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Surrounded on three sides by the Tago River, Toledo is known as the city of the three cultures because of the strength of its Christian, Muslim and Jewish influences. Situated in central Spain in the region of Castilla-La Mancha, Toledo is one of Spain’s World Heritage Cities, and the walled Old Town is packed with history. There are so many cultural attractions in the city; here are the 15 that you just can’t miss.
It’s no surprise that UNESCO has named the historical centre of Toledo a World Heritage Site. It’s a fascinating mix of different styles and cultures, with churches, mosques and synagogues all sitting side by side. Enter through one of the many gates in the city’s ancient wall, such as the famously beautiful Moorish-style Puerta del Sol, and wander the narrow, cobbled streets. They’ll lead you to beautiful plazas, including the main Plaza of Zocodovar, the former site of an Arabic market that is still the centre of life in Toledo today.
The Cathedral of Toledo is often said to be one of Spain’s most beautiful, and it’s an excellent example of the Spanish gothic style. Construction started in the 13th century, and today it’s filled with incredible artworks by Caravaggio, Tiziano, Rubens and El Greco. Inside the cathedral, you’ll also see several hanging red hats. These are placed right above the tombs of bishops, ready for when they return to life.
Every panorama of Toledo is dominated by this imposing rectangular structure, which sits atop the city’s highest hill. A visit to the army museum inside gives a fascinating overview of the city’s varied past, from the Roman period until the Spanish Civil War.
Toledo is a city of many cultures and has been for many centuries. Even after the Christian reconquest, the Muslim and Jewish influences endured. The Jewish quarter is home to several important synagogues, such as the ancient Santa Maria la Blanca and the Trànsito Synagogue, a symbol of the fusion between the Jewish and Spanish traditions. At the Sephardic Museum you can discover the story of the Spanish Jewish community and their expulsion by the Catholic kings.
There are several sites around Toledo where you can discover the works of El Greco, the painter who famously spent much of his life here. You can find a collection of paintings at the El Greco house-museum in the Jewish Quarter, which was not the house of El Greco himself but is nevertheless a beautiful place to visit, with a tranquil garden and courtyard. You can also see some of El Greco’s works at the cathedral and the Church of St Thomas, as well as at the recently opened hotel Greco Rooms.
Explore Toledo’s Muslim past at this ancient mosque within the Old Town, an important monument that combines Moorish and Spanish traditions to impressive effect. It was formerly known by the Arabic name of Bab al-Mardum, named after the nearby gates of the walled city.
Another way to experience Arabic culture in Toledo is through the ancient tradition of bath houses such as this one. The Medina Mudejar Banos Arabes is still very much functional, and you can relax in the hot and cold pool circuit and enjoy a massage, as well as Arabic mint tea and biscuits.
The gastronomy of Toledo is rich and varied, incorporating flavours from the three cultures, as well as using fresh produce from the surrounding countryside. Some of the most famous dishes to come out of Toledo include suckling pig and las carcamusas, which is veal served in a vegetable ragout, as well as stuffed pears, manchego cheese and marzipan. The Old Town is full of small restaurants serving traditional food, such L’Abadia, which has a stunning location in the cellars of an ancient 16th-century house.
Toledo steel has been sought after for centuries, and in medieval times a Toledo sword was the ultimate mark of a great warrior. The weapons were legendary between the 15th and 17th centuries for their superior strength and durability. Today, they can be seen on display in armoury museums around the world. While in Toledo, stop in at Mariano Zamorano’s famous sword workshop, housed in what was formerly the royal stables. In the cramped workshop rooms, Zamorano and his highly skilled craftspeople still work in darkness and extreme heat as they forge and polish sword after sword, working in the very same style as was seen here hundreds of years ago.
The cultural centre of Toledo is not just a meeting point for artists but for the city’s young people as well. It organises all kinds of performances and exhibitions by local, national and international artists of all types.
After the day-trippers have gone home and night falls, you’ll see a different side to Toledo. By night, a walk around its labyrinth of cobbled streets become truly magical, and there’s no shortage of bars, pubs and clubs to discover on the way.
See Toledo from a different perspective with Fly Toledo, by flying over part of the Tajo River on a zipline. It might look a little scary, but it’s a short line and the speed is pretty low. You get your photo taken and a video of your ride included in the ticket price.
Get wrapped up in Toledo’s history with this new initiative. The Toledo Time Capsule is a wraparound cinema, with screens in front of you and on both sides, showing the story of the city and bringing its multicultural history to life.
Toledo’s most important festival is Corpus Christi, celebrated in May. It’s famous all over Europe for its solemn and atmospheric procession through the city, decorated with lanterns, wreaths and tapestries, while the streets below are strewn with flowers and aromatic herbs. Not to be missed.
To get the best panoramic photos of the city, head for the hilltop viewpoint at the Parador del Conde Orgaz and see the whole of Toledo laid out beneath you. It’s especially stunning at sunset, when the city’s oak-panelled buildings glow with golden hues.
Hungry after all that sightseeing? Check out the best restaurants in Toledo.