Day Trip from Madrid to Toledo, Spain’s Majestic Old Capital

A collection of familiar images whenever you think about Castilla La Mancha: knights, flatlands, horses, and windmills. (Plaza de Zocodover, May 2021)

August is upon us once again and that can only mean one thing: vacaciones! Spain is one of a few European countries that is known for taking long, summer vacations for most of the month. In fact, just this past weekend while I was walking around a more historic part of Madrid, La Latina, I saw quite a few signs plastered up on restaurant and bar windows’ stating “¡Nos vemos en septiembre! (We’ll see you in September!) I am finally going on a longer vacation myself towards the middle of August so I thought, why not use the extra time I have to create a series on day trips you can take from Madrid?

Every Tuesday during the month of August you will be able to read about a different day trip you can take to escape the city and see more of Spain.

We’re going to start with Toledo, a popular and easy destination to reach from Madrid. It was the one must-see city that I didn’t make it to during my study abroad semester but since then, I’ve been there a few times and in a few different ways. My first time was with my brother back in 2015, then I went a couple of years after that with a group of friends, and the past two trips I’ve taken have been with my boyfriend (now husband).

Each time you visit a new city (or someone visits you in yours), you’ll always find you have a different experience every time.

(Photos are a mix of my different visits to Toledo)

What Time of Year is Best to Visit?

Castilla La Mancha is one of many regions in Spain that suffer from very hot summers and drafty, bitterly cold winters. On the plus side, it does cool down at night thanks to the wide expansive fields surrounding many of the towns in this region.

With all that being said, I would have to say that early to mid-spring is one of the best times to visit Toledo. I have also been in late spring and early summer and I must confess that it already gets pretty stifling the closer it gets to June. It’s largely due to how much stronger and more intense the Spanish sun is compared to other parts of the world (like my native Midwestern U.S.)

Visiting Toledo in the winter might be intriguing for some travelers because then you could take pictures inside the historic city center or at the bridges wearing boots and a cute winter outfit. Plenty of girls I studied abroad with at the same time squeezed in a day trip to Toledo from Madrid between the months of February and April. North Face jackets, scarves, boots, cute leather purses and all. (That was the general “in” look at the time in 2010)

A light scarf and sweater were all I needed when I first visited (and stayed the night) in mid-March 2015 (Puente de Alcántara)

Best Things to Do in Toledo

El Alcázar

In front of El Alcázar de Toledo (which houses the Museo del Militar) March 2018, me for scale to give you an idea of just how enormous the castle is.

With travel just starting to kick back into gear, my best recommendation for you as you look through my list of best things to see is to book as many of your tickets as you can in advance. The Alcázar is an extremely popular place to visit and during one of our trips, we managed to get in for free during Semana Santa but don’t push your luck. That being said, this attraction is really worth a visit. They have really improved the Spanish to English translations inside the castle and I think it may be safe to say they worked with a native-speaking translation professional on them? If so, about time, Spain!

Miguel de Cervantes Statue

Cervantes and his wife had a house in Toledo located in the Andaque barrio and right by the banks of the Tagus River. He’s considered a local hero but also one of the finest contributors to Spanish literature.
Tucked away and mounted onto a wall off a side street from Plaza Zocodover is this beautifully written poem (and design). It’s a poem written by local retired teacher María del Carmen Rubio and it wonderfully describes the most central square in town.

Santa Igleisa Catedral Primada de Toledo

A 13th-century high vaulted ceilinged cathedral modeled after the same layout and style as the Bourges Cathedral in France. Beautiful both during the day and at night, it holds a majestic air after sunset. (Note: The tower is currently not accessible due to the pandemic.)
A Gothic cathedral with the most gold I’ve seen on display in my life thus far. Simply exquisite. Also, be sure to check visiting hours and book online at all possible.

Iglesia de los Jesuitas (San Idelfonso)

We stumbled upon this 18th-century Baroque church just this year in May because a “Best Views in Toledo” banner caught our eye. Normally that type of wording can signal a tourist trap but it was just the opposite! For 3€ and a climb up several tight staircases, these were indeed the best views of Toledo. Find out more info here on how to book ahead of time.

Judería de Toledo

Known as the Sinagoga de Tránsito. Spain has a long history of Sephardic Jews seeking refuge in the country and this restored synagogue from the 1300s houses lots of artifacts. It also boasts intricate Mudéjar stucco decorations. (On my list to visit!)
stone path with ceramic blue and white menorah symbol
Watch your step as you venture away from the historic center and into the Judería de Toledo! Not in a bad way but so you can spot these tile squares of Hebrew letters and Jewish symbols like this menorah on the ground. This was the neighborhood where a lot of Jews lived in Medieval times but they were not obligated to live there.

