If you’re able to spend more than a few days in Madrid (we highly recommend you do—and why you’re at it, check out our Madrid tours) then it’s nice to plan an excursion to get out of the city for a day. There are many charming and culturally rich options for day trips from Madrid that are just a short train ride away and well worth exploring! One of the most popular is Toledo. Known as the City of Three Cultures, this former Spanish capital is chocked full of history and impressive monuments including the magnificent Toledo Cathedral. Began back in 1226 on top of the former city mosque and completed in 1493 under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela (of Christopher Columbus fame), the massive structure is a stunning example of Gothic architecture with a Spanish twist. We love spending the day exploring Toledo, so we thought we’d put together some handy hints for how to visit Toledo Cathedral, whether you want to do it on your own or accompanied by an expert docent like we arrange on our Day Trip from Madrid to Toledo.
How to Get to Toledo Cathedral?
If you’re staying in Madrid, Toledo is easily reachable by train. We find the Avant service from Atocha station is the most comfortable option. It takes less than 25 minutes and usually costs around 10 euros each way. When we head to Toledo for our walking tour there, we meet at Atocha (in the Atrium in front of the tropical forest environment filled with turtles believe it or not!) and travel with the docent by train.
From the train station, you reach the historic centre (a UNESCO World Heritage site) via a short taxi or bus ride (on both the urban bus services and the open top tourist bus). And boy are those views stunning! You can also walk but it does take around 25 minutes.
Toledo can also be reached by car in around 50 minutes (and we can arrange for car service), and there is also an Alsa bus service which takes 1 hour.
If you’re staying in Toledo, how to visit Toledo Cathedral is even easier. It is located on Cardinal Cisneros Street, just 5 minutes from the city’s main square, Plaza Zocodover. This street is so called after the archbishop of Toledo, a hugely influential figure during the reign of the Catholic monarchs who oversaw the Spanish Inquisition.
When to Visit Toledo Cathedral?
Toledo Cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 10am until 6.30pm and on Sundays from 2.30pm to 6.30pm.
On Sundays, it is free for Spaniards (but not for foreigners unfortunately!) which means there are usually very long lines. For this reason, we recommend arranging to visit Toledo Cathedral during the week if you can. Tuesday – Friday are probably the best days as lot of other monuments in the city are closed to the public on Mondays.
Standard tickets cost 10€. If you wish to visit the bell tower as well, it costs 12.50€.
Holy week (semana santa) in Toledo has been declared of International tourist interest. Visit Toledo during this time and you have the chance to experience the mesmerizing evening Easter processions. These processions take place by candlelight as different brotherhoods take to the streets of Toledo, setting off from the Cathedral and other churches throughout the city.
After Easter, Toledo is particularly well known for how it celebrates Corpus Christi. The city’s most important and oldest festival, its celebrations date back to 1264! Culminating in another elaborate procession, the entire route through the city’s historic narrow streets is decorated with wreaths and lanterns and the streets are filled with flowers and aromatic herbs. It’s a great time to visit Toledo Cathedral as the facade is adorned with antique tapestries, the only time of year you get a chance to see them.
On August 15th, the feast of the Virgen del Sagrario is another important local festival. On this day only, people are allowed to take a drink of the Cathedral’s well water, which is thought to have miraculous properties. Be warned though, the queues can get crazy!
What to See in Toledo Cathedral
Stepping inside the Cathedral is a real treat. Inspired by 13th century French Gothic style but adapted to Spanish taste with Mudéjar influences, the incorporation of light into the structure is really quite remarkable.
Here are some of our favourite things to keep an eye out for when we visit Toledo Cathedral:
- The High Altar Reredos depicts scenes from Christ’s life and is widely considered one of the most beautiful in Spain
- The Sacristy – this entire room is serves as an impressive art gallery with works from master painters including El Greco, Caravaggio, Titian and Goya.
- The Transparente – this Baroque altar piece made of marble, jasper and bronze and provides a stark contrast to the Gothic architecture.
- The Altarpiece in the main chapel depicts scenes from the new testament. It dates back to 1497 and was commissioned by Cardinal Cisneros.
What Else Is There to See in Toledo?
Of course, if you do a day trip from Madrid to Toledo, there’s plenty to see beyond the Cathedral. Here are some other key sites in the city, many of which we visit on our excursion.
Cristo de la Luz Mosque – This former mosque is one of 10 (!) that used to dot the landscape of Toledo. It still remains largely as it was in the Moorish period.
Synagogue el Transito – This synagogue dates back to the 14th century and is beautifully designed with Arabic influences. Now a museum, it is the best place to go to learn about Jewish history in Toledo.
El Greco museum – Also located in the Jewish quarter, this museum showcases the life and work of Doménikos Theotokópoulos (aka el Greco) who spent much of his life living and working in Toledo.
Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes – This stunning monastery was built to be Queen Isabela’s final resting place, although she changed her mind in the end and is not actually buried here.
Church of Santo Tome – If you’re not all churched out, then you could pop in to the Iglesia Santo Tome to take a peek at the el Greco masterpiece, “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz,” which is displayed above the Count’s tomb.
Where To Eat Lunch
We’ve come to visit Toledo Cathedral and done some other sightseeing. We’re famished. Toledo was named the gastronomic capital of Spain for 2016, so dining options abound.
If you want to try somewhere in the centre, within easy reach of the Cathedral, then we recommend Los Cuatro Tiempos, at Calle de Sixto Ramon Parro 5, right behind the Cathedral. Very conveniently located, Los Cuatro Tiempos is an elegant, but not over-the-top restaurant with elaborate traditional cuisine and a reasonable fixed-price menu. Another option is Alfileritos 24 at Calle Alfileritos 24, at the corner of Calle Cristo de la Luz. This one is located in a stylishly-renovated old building. The food is excellent and it also has a fixed-price menu as well as a-la-carte. The food is more modern and innovative here, with top-notch ingredients and dishes, and excellent service.
If you don’t have to rush back to the city, we absolutely love restaurante La Ermita. Nestled in the hills overlooking the old city, their menu is based around locally sourced produce from the Castile La Mancha region (think manchego cheese, venison, game birds and of course marzipan). A leisurely late lunch spent sampling their tasting menu and taking in the stunning views makes for the perfect compliment to a morning spent learning about Toledo and the Cathedral.
Souvenirs to buy on a day trip to Toledo
Marzipan is said to have been invented by the nuns of the Covent of San Clemente in Toledo. This yummy combination of sugar or honey and ground almonds is still a very popular treat today. Toledo is full of quaint traditional shops where you can try some yourself, especially at Christmas time. One of the most popular is Confitería Santo Tome right in the heart of things in the Zocodover square.
Toledo is the capital of La Mancha, which you may know as the homeland of Miguel de Cervantes’ influential literary hero Don Quixote. Eagle eyed visitors will spot images and statues of Don Quixote and his faithful companion Sancho Panza all over town (as well as one of the author himself). Many souvenir shops offer miniature figurines to take home if you are so inclined. If you want to learn more about Cervantes and the golden age of Spanish literature we highly recommend our Barrio de las Letras Tour of Intellectual Madrid.
Steel from Toledo is unusually hard and the city has been known for its metalwork and traditional sword making since 500 BC. Many shops around the city still sell incredible handcrafted blades today. They might be a little tricky to fit in your suitcase though!