Our team of local experts has selected the 9 top tourist attractions to enjoy in Toledo during your stay.
One of the top problems for visitors to Toledo is to decide what to visit first. This can become a problem for day visitors to the city of Toledo. Toledo is one of the top day trips from Madrid and it is also included in a good number of coach tours to Spain. If you are going to spend 1 day in Toledo during your vacation in Spain and you are looking for ideas to ensure you make the most out of your time.
Toledo is an amazing destination and an open-air museum. a Unesco heritage site, Toledo is full of churches, or museums besides its top attractions. In the city of 3 cultures, the amount of heritage you will discover is astonishing. In this guide you will find our favorite attractions in Toledo. You will find special offers to enjoy guided tours, free tours, or to simply purchase tickets to some of the attractions. We also recommend you to have a look at this site with what we believe to be the best Toledo private tours from Madrid.
Our top attractions in Toledo
Santo Tome, Conde Orgaz Burial in Toledo
The highlight in this church is the celebrated Conde Orgaz burial paiting by El Greco.
The church of Santo Tomas in Toledo dates from the 12C. It was rebuilt in the 14C at the behest of Gonzalo Ruiz de Toledo, Lord of Orgaz. The main chapel and the Mudéjar tower date from this time. In the Capilla de la Concepción hangs the famous El Greco painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, 1586-8.
The burial depicted in the painting is that of a noble Spanish person, Don Gonzalo Ruiz. He died in 1323. Legend says two saints, Saint Stephen and Saint Agustine, descended to witness the burial of Don Gonzalo Ruiz . Don Gonzalo was a pious man and he seems to have left a generous amount of money for the decoration of the Church of Santo Tome. He received the title of Count, it seems, due to his noble deeds, amongst which we find philanthropy. Don Gonzalo was buried at Santo Tome.
In 1580 a project was initiated by a priest, Andres Nuñez, to refurbish the chapel where Don Gonzalo, the Count of Orgaz, had been buried. It was at this time when El Greco was commissioned the painting and the legend above mentioned explains the way in which El Greco designed this masterpiece.
Santo Tome was not the only church Don Gonzalo supported. He also contributed to the reconstruction of other parish churches, like San Justo, San Bartolome, and also the construction of the church of San Esteban at the Monastery of Los Agustinos. Don Gonzalo indicated in his will that he desired to be buried in Santo Tome, at the humblest possible chapel.
El Greco´s self-portrait
The priest who commissioned the painting, Andres Nuñez de Madrid, is portrayed in the painting (the priest in white) The two saints hold Don Gonzalo. Some important nobles from Toledo are portrayed in the painting, including the self-portrait of El Greco himself (the character whose regard looks at the spectator of the painting.
Is Santo Tome worth the visit?
Bearing in mind this is a very short visit and that includes the famous painting from el Greco, one of Toledo´s top attractions, we would strongly recommend getting this included in your to-do list whilst visiting Toledo.
The main reason to visit Santo Tome church is to enjoy the painting by El Greco, Burial of Count Orgaz. But the church can also be visited, it takes almost no time, and it offers certain interesting elements. From the outside, the tower of Santo Tome is an excellent example of Mudejar architecture in Spain. The use of bricks and the horseshoe arches that we find at Santo Tome´s tower are typical characteristics of Mudejar art.
Inside the church, there are other interesting works. The altarpiece dates back to the XVIth century. There is a fantastic marble image of the Virgin and three outstanding paintings from famous painter Luis Tristan. You will enjoy also two remarkable sculptures from Alonso Cano´s school.
Tickets and tours to enjoy the Santo Tome and El Greco burial of Count Orgaz
The entrance ticket to enjoy the church of Santo Tomas can be acquired as part of the Toledo card (it includes four of the top sights in Toledo). If the idea of a flexible card is not for you, you may decide to book a private tour with a local guide and request a customized tour where you will be able to influence the itinerary based on your interests and things you would like to enjoy in Toledo.
Sinagoga del Tránsito in Toledo
This synagogue is with no doubt one of Toledo´s top attractions. It represents part of the splendid palace commissioned in 1366 by the Jew Samuel Leví, treasurer of Peter I of Castile.
