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Historic City of Toledo

By Heather Arbour

What is the Historic City of Toledo? 

Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Spain just 30 minutes away from Madrid. It’s a little city on a hill, and its rich history can be felt the second you step off the train. 

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Looking up at the gothic spires on a church.

Why is Toledo a UNESCO World Heritage site? 

In 1986, Toledo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. The UNESCO World Heritage website states, “Toledo is the repository of more than 2,000 years of history.” This stems from the fact that it was an important city first to the Romans, then to the Visigoths, then the Emirate of Cordoba, then the Christian kingdoms who opposed the Moors and made it an imperial city for a time.

All of these civilizations left their mark on the city, particularly in terms of art and architecture. Over time, elements of styles from different periods and different religious traditions merged to create a “Mudejar” style “which combined the structural and decorative elements of Visigothic and Muslim art” according to UNESCO, even when constructed by and for Christians and/or Jews.

Toledo’s mix of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures creates a unique history throughout the town of Toledo. Toledo itself is surrounded by a wall around the entire city, and when wandering the streets, you’ll come across snippets of all three cultures coexisting within the city walls.

A mudejar style building.

What can you expect on a visit to the Historic City of Toledo?

Toledo is the perfect town to visit from Madrid. We were taken right back in time walking off the train and stepping into the streets within the city walls. Or rather, I should say, once we stepped off the train, and made our way through the touristy gimmicks, we felt we were stepping back in time. 

Passing into the city walls, we saw cobblestone streets, beautiful buildings with the architecture from all three main cultures, and windows filled with historic artifacts. Traditional food is served at many different restaurants, from all three cultures, so find something you fancy most. 

To give an idea of how the three major religions coexisted for a time, take a look at these religious buildings, just a sampling of the more than 100 monuments in Toledo:

  • The Church of Santo Tomé (14th century) in Mudejar style
  • The Church of El Salvador (9th century), originally a mosque
  • The Cristo de la Luz mosque (10th century), now a church, but little changed
  • The Sephardic Museum in the Synagogue of El Tránsito (14th century): a medieval masterpiece
  • Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada (13th century) in high gothic style

And be prepared to see one of the most remarkable sunsets around. You won’t be watching the actual sun set, but instead watch the lighting on the buildings of Toledo slowly light up when the natural light fades. This is by far the best part of visiting Toledo, in my opinion. 

View over Toledo at sunset.

Is Toledo worth visiting? 

If you’re in Madrid, I think that Toledo is well worth the visit. It’s the perfect escape from the city, and the train ride through the countryside is beautiful.

The mix of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish cultures adds a very unique architecture to the entire city, making the buildings range drastically in design. 

What sorts of travelers would like the Historic City of Toledo? 

The Historic City of Toledo is the dreamiest date idea for couples. I definitely recommend grabbing some wine and heading across the river to watch sunset to end a date in the city! 

For those traveling with kids, it’s also a great place to visit, as there are old swords and body armor that would excite most kiddos out exploring the city. 

Travelers who are interested in architectural design would also be super intrigued by a visit to Toledo. 

Tips for visiting the Historic City of Toledo

I definitely recommend wearing walking shoes for exploring the city, as walking is the way to truly appreciate the city within the walls. With all the walking, I also suggest bringing a water bottle. The tap water in Toledo is drinkable, so you can fill it up as you need throughout the day. 

My last suggestion, and maybe the biggest one, is to plan a full day in Toledo if visiting as a day trip from Madrid. We only went to Toledo for half a day, and we really wished we had gotten there early in the morning to have more time exploring the city. 

Or you could stay overnight in Toledo to experience the city when there are fewer tourists around.

You might also enjoy other UNESCO sites not too far from Madrid like the Old Town of Segovia or the Walled Town of Cuenca.

Where is the Historic City of Toledo? 

The Historic City of Toledo is also known as Toledo, Spain. It’s located just 72 km (45 mi) outside of Madrid. 

If driving, expect about an hour’s drive to Toledo down a main highway. Once you arrive, you’ll have to pay for parking, which runs around 20 euro a day. Remember, the heritage site is a city, so it’s similar to other European cities in that sense. 

Compare rental car prices here.

With that said, I recommend taking public transportation to Toledo. The train ride from Madrid is about an hour, and is a beautiful ride through the countryside. The train will drop you right in the heart of Toledo, so it’s the perfect form of transportation. When we visited, the train cost was just over 20 euro per person. 

For more information about the Historic City of Toledo UNESCO World Heritage site, its opening hours and admission fees, see the Toledo tourism website (in Spanish, use Google Translate).

Text and photos provided by Heather Arbour of ArboursAbroad. Heather is a full time travel writer with experience living and traveling the United States in a camper van as well as 2.5 years of living in a van traveling through the United Kingdom and Europe. She and her husband currently live in a van in the United States with their cat, Georgie, traveling and finding nature escapes all over the western United States while sneaking in trips abroad when they can. Find Heather, her husband, and their traveling cat on Instagram @ArboursAbroad and @vantrails

Have you been to Toledo? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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