Toledo is a beautiful city within Spain, the capital of its municipality, and also the name of the province as a whole.
It is located within the heart of the country, just south of Madrid, and is well-known for its historical beauty and cultural heritage.
In fact, it has so much to offer that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, back in 1986!
Many people describe the city of Toledo as being a jump back in time, as its streets and buildings are as they were, back in medieval times.
It is well worth the visit, and as we have said, it has plenty to offer with a lot to see and do!
If you are planning a visit to Toledo and you’re looking for ideas on what to see and are struggling to decide, we’ve got you covered.
We’re going to guide you through some of the top things that you absolutely must see in Toledo. We’ll also throw in some suggestions on things that we recommend doing while there.
Does that sound good? Then let’s get right into it!
Some Key Facts About The City Of Toledo
Before we get into the many things that you should see in the city of Toledo, we thought it would be a good idea to give you some facts about the city itself, so that you have a little more context!
Toledo is a small city, with a population of around 276,614 (population amount recorded in the year 2019). It is the capital of the province of Toledo and is located just south of Madrid, meaning it is right in the heart of Spain.
As we mentioned, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, primarily because of the great amount of cultural heritage that it features.
Toledo is often referred to as the “Imperial City” because historically, it was the main location for the court of King Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor of Spain.
However, it is also sometimes referred to as the “City of the Three Cultures”, because, throughout history, it has had an equal share of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish culture.
This is reflected in its buildings and art, making it a truly breathtaking city!
Ever since the city was first founded, believed to have been in the year 5 BC, by a group of Jewish travelers, Toledo has remained a place of great importance within the Iberian Peninsula.
It has always held great strategic and political importance throughout Spanish history, and it has been the home of many important people and events.
Some of the most important historical figures that were born or lived in Toledo include El Greco, Garcilaso de la Vega, Eleanor of Toledo, King Alfonso X, Al-Zarqail, and many more.
Nowadays, Toledo is a city full of life and a highly popular tourist destination.
It is also home to the Infantry Academy (ACINF) of the Spanish Army, and it keeps on producing world-famous swords, as it has always done throughout history!
15 Top Things To See In Toledo, Spain
Now that we have given you some interesting facts about Toledo, it’s time to get into the main reason for this article, and provide you with a list of the top things to see when in the city!
So without further ado, here are the things that you should absolutely see in Toledo:
1. Alcázar of Toledo
The Alcázar of Toledo is a palace, situated at the top of a 550’meter hill next to the Tagus, and it is the highest point of Toledo.
It was initially built to be a royal residence for King Charles V.
However, by the time construction was finished, the court had moved to Madrid (where it remains in present-day), so instead, the Alcázar was turned into a palace where widowed queens were sent to retire.
It has a renaissance style, from the 16th century, and before that, the hill was always crowned by a fortress.
One of the main highlights of the palace is that all four facades are different in style. This is because they all reflect the artistic and architectural preferences of the time period (construction took so long that these changed throughout, hence the differences!)
Inside, you will find an army museum with all sorts of military exhibitions from the 1800s to the present day. It is worth visiting for the historical value, the architecture and art, and the views of the city below!
2. Catedral Primada
The Catedral Primada is the Cathedral of Toledo, which is considered to be the best example of High Gothic architecture in all of Spain! (According to the experts).
It also in itself has a fascinating history, as the cathedral was built on top of an old mosque, which in turn was built on top of an old church from the 6th century!
The proper construction of the cathedral started back in the year 1226, and it took a full 250 years to be completed, which means it also managed to sneak in some Mudéjar elements amongst the gothic style.
The cathedral is honestly beautiful and pretty big in size. You can spend ages there, admiring all the art and architecture, and it is also full of curiosities.
For example, it has a 16th-century room called the Ochavo, which is dedicated to martyrs and witnesses of Christ, with some especially extravagant works of art.
3. Christ of the Light Mosque
The mosque of Christ of the Light is located just after the Puerta de Sol and it is the oldest building within the historical center of the city of Toledo. It was built in the year 999, during the Caliphate, and it still looks the same as it did back then.
Thankfully, it has been greatly preserved and maintained. It is by far one of the most important places when it comes to Spanish Moorish heritage.
Around two centuries after it was built, it was converted into a church, and later on, it became a hermitage.
There is a Kufic inscription on the façade (which was rediscovered during the 19th century) with some key information on the construction of the building.
And inside, you can see many similarities with the famous mosque of Cordoba, when it comes to architectural design.
4. El Greco Museum
El Greco is one of the important historical figures notable of Toledo, so it is no wonder that there is a museum there dedicated to the 16th-century artist. The museum is dedicated to the artist’s time in the city, and to many different paintings of his.
