A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Toledo is a medieval town surrounded by the Tagus River and usually done as a day trip from the Spanish capital city of Madrid. The city is also known as the City of Three Cultures due to the influence of the Christians, Muslims and Jews over the course of its history, and an interesting fact also being that Toledo produces blades, and you can see such shops dotted all around the small town.
For most, Toledo provides a respite from the big city hustle of Madrid, and feeling like you're exploring the alleys of a medieval town a world (and time) away, with stunning views of the compact town perched atop a hill and seemingly fortified by a river circling it.
How to Get to Toledo
Like most of Europe, many places are connected by rail, and this will be the most straightforward and easiest way to get to Toledo.
A short train ride in about half an hour from Madrid's rail hub of Atocha costs approximately €20 for a return ticket.
Many travel guides and blogs advise pre-booking a seat on Renfe's official website, but in the busy summer month of July for tourism, we had no problems nabbing two return tickets on the day of.
The only issue we had here is that we arrived at the station after 9am, and wanted to catch the next departure at 10:20am, but were unable to get seats and had to settle for the following train an hour later.
This wasn't an issue for us as we weren't in a rush (you are in Spain after all), so if you're really running on a tight schedule, the furthest I'd go would be to buy tickets a day or two before.
Renfe's official website is not the most user-friendly in the world, so I wouldn't bother booking tickets like these months in advance online.
Getting to the Town Centre from the Train Station
Here's where it gets slightly tricky.
The train station is situated on the plains, and the actual town centre you want to be at is perched atop a hill, so you've got a couple options here.
Many travellers take guided tours of the city on coaches, and waiting just outside the train station will be a bunch of taxis, as well as the official Hop On Hop Off City Sightseeing Buses we're used to seeing in every city.
We opted for the latter, which cost us over €20 per person.
If you'd like to walk, this is absolutely possible, but it'll take a while before you reach the town centre, not to mention you'll be on an uphill. This might be fine, relaxing even, in the cooler months, but in the heat of summer, that might require a bit more effort. But the city has kindly installed a bunch of escalators travelling up under shelter, though you'll still have stretches of pavement to pound on your own. This should take around 40 minutes.
What to See & Do in Toledo
1. Toledo Cathedral
Toledo boasts a grand Gothic Cathedral, and is the beating heart of Toledo's attractions.
Previously used as a mosque, construction began all the way back in 1227, and wasn't completely finished until the sixteenth century.
This was included in the City Sightseeing Bus ticket, and were dropped off right outside the Army Museum (Museo del Ejército), where we were told there would be someone meeting us at a square to take us to our tour.
Remember that we arrived in Toledo just before noon, and were told at the train station that there would be a tour of the Cathedral at 1pm and that we would be in time for it.
Just shy of 1pm, we got off the bus where we weren't told where to go.
I asked the bus driver where we were supposed to head, and he set us off in a general direction and we were on our way.
Instructions weren't clear, and us (and a few others) were left to our own devices.
I decided to do what made sense to me, which was head to the Cathedral, assuming at 1pm there would be a group there.
We made our way up and down the narrow streets, and eventually found ourselves at the Cathedral's ticketing office, where I was told this was not the meeting point and we couldn't redeem a ticket either as they couldn't use our receipt for the bus to give us entry tickets.
Instead, we were sent off another way to look for the City Sightseeing Office, where we rushed and arrived 10 minutes after 1.
The lady at the counter told us we'd just missed the group, and that we'd have to catch up with them down the street and gave us a green sticker to place on our shirts, so we'd be identifiable as part of the group.
Finally, we'd made it.
So if you're looking to take this option, head to City Expert Toledo's office at Plaza Solarejo, 8 which is the official gathering point, if you can't find the ladies (which I now believe are at Plaza de San Agustin) at the City Sightseeing stand in the middle of the square, a short walk from the drop off point.
