The Scenic Route Around the Ancient City of Toledo, Spain
When visiting Madrid, it is very common to take a day trip to Toledo, which is the old capital of Spain. You should definitely do that, and in fact, I would encourage you to stay over a night or two. For the photographer, Toledo is an absolute wonderland. It is an ancient city, abandoned as the capital before the New World was even discovered. It is so historic the entire town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Narrow streets, old buildings, and ornate cathedrals are just some of the things you will find here.
You don’t even have to go inside the walls of the city to get great shots. In fact, some of the best shots may be of Toledo from across the river. Toledo is protected by the River Tajo on 3 sides in sorts of a horseshoe shape. On the other side of the river, there is a road with multiple vantage points overlooking the city. It is so impressive that artists going back to El Greco have sought to capture it. You can see El Greco’s masterpiece View and Plan of Toledo at the El Greco Museum in Toledo, and you will see that many of the buildings in that painting from 1610 are still present today!
The road is several miles long, with stone bridges crossing the river at either end. There are multiple overlooks with places to stop. In this article, I will show you some of the best places to capture shots of Toledo.
What to Bring and When to Go
As with most outdoor photos, sunrise and sunset are the best times to go. In the days I was there, conditions were best for photography in the late afternoon (mornings were rainy) so all the shots you will see here were taken within an hour of sunset.
When you go, the main thing you will need is a wide angle lens. I do not normally shoot with my widest lens, but in this case I rarely took the 17-40 mm lens off my camera, and much of the time I was shooting at the widest angle offered by the lens. In fact, on occasion even 17mm wasn’t wide enough. For example, the shot at the top of this page is actually 6 shots stitched together in Photoshop – each shot at 17mm. Be sure to bring your wide angle lens.
Some people will want to shoot details and they should bring their telephoto lenses as well. There is not much call for anything in the middle.
1. Puente de Alcantara
This route starts at the eastern bridge crossing into Toledo, called the Puente de Alcantara. You could easily spend half a day in this spot alone. This impressive bridge dates back to Roman times. In addition to the stone bridge crossing the river, the Alcazar (the huge ancient fortress with the four towers) looms above you.
There is a small parking lot right near the bridge and a walking path. There are a few old ruins along the river as well. Park and walk around for a while. You will find a variety of different shots or angles to choose from.
When it is time to move on, you can actually take the walking path (shown on the left hand side of the picture above) on the entire route around Toledo. I don’t recommend it (particularly not while carrying a bunch of photography equipment), but the path does extend all around the city. You could walk up to the Mirador del Valle though, which is about a mile (all uphill). You will see a lot of people walking this route, but I recommend driving.
2. My Favorite Spot
I actually spent a lot of time going up and down this road looking for the best spot to capture Toledo. I climbed up higher and went down the hill a little lower. I came at several different times of day. I was staying at the Parador de Toledo, which is nearby, so it was easy for me to frequent this road. After doing so, I found that the spot I liked best was on a switchback of a little path leading off the road about 100 yards/meters down from the Mirador del Valle (which will be discussed in a second).
There are a variety of different shots you can get from this location, including the overall view of Toledo (at the top of this page). What is great about this location is that the angle allows you to include much of the river in the foreground and to use the river on the left side of the frame. I think it is the best spot for capturing Toledo, and it isn’t where most people get their shots.
Park near the coffee shop at the Mirador del Valle and walk down to the first path you see on the left. You will see the path wind all the way down to the river, but you need only go a few feet down to get some great shots.
Once there, you will have the place to yourself. Spend some time here and you will be rewarded with some great shots. When you are done, just walk back up to the Mirador del Valle for the next spot on our tour.
3. Mirador del Valle
The Mirador del Valle is the spot where everybody goes to get their pictures of Toledo. If you look at the map above, you will see several little x’s designating scenic overlooks on this short stretch of road. It is very common to see tour buses at the overlooks and each spot will be crawling with people taking selfies. Before you scoff at that, there is a reason everybody comes here to get photos. It is a pretty great spot.
It is easy too. You will find lots of parking along the side of the road and in small lots. It is all flat and paved with stones. There is even a little shop to get coffee and drinks.
4. Puente de San Martin
After the Mirador del Valle, the road winds around for a while and actually takes you away from the river. It returns to the river at the ancient stone bridge called the Puente de San Martin. This bridge was built in the 1200’s and the towers were added in the 1600’s.
Sitting above the bridge is a monastery called San Juan de los Reyes. Between the bridge and the monastery, this is a great place for pictures. The bridge is pedestrian-only and it is worthwhile to walk across it, if nothing else to tour the monastery.
Like the Mirador del Valle, it is a famous place and there will likely be a tour bus or two present (along with a lot of tourists). There is actually a zip line crossing the river here, so you will need to break out the healing brush or clone stamp tool to remove it from your pictures.
Of course, touring this road and getting shots of Toledo is just one aspect of your visit to Toledo. But it might be the best part of the trip. The views are incredible and the pictures you generally see of it simply do not do it justice. If you are ever headed to Madrid, be sure to get down to Toledo. It is only 30 minutes by train or about 45 minutes by car, and is well worth it.