Destinations, Experiences, Spain

How touristy is the historic city of Toledo in Spain?

On a crisp winter morning of Christmas eve, I landed in the majestic city of Toledo by bus from Madrid. The bus journey was pleasant and took almost an hour, passing through miles and miles of farmlands.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1980s, it was the captivating history of Toledo that first drew my attention to the city. However, when I looked up images and videos of this historical town, I was dismayed by the sight of narrow lanes packed with tourists jostling for space. And why not? A destination of such historical significance as well as classic beauty would certainly be touristy. So, how to immerse in the charms of Toledo without fighting for a breathing space? Just time your visit well!

If you avoid spring, summer, and the beginning of autumn season, you can, more or less, enjoy this picturesque city in peace. Try to make it to Toledo between end-October and the beginning of December to avoid the chilly weather, but if you don’t mind a bit of chill and rain, winter is the ideal time when crowds thin out after the Christmas market is over. Although I visited the city during the Christmas season, I was spared the seasonal rush due to covid-19 travel restrictions.

The “Imperial city” of Toledo is located in the banks of the Tagus river. The crystal clear river gushing around the city is quite a sight to behold!

Passing the iconic Puente de Alcántara, the medieval bridge across Tagus, the bus entered the walled city.

Toledo has been a hotbed for sword-making since the 5th century BC. Naturally, my first stop was a sword shop. It was the next best thing I could do since the workshop or factory was closed at the time of my visit. The huge collection of swords and daggers made of Damascus steel was quite impressive. It is such a pity that sword-making is a dying culture due to lack of its utility in the modern world. The artisans have long since diversified into kitchen knives and souvenirs to sustain their once-thriving business.

I was lucky to get a first-hand experience of Damescening, the Moorish art of inlaying gold or silver threads into black steel in a decorative pattern.

The store had plenty of gold-inlaid jewellery and artifacts that were created using this technique unique to the region.

Toledo, once a historical capital where Charles V, Holy Roman emperor of Spain, used to hold his court, the Roman influence in the city’s architecture was quite evident.

Interestingly, Toledo is also known as the “city of three cultures” because of the confluence of the cultures of three distinct religions – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. This was noticeable across the city, it’s labyrinth of winding lanes leading to different cultural sectors marked by metal plaques embedded in the streets.

The maze-like winding paths, combined with a dazzling array of churches, convents, fortresses, synagogues (Sinagoga del Tránsito is one of them), and mosques (like the Cristo de la Luz), can be quite overwhelming for a first-time visitor.

A street singer was busy entertaining tourists with popular Spanish and English numbers. He provided a refreshing break from my over-enthusiastic, non-stop marching around the old town.

Tired after walking up and down the narrow lanes for almost half a day, I headed for Plaza de Zocodover, the main square and the venue of the Christmas market, to gorge on some local Christmas delicacies.

Exiting the square, I passed an archway and came upon the statue of Miguel de Cervantes, the writer of an epic Spanish novel that was published in two parts in early 1600s. The protagonist of the novel, Don Quixote, was an eccentric knight with a misplaced notion of chivalry. Incidentally, since the plot of this epic novel was set in the small town of El Toboso, a province of Toledo, the city has honoured the novelist by constructing his life-size statue.

After exploring the old city, I headed towards Mirador del Valle, also called El Mirador Toledo, the most scenic spot in Toledo, to get an epic view of the city.

After enjoying spectacular views of the city, I took a brisk walk to the bus station which was around 2.5 km away. From there, I boarded the evening bus back to Madrid.

If you are travelling with children, senior people or a person with disability, you could explore Toledo by the tourist train “Toledo Trainvision that offers a 45-minute panoramic view of the city with a photo-stop at Mirador del Valle. The train departs from the Plaza de Zocodover.

Although my visit to Toledo was a day trip from Madrid, if you want to get more of this majestic medieval city, you could choose from a variety of accommodations, from hostels and airbnbs to boutique and luxury hotels, depending on your budget.

Besides the bus service from Madrid Plaza Eliptica to Toledo, which happens to be the cheapest, you can take the high-speed train from Madrid Atocha station to Toledo. There are many trains that depart from Atocha station for Toledo on a daily basis. The journey takes about half an hour. There are also full-day guided tours in tourist buses that pick up passengers from their respective hotels in Madrid in the morning and drop them back in the evening. However, these tours are on the steeper side and completely time-bound.

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