At the back of Toledo Cathedral, behind the altar, there is an elaborately decorated skylight in the ceiling. Angels float around its edge, ushering in a beam of sun that blasts through, brightening the cavernous area.
It is a highlight (no pun intended) of what is considered to be one of the finest Gothic buildings in Spain – and one of the most magnificent churches in the world.
There’s no doubt that visiting Toledo Cathedral is one of the top things to do in Toledo. Enormous and filled with ornate decorations, it would be easy to spend hours seeing everything and appreciating within its walls.
But beyond the grandeur, it’s the story behind the building that is perhaps the most important thing to appreciate, because it really symbolises the history of Toledo.
From the outside, Toledo Cathedral is not nearly as impressive as it is inside – surrounded by other buildings in this dense hilled city, it’s hard to find a viewpoint to get a good perspective.
And that’s because Toledo was never planned properly from an urban perspective. Much of it these days just feels like it’s been placed on top of something else.
In fact, Toledo Cathedral – which was started in 1227 – was built over the top of a Muslim mosque which, in turn, had been built over a small church from the sixth century.
Rather than being a symbol of oppression and conquest, I think it speaks volumes to a city where religion coexisted for a very long time.
Toledo has a history of diversity and tolerance that is quite rare in this part of Western Europe.
Christians, Muslims and Jews all lived together in Toledo for hundreds of years.
It’s true that often one of the religions exerted more influence in the city than the others, but this was normally a matter of politics and economics, not religious persecution.
And that’s what you’ll discover when you visit the city and explore the main sights in Toledo. There’s a blend of religion and culture here that is both subtle (because it’s so intertwined) but also marked (because the different faiths are contrasted by being so close to each other).
With so much history in such a small historic centre, you’ll learn a lot more with a guide – and I would recommend this excellent tour of Toledo.
Many people will visit Toledo as a day trip from Madrid and, because it’s close, you can fit in most of the highlights. But with so many layers, I recommend staying at least overnight to explore more of the things to do in Toledo.
It’s too easy to wander the streets and admire the architecture and think you have seen the city. But it’s the hundreds of years of history here that make it so significant.
It’s the ebb and flow of religions that are so special, and the relative peace in which they let the tides turn. Even today, that tolerance is not common everywhere in the world. There’s something to be learned from Toledo.
And even beyond the main landmarks in Toledo, this is a fun city with lots of activity – and great food and wine.
In some ways, Toledo is a perfect Spanish city for a visitor for a couple of days. Not only do you get to explore all the heritage and cultural sights (most within easy walking distance) but you can have some amazing meals.
If you’ve got a car, you can also see some of the other sights around La Mancha, such as those that tell the tale of Don Quixote.
I certainly recommend seeing more than just these three sights, but as you start to plan your time in the city, perhaps plan your itinerary around these top things to see in Toledo.
Together, they show you the historical significance of Toledo, from the capital of the Visigothic kingdom, to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in the 16th century, and the seat of a powerful archdiocese for much of its history.
I know I’ve already talked a little about Toledo Cathedral, but you really can’t say too much about this sight – it’s a true masterpiece.
It feels enormous inside, which is not a surprise when you hear the measurements – 120 metres long, 60 metres wide and 45 metres high. 88 interior columns support the roof, and there are large stained glass windows in the upper sections of the walls.
Close to the entrance is an impressive choir gallery that fills the central axis. And a bit further in, the enormous altarpiece of gilded wood is an artwork in its own right.
One of the most impressive churches in Spain, Toledo Cathedral also has a fantastic art collection that feature works from artists like Velázquez, Goya, and El Greco.
Smaller chapels around the walls protect even more artworks and beautiful displays.
To make sure you don’t miss any of the highlights, you can book this guided tour of the cathedral, which includes your entry fee.
On top of the main entrance fee, you can pay a little extra to go to the upper level of the cloister and the bell tower for sweeping views across the historic centre.
Toledo’s Alcazar is one of those fabulous destinations that caters to history buffs and architecture enthusiasts.
This impressive fortress has a rich history dating back to the Roman era and has served various purposes over the centuries. As you explore its walls and towers, you’ll find a fascinating blend of architectural styles, from medieval to Renaissance.
The highlight of the Alcazar is the military museum, which houses an extensive collection of armour, weapons, and memorabilia.
You can also climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views of Toledo, giving you a unique perspective of the city’s layout and its stunning surroundings.
Monastery Of San Juan De Los Reyes
The Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes is a tranquil and awe-inspiring site, known for its beautiful Gothic architecture.
Commissioned by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile to commemorate their victory at the Battle of Toro in 1476, it’s a remarkable blend of Gothic and Mudéjar styles, featuring intricate carvings and a stunning cloister.
Inside the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, you’ll discover a peaceful courtyard surrounded by stunning arcades, while the church itself is a work of art, with an intricately decorated ceiling.