Puente de Alcántara

“Old Toledo” can be seen from this Romanesque and Medieval bridge with its intricate, thick, stone arches. (Here I am on the same bridge, Puente de Alcántara, three years later, but with different company this time!) March 2018

Recommended Spots

Museo del Greco
A trip to the Museo del Greco is definitely another item on my list! My brother and I were going to go during our first visit and check out his Mannerism and Spanish Renaissance style of painting but alas the line was too long. (Sitting next to the Ruta de Don Quijote sign here)

Paseo Tránsito

For ticketing information and visiting hours, check out the official website. Don’t end up like me and miss out on seeing his 16th and 17th-century artwork while you’re in Toledo and book ahead!

Cuevas de Hércules

Callejón San Gines, 3

A small, Romanesque construction of freshwater reservoirs. If you like history and old stone constructions, then this might be your place. Free entrance but it’s said to be closed Saturday afternoons and then all day Sunday and Monday. This is why I’ve never been able to check it out – it’s always been closed every time I went to visit the town!

Mirador del Valle

Careterra de la Circunvalación

A quite steep lookout point for anyone who wants to climb as high as they can and get some of the best-unspoiled views of Toledo today. If you’re looking for the perfect picture – whether you want to be in it or not – I’ve heard this is a great mirador to seek out. Just be prepared for quite the hike up!

Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca

Calle de los Reyes Católicos, 4

A former 12th-century Moorish-style synagogue that’s been converted into a church (and back again) with a hall of horseshoe-shaped arches, much like those found in the Mezquita-Catedrál de Córdoba. It’s said to be a very simple yet gorgeous place of worship. You can find it on the Toledo Monumental website and buy your tickets online ahead of time. It’s also a part of a group of attractions

Where (& What) to Eat

Pisto Manchego, a vegetarian dish mainly comprised of zucchini, red and green peppers, onions, and two lightly fried eggs on top.
A really nice yet undercover promotor of an older lady convinced us who we spoke to on a busy street convinced us to try this restaurant located in Plaza de San Justo. With large portions and ample seating, we were actually quite glad we did!

Pay a visit to at least one of the half a dozen bakeries dotted along Calle Santo Tomé on your way to the Jewish quarter and/or the Museo del Greco. You can even stop purchase some productos típicos de Toledo (traditional sweets and pastries) as a gift or to savor later on during your time in Spain.

A typical sweet from Toledo, una toledana, an empanada-shaped pastry filled with a flavorful jam or marmalade and topped with almonds on the outside. (From my March 2015 visit)

Most importantly, you can purchase products like wine, Iberian ham, honey, and cheese (the famous queso manchego) to take back with you for yourself or for your family. Just make sure you ask the shopkeeper to vacuum seal your food purchases if you wish to take them home in your checked bag. (And make it a point to declare them or else you could face some hefty fines – especially back in the US!)

My prized queso manchego that I photographed sitting on my lap on the train back to Madrid. Or in the words of the shopkeeper who cut and sold it to me, “queso.” So, when you’re in the region where a product is produced, you can drop the regional name and just call it what it is.

Where to Stay (Optional)

Castillo (Albergue) de San Servando

If you are taking or planning to take a trip to Toledo but don’t think you will have enough time to see it all, there are a few hotel and hostel options. If you also want to take your time visiting the town, I would recommend at least one overnight stay.

When going with friends or family members your age, a hostel is usually appropriate and casual accommodation. On my first trip to Toledo, my brother and I stayed in an Airbnb, hidden away by a large, wooden door on Calle Trinidad at the time. I’m no longer active on the site and the company stopped offering compensation via affiliate links so I won’t be linking it here. A couple of years later, in 2017, a group of friends and I from a Bible study did a weekend retreat and found this location, which checked off everything on our list: shared and affordable nightly prices, breakfast included (the leaders had arranged lunches for us) and a meeting room we could use for the workshops they created for us.

And the chance to sleep in an old Medieval castle for a night?

Sign me up!

Medieval castle set on top a hill with trees surrounding it
Located on quite a high hill, the Castillo de San Servando is a former Medieval castle and monastery turned youth hostel.
Rooms were divided into singles, doubles, and triples, with special prices for those under 30 and the option to include breakfast. Reservations can be made by contacting the Albergue directly.
A mosaic in the Castillo de San Servando representing the three major religious groups that once lived fairly peacefully in Toledo: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
And if you’re looking for your knight in shining armor but haven’t found him yet, the lobby has one you can borrow! (Taken less than 6 months before I myself would get into my longest-term relationship to date.)

