Top choice fortress in Toledo

At the highest point in the city looms the foreboding Alcázar. Rebuilt under Franco, it has been reopened as a vast military museum. The usual displays of uniforms and medals are here, but the best part is the exhaustive historical section, with an in-depth examination of the nation's history in Spanish and English. The exhibition is epic in scale but like a well-run marathon, it's worth the physical (and mental) investment.

Abd ar-Rahman III raised an al-qasr (fortress) here in the 10th century, which was thereafter altered by the Christians. Alonso Covarrubias rebuilt it as a royal residence for Carlos I, but the court moved to Madrid and the fortress eventually became a military academy. The Alcázar was heavily damaged during the siege of the garrison by loyalist militias at the start of the civil war in 1936. The soldiers' dogged resistance, and the famous refusal of their commander, Moscardó, to give it up in exchange for his son's life, made the Alcázar a powerful nationalist symbol.

The most macabre sight at the Alcazár is the recreation of Moscardó's office wrecked with bullet holes; other highlights include the monumental central patio decorated with Habsburg coats of arms, and archaeological remains from Moorish times near the entrance.