26 May Our Temporary Home in Historic Toledo
It felt good to be on a bus again, moving away from the modern streets of Madrid into the countryside. A patchwork of green and brown fields beneath a cloudy sky passed alongside us as we sped onwards toward our temporary home, a cluster of clay rooftops and spiky church spires crowded onto a hilltop: the ancient city of Toledo, Spain.
Moving to Toledo
We’d desperately needed a fresh start in Spain, away from the capital city we’d struggled so much in. After hours of searching online we finally found a place we could call home for five weeks, an apartment right in the heart of Toledo. The climb from the bus station into the centre of the city was steep and hard-going with our backpacks, but as we made our way up narrow cobbled streets through the huge stone gates of the city walls we felt uplifted – this was our kind of place.
Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to Roman times and was once the Capital of the Spanish Empire. Nowadays it’s a tourist hotspot which draws hordes of day-trippers from Madrid, which lies just 50 minutes away by bus. We were immediately charmed by Toledo, a city crammed with religious buildings, steep windy streets of terraced apartment blocks, busy plazas and shops selling Toledo’s famous goods: marzipan and bladed weapons.
Our apartment was just steps away from Toledo Cathedral and the veiny network of streets surrounding Zocodover, the ever-bustling main plaza of the city. Through our terrace doors we could hear cathedral bells chime and the distant rumble of crowds exploring the streets below. We were so content to finally have a temporary home we loved in Spain, a place to relax in when we weren’t working at English immersion camps, a calm space to write, cook and watch TV in. We only had to open our front door to be plunged right into the thick of life in Toledo.
Touring Toledo, Spain
Unlike Toledo day trip visitors, we had five weeks to leisurely explore the city and spent plenty of time chilling in our apartment and just wandering the old streets, slowly learning our way around. We sought out markets and bakeries, bought touristy mugs to replace the hobbit-sized cups in our kitchen and locally-made marzipan from a nun. We explored the Jewish quarter and walked to the edges of the city to photograph the hill-top views over the Spanish countryside; we came across statues of Don Quixote, the fictional literary hero who visited Toledo during his adventures in La Mancha.
If you’re planning on visiting Toledo, check out our Touring Toledo video for some tips and inspiration for your trip.
Toledo Tourist Bracelet
As our time in the city grew shorter we decided to take some more formal Toledo tours, starting with purchasing a tourist bracelet for €9 which grants you entrance to seven of the city’s most impressive religious buildings. Toledo is known as The City of Three Cultures as it has been home over the centuries to a mixture of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The bracelet allows you to visit the following buildings.
The Santo Tomé Church – this is where the tomb of the Count of Orgaz lies, he was responsible for rebuilding the Santo Tomé church in the 15th Century. Above the tomb is a famous painting by artist El Greco depicting the Count’s death. You can’t take photos in this church but it is well worth a look.
Royal School of Doncellas Nobles – this was a Christian school established by Cardinal Silíceo in 1551 for disadvantaged girls; inside there’s a small ornate chapel.
San Juan De Los Reyes Monastery – this gothic building has high-ceilinged corridors surrounding a courtyard garden. The main chapel is full of paintings and ornately-carved statues and there’s a second floor cloister which looks down on the courtyard below.
Cristo De La Luz Mosque – this mosque from the Caliphate period was later converted into a church. The small building lies in a garden overlooking the outskirts of Toledo and countryside beyond.
Santa María La Blanca Synagogue – located in the picturesque Jewish quarter of the city, the synagogue was my favourite building. Filled with grid-like arches decorated with swirls and carvings, the synagogue is a beautiful space to visit and photograph as well as worship.
The Church of El Salvador – this was originally a mosque which was later converted into a Christian church. In recent years it has been restored and you can see some excavated remains of the original building.
The Church of Los Jesuitas – the church is the second largest religious building in the city after the main cathedral. You can walk up to the church towers and get a great view over the rooftops of Toledo and the surrounding countryside.
Toledo Tourist Train
A popular way to get an overview of Toledo attractions is to take the red tourist train from Zocodover Plaza for €5.50. You get an audio tour and trip up to a great panoramic viewpoint over the city where you can disembark to take some photos.
Getting to and from Toledo
Most people visit Toledo on a day or overnight trip from Madrid. You can take a bus from Plaza Elíptica station in Madrid to the bus station in Toledo which costs €9.75 (£7.68) for a return ticket. Direct ALSA buses take around 50 minutes and run in both directions every half an hour. High-speed AVE Trains from Atocha station in Madrid cost €21.80 (£17.17) return and take just 30 minutes to get to Toledo. If you’re passing through Toledo on a road trip be warned that the streets are narrow and not very car friendly, it’s easier to park outside of the city and walk in. If you’re planning on staying in Toledo, find out how much it cost us to rent an apartment in Toledo here.
PattiPosted at 21:27h, 27 May
One of our favorite memories of Spain is visiting all of the chapels and cathedrals we came upon as we walked across the country. I am not a religious person but I find the solace inside a cathedral quite moving and I am especially fascinated by the fantastic art, the ornate organ pipes and of course the stained glass. But at the same time I struggle with the vast amount of wealth spent to build the cathedrals in comparison to the lives of the ordinary people at the time.
I’d love to spent time exploring Toledo and visiting the sites you’ve described.
And, I’d like one of those burgers with the potato wedges. 🙂
AmyPosted at 09:35h, 28 May
I totally get what you mean Patti; we’re not religious at all either but we do spend a lot of time when we travel in religious buildings, I love the look and feel of cathedrals and temples. Spain definitely has some awesome cathedrals and other religious buildings.
Gilda BaxterPosted at 21:48h, 28 May
Nice video, my films are aways shaky and awfull. Great idea to buy the bracelet that gives you access to 7 places to visit, sounds like very good value for money. My favourite is the white synagogue building, very beautiful.
AmyPosted at 10:13h, 29 May
Thanks Gilda, we’re trying to improve the quality of our videos but it’s slow going 🙂 Yes, I think the bracelet was really good value and we had such a great spot in town with our apartment!
RhondaPosted at 17:58h, 30 May
We loved Toledo.. so much history! I know you’re points east now but lovely to see the town again through your eyes.
AmyPosted at 20:43h, 01 June
Thanks Rhonda, Toledo was a great place to live for a while 🙂
Louisa KlimentosPosted at 00:30h, 31 May
The architecture of all those buildings are so beautiful.I am not very regious myself but love historical chuches and most of all Budhist temples.Keep enoying your travel experiences,love Louisa
AmyPosted at 20:51h, 01 June
Thanks Louisa, they were beautiful 🙂
MelPosted at 02:13h, 31 May
Great information on Toledo – it’s hard to know what a city is like and this gives me a good idea about Toledo. Unfortunately it means another place to the very long list of places I want to visit! Thanks.
AmyPosted at 20:57h, 01 June
Glad you found it useful Mel, I would definitely recommend visiting if you’re ever in Spain 🙂