The Transito Synagogue also receives the name of the Synagogue of Samuel ha Leví since it was him who sponsored its construction.
The interior of the building is richly decorated. Along the entire upper part is a stucco frieze with psalms in Hebrew script, interrupted by coats-of- arms from Castile and León. These point to the protection given by Peter L The ceiling has octagonal wood paneling decorated with bows. Following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella gave the synagogue to the Knights of Calatrava.
Toledo is the city of 3 cultures and this top attraction, Sinagoga del Transito is good proof for this name.
Date of construction
The Transito synagogue was built at the time of Pedro I as king. The dates of its construction were between 1334 and 1369.
Who was Samuel ha Leví?
Samuel ha Leví was the treasurer of King Pedro I (known as “the cruel”). His family was an important Jewish family,the Abulafia family in the city of Toledo.
Samuel ha Leví served as administrator of an important Portuguese knight and his services became appreciated and he then started to work in different positions for Pedro I. He lived in a famous palace in Toledo known as the Jewish palace. Some critics of the works and influence of Samuel ha Levi have mentioned that despite he built the Synagogue he did not promote schools for the study of the Talmud. History has proved today that he probably had a very complicated life, with many enemies that aimed to obtain his position and who interfered with the King. Samuel ha Levi died in Seville and not in Toledo after having been tortured once Pedro I lost his trust in him.
We can get an idea of the influence and power of Samuel ha Levi in Toledo and Spain at that time if we consider that the Transito Synagogue was built as an extension of his palace and that this palace reached to the river Tagus: the palace was simply enormous! The only element of the palace that is left is the synagogue.
Is the visit worth it?
We believe this is a must-do thing in Toledo. Some expert local guides in Toledo our team has consulted mention that they believe the Transito Synagogue is the number two amongst the top attractions in Toledo only after the Cathedral of Toledo. The fact the Sephardic museum is hosted next to the synagogue makes it even more interesting.
Sephardic museum in Toledo
The museum is located next to the Synagogue and we stronglt recommend to pay a visit to its rooms. The museum has the official tittle of National Museum for Hispanic-Hebraic legacy. The museum was created in 1968 and has undergone several renovations since that time to adapt it to today´s needs.
The word Sephardic defines the Sephardic Jews that inhabited Spain and that suffered expulsion from Spain during the middle ages.
The collection of the museum holds a specialized library and many items of interest including marriage contracts, coins, liturgical items and much more.
Tickets and tours to Transtito Synagogue
Tickets to access the Synagogue and the sephardic museum are best bought online. They can be purchased from the Spanish cultural ministry website on this link.
You may also want to consider a private guided tour in Toledo. Private tours provide you with the option to customise your itinerary in Toledo based on your interests. We include here a link to a flexible private tour in which you can opt for 3 or 6 hours tour and request a tour based on your interests (for instant a selection of monuments to visit, or a specific focus in sephardic or jewish Toledo that covers in greater detail than a standard tour the Jewist district of the city.
Alcazar of Toledo
The Alcaza, one of Toledo´s top sights, is an impressive building facing the Tagus river in Toledo that has witnessed many wars and events.
The Alcázar of Toledo is the fortress that presides over the city of Toledo. Built at the highest point in the city it is currently is an important government building and contains the war museum of Toledo.
The witness of fires and wars
The massive structure of the Alcazar of Toledo stands at the highest point in the city. The current structure was first developed following restoration by the Christians, particularly by Alfonso VI and Alfonso X “the Wise”. At that time we find already the Alcazar with its square ground plan and four corner towers. During the XVIth century, Charles I commissioned the famous architect Alsonso de Covarrubias with the building of the eastern façade, with its plateresque portal and the Northern façade. The southern façade was built following the plans of Juan de Herrera.
The Alcazar burnt down in 1710 and during the French invasion, it was also burnt in 1810. It took a bit of time to rebuild the fortress and reconstruction started in 1862 and ended in 1882. But yet again fire destroyed the building in 1887, only five years after having been rebuilt!
