Only have one day to visit either Cordoba or Toledo. Pros and cons?
I would opt for Toledo...One of my favorite places in Spain....From Madrid it is 1/2 hour on the AVE train, Cordoba is about 1 1/2 or more hours, so your time in the city will be greater. Both have great sites mind you, but Toledo is more interesting to me....it has more to offer in total. Cathedral, Military Museum in the Alcazar, the many museums and other churches and historical sites...all can not be seen in a day, but many can. Cordoba is more level, Toledo is on a hill/mountain...
It may depend on where you will be the rest of your time. If in Madrid, then Toledo is an easy 30 minute commuter train trip. If in Sevilla, then Cordoba is about 45 minutes by AVE. Cordoba is also on the AVE line between Sevilla and Madrid and makes for an easy stop between cities; whereas Toledo is on a dead-end of the commuter line, so you'd have to backtrack.
Both are fabulous cities. Cordoba is most famous for the Mezquita, perhaps the greatest (former) mosque in the world. It is breathtaking in its architecture and has an amazing surprise inside (it is now a cathedral). The rest of the city has a wonderful old town with narrow winding pedestrian streets, some great churches and a Jewish quarter. Not as much a destination for art. You'll see more of the Andalusian culture and food.
Toledo is the Medieval capital of Spain before the Reconquista and has a fantastic blend of Moorish, Jewish and Catholic architecture and culture. The cathedral is spectacular, as are the other churches and historic sites. Lots of El Greco art in the museums. A more scenic setting as the city is on a hilltop. It also has narrow winding pedestrian streets.
They are both great cities to visit but my vote would be for Cordoba. The Mezquita is fascinating (go early in the day to avoid the crowds) plus we had some great meals there. We loved the Cordoban Gazapacho (salmorejo) and the tapas at Bodegas Campos. We had a great stay at Hotel Gonzalez.
You really can't go wrong with either one but Cordoba is the city I'd return to.
They're both real, working cities.
Unfortunately, too much of Toledo is smothered under tourist gloss and the real stuff is hard to find in a short visit.
We spent 2.5 weeks in Spain last spring and the highlight of the trip was Cordoba. The Mezquita is just jaw dropping. We loved the Alhambra and the Alcazar in Seville, but the Mezquita is still the thing we remember most.
You can see our visit here: (http://janettravels.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/the-mezquita-at-least-the-catholics-had-the-good-sense-not-to-destroy-it-when-they-desecrated-it/)
Although Cordoba would repay a longer visit, you can visit the historic areas around the Mezquita and the Mezquita itself in an afternoon. We did it as a day trip from Seville, but it could also be done from Madrid.