As Toledo is a must if you come to Madrid, I’ll also recommend going to Alcalá de Henares if you have an extra day while visiting Madrid. This is a city with more than 2000 years of history, where its University and historic quarter have been declared World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO in 1998.
It is also the homeland of one the most important figure in the Spanish literature: Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). He is universally admired for his masterpiece: Don Quixote, one of the most important works of universal literature. His memory and legacy are alive not only in his birth house, now a museum, but also in the town’s cultural agenda and in other emblematic spots such as the Cervantes Theatre and one of the Europe’s oldest “corral de comedias” (comedy theatre).
Finally the link between the city and the Spanish language is further reinforced by the fact that, since 1977, the Cervantes Prize for Spanish Literature has been awarded in Alcalá. This award is the highest recognition of Spanish writers’ creative works.
Be sure to take a stroll down calle Mayor (Main Street), the central axis of the old town, which is packed with shops, restaurants, bars and buildings with centuries of history. This is the best way to experience the bustle of a town which is very lively, thanks in part to the thousands of young people who come to study at the University.
Also, a fun and original way to get to Alcalá is on the Cervantes’ Train. It runs in spring and autumn, departing from Atocha station in Madrid. On the way, a group of actors in costumes play out pieces taken from works by Miguel de Cervantes. After visiting the city with a group of professional guides, the return trip from Madrid gets underway in the same train.
How to get there?
It is 35 km northeast from the city of Madrid. It is possible to arrive at the city through A2 and R2 highways, and also by train from Atocha and Chamartin Railway Stations. Saturdays in spring and autumn, you can enjoy a trip on “Cervantes’ Train” for 22 €.
The closest airport is the Madrid-Barajas International Airport, located only 15 kilometres from Alcalá de Henares.
What we visited?
- Calle Mayor
- Palacio Arzobispal: It is currently the headquarters of the Diocese of Alcalá de Henares. It is located in the Palace Square and is part of the monumental complex declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO
- San Bernardo Convent
- Madrid´s Gate (Puerta de Madrid)
- Catedral de los Santos Niños Justo y Pastor de Alcalá de Henares: It dates from 1514 and has a Gothic style. It is, together with the church of St. Peter of Leuven (Belgium), the only temple in the world that holds the title of Magisterial Church, which meant that all his canons should be doctors in theology
- Hermita de Santa Lucía: Its origin dates back to the 12th century, although the current building was built in the 17th century in Baroque style. During the Middle Ages, and until 1515, the council of the town met there, reason why it is considered the first city council of the city
- Cervantes Birthplace Museum: It is and old 16th century house where Cervantes was born in 1547. This house belonged to the Cervantes family. The museum was founded in his honors and recreates a house of that time, where the visitor can find a splendid collection of Cervantes’ masterpieces
- Cervantes Square
- Alcala University: In 1499, Cardinal Cisneros founded a university in Alcalá de Henares. It reached, together with the University of Salamanca, a preeminent place between the Castilian universities during the Golden Age. However, it entered later in a period of decadence until 1836 that the government decreed its transfer to Madrid, changing its name to Central University of Madrid. This, in 1970, adopted the name of Universidad Complutense de Madrid. The Complutense University of Madrid, according to such historical trajectory, shows continuity with the university founded by Cisneros in 1499
- Santa Maria Tower: The tower of the missing Church of Santa María, recently restored as a splendid sight of the historical city, is preserved as a symbol related to Miguel de Cervantes’ life. Next to the tower there is the baptism chapel of the church where the author of Don Quixote was baptized on October 9th 1547
- Convento de los Trinitarios Descalzos: The Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians was founded in 1601 by Saint John Baptist de la Concepcion, who had studied Theology in Alcalá, and who also founded the Order of the Barefoot Trinitarians. First it was a small house, and in 1626 began to build the convent, which, completed in 1639, joined the university city designed by Cisneros
Also, be sure you have time to enjoy a nice Castilian meal in this beautiful city, but remember the last train to Madrid leaves around 21:40.