The highlights of this museum are two particular paintings: “View of Toledo” and “View and Plan of Toledo”. Both of these paintings are displayed in the museum and are beautiful representations of the city and its landscape.
They are full of magic and became famous worldwide for the fabled design and the vibrancy of their colors and details.
The best thing about seeing these paintings in person is that you can then compare them to the real view.
And you will notice that the city outline hasn’t changed at all, looking as it did 500 years ago! (This is what people mean when they say that Toledo is like a jump back in time, it has truly been maintained without any modern major changes!)
5. El Tránsito Synagogue
Toledo, as a city, was first founded by Jewish travelers, as far back as the year 5 BC, and throughout history, it has remained a hub of Jewish, Christian, and Moorish influence.
It is no wonder, therefore, that it is in this city where we can find one of the most significant Jewish buildings in all of Spain: the synagogue of El Tránsito.
The synagogue was built by Samuel Levi, in the 1350s, who had ties to the Kings of Castilla, and who was the treasurer of Peter of Castilla. However, he was executed by Peter in 1360, and later on, the church was converted into a Christian church.
The synagogue is full of Mudéjar architecture, with calligraphy in both Arabic and Hebrew. It also has a museum inside, which teaches you about Jewish history in Spain, from the 5th century BC to the Expulsion of the Spanish Jews in the 1400s.
6. Iglesia de San Ildefonso
The Iglesia de San Ildefonso is one of the most important and beautiful churches in Toledo, considered to be a masterpiece of baroque architecture and art. Construction of the church began back in the year 1629 after the Jesuits got permission to settle in the city.
The church then took a full century to be completed, and is built out of more than 100,000 bricks of stone!
The baroque design was an anti-reformation statement and it features a beautiful white interior and a design meant to channel light towards the high altar.
That leaves the side chapels in darkness and makes it look as though God is shining down on the high altar to bless the Eucharist ceremonies.
Also, the dome featured on the church is one of the highest points in Toledo and it is well worth purchasing a ticket to access the viewpoints!
7. Iglesia de Santo Tomé
The Iglesia de Santo Tomé is another important and beautiful church in Toledo.
Once upon a time, it was actually a mosque and the church was built on top of it. However, you can still appreciate some of the Mudéjar elements, such as in the tower, which is one of the main identifying traits of the church as a whole.
On the inside, the church is a stunning blend of gothic and Moorish architecture and art, also featuring two baroque altars and a baptismal font from the 1300s.
However, the highlight of this church is a renaissance painting by El Greco, titled “Burial of the Count of Orgaz”, which was commissioned in 1580.
8. Mirador del Valle
Around the city, there is a road known as Carretera de Cirunvalación. From this road, you can access a beautiful balcony lookout point, above the River Tagus, from which you can see the entire city.
This is the place to go in order to get a full panoramic view of Toledo, and it is perfect for taking some breathtaking photos.
From there, you can see what El Greco saw when he painted the outline and landscape of the city.
You will see the Alcázar, the cathedral, the fortified walls…everything! It is also especially beautiful during the night when the city lights up!
We 100% recommend taking some time to get to this Mirador, in order to take in the views.
9. Monastery of San Juan de Los Reyes
The Monastery of San Juan de Los Reyes, much as the name suggests, is a monastery. Specifically, it is a monastery from the 15th century, and it manages to stand out amongst the rest of the city for its impressive architecture and beauty.
It is located on the west side of the historical center of the city, close to the bridge of San Martín, and it was commissioned by the famous Catholic monarchs, Isabella I and Ferdinand II. (These are the monarchs that united Spain as a country, so they are pretty important!)
The monastery was built for a few different purposes. Firstly, it was to celebrate the birth of Prince John, son of the Catholic Monarchs.
Secondly, it was built to be a Dynastic Mausoleum for the royal family. And thirdly, it commemorated the victory of the Battle of Toro, in which they won against the Portuguese Army, led by King Alfonso V.
Highlights of the monastery include the granite facade, which represents a scene from the end of the Christian Reconquista.
The scene shows Christian prisoners being freed by the Catholic Monarchs, in Granada, 1490. (In case you need some context, this was when Spain finally succeeded in taking back the entirety of Spain from Muslim control, after almost 8 centuries of fighting back!)
10. Plaza de Zocodover
The Plaza de Zocodover is one of the main squares of the city and has been the heart of the city for centuries. It is a popular meeting place for locals, and it is full of cafes, shops, and things to do. You cannot visit Toledo without strolling through!
When the city was Moorish, this square was used as a horse market, where horses, mules, and similar were traded.
