If you are thinking of going for a day-trip from Madrid, you should consider visiting Alcalá de Henares. With easy access from the capital, it is known for being the hometown of the famous writer Miguel de Cervantes. The city offers a lot of things to discover: visitors can explore the childhood home of the great writer, examine the imposing stones of the old university, and try out the famous local tapas. The pace is much slower than that of Madrid, making it a relaxing escape from the bustling capital. If you’re planning to spend a sunny Sunday visiting Madrid’s surroundings, read on to find out about some recommended spots to visit in this lovely city.
Discover the city’s valued history at the University
Alcalá de Henares owes its UNESCO World Heritage status to the fact that it was a university city before other towns thought to create such centers. Indeed, Alcalá was one of the very first towns to be constructed around an important University, and other European cities later looked at Alcalá for inspiration when constructing their own colleges. Since the historic centre was built specifically to provide first-class education to the students, the most impressive buildings encountered in Alcalá de Henares belong to the university. In addition to its historical importance and the illustrious students who learned within its walls, such as Lope de Vega, Francisco de Quevedo or Antonio de Nebrija, the university also awards the Miguel de Cervantes Prize for literature, the most important prestigious and remunerative award given for Spanish-language literature nowadays.
Cross the floral decorated Main square (Plaza Cervantes)
The university fans out from the main square, Plaza de Cervantes. Many bars and restaurants have terraces here, so sit outside to fully enjoy the ambiance. This pleasant square is the main scene of ever-changing events; it hosts an ice rink in winter and an open-air theater during the spring. It is especially beautiful in May and June, when the roses are in bloom. Don’t miss the Medieval Fair in October, which fills the square and the surrounding area with barbecued foods, costumed actors, and colourful street vendors. In the middle of the square there’s the bronze monument of Miguel De Cervantes, and on the top of every building it’s absolutely normal finding lots of storks with their nests.
Take a stroll down the ancient Main Street (Calle Mayor)
Situated in such a way that links two of the most emblematic squares of the city’s historical centre – Plaza Cervantes and Plaza Santos Niños – calle Mayor, considered the main artery of the Alcalá’s centre, is the perfect street to go for a promenade. It holds the value of being the longest street with arcades in its whole length in Spain. The street was constructed upon the Caesar Augusta’s Roman road route, which, in ancient times, led to the Roman city of Complutum.
Famous also as a university spot, Alcalà doesn’t miss great places to go out at night. During the whole year it is always possible to meet Spanish and international students drinking, chatting or dancing at bars, pubs and clubs like The Green, Hanoi House, Casco Antiguo, Mavericks and many others. The city is peaceful but never boring! Alcalá de Henares can be quickly reached by train. Several trains run every day from Madrid to Alcalá at Atocha Station, Nuevos Ministerios and Chamartín Station (Lines C1,C2,C7).
Be a guest at Miguel De Cervantes’ house
A short stroll from the main square, the Cervantes Birthplace Museum can be visited free of charge. The walls are hung with a few paintings and religious icons, just as they might have been when Cervantes was living there as a boy. During the house visit, you will see a recreation with objects that were representative of the time. It is possible to explore the Cervantes’ rooms, his father’s pharmacy, the kitchen and other facilities. On the top floor, there is an exhibition of various editions of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, among which one illustrated by Salvador Dalí, one first edition of 1605, and publications in other languages such as German or Thai.
Outside the house there is a bench where you can take the inevitable picture with playful statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Cervantes’ most beloved characters.
Try the typical Spanish tapas in Alcalá
Restaurants in Alcalá de Henares offer something that those in Madrid often don’t – free tapas!
Upon ordering a drink, be it a soda or a glass of local red wine, you’ll be asked to choose a tapa free of charge. Each bar has its own specialities, but typical tapas in Alcalá de Henares include for sure the Spanish potato omelette, toasts with assorted toppings, patatas bravas (potatoes with a particular spicy sauce) and lots of traditional meat dishes. Expect to pay between 2.50 and 3.00 EUR (approximately 3 USD) for a drink, but remember this price comes with the snack included.
Visit Alcalá de Henares
A trip like this can be easily organized by travellers who are looking for a relaxing day, escaping from a chaotic big city, but who don’t want to give up a cultural jump in the past at the same time. Discover Spain’s unconventional treasures, in a very comfortable and cheap way!
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