Regardless, we weren't the only ones who only managed to join the group after they'd set off, so I do think directions need to be a bit clearer, as not knowing where to go in a town you've never been before and trying to make it in a certain time frame can be frustrating.
And now, the Cathedral.
Yes, it was stunning and one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture with French influences.
Without an audio guide or an official guide to point out the nuances of the architecture and sculptures and engravings and their meanings though, I find just about every cathedral looks similar. And if you're part of a bigger trip through Spain (and Europe), seeing so many cathedrals kind of takes away the magic. So I'd highly recommend getting a guide for the Cathedral in some form.
2. Mirador del Valle (Scenic Look Out Point)
Without the bus, getting here will be quite the upward trek on foot in the summer, but once here you'll be rewarded with unparalleled views of the city seemingly standing on its own island thanks to the River Tagus and the valley.
Where the City Sightseeing Buses drop off passengers is also where several other coaches drop off their tour groups, so if you'd like some peace and the view to yourself, head up or down the other way away from the central look out point.
The view here (and the view to get up here) was absolutely stunning on a clear summer day with not a cloud hanging over the town and clouding up the skies.
Another famous attraction is the El Greco Museum (Museo del Greco) which houses the works of famed Renaissance Painter El Greco, but I chose to skip out on this as I've been to the Prado Museum in Madrid where you'll see some of his works on display too.
Truth be told, I'm more into natural sights than art on canvas, and I didn't fancy paying more to enter another museum I wouldn't be able to fully appreciate or enjoy, but if you're into that, be sure not to skip out on the museum!
4. Getting Lost in the Streets
This was my favourite thing to do.
Yes, it's perched on a hilltop, but the town centre of Toledo isn't that hilly, certainly not like a 'pueblo blanco' in the south of Spain in the region of Andalusia, or a city like Lisbon.
Walking around and getting lost in the streets was part of the fun, and the further you get away from the Cathedral, the bigger the incline becomes, but you'll also get away from many of the crowds (there are many, many day trippers on top of tourists staying overnight in Toledo), and you'll have all these beautiful medieval streets all to yourself.
5. Visit the Old City Walls and Bridges
The Purte de Bisagra is a beautifully restored stone gate which is the original gateway into the city, and gives you an idea of the grandiose of the medieval era.
For stunning views of the River Tagus running below and around the medieval city, head to Puente de San Martin for jaw dropping views.
And thanks to FlyToledo, if you'd like to zip line across the River Tagus, you can!
What to Eat in Toledo
Toledo's historic city centre may be small, but thanks to the large influx of travellers, restaurants are everywhere, and many are pretty decent, including the popular restaurants of Bar Ludeña, Restaurante Nuevo Almacén, Restaurante Taberna El Gallo Toledo, cosy Spanish bar and pub Tornerias etc. which are all located in the city centre within minutes of each other.
We opted for Restaurante Pizzeria COMES as we needed a break from the tapas crawl, and had a good pizza here.
What I Liked and What I Didn't About Toledo
Apart from Toledo, Segovia is another popular day trip from Madrid, and is also a town famous for roasted suckling pig, and while I would've liked to have done that, it was almost €50 for a return for one, so we decided to skip over that.
If you're looking for a city break, Toledo is a great place to spend a day, and I can see how some might choose to overnight in Toledo, but that'll depend greatly on the kind of traveller you are.
Toledo is pretty small, and I can't imagine there's much to pack in an itinerary of 2 or 3 days.
I loved that Toledo felt like such a medieval city even in summer 2018.
I thought the novelty of old Spanish towns would've worn off on me thanks to the day trips I used to take when I lived in Barcelona 2 years ago, but Toledo still absolutely has its charms, and the views thanks to its geographic position were pretty unique.
My only gripe would be that the town centre around the cathedral can feel a little overrun by tourists, but given we were also on a day trip, I guess we can blame ourselves for that too.
If you get the chance to at the end of the day, absolutely do Toledo.
These views are absolutely worth it.