Parador de Toledo (Recommended)

Naturally, if you are going to visit Toledo with your partner and want a more romantic experience, you’ll want to book more inviting accommodation. The Albergue, while it’s incredibly beautiful on the outside and boasts interesting relics on its walls, offers the bare essentials when it comes to rooms and common areas. And groups of teens are known to visit and make tons of noise, so if you want to distance yourself far, far away from everyday disturbances, look for a private room in a hotel. You can find many top-notch hotels in the Old Town and in the Jewish Quarter. As a rule of thumb, the closer the hotel is to the major sights (like the Alcázar), the more expensive it’s likely to be per night.

A parador can be a historic monastery, castle, or any other famous landmark that has been preserved and converted into multiple-star accommodation. The Paradores de Turismo de España was founded in 1928 by Alfonso XIII as a means to promote tourism in Spain. It’s a chain of state-run luxury hotels that you can find all across the country now and they offer discounts (and a rewards program) throughout the year. Its name comes from the verb in Spanish, “parar,” which means to stop or stay. Very fitting seeing as most travelers do indeed need a place to stay.

The oldest, continuously operating hotel is the Hostal de los Reyes Cátolicos in Santiago de Compostela. It’s one of the finest hotels in their possession. Just keep in mind that the prices for rooms in these luxury hotels will vary based on category, type of room, region, and high or low season. I’ve only eaten in and had a drink in a couple of different paradores since I moved to Spain so I can’t comment on what it’s like to stay in one. I can imagine I would feel quite pampered if I did.

Something to keep in mind for the future…

The Tagus River (el Río Tajo), which you will be able to gaze upon it along with Toledo’s skyline if you visit the Parador de Toledo.

Transportation

You will see a lot of travel guides and posts recommending take an all-inclusive guided tour of Toledo (often touting signs at kiosks for them in the middle of Puerta del Sol) and while those can be nice, I have never done one. While I would normally encourage you to skip them as well, these last couple of tourist seasons have been rough on Spain’s tourism sector. With considerably fewer tourists visiting, even now in 2021, you might find yourself on a private tour of sorts if you do opt for a guided one. (I have heard good things about Viator as a company and about their tours but I can’t personally recommend them. The aforementioned link can give you a start if a tour is what you’re looking for.)

Distance from Madrid

Starting from a central location like Madrid’s Puerta de Atocha station, Toledo is 75.7 km (47 mi) away.

Bus

Start here at the Plaza Elíptica bus and metro hub and if you’re under 26, take advantage of trips to Toledo already being included in your monthly transportation pass.

Besides one train ride, the bus is the mode of transportation I’ve used the most to get to Toledo. It’s really quite fast and efficient. If you’ll be arriving via the Metro, you will want to get to (or start) on Line 6 and get off at the Plaza Elíptica stop. For a little less than 5€ each way, you can get an express bus to Toledo in about 50 minutes. (Do not opt for the longer bus because it will make stops in all the pueblos on the way. Usually, it’s no problem getting a bus at any time of day down there but capacities are limited these days so do keep that in mind. Bus 402 (operated by ALSA) will be the number you need. Don’t depend on buying your tickets online, however, and instead give yourself extra time to buy tickets at one of the kiosks inside the Intercambiador de Plaza Elíptica itself. If you do miss your bus, you can still board another one provided you have the correct type of ticket purchased (usually marked “Toledo Directo”) since so many people travel to and from Madrid each day.

Don’t worry about missing a sign or getting lost inside the station (like I did in another station years ago). There are plenty of signs to direct you to the correct bus dock for Toledo.
And just when you’re almost at the bus bay, there’s another helpful sign letting you know you are in the correct spot!
Buses to Toledo still do run quite frequently but always be prepared for changes in schedule. Even though this list of bus times has an 11 o’clock bus, we weren’t able to get on it due to capacity (it was full). May 2021

Train

My brother and I took the train together just once from Puerta de Atocha to Toledo’s train station, though, this was a few years back. To get to the station you will need to take or transfer to Metro Line 1 and get off at Atocha Renfe station, which will drop you off closest to the Renfe entrance and security clearance. If you take the Cercanías, you will end up farther away from the ticket windows and kiosks and the mandatory security clearance you’ll need to go through. Book round trip tickets from either the newly revamped Renfe website or the Renfe App. It’s 11,10€ one way so 22,20€ round trip and it’ll get you there in about 30 mins. The Toledo train station is right next to its bus station meaning there’s no extra long walk just because you took the train. It all comes down to whether you want to save a few euros and how much time you want to spend traveling to get there.

This Day Trip is Perfect for…

Anyone who loves swords, amazing views, and history!

Toledo is renowned for its sword production dating back to the Roman era reaching its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was famed for its high-quality alloy nicknamed Toledo Steel. Nowadays, many swords from the town appear in blockbuster movies and are sought after by tourists as memorable souvenirs for their homes.

Have you been to Toledo before? Is there anything I might have missed in this guide? Let me know in the comments!

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