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.