The hilltop city of Toledo, Spain, looks good from all angles. Climb high to look out over its rooftops and the snaking Tagus River, hunt for the secrets hidden under its streets, and admire its spectacular architecture as you get lost in its tangle of lanes. Known as “The City Of Three Cultures,” its buildings, place names and even local phrases all combine influences from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities who lived here over the centuries.
Despite the impressive number of things to see and do in Toledo and its status as a World Heritage Center, the city is a popular spot for day trippers as it’s just a 30-minute train journey away from Madrid. But why rush? Linger a little longer on a Toledo city break to learn more about the place that was once the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom and the Imperial capital of Spain.
Toledo’s blend of three cultures is shown in its food as well as its buildings, with game dishes and hearty stews, saffron, Manchego cheese and marzipan being local specialties, complemented, naturally, by excellent local wine.Head to Bar Ludeña for lunch. This traditional tapas bar is popular with locals as well as tourists so arrive early to grab a table on its terrace or to people watch from the bar. Make sure you try carcamusas, slow-cooked pork in tomato sauce with peas.
El Trebol is another excellent tapas spot. Relax on its terrace early evening with a glass of wine or beer and some bomba trebol (potato stuffed with meat and peppers with aioli and spicy tomato sauce). Make sure you take a peek into the building as the bar is in an old Muslim Fortress and the glass flooring shows the archaeological excavation below.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, treat yourself to a marzipan creation. Toledo marzipan has its own PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) and is made in many convents across the city. You can find it in various outlets in the center, including the Café de las Monjas, whose window display of dolls dressed as nuns making the confectionery will make you smile.
One constant if you head to Toledo is that you’ll invariably get lost in its narrow, cobbled streets. But this is not a bad thing as you might stumble upon a shrine with an image of the Virgin Mary inside. Legend has it that if single women post a pin here, they will soon find their ideal partner and get married.
And, there’s history hidden in some unexpected places, too. Koker, a clothing boutique on Calle Alfonso X el Sabio, lets you admire Roman ruins through the glass floor.
Make sure you find your way to Toledo’s Jewish Quarter. The area was once home to 10 synagogues, with two surviving, both with magnificent Mudejar architecture (combining Christian and Moorish traditions). The Santa Maria la Blanca synagogue is the oldest and has elaborate carvings on its white and gold soaring pillars, which are separated by arches. The Sinagoga del Tránsito is home to the Sephardic Museum, which gives an overview of the history of Jewish communities in Spain.
The El Greco Museum is also in the Jewish Quarter. Here you can learn more about the Greek painter who spent much of his life in Toledo as well as admiring collections of the artist’s work and a recreation of his living quarters.
No city guide to Toledo would be complete without detailing the best spots to look down on this grand walled city from above. Don’t skip Toledo’s Alcazar, a stone fortress that was built on the highest point in the city. Today it’s a military museum and its top-floor library is free to visit. An alternative vantage point is the tower in the Iglesia de los Jesuitas church. Climb up its steps and emerge to a 360-view over Toledo’s rooftops.
Parador de Toledo
For a stay with a view, cross the river Tagus to the Parador de Toledo. This hotel’s terrace is one of the best places in the city to sit with a drink while watching the sunset, and to see the Imperial City’s buildings illuminated at night. Retreat on a lounger by its pool, or in one of its wooden beamed rooms where history meets comfort.
Hotel Boutique Adolfo
If you prefer staying in the thick of the action, hotels don’t come much more central than Hotel Boutique Adolfo which overlooks Plaza de Zocodover. Part of the respected Adolfo restaurant group, eating here is a highlight and there’s a roof terrace where you can enjoy a drink while watching the city below.