Make no mistake: we love Madrid and the many things to do in Madrid itself, but we also love how it is so well-connected to many other fascinating places around Spain. It’s super easy to hop on a train to visit other nearby cities and one of our favorites is to the majestic City of Three Cultures, Toledo. As such, We’ve put together a guide for visiting Toledo from Madrid by train and give you the lowdown on our favorite things to do in Toledo.
Catching the Madrid to Toledo Train
Madrid to Toledo by train really could not be easier: the RENFE Avant service from Atocha station takes just over half an hour and usually costs around 10 euros each way. Trains depart hourly at 20 or 50 past the hour. We recommend booking online in advance so you don’t have to wait in line at the station and can select your seats ahead of time. If you sign up for our Madrid to Toledo tour, we can take care of this for you.
Once you arrive in Toledo, there are a number of options to get into the historic center (a UNESCO World Heritage site no less). There are some great views along the way, and if you don’t fancy the half hour walk into town, we’d say skip the tourist bus, which recently increased prices, in favor of a taxi. Taxi drivers are usually happy to stop at the same viewing points for photo ops but won’t charge as much for the journey.
Visiting Toledo From Madrid: City of Three Cultures
Toledo, once known as ‘Toletum’ under the Romans, has many layers of history to discover. Since the Middle Ages, it has been known as the ‘City of ‘Three Cultures’ due to the apparently peaceful coexistence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities within its walls. This may seem strange in a country so known for its Christian Reconquest and the Spanish Inquisition, but as Context Docent and Harvard University Medievalist Goretti Gonzalez points out “rediscovering the vestiges of this unique cultural synthesis remains modern Toledo’s most compelling attraction”.
Visiting Toledo from Madrid: Things to Do
So, how do we do that? Culturally curious travelers can get an insight into Toledo’s past by visiting a range of remarkably well-preserved sites dotted around the city’s historical center:
Cristo de la Luz Mosque – This former mosque is one of 10(!) that used to be dotted around Toledo. It still remains largely as it was in the Moorish period.
The Synagogue of El Transito 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.
Military history enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Alcazar of Toledo. Not only does the building itself have a long history (it was looted by the French during the 2 de Mayo uprising and besieged during the Spanish Civil War) but it now contains a wealth of artifacts related to the history of the Spanish Army.
The stunning Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes was built to be Queen Isabela’s final resting place. However, she changed her mind in the end and is not actually buried there. Instead, it contains some beautiful artistic features paying homage to the Catholic Monarchs and showcases some characteristic Mudéjar architecture.
Of course, no visit to Toledo is complete without taking a look at the stunning Toledo Cathedral. A masterpiece of Spanish Gothic Architecture, it dates back to the 13th Century and is full of stunning intricate details. For handy hints about visiting this monument, check out our post on How to Visit Toledo Cathedral.
El Greco in Toledo
One of Toledo’s most famous inhabitants wasn’t actually from Toledo at all but Greece. Doménikos Theotokópoulos, colloquially known as ‘el Greco’ was a key figure in the Spanish Renaissance. Born in Crete back when it formed part of the Republic of Venice, he perfected his craft in Greece and Italy before coming to Spain in 1577. A painter, sculptor and architect, he is known for his dramatic and expressionistic style which baffled his contemporaries and failed to win the favor of the Spanish King, but came to be greatly appreciated by a wider audience in the 20th century. In fact, many Art Historians regard his work as a precursor to Expressionism and Cubism.
Toledo is home to an El Greco museum in the Jewish Quarter but his most famous work can be found in the Church of Santo Tome. ‘The Burial of Count Orgaz’, which hangs above its subject’s tomb, vividly depicts a popular local legend, by which two saints descend from heaven to bury a pious nobleman who had given generously to the church in his lifetime. It caused a sensation when it was unveiled as the depiction of local noblemen within the painting was considered to be remarkably accurate. Eagle-eyed viewers can also spot El Greco himself depicted in the lower part of the canvas.
For art enthusiasts, our Prado museum tour led by art historians is the perfect complement to visiting Toledo from Madrid. The Prado also contains a number of impressive works by El Greco amongst its wide-ranging collection of classical art.
Visiting Toledo from Madrid: The City’s Best View
In terms of things to do in Toledo, here at Context we are often asked where to get the best views, as well as where to get the best local Manchego cuisine. As luck would have it, some places offer both.
The views from the top of the bell tower of the Cathedral are worth the climb, but one of our favorite spots to take it all in has to be the Parador de Toledo. Just a short taxi ride away from the historical centre, not many people realize that you don’t have to be a guest at this high end hotel to enjoy the view. Simply order a drink or a snack at the bar and you can drink in the dreamy views from their terrace after a long day of sightseeing.
We hope this helped you suss out visiting Toledo from Madrid. If you have any further questions though, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Spain experts.