At the time of the outbreak of the civil war, the Alcazar was occupied by the military Academy. In 1936 it was totally destroyed during the war and later rebuilt.
The most interesting architectural elements of the Alcazar today are the arcaded court with Corinthian columns and built-in two floors. The main facade is also of interest, with decoration in its windows and balustrades.
History of El Alcazar of Toledo
The Alcazar has been an important strategic location since the 3rd century AC, when the Romans built a fortress in the same location. The Alcázar was rebuilt under Charles I (also known as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor) and his heir Philip II during the 1540s.
Toledo has been a site of great importance to the history of Spain and the Alcázar was the political and military heart of the city. The city of Toledo was declared the capital of Spain in 1519 and remained as such until 1561 and during this time the Alcázar of Toledo was essentially the countries main government building. The Alcázar was the site where Charles I received the “conquistador” Hernán Cortés after he returned from South America having conquered the Aztec empire.
During the Spanish Civil War, the Alcázar was again a site of great strategic value and was used as a military base. The famous siege of the Alcazar is one of the important moments in the history of the Spanish civil war. Most of the fortifications had to be rebuilt after the conflict because of the damage the building received. The Alcázar was the focal point of an infamous siege during this time when troops loyal to General Franco barricaded themselves within the citadel and held of Republican troops for 2 months until re-enforcements arrived.
The Alcazar today: The Army museum
Paying attention to the history of this building, it comes as no surprise that today it holds an important army museum. The museum actually occupies two buildings: The immense Alcazar and a new building next to it. The building of the Alcazar is used to hold the permanent exhibition of the army museum. There are a total of 21 rooms or sections Thirteen of these sections are dedicated to specific collections from the army. The remaining eight collections are dedicated to illustrate a history through a time of the Spanish army and its military endeavors.
If the visitor had still time, the recently built building holds temporary exhibitions (besides administrative areas, an auditorium, library, cafeteria, stores, and the workshops where all the restoration work takes place.
Alcazar of Toledo. Is it worth the visit?
In our opinion, unless you are really interested in military history or you plan to spend more than two days in Toledo we would not recommend visiting the Army museum at the Alcazar of Toledo. The visit will take you at least three hours, too much time if you visit Toledo just for one or even two days bearing in mind all the other attractions Toledo offers.
Sinagoga de Santa María la Blanca
This large synagogue stands almost in the middle of a Jewish quarter on the Western side of Toledo.
Built at the end of the 12C, it was rebuilt after a fire in the 13C.
The interior of the Synagogue has five aisles, divided by horseshoe arches. The capitals are unusual, all being differently decorated with pine cones integrated into a geometrical arrangement. Around 1550 the synagogue was converted into a Christian church and three chapels were added to the end wall.
This Synagogue was the largest of all the ten synagogues that used to exist in Toledo before the expulsion.
In this guide to one of Toledo´s top sights, you will discover some anecdotes, like the reason for its name or why it looks more like a Muslim mosque than a synagogue from the outside. Learn in this guide all things needed to plan your visit to the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca.
Date of construction
The Synagogue was built during the XIIth century and the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca is one of the oldest buildings in Toledo (along with the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz. There is a visible inscription at one of the beams of the Synagogue that indicates the beginning of the construction in the year of 1180.
Architecture and style
The Synagogue is not a typical synagogue. To start with, it was built in a mainly Catholic territory at that time and by Muslim builders for the use of Jewish users and owners. This building in itself provides an excellent example to understand why we name today Toledo as the city of three cultures.
The building can be considered as a fine example of Almohad architectural style since due to the time it was built we call today Mudejar. The use of bricks instead of pillars and the decoration of columns with vegetation motives illustrate the Almohad influence.
From the outside, the synagogue could be described more as a mosque than as a synagogue (with the obvious detail that there is no minaret in the building) Brick, stone, and adobe are used in the façade and it Is in the interior where the visitor will probably be most surprised. There are 5 different naves all of them divided by horseshoe arches, the central nave being the largest of all them. There are a total of 32 pilasters and the overall impression, as already mentioned, is that of being inside a mosque.