Don’t forget to explore the crypt below, where you can view the final resting place of the Catholic Monarchs.
As I walk away from the cathedral and through the streets, I find myself winding my way around corners, climbing steps, dipping down to a lower terrace, and occasionally hitting an unexpected dead one.
If it reminds me of the old medinas of Morocco, that’s no coincidence. These streets (better described as alleys probably) were laid out by the Muslims from about the eighth century.
Glance through a doorway into a house and you’ll likely see a beautiful oasis of a courtyard inside, similar to the riads of North Africa.
Bridges and gates
Walking through Toledo is like stepping back into medieval times, its numerous bridges and gates only adding to its enchantment.
The Puente de San Martín, with its impressive arch and medieval towers, is one of the city’s most iconic bridges. Strolling across it is like taking a journey into a George R.R. Martin fantasy realm, offering breathtaking views of the Tagus River.
Another notable structure is the Puente de Alcántara, a Roman bridge that has withstood the test of time. Its arches and solid stone construction are a testament to ancient engineering.
Toledo’s city gates are equally captivating. In particular, the Puerta de Bisagra, a grand entrance to the city, features a stunning mix of architectural styles that showcases the city’s rich history.
Iglesia de San Ildefonso
This charming church is often overlooked by visitors, but it’s a hidden gem of Toledo.
The Iglesia de San Ildefonso, also known as the Jesuit Church, is a Baroque masterpiece with a stunning façade that features intricate carvings and sculptures. The interior is equally impressive, adorned with exquisite altars, frescoes, and gilded decorations.
One of the highlights of this church is the beautiful dome, which provides a serene atmosphere for prayer and contemplation – don’t be surprised if you leave with a sore neck from looking up the whole time!
Mosque of Cristo de la Luz
The Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, another of my favourite hidden gems in Toledo, is a remarkable example of Moorish architecture. Originally constructed in the 10th century, it is one of the few remaining mosques from Toledo’s Islamic past.
As you enter this small but captivating structure, you’ll be struck by its intimate and peaceful atmosphere. The horseshoe arches, delicate stucco decorations, and the play of light filtering through the small windows create a wonderful sense of serenity.
The unique history of the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, from its Islamic roots to its conversion into a Christian chapel, adds an extra layer of fascination to this architectural gem.
One of my favourite ways to explore a new destination when I arrive is to take a city tour. And in Toledo, with so many layers and such a deep history, it’s a great way to get your bearings.
Knowledgeable local guides will be able to offer you historical context and fascinating anecdotes to bring the city to life.
If you’re coming as a day trip from Madrid, you can have all the logistics organised for you with one of these recommended tours:
During a city tour, you’ll have the opportunity to visit key landmarks and the guide will share some awesome tips on other things to see and do in the city.
Slightly downhill, on the western side of Toledo’s historic centre, is the Jewish Quarter. Even if you weren’t exactly sure what you were looking for, you would know when you are here by the small tiles throughout the streets with Jewish symbols like the menorah.
While the Jewish quarter doesn’t feel remarkably different to the rest of the city, it does have its own story and traces of history.
There are two old synagogues you can visit and plenty of other historic buildings. I would recommend learning a bit more about the area before you visit or going with a guide to really appreciate the significance of this neighbourhood.
Synagogue Of Santa Maria La Blanca
One of the most important things to see in Toledo’s Jewish Quarter is the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca, an architectural masterpiece that is an excellent example of the city’s diverse heritage.
Built in the 12th century, it originally served as a synagogue for Toledo’s thriving Jewish community. What makes it unique is its Mudéjar design, which blends Islamic and Jewish architectural influences.
Walking into the Synagogue of Santa Maria La Blanca, you’ll be struck by the stark, whitewashed interior, which is beautifully adorned with horseshoe arches and intricate stucco work.
Constructed in the 14th century, the Synagogue of El Tránsito is another splendid synagogue that boasts intricate plasterwork, carved wooden ceilings, and stunning inscriptions.
No longer an active house of worship, it now hosts the Sefardí Museum, another significant site in Toledo’s Jewish history.
Visiting the Sefardí Museum allows you to delve deep into the story of the Jewish heritage, with exhibits that explore the history, culture, and traditions of the Sephardic Jews who once lived in the city.
Santo Tomé Church
Also, I recommend you don’t miss Santo Tomé Church, which is home to one of the foremost paintings from the Spanish Renaissance: El Greco’s The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.
Upon entering, you’ll find yourself standing before El Greco’s masterpiece, an artwork that tells a story of divine intervention and honours a local nobleman. The detail and emotion captured in the painting are breathtaking, making it a must-see for art enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
Aside from its famous artwork, Santo Tomé Church itself is a beautiful example of Spanish Gothic architecture, with its impressive nave and stunning altarpiece.
In some ways, the whole city feels like a living museum with important historical sights around every corner.
