Toledo: Madrid’s Favorite Day Trip
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Okay, fine, I don’t have any statistics on Madrid’s actual favorite day trip, but when you ask the locals and guiris of Madrid for the best place to spend a day outside of the city, Toledo is almost certainly the first name to roll out of their mouths (soon followed by Segovia). As an UNESCO World Heritage site, the capital of Castilla-La Mancha, and a fascinatingly historical town just seventy kilometers from Madrid, Toledo makes a fantastic trip out of Spain’s capital for any local, expat, or tourist.
A quick peek on Wikipedia (where else?) reminds me that Toledo has existed since the Bronze Age and flourished under the Roman Empire. After the city was conquered by the Moors in the 10th century, it experienced a period of peaceful co-existence between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and today the influence of the three distinct cultures manifests itself in the architecture that has remained. Since then, Toledo has remained an important site for culture, politics, and now tourism.
I got the chance to visit Toledo twice: the first in February 2010 when my mom and aunt were visiting, and the second in November 2012 with two college and auxiliares de conversación buddies. After climbing the hill from the train or bus station up to the old city, here are a few things you must do while in Toledo.
1. Get lost
I firmly believe that the best way to see a new city is to simply begin wandering on foot without any specific itinerary in mind and get lost within the tiny streets. Toledo is a particularly good place to do this, as much of its charm comes from the little things you’ll stumble upon along the way.
2. Try the marzipan
Toledo is famous for its mazapán (sweet almond paste that in Spain is usually shaped into little figurines), often (supposedly) made by nuns in Toledo’s convents. You’ll find it everywhere.
3. Visit the unique shops
Even if shopping isn’t quite your idea of a good time, you’ll find beautiful crafts, interesting souvenirs, far more swords than you’ll ever need, and quirky shop owners. On my second visit there, we spotted some creepy marionettes in one store window and then found ourselves listening for maybe thirty minutes to the eccentric owner telling us all about the personalities and interests of each of her marionette friends that she believed were alive. She also didn’t hesitate to tell us which hideous doll we resembled most. Flattering.
4. Check out the views
Because old Toledo is perched atop a hill, you’ll find no shortage of gorgeous views as you overlook modern Toledo and Castilla-La Mancha’s sprawling countryside and hills. Take a seat on an ancient wall and simply admire the view for a while.
5. See the important monuments
After you’ve lost yourself within the city, pick up a tourist map and make sure you’ve at least taken a glance at Toledo’s most significant monuments. The city boasts a beautiful cathedral, synagogue, bridges, fortress, churches, museums, and tons more.
To get to Toledo from Madrid, you can easily hop on a train from Atocha station, which will cost you €12.50 one-way and take about half an hour. If you’re in no rush and hoping to save money (as is the case with most expats I know), the bus from Plaza Elíptica will cost €5.63 each way and get you there in an hour. Trains and buses run all day, but consult schedules on Renfe.es and Alsa.es, respectively, to confirm times and availability.