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Toledo vs Madrid - question about how days in each. please advise

We will be heading to Spain in early May and still have some flexibility in our itinerary. From reading posts on this forum and others and from our own previous travel experience we were thinking about spending 3 days in Toledo and 2 in Madrid before heading to Seville and other cities in Spain.

It seems that many people make Toledo just a day trip, but from all I've read it seems that there is so much to see exploring the city at a more leisurely pace, especially in the evening when all the tour buses depart. In previous trips to Europe we have enjoyed the local flavor of smaller cities, but Toledo seems to offer so much history we thought 3 days would be fine. I've also ready that many people use Madrid as a base but also spend more time there.

I realize this is subjective but if anyone can provide some insights and suggestions on more time in Toledo vs Madrid I would appreciate it.

Thanks in advance

Posted by
21032 posts

It is personal opinion but think there is much more in Madrid than Toledo. I would do an overnight in Toledo but two nights would be more than enough for what we saw. You would just begin to touch Madrid in three days.

Posted by
1994 posts

I spent about a week in Toledo and didn't run out of things to do. My interests are art, churches, history, and wandering in interesting neighborhoods. I spent four days in Madrid, which allowed me to do the things of most interest to me. I certainly could have happily spent more time in Madrid. However, when I return, I will probably distribute my time in a manner similar to my last trip.

Posted by
918 posts

Toledo is pretty hilly and compact while Madrid is flatter and much larger. We went to Toledo as a day trip and I don't feel like we missed anything except experiencing the town at night. We took the "train" around Toledo and had some great views from across the river. The cathedral is fantastic. There is so much to do in Madrid that I don't think 2 days is enough. The Prado and the palace will easily fill a day in Madrid. Then you have the plazas and parks as well as other museums to easily fill 2 more days. Iwould spend 2 in Toledo and 3 in Madrid.

Posted by
12172 posts

Toledo is a small and very quaint medieval town. Madrid is a very large, relatively more modern megalopolis. I like Toledo more than Madrid, but one full day is enough to see Toledo. I spent 2 nights there (arrived late evening before a late dinner and departed to Madrid early morning after the second night) and don't regret it, because Toledo at night, when all day trippers and tour groups are gone, is even better. Spend at least one night and a day in Toledo. If you prefer smaller towns to big cities, spend two nights like I did, so you have truly one full day in Toledo. Three or four nights in Madrid is enough. Just my opinion of course.

Posted by
4522 posts

You are certainly getting a wide range of opinions. I'm one that isn't that taken by Madrid. I love the art museums and I can spend a day just walking around, but I would much rather spend more time seeing Toledo at a more leisurely pace. I personally find there is much more to see and do in Toledo.

There are a lot of smaller museums and historical sites in Toledo that most people spending a day or even just one night overlook. I will admit I'm not as impressed with the restaurant scene there and there aren't as many great café spaces to just sit and people watch. But for sites and history, Toledo wins in my book.

Posted by
169 posts

Thanks for all of your replies and suggestions. I think our inclination is to spend more time in Toledo and take our time. A day trip seems way to short, but was hoping 3 days wasn't too long. I realize that it's a short trip by train, so we can always go back to Madrid earlier. One last question, we will be traveling in May. i see there is frequent train service between Madrid and Toledo. Is there any need to buy these tickets in advance ? Our plans were to buy them the night before - unless it suggested to get them earlier.

Posted by
21032 posts

No reason to buy in advance other than to take advantage of any available discounts but that locks you into a fixed schedule.

Posted by
12172 posts

I haven't been in many years, but the train connection was aboard a "Cercania" (Regional Suburban Commuter) train, therefore I don't even think you can reserve in advance. It was like a suburban subway train like it exists in many American cities (like Caltrain in SF). Trains were more modern than you typically see in the U.S. I remember that in the early morning going back to Madrid it was full of office commuters wearing business casual or business suits.

Posted by
1878 posts

The best plan would be to have one full day and two nights in Toledo. Toledo is a nice town, and I wished that we could have squeezed in an overnight on our 2005 trip (we only did a day trip). I had previously visited on my own on the tail end of a tour in 2001, and it's very magical at night. That said, Madrid has so much more to offer, and I recommend that you allocate your time accordingly. I spent five or six nights in Madrid on my 2001 trip, which really let me get to know and love the city. I regretted that on our 2005 trip, we stayed five nights but a lot of time was taken up with day trips, which great as they were, did not allow me to show my wife the city as much as I would have liked. Train and bus connections are frequent, so don't worry about that.

