When I first arrived in Spain about one year ago, I thoroughly explored my new home, Madrid, and settled down into my work schedule before itching to travel once more. I had spent much of my first month in Madrid with new friends, colleagues, and the jamón-loving Madrileños (I even lived with one). Feeling a little burnt out from work and commuting, I knew that a relaxing weekend alone to reflect and refresh was just what I needed. It sounded like the small medieval town of Toledo in the famous Spanish countryside of Castilla-La Mancha (home to Cervante’s Don Quijote) would fit the bill.
I travelled solo to Toledo, Spain in order to collect my thoughts, recharge, and even write a bit. When I arrived from Madrid via the AVE (high speed) train, I was not expecting the hoards of tourists filling the narrow streets and lining up to see every historical attraction. It’s silly that I didn’t know better. First of all, it was a warm and sunny blue-sky day in October. Second, Toledo happens to be the most popular day trip from Madrid and is boasted in every guidebook.
My initial reaction was excitement mixed with disappointment. On one hand, I rounded the fortress-like city walls that lead to a fairy tale archway to enter the town. On the other hand, I was shoulder to shoulder with the crowds of tourists getting off big coach buses and heading straight for the visitor’s center and the alcázar (fortress turned military museum). These were the same people lured into the restaurants by English speaking promoters with over-priced lunch ‘specials’ on offer. Then they likely followed lunch with an audio tour of the cathedral, picked up a souvenir post card, and finally loaded back on the bus.
That is definitely not my style.
Don’t write off Toledo just yet! Luckily, I am not usually one to follow others and instead tend to follow my instinct, which is usually to find a good photo opp. Although the stereotypical tourist is an inevitable sighting in most popular sights of the world, I still enjoyed an inexpensive and authentic day in this wonderfully historic city. Here are my top tips for a visit to Toledo that will take you off the beaten path and leave you happy you did so.
My Take on Toledo
TRANSPORTATION: Don’t take the bus. The AVE train doesn’t cost much more and will take you there in half the time (30 min). At just 20 Euros for a round-trip ticket, you get to experience Spain’s famed high-speed train and the beautiful architecture of Toledo’s train station.
PANORAMIC VIEW: Start with a panoramic view of the city. When you’re walking up Calle Perala, hang a right onto Paseo Merchán when everyone else turns left to enter the Puerta de Bisagra. A little way up this street you will see a small hill-top park that overlooks the countryside with spectacular views of the Alcázar and the historic village.
PICNIC LUNCH: Skip the restaurants with menus in English. Now search for a quiet spot with a view for your homemade picnic lunch. Planning ahead will save you money and time (most sights close around 6pm!).
EXPLORE: Wander the winding streets and allow yourself to get a little lost. Walk away from the crowds and find a quiet street to soak in the details: medieval architecture, vivid colors, and maybe even a stray cat. Also, consider a stroll along one of Toledo’s many beautiful bridges that cross the Río Tajo.
CULTURE: Of course, visit the Alcázar and cathedral, as they are both impressive. If you still have time I recommend the Museo de Santa Cruz because the beautiful interior only enhances the art. Take advantage of the FREE entry Wednesdays and Saturdays from 4pm-7pm and Sundays from 10am-2:30pm.
RELAX: It’s easy to get caught up in just checking off the different churches and museums. Make the time to sit at a café to order a café con leche and imagine living life in medieval Spain.