Catedral Primada, Toledo
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Catedral Primada, Toledo

© Creative Commons / Francisco Javier Martín

Toledo travel guide

With much of its city wall and many of its powerful gates still intact, Toledo has changed little in appearance since El Greco painted its higgledy-piggledy skyline four centuries ago.

Surrounded on three sides by the moat-like River Tagus (Rio Tajo), the medieval old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, perches on a small hill, and is one of Spain’s most photographed and visited places. To get a great overview of its spectacular setting, it’s worth heading first to the Mirador del Valle, just south of town and the river, from where there are wonderful panoramic views. Then take your time exploring the narrow alleyways.

Within the old city walls you'll find several grand buildings dominating the skyline. There’s the gothic-Flemish 15th-century Franciscan Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, with its ornate double-levelled cloisters, and Toledo Cathedral, the construction of which began in the 13th century. But the most striking building of all is the hulking rectangular mass of the Alcázar. Built on a site that was first fortified during the Roman era, it was converted into a palace by Emperor Carlos V.

All around these magnificent buildings, the streets are filled with trinket-stuffed shops, which are good places to look for the famous Toledan steel. Once considered the finest and deadliest weaponry in the world, wielded by Spanish heroes from El Cid to the Conquistadores, today it is more likely to be manufactured under Hollywood licence as the ‘official’ arms of countless swashbuckling blockbuster movies.

Despite the crowds, there are more than enough sights to accommodate all-comers and the labyrinthine streets mean that you can easily get off the beaten track in no time at all. If you can, stay overnight, when the city empties of day trippers and reverts to its quiet medieval atmosphere.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.