For a day trip from Madrid, I recommend Toledo over Segovia.
Both Toledo and Segovia make a great day trip from Madrid. From Madrid, both the medieval cities can be reached in under an hour by train.
If the question is Toledo OR Segovia your choice will depend on; what you are looking for and how long you expect your trip to last. My vote is for Toledo as I believe that Toledo has more history and cultural significance than Segovia.
Why Toledo over Segovia?
Toledo scores on historical aspects
Toledo is the best among the two it reflects the Spanish history including the three cultures i.e. Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic. Segovia is also a fantastic place to visit. Although it’s quite shallow on historical aspects compared to Toledo, it is rich in natural beauty and gives such breathtaking views. Also, there are lots of breathtaking sights in Toledo and you can choose to visit the synagogues as well as the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.
Toledo is easier to reach than Segovia
Getting to Toledo is much simpler and faster as compared to Segovia. When you board a fast train from Madrid's Puerta de Atocha, you will only take approximately 33 minutes to get to Toledo. On the other hand, to get to Segovia, you will need to take a bus from Principe Pio which will take you around one and half an hour to get to your destination. Nevertheless, you can also opt to take the high-speed bus which you will have to access it at the farther north at Charmartin Station. This will take you approximately 28 minutes to get to Segovia.
Accessibility at Segovia is much easier, but Toledo attractions are more diverse
Once you get to the destination, it is easier to navigate to the destinations at Segovia than Toledo. However, the diversity of attractions makes the effort worthwhile at Toledo.
At Segovia, the sites of tourist interest are nicely placed on an easily walk-able 20 minutes stretch, starting from the Aqueduct at the near end of town to the Alcazar at the other end. Thus, when you are looking for thespian of knights and kings and castles, Segovia is the place to be.
Toledo is harder to get around as compared to Segovia. Toledo is more sprawling and more confusing. It is quite a hilly city, and there will be more climbing than walking. You will find the topography quite challenging if you plan to cover a lot in the one day you have, or if you are not fully fit and able. However, once you get your bearings, you will find that attractions at Toledo are diverse and intersting.
Highlights of Toledo
The Cathedral of Toledo – Art and Gothic
The Cathedral of Toledo has over the years been cited as the pinnacle of High Gothic architecture in the entire Spain. You will definitely love the artwork carved and painted on every square inch of this place. The cathedral is worth a visit. It is always open from Monday to Saturday for 10h-18h30. The opening hours during public holidays and Sundays are 14h-18h30. Entry fee is only €7 entry.
The Alcazar Fortress – Armory and history
The Alcazar is a square fortified building that has four imposing towers. It is situated high on a hill where you will have an incredible overview of the city. The building is a symbol of Spanish nationalism, and it now houses an army museum. Entry fee is only €5 and FREE on Sundays.
Plaza Zocodover – Main Square
Plaza Zocodover is Toledo’s main square and also the major tourist hub. It features scenic buildings, street vendors, outdoor cafes and farmers’ markets. It is dominated by the walls of the Alcazar fortress directly to its south.
Other highlights of Toledo
There are numerous places to visit here in Toledo. The 9th century Puerta Vieja de Bisagra is one place you don’t want to miss. These are the only remains of the Arab wall, and it was once the main entrance to the city and dates back to the 19th century. Moreover, here in Toledo, you will have the pleasures of visiting the only remaining medieval Spanish synagogues in Spain; two of which are in Toledo.
Highlights of Segovia
Roman Aqueduct – visually stunning engineering marvel
The aqueduct is hard to miss since it’s the highest and passes the famous Azoguejo Square. It is considered one of the Roman Empire’s most impressive works of engineering. It comprises of 166 stone arches on granite ashlars that are set with neither cement nor mortar. It was constructed incorporating ingenious techniques based on balancing forces which have enabled it to stand strong up to this date. The place is open for visiting in any day of the week, and you can use the stairway from the Plaza del Azoguejo to get to the top where you will have a closer look of the stonework as well as have a great view of the town below.
The Alcazar – inspiration for Disney
The Alcazar is a great castle that is situated on top of a hill allowing you to have a tremendous view. There are numerous rooms where you will get to learn a lot about Spain and the Military improvements. It was originally a palace which was later used for other purposes in the middle ages. For instance, it was once a prison and later become the Royal Artillery School.
Segovia Cathedral – Massive Gothic building
Segovia Cathedral was initially built using the Gothic style. The formal cathedral was located near the ancient city of Alcazar but had to be moved to its present place in the main square as a result of the wars and the destruction caused by the Comuneros. It has a magnificent exterior with a significant number of ornate spires facing the sky from different levels. The interior is also incredible while the main altar features beautiful gold, ceramic and silver altarpiece.
That said, I’d make this decision depending on the time of the year. If it's summer, late spring or early autumn (warmest time of the year) I’d go to Segovia. There is less walking to do at Segovia.
Both, Toledo and Segovia, are small cities with historical places: Roman walls, cathedral, churches, Roman roads, museums. Both the destinations are popular for their local cuisine and excellent restaurants.