From my trip to Spain this summer, I've turned some of my photography into my brand of everyday products which you can check out below. Worldwide shipping is available so if you're looking for a tote bag or postcard to take home to remember your travels if you too have been to these parts of Spain, and if you'd like to support this passion project of mine, look no further!
View the full product catalogue at the shop here.
When in Seville, we went on a walking tour to get ourselves familiarised with the city.
I've fallen hard for walking tours after this summer, and I'm so glad I went on 2 in Spain alone.
Across the Guadalquivir River lies the neighbourhood of Triana, so called the neighbourhood of gypsies and outcasts, where inhabitants used to identify as being from Triana before Seville.
The draw of Triana though, apart from the flamenco flair, is Calle Betis, the riverfront promenade lined with restaurants and bars which turns into a hotspot in the evenings.
In the sleepy late afternoon though, the buildings shine in the sun as workers of each restaurant start slowly setting up for a busy evening ahead.
View the rest of the collection here.
The stereotypical view of the white villages of southern Spain (los pueblos blancos) includes white houses, narrow pebbled streets barely wide enough for vehicles to pass through, and the flowering bougainvillaea poking through the houses.
Frigiliana made all the pueblos blancos views I had in my mind manifest in real life.
It was stunning on every corner, but from where we parked at the foot of downtown, we had to scale a number of steps to get up to the town centre, and halfway up we saw these bougainvillaea growing out of the walls with the beautiful town in the background which was absolutely stunning and this is where I took this photograph.
View the rest of the collection here.
Barcelona wasn't on the itinerary this summer, but as you can imagine I have plenty photos from my stint 2 years ago.
One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Barcelona is El Born, which is basically the Gothic Quarter except lined with local boutiques instead of kitsch tourist souvenir shops, which lends itself to a really nice bohemian atmosphere.
Not to mention some of the best tapas bars in the city can be found here, which is a major plus.
El Born's also where you get all the beauty of the Gothic Quarter, and I particularly like the doors and façade of shops and houses here.
So here's a photograph of a coffeehouse in El Born, and I think this is quintessential Barcelona in a photograph.
View the rest of the collection here.
When I lived in Barcelona, there were quite a few vintage clothing stores around, and this in particular was a chain of them— Flamingos Vintage Kilo. I would always walk into these stores even if I wasn't looking for anything in particular for the vibe of them. Everything about them just felt so damn cool. In this shop, I stumbled onto an area where there was a collection of vinyls, and there really is something about vinyls for me and the way they are packaged. There was no way I was leaving this store without at least a snap on the camera.
Street art wasn't hard to find during the time I lived in Barcelona, Spain. But this by the side of a building in the town of Tarragona an hour away from Barcelona was by far the most elaborate I saw. The mural represents a celebration of Spanish culture.
Andalucia in Spain may be famous for its whitewashed hilltop towns, but I got a slice of that in Sitges in Northeastern Spain, Catalonia. The streets in winter were almost completely empty save the odd resident or two going about their daily business, meaning we got to explore the entire town almost to ourselves that day.
In a city surrounded by hills and mountains, we took a bus up to Tibidabo, one overlooking Barcelona which featured a theme park and church at the top. I took this of the ferris wheel at the Parc d'Attracions Tibidabo.
We stumbled onto this vantage point over the town of Tarragona just south of Barcelona when we found ourselves exploring the Roman ruins downtown. The best part of travelling around in winter is that for the most part, we had all these incredible sights to ourselves.
During my very first trip to Barcelona, Spain, we headed to the beaches of the city in the district of Barceloneta. On a clear day, the sun brought the crowds in droves; friends playing beach football or volleyball, joggers taking in their morning ritual, groups of families and friends strolled along the promenade, and beachgoers getting out their towels and getting their best tan on. Whilst making my way down the boulevard, I managed to get this clear shot of these two palm trees right next to each other, and made me think of partners— two peas in a pod.