s very compact, every section of the old city has it’s own personality. The west side was more open and park like, while the center was compact and dark (the narrow, curvy cobblestone streets and alleys challenged my navigational skills several times). The Jewish Quarter was very quiet and reserved, whereas the main plaza was loud with lots of activity. This will all be highly useful information when I go to book our hotel.
Just think about it: There is more than two thousand years of history within the walls of Toledo, and the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage site. All the civilizations that lived here (the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Jews, and Christians) left a wealth of treasures for us to enjoy in the forms of architecture, art and culture. I can’t imagine someone not liking this city – as there is something for everyone. The only area that didn’t really appeal to me was around the main Plaza which was way too ‘touristy’ – too many shops, advertisements and even a McDonald’s. I know others like that sort of thing though.
Right before our train left for Madrid, we had a taxi take us to the other side of town across the river, so we could get a view of the whole city. It is an incredible sight to see…no wonder El Greco painted it. 🙂
Click on the photos to see more pictures of Toledo.