Segovia as a day trip. Toledo with an overnight stay
My personal recommendation is Segovia as it has the magnificent Alcazar and the Acueducto, I think that it might be more exciting to the tourist because it is not so common to find it anywhere else in the world. Moreover, Toledo is very hilly and some people get easily tired and do not appreciate the visit as much as they could do. Toledo is better visited with a plan to stay for at least a night.
Take the fast train to Segovia
My suggestion is to take a fast train from Chamartin station to Segovia AVE station (Segovia-Guiomar station). From the station take the bus number 11 that (€2) that drops you at the Roman Aqueduct, Segovia's city center. Going by fast AVE train, you will reach Segovia in about 40 minutes from Madrid. You can also reach Segovia by the slow C-8b suburban rail line (beyond Cercedilla), which costs less (around €6) but takes 2 hours to reach Segovia.
What to do in Segovia?
In Segovia, start at the Roman Aqueduct. The tourist office is conveniently located near the aqueduct. Visit the tourist office to pick the map and also check if there are any events or walks organized. From the aqueduct, you can walk through the walled town and old Jewish area, visit the Cathedral and the Alcázar of Segovia (Segovia Castle). Do climb the castle for excellent views. If you did not know, the castle was one of the inspirations for Walt Disney while he was designing the Disneyland.
If you have time you can visit La Granja, which is just 15 minutes by bus from Segovia. La Granja is called ‘the Versailles of Spain’ because of its gardens and palaces. You should also visit the Royal Glass Factory (‘Real Fábrica de Cristales de La Granja’).
Toledo is a better choice than Segovia.
I recommend spending a night in Toledo. Just spending a day will be too hectic. Look at what the city has to offer (Toledo Time Capsule) and decide for yourself if you can pack all this in just a day!
Toledo historic center
Toledo is dominated by the historic city centre (a UNESCO listed World heritage site) set next to the Tajo River.
The historic centre is unique as you get to see architecture of the different cultures that have co-existed throughout Toledo's history : Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Toledo has significant historic and cultural value and has been declared part of the World Heritage by the UNESCO. The historic centre of Toledo is up on a hill. To make the visit easy, Toledo has escalators that zig zag the historic centre.
Segovia has its own charm. However, for tourists, key attractions are restricted to visiting the Roman aqueduct, the Alcazar, and having lunch at Restaurante Jose Maria devouring the suckling pig (cochinillo asado).
The Segovia Cathedral and Museum are interesting but not as captivating as the varied architecture and cultural significance of Toledo buildings.
From Madrid, it is easy to reach Toledo
From the Atocha Station, you can take the Renfe AVE train, which drops you at Toledo in 25 minutes. From the train station, you can hop on to a local bus to Plaza Zodocover, the city center where you have the tourist office.
To reach Segovia from Madrid, it is better to take a bus than train. The bus journey from Madrid to Segovia is approximately an hour.
Because there are more attractions and it is easy to access Toledo, my vote is for a visit to Toledo instead of Segovia.
Toledo is a far better choice than Segovia
Both are equally easy to reach from Madrid but Toledo’s history and diversity of attractions makes it an easy winner over Segovia. And you must ideally stay the night in Toledo to really enjoy the city.
Over the centuries Toledo has been home to a diversity of cultures. Jews, Christians and Muslims all thrived in Toledo and the monuments you will see today show how the communities lived in harmony. Toledo is famously called the city of the 3 cultures.
Historically it was Toledo that was the capital of Spain before Madrid. Toledo was politically significant right up to the Spanish Civil War, when the Alcazar was Franco’s defense. In addition Toledo has wonderful cuisine.
Segovia has fewer attractions to see and the historical significance and impact of the Segovia is lower than Toledo. If you like history and culture you will enjoy Toledo more.
If you have only one choice of an excursion visit from Madrid, pick Toledo. And if you have another day, go to Segovia and combine it with Avila.
Toledo is full of art, heritage and architecture. The big attractions that come to mind when I think of Toledo are:
- The Alcazar of Toledo which also hosts the National Army Museum
- The Cathedral, nearby, with its magnificent art collection
- Museo del Greco
- A long walk along the Tajo river
Throughout the city you will see the impact of the Spanish Catholic Church, Muslims, Christians, and Jews. You can see baths from the time of the Romans, mosques, spires in Gothic style, and huge gates with Moorish architecture and design.
Toledo's old Jewish quarter houses two key attractions - Sinagoga Santa María la Blanca and the Shepherd museum. Sinagoga Santa María is an ancient synagogue that was opened in 1203. It was converted to a church in 1411 and acquired its present name. Shephard museum is just down the lane from Sinagoga Santa María.
Go to Segovia if you only have one day available. If you have more than a day, go to Toledo.
For Toledo if you ask me honestly you need 3 days and 2 nights stay. Toledo has too much to see and you will not be able to do it justice in only a day.
Segovia has 3 big attractions (Aqueduct / Gothic Cathedral / Alcazar) which lets you have a more relaxed day. And the countryside of Segovia town has interesting castles. Families will enjoy the laid back pace of Segovia more and children will have lots of space to run around.