Later on, it became a general market, which traditionally always took place on Tuesdays. (This market then moved to a different location within the city during the 20th century).
Nowadays, the square is home to many public ceremonies, festivals, dances, concerts, and more. It is, put simply, a hub of life and culture for the people of Toledo, and any visitors that might come along.
11. Puente de Alcántara
The Puente de Alcántara is a bridge that allows you to cross over the River Tagus, into the city of Toledo. This iconic construction has been standing since as far back as the Roman era, although it has been updated quite a few times over the years, in order to remain standing.
In the 11th century, this bridge actually suffered quite a lot of damage, due to fighting when the Christians were trying to reconquer the city from the Moors. However, it was rebuilt a century later.
In the 1700s a beautiful baroque arch was added to the bridge, which adds to its overall charm. We 100% recommend you take a stroll on the bridge and stand under the arch to appreciate the views and details!
12. Puente de San Martín
One of the entryways to the city of Toledo is the bridge of San Martín, located to the west of the medieval walls. It is truly a sight to behold, and perfect for taking some stunning pictures.
The bridge was built in the year 1200, however, it suffered a lot of damage throughout the years, so it was rebuilt in the 1300s and then again during the 1400s.
During the 17th century, King Charles II commissioned some changes to be done to the bridge, adding some crenelated towers on each end to defend it. And, it looks the same as then in the present time!
The bridge goes over the Tagus river, and if you cross it when leaving the city, you will reach the monastery of San Juan.
13. Puerta de Bisagra
In Toledo, there are two city gates that go by the name of Bisagra, so when we talk about the Puerta de Bisagra, the one we are referring to is the newer one (although you can visit both of them!)
The old Bisagra gate was built in the 900s by the Moors, and for a long time, it was the main entrance to the city, at least when coming from the plain. However, this particular gate was replaced by an even bigger one, which is placed nearby.
The new Bisagra gate features an arch, with two circular towers that defend it. There is a relief of the city’s coat of arms, and it leads the way into a courtyard with crenelated walls and more towers.
It is an impressive entrance to the city that has stood the test of time, so you simply can’t visit the city without taking some time to see it!
14. Puerta del Sol
The Puerta del Sol is the northern city gate of the fortified inner city of Toledo. It was built during the 14th century, and it has a beautiful Mudéjar design.
The gate is made out of heavy stone and it has been intricately decorated to showcase different artistic designs.
For example, the name comes from a scene above the passageway, showing the ordination of Ildefonso (a famous Visigothic scholar).
The architecture of the gate is a classic horseshoe archway, from Moorish design, with smaller intertwined scalloped arches above. It used to have a moon painted on the south side, and a sun on the north side, but these have faded with time.
15. Santa María la Blanca
Santa María la Blanca is the oldest intact synagogue in Europe, making it an important landmark in history and dates back to the end of the 12th century. It is beautiful and well worth a visit if you are interested in seeing some Jewish art, as it was back then.
During the 1400s, the synagogue was converted into a church (as all Jews were expelled from the country), but no changes were made, which is why it remains the same as it was originally.
It has been used in many different ways throughout the years, and nowadays it is exclusively there as a place to visit. If you go there, we recommend taking your time, as there are a lot of artistic details to admire!
A Few Things You Should Do While Visiting Toledo
Having a list of things to see in Toledo can help you plan your visit so that you make the most out of it. However, just in case you need some more ideas for your trip, here are some things that we recommend doing while in Toledo:
- Visit all the places listed in our “what to see in Toledo” list! This will take you a few days, but you can also pick and choose the ones that you find the most interesting!
- Dine at a restaurant or café and experience the traditional local food of the area. Toledo is the city of three cultures, and this reflects upon its cuisine, making it extra delicious!
- Book a tour of the city, with a guide. This will help you understand the city a lot more, and the guides always have plenty of curious stories and facts about different parts of the city! Also, we recommend taking a night tour, as the city is beautiful when illuminated at night time!
- Buy a sword. Or if you don’t want to buy one, at the very least go window shopping to take a look at them! Toledo has been making and selling swords for centuries and it was famous for having the best swords in the world during Medieval times! The swords are still renowned nowadays and are exported to museums and shops all over the world.
- Get lost! Walking the streets of Toledo is like going back to the 15th century, and they look just as they did 500 years ago. Be sure to pack some good walking shoes, take the day and enjoy the city as it is, interacting with the locals and discovering hidden treasures.
Toledo is a beautiful city within Spain, full of history and art.
It is no wonder that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, especially when you start to realize how much historical significance it has had throughout the years, and how much culture it contains.
The city is a stunning blend of Christian, Jewish, and Moorish influence, and little has changed since 500 years ago, so there is a lot to see and do!
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