Posted by
169 posts

Thanks once again for all of your suggestions and advice. I'm glad we allowed for some flexibility in our planning that will permit us to spend some extra time in either Madrid or Toledo before heading for points south in Spain. Since we are arriving in Madrid (and ultimately) departing from Seville we will spend the first 2 nights in Madrid, the next 2 in Toledo - possible a 3rd day if we really feel we need it, then back to Madrid for one more day since we need to get back there to catch the train to our next destination.

Posted by
4522 posts

Re: buying your train tickets, you can buy them in advance from the RENFE site but there is no need. You will not get a discount. And it is the high-speed AVE train now.

I do recommend buying them in advance by a day or so just because lines at Atocha can be very long and you don't want to miss the train you are planning on. Occasionally the last trains of the day from Toledo to Madrid can fill up, but otherwise you can just buy that ticket when you are ready to leave town.

As with all AVE trains, you must board more than 5 minutes before departure time. You will have to go through a metal detector, but nothing as intense as at airports.

Posted by
12172 posts

I think it's best if you go to Toledo immediately upon landing, and return to Madrid later, that way you save a hotel change. Also Toledo might be easier for adjusting to the time zone. That's what I did, and I even flew into Madrid in the early evening (coming from Italy). You can take a bus to the Atocha station and go to Toledo from there.

Posted by
11798 posts

Personally I'd prefer to see el Prado as a day stop (it's a short walk from Attocha station) and skip the rest of Madrid.

I consider Toledo to be Madrid's medieval center. Toledo was the capital before it was moved to Madrid. Since the medieval center of a European city is my favorite part, it figures I'd just as soon skip Madrid.

El Prado is the exception because it's a world class art gallery. Other than that I find Madrid's museums, palace and cathedral skipable. Madrid has nice parks, but I prefer history. I did like Temple Debod, which was transported from Egypt.

Generally Madrid's food and lodging choices are more expensive and not as good as virtually anywhere else in Spain.

Posted by
405 posts

I also prefer Toledo to Madrid, for me it's a preference for smaller towns over big cities. Toledo, with its mixture of Christian, Jewish and Arab heritage, is one of my favourite places in Spain and I return there repeatedly because I have a good friend that lives nearby. The cathedral is spectacular. I was very impressed with it. If you are a fan of El Greco stop by the Church of Santo Tome and view the famous El Greco painting there. As has been said on this forum many times Toledo is quite enchanting at night. One of my favourite memories is walking through the streets at night in December with the town all lit up with Christmas lights and snow on the ground. Another time I was there for the feast of Corpus Christi and that too was impressive. The whole town was decorated. When is your trip? Toledo is just a wonderful town for ambling through its narrow alleys and discovering its treasures. Make sure you see all of the different gates (puertas) to enter the old town all lit up at night. They are very photogenic. I think market day is on Tuesdays and maybe Saturdays but the TI can tell you. If you are there on market day you can check that out. It is outside the old walled city, right by the TI across from the Bisagra Gate. Since you are considering more time in Toledo I am going to make a day trip suggestion for you to consider. About 65 kilometres outside of Toledo is the very small town of Consuegra with its windmills and castle ruins on the hillside. Look up images of Consuegra. If you are up for an adventure, take the Samar bus (Samar.es) to Consuegra for a visit to this site. It is about an hour and twenty minute bus ride and the round trip ticket costs about 9 euros. There are multiple busses per day and the schedules can be found in English on the Samar website. It's also an easy drive through the Castilla La Mancha countryside if you have a rental car. You can walk right up to the windmills once you are there and then have lunch in the town below.

Posted by
1572 posts

Among the smaller museums you should check out if you have more time in Toledo is the Victor Macho near the Transito synagogue museum. And if you actually read the wall signs in the exhibit inside the Transito, you'll have a better understanding of what was going on during the Taifa period, which will help you make sense of what you see in the later part of your trip.

Posted by
169 posts

All of your comments have comfirmed our original inclination. Thanks to everyone that has responded and offered their thoughts and suggestions. We arrive in Madrid, so will spend almost 2 days there, and then 3 days (and nights) in Toledo. We have the option of spending either another day in Toledo or catching an early train back to Madrid for more time there - before heading for the train station and our next stop.