Toledo’s Architecture Is More Impressive Than Madrid, And That’s Not The Only Reason To Visit

It’s hard to believe someone would go to Spain and choose a city other than Madrid, but Toledo is well worth the detour.

When people think of cities to visit in Spain, they often think of the two great modern cities of Madrid and Barcelona. But these aren’t the only stunning cities in Spain – and to see stunning old Spanish architecture, they might not even be the best. The old Spanish capital, Toledo, has been a World Heritage Site since 1986 and is known for its dramatic and extensive monumental and cultural heritage. It is located in central Spain, not far from the modern capital Madrid (see here for a weekend trip to Madrid).

History of Toledo

Toledo has a rich and deep history. It is known as the “City of Three Cultures” due to its historical influences from Christianity, Islam (also known as the Moors) and Judaism. In just a few meters you can see a beautiful Gothic cathedral, a mosque from the 10th century and two synagogues.

It was once the main center of the court of Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor and was the capital of the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain from 542 to 725 AD after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.

About Toledo

After entering the city wall, you are faced with a maze of streets in the old town.

  • The goals: Three old gates of the old city walls are still in use – the Sol, Cambron and Bisagra gates
  • Cultural heritage: Mixture of Christianity, Judaism and Islam
  • Population: 83,000

Today this small town is teeming with some of the best and most impressive architecture in Spain and is a must for anyone visiting Spain.

  • How long to spend: One day is ok, 2-3 days are better
  • Distance from Madrid: 70 kilometers or 44 miles

Toledo is easy to get to, just 70 km from Madrid and connected by high-speed train in around 30 minutes. Its historic center features some of the best medieval architecture around.

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Here are some of the city’s biggest highlights:

Santa Cruz Museum

Once a monastery, this has now been renovated and is a cultural site that hosts some of the most important temporary exhibitions in Spain. The museum consists of both the old Hospital de Santa Cruz and the Santa Fe Monastery.

Mosque Christ of Light

This old mosque stands over a thousand years old and is still in use. It is in fact the oldest monument in the city and one of the most important landmarks in Spain that shows its Islamic past (there is much more Islamic heritage in Granada). There were once 10 mosques in this city, but today this is the last one that is still standing. It is reminiscent of the Great Mosque in Cordoba.

  • Last: Last mosque of 10 in Toledo

Old Jewish Quarter

Right next to the Cristo de la Luz mosque is the old Jewish quarter with its old cobblestone streets. Both synagogues have their seat here, namely Santa Maria La Blanca and El Transito. The latter is now the Sephardic Museum – Sephardic Jews are the Jews from Iberia – Spain and Portugal, as opposed to other Jewish groups such as the Ashkenazi Jews.

  • Day trip: Visiting Toledo is an easy day trip from Madrid


Like so many cities across Europe, Toledo is home to a magnificent cathedral. This Gothic style work of art was erected between 1226 and 1493 on the site of a much older Visigoth church. This beautiful cathedral houses some valuable paintings, including; Van Dyck, Goya, El Greco and Luca Giordano. Not only does it house art, but the building itself is a work of art. Admire the impressive chapels of Nuevos Reyes, Santiago, the Mozarabic Chapel, and more.


The history of this city goes back to the Moors and Visigoths. In Alcazar you will find a site that was once a Roman fortress. It became a fortified palace and was significantly renovated under King Charles I of Spain. There is a lot of history in this building. During the evil, brutal and destructive wars that devastated Spain during both the French invasion and the Spanish Civil War, the Alcazar was destroyed. But luckily it was rebuilt later. Today it is the Army Museum and Military Facilities.

  • Alcázar: Alcazar is one of the most famous landmarks of Toledo

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San Martin Bridge

Another Toledo attraction is the stunning San Martin Bridge, the original bridge was originally built in the mid-14th century.

  • Top: The San Martin Bridge is a great place to watch the sun go down

Food and eating tips

Here the hungry tourist will find a selection of classic Spanish and Mediterranean dishes such as carcamusas, cochifrito, migas or mazapanes. Enjoy the food with the best beer or the best wines in Spain.

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About the author

Aaron Spray
(210 articles published)

Aaron is a firsthand traveler who has visited more than 70 countries around the world. He loves to travel and open the world to other intrepid explorers.

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