But visiting the actual museums in Toledo draws you even further into the captivating heritage of the region – I would particularly recommend the intimate art museums that seem to have been frozen in time.
Santa Cruz Museum
Toledo’s Santa Cruz Museum is a cultural treasure trove that allows you to explore the city’s rich history and art. Housed in a beautiful Renaissance building, the museum features a diverse collection of artefacts and artworks.
As you wander through the museum’s galleries, you’ll encounter everything from Roman mosaics to medieval armour, as well as Renaissance paintings and religious artefacts.
The Santa Cruz Museum is a comprehensive journey through Toledo’s past and an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the city’s significance in Spanish history.
El Greco Museum
If you’re a fan of the famous artist El Greco, a visit to the El Greco Museum is a must.
Located in the house where the artist lived and worked during his time in Toledo, this museum displays a remarkable collection of his paintings, sculptures, and personal belongings.
Walking through the El Greco Museum, you’ll gain insight into El Greco’s life and the evolution of his artistic style.
His dramatic and emotionally charged works are a testament to his talent and the influence of Toledo on his art.
Victorio Macho Museum
The Victorio Macho Museum is a hidden gem of things to do in Toledo that showcases the works of Spanish sculptor Victorio Macho.
The museum is housed in the sculptor’s former home, offering a unique opportunity to explore his works and gain a deeper understanding of his artistic journey.
Inside, you’ll find a collection of sculptures and drawings, many of which depict Spanish historical and cultural figures
The Victorio Macho Museum‘s serene garden and terrace also provide stunning views of Toledo, which is a nice little bonus!
Speaking of views, one of the best ways to enjoy Toledo is from afar – or, at least, far enough way to take in its magical spire-filled skyline enveloped by the Tagus River.
I definitely recommend finding some time to find a different perspective, and these are a few of the best.
Mirador del Valle viewpoint
For one of the most beautiful panoramic views of Toledo and its picturesque surroundings, head to the Mirador del Valle viewpoint.
Located just a short drive from the city centre, this viewpoint offers a breathtaking vista of Toledo’s medieval skyline against the backdrop of the Tagus River.
Visiting this viewpoint at different times of the day offers a variety of experiences and you might even want to come back several times during your stay.
Watch the city’s monuments and buildings light up at dusk, or enjoy the tranquillity of dawn as the first light touches the ancient city walls. It’s an ideal spot for photographers, romantics, and anyone looking to appreciate Toledo’s beauty from a different angle.
Hot air balloon
If you’re looking for an unforgettable way to experience Toledo’s stunning landscape, consider taking a hot air balloon ride. Soaring high above the city and its surroundings, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of Toledo’s historic sites, rolling hills, and the meandering Tagus River.
As you float through the morning sky, you’ll witness the city come to life with the rising sun, casting its golden glow on the ancient buildings below.
This hot air balloon tour even includes a tasty brunch and a glass of cava to celebrate your unforgettable flight.
Food and drink
While every part of Spain has its own food specialities, Toledo in particular has made a name for itself in recent years for its dining scene.
Whether it’s the traditional dishes done better than ever, or the new Michelin star-rated restaurants pushing the boundaries, you’ll have no shortage of options for some great food in Toledo.
Toledo’s culinary scene is a delightful blend of Spanish and regional flavours, offering a unique taste of Castilian cuisine.
Be sure to try Toledo’s famous roast suckling pig, known locally as ‘cochinillo’. This dish is cooked to perfection, with crispy skin and tender meat, making it a culinary highlight.
Another must-try is ‘carcamusas’, a flavourful stew with a tomato-based sauce, typically served with chunks of pork and vegetables.
Also, look out for the manchego cheese, which is a delicious speciality of the surrounding La Mancha region.
If you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience in Toledo, the city has a number of restaurants that have been recommended by the Michelin guide, offering a combination of traditional Castilian dishes and innovative culinary creations that make for a memorable gastronomic journey.
Iván Cerdeño is the city’s beloved 2-star restaurant but you should also look at La Orza, Tobiko, and La Cabala for exceptional experiences. These dining establishments excel in presenting the finest local ingredients in creative and delicious ways.
And, even beyond those ones, I found quite a few other excellent restaurants that I would recommend as the best places to eat in Toledo, with fine dining degustations that have remarkably affordable lunch options.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN TOLEDO
There are gorgeous heritage hotels in Toledo’s historic centre, but accommodation is a bit cheaper outside the walls.
As well as a beautiful rooftop area, Oasis Backpackers’ Toledo has friendly staff and a good location.
Although it’s outside the town walls, Hotel Los Cigarrales is a little gem and includes an outdoor pool.
A gorgeous two-bedroom apartment, Boutique D’Argent has modern touches within a heritage building.
The former palace of an empress, Eugenia de Montijo exudes opulence right in the heart of the city.