History of the Synagogue of Santa Maria La Blanca
The Synagogue was one of the ten Synagogues that existed in Toledo. At the end of the XIVth century revolts in Toledo and other areas of Spain against Jews implied a reduction in that number. The ultimate challenge for Jewish culture came in 1492 when Isabella and Ferdinand requested the expulsion or conversion of the Jews that live in Spain at the time. Today only two Synagogues are still in place in Toledo: The Synagogue of Santa Maria de la Blanca and the Transito Synagogue. This last Synagogue holds an interesting Sephardic museum.
The other Synagogues of Toledo
As we have mentioned, up to ten Synagogues provided service in Toledo during the 14th century. Santa María la Blanca was at that time known as the New Synagogue (in opposition to the Old temple which it did not replace) Amongst the other ten Synagogues we find: Syanogue of Samuel Ha-Leví, Synagogue of ben Zizá, Sinagogue of Cordobes, Synagogue of Suloquia or the Synagogue of Algiada.
Only a few of the ten Synagogues survived the different pogroms that underwent the Jewish quarter. The 1391 pogrom was probably the toughest and most decoration and ornamentation elements of the Synagogues were destroyed (when not the whole building). Today it is not possible to place where most of these Synagogues were located. The Spanish government launched a project to offer Spanish citizenship to those descendants of Jewish families who were forced to exile in the XVIth century.
Following the history of the Synagogue, during the XVIth century, it was used as a beaterium for public women who desired to change their lives. And during the XVIIIth century, it was used by the army as barracks. Only in the XIXth century, it recovered as what we find today.
Which Synagogue is best to visit in Toledo?
This is not an easy question. Not everybody is the same and tastes differ. The ideal option is to visit both Synagogues! Having said this, we would recommend if there is only time for one Synagogue to pay a visit to El Transito Synagogue, which also hosts the Sephardic museum.
Convento de Santa Isabel de los Reyes
The patio del Laurel was modelled on the Alhambra and you will also find the Queens bedroom.
The Convent de Santa Isabel de los Reyes in Toledo, which takes in the Palacios de Casarrubios and Arroyomolinos, was established in 1477. This is not usually considered as one of the top sights in Toledo, but we believe it is an exceptional landmark for art and culture lovers. The two palaces were given as a gift to the convent by Isabella the Catholic. Preserved within are the Patio del Laurel, which is modeled on the Alhambra, and a few rooms, such as the dormitorio de la Reina (Queen’s bedroom). The courtyard of the sick-room, part of the Palacio Arroyomolinos, dates from a later period but is also in Mudéjar style. Integrated into the church is the former Parroquia de San Antolín, the Mudéjar apse of which survives.
The interior consists of a nave with a Gothic main chapel containing the tomb of Doña Inés de Ayala. This was made of black and white marble in the second half of the 15C. There is also a large Renaissance altarpiece of 1572.
Puerta de Bisagra in Toledo
The Puerta de Bisagra in Toledo is one of the gates of the City. It is the most famous Gate of the city and one of the top attractions of Toledo. The Gate of Bisagra, also known as the “New Gate” was first known as Bab al Sagra, a Muslim name that means Gate of Sagra (Sagra being an area outside of Toledo).
The Gate is located in the Northern part of the old city of Toledo, in an area not surrounded by the Tagus river. In 1540 construction was initiated to renovate this Gate. At that time, Charles I was King of Spain. The renovation was managed by the famous architect Alonso de Covarrubias, who was responsible for many projects in Castilla and also in Toledo (like the chapel of the Kings in the Cathedral Primada of Toledo). The renovation ended in 1576 and the structure at that time was similar to that of today.
The Gate was used for a long time as the point to collect taxes to the City. The Gate of Bisagra has been the main entrance point to Toledo for centuries and cars continued to use it today. In 1931 a number of buildings that were next to the Gate were taken down to prevent damage to the Gate.
While you walk through the Gate of Bisagra it makes sense to imagine artisans and merchants that arrived from outside the Wal-city and led towards Zoquodover square, where the main market was located.
This city gate is flanked by a projecting square tower. Two semicircular towers surround the main gate. The Gate of Bisagra contains the Coat of arms of Charles I