Off the beaten path in Toledo, Spain

Toledo Spain Cover

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.

Puerta de Bisagra

Puerta de Bisagra

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.


Cathedral of Toledo

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.


Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes

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.


Picturesque Puente on 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.


Toledo’s Alcázar

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.


Museo Santa Cruz3

Museo de Santa Cruz Gallery

Museo santa Cruz

Outside the entrance of Museo de Santa Cruz

Museo Santa Curz2

Look up! (Museo de Santa Cruz)

Have you encountered initial disappointment with a destination?

How did you you make it better?


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8 Responses to Off the beaten path in Toledo, Spain

  1. Savi of Bruised Passports October 22, 2014 at 10:09 am #

    I love love love Toledo and it’s good to know I’m not alone. Great list of suggestions – have you explored the countryside around Toledo? It’s lush!

    • Ryan October 27, 2014 at 6:38 pm #

      I’m so glad you love it too! No, I haven’t explored the countryside. Are there trails for hiking or other activities?

  2. Mindi @ 2foodtrippers October 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    I’m not good with touristy crowds either. Your suggestions for a picnic and stroll away from those crowds are right up my alley.

    • Ryan October 28, 2014 at 5:44 am #

      I’m happy you agree. I’m so curious to know what tasty bites the 2foodtrippers would pack for a Spanish picnic?

  3. Chanel | Cultural Xplorer October 28, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

    Lovely photos Ryan! I opted to visit Segovia instead of Toledo when I visited Madrid, so thank you for taking me there so I get a chance to see it through your travels 😀

  4. Jenny | A Thing For Wor(l)ds October 29, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    When my parents came to visit me during my study abroad year, the first place we went after they arrived in Madrid was Toledo. (My only time on the AVE, too!)
    Here’s the gist of my memories of Toledo:
    It’s raining. Family can’t decide where to eat. Dad acts like we’re throwing away the family fortune when we want a menu del dia instead of a cheap slice of pizza. Dad doesn’t understand Spanish, insists that a private-looking entryway to the Cathedral is completely legit, and ends up CRASHING A SPANISH WEDDING as he makes his way through a crowd wearing tuxes, dresses, and holding rice. Turns out, that was the priest’s private entrance, and they were hosting an after party for the couple. There’s only one entrance for tourists, dad, and you chose the wrong one.

    Absolute verguenza aside, I still liked Toledo, although I agree, much too touristy.

  5. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) October 30, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

    Glad you were able to make the most of what started out as a disappointing day! I say you can’t go wrong with medieval architecture, though 🙂 Great photos; love the ones from the gallery!

  6. paula gardner November 4, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

    So nice to meet you at Tbex Ryan and great to finally check out your blog. Loved the photos and am totally with you on just wandering the streets and letting yourself get lost.

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