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Guide to Alcala de Henares

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guide to alcala de henares spain

 Guide to Alcala de Henares – Introduction

With a rich and varied history, an enchanting old town and the stunning University of Alcala de Henares this small yet appealing city is well worth a visit. Situated only 30 kilometres from Madrid (a 35 minute bus ride, 45 on the train), Alcala de Henares is the largest city after the capital itself in the Madrid province. Largely overlooked by the Madrid tourist, in favour of better-known Segovia and Toledo, Alcala de Henares and the University of Alcala is arguably a greater attraction.

guide to Alcala de Henares

Modern day Alcala de Henares was the site of a cultured and important Roman city – that of Complutum. The remains are present to this day, and are easily accessible, providing an interesting and engaging insight into what was a crossroads and vital stopping off point for the Romans. As well as this, Alcala de Henares can boast to be the place where Columbus first met his would-be patrons, Ferdinand and Isabel, before setting sail to find the new world. The site of their meeting, situated in the heart of the old town, is a must visit sight for those interested in the development of the modern world as we know it! From this small city the foundation were set for the Spanish empire in the Americas and all of the developments, conflicts and profound impacts that were to come as a result of it.

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Any essential guide to Alcala de Henares knows the importance of the city does not stop there. Alcala de Henares was the home of Catherine of Aragon before she left the Iberian peninsula to take ill-fated hand of Henry VIII in England. A statue stands in the heart of the old town depicting Catherine in youthful exuberance – a must see sight. As well as this, Alcala de Henares produced arguably the greatest son of Spanish literature – Miguel de Cervantes who wrote the internationally recognised Don Quijote – the tale of a romantic yet foolish knight travelling around La Mancha with his equally foolish sidekick Sancho Panza. The birthplace of Cervantes has been recreated on the spot thought to have been his house, and the building contains a mock-up of a 16th Century Spanish house and artefacts from the era.

As a result of Cervantes, Alcala de Henares has a modern importance, not only in the form of the University of Alcala de Henares, but also due to the handing out of the Cervantes prize, perhaps the most illustrious bestowment in the world of Spanish language literature. The ceremony takes place annually in Alcala de Henares in the paraninfo building of the University of Alcala and is attended by the Spanish Royal Family and the good and great of the literature world.

There is an air of academia that floats around the city, from it’s busy cafes and bookstores to the youthful demographic of the population. This is in no part due to the internationally recognised University of Alcala de Henares which has a number of campuses in the historic centre and more on the leafy outskirts of the city. The University of Alcala de Henares has a number of building dotted around town which are impressive sights in their own right – from the wonderful facade of the University in Plaza San Diego (see below), to beautiful Faculty of Language, not to mention the new and daring modern facilities to be found on the modern campus a short bus ride from the old town. Read on below to discover more from the It Rain’s in Spain Guide to Alcala de Henares.

Guide to Alcala de Henares…Don’t Miss

  1. Visit the house where the legendary Miguel de Cervantes was born on Calle Mayor.
  2. Wander up the stunningly collonaded Calle Mayor – the longest of its kind in Spain, and explore the weaving streets of the old town.
  3. Visit the University of Alcala de Henares, one of the oldest in Spain and see it’s magnificent quad in Plaza San Diego.
  4. Lounge around on Plaza de Cervantes – enjoying a cup of coffee or something stronger – and revel in the Spanish art of people watching
  5. Head up Calle Santiago and marvel at the Palacio Arzobispal, where Columbus first met Ferdinand and Isabella.
  6. Find the statue of Alcala de Henares’ favourite daughter – Catherine of Aragon (in the little square next to the Palacio Arzobispal)
  7. Gorge yourself on traditional Castillian fare at the wonderful Las Cuadras de Rocinante bar and restaurant just off Calle Mayor.


Guide to Alcala de Henares – What to Eat and Drink

We know how tough it can be in a bar or restaurant when you’re visiting a foreign country. Here’s our guide of what local specialities to look for on the menu in Alcala de Henares.

Almendras Garrapiñadas – Effectively sugared almonds

Rosquillas – A donut like treat traditionally created by the nuns in Alcala de Henares

Comida Cervantina – Where better place to try the traditional food of Cervantes and Don Quijote than his birthtown? Try sopa de ajo (garlic soup) or mijas con chorizo y huevos (fried breadcrums with egg and chorizo).

Tapas – Alcala is distinctive in that you will be handed a menu of free tapas in most bars when you order a drink. Take your pick!


Guide to Alcala de Henares – Where to Stay

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As with all of our guides, the It Rains In Spain Guide to Alcala de Henares only recommends three hotels. See why here. One budget option, one midrange option and one luxury option.

 guide to Alcala de Henares

guide to Alcala de Henares guide to Alcala de Henares guide to Alcala de Henares

Reader’s Tips

This section is specifically designed for our readers to share their top tips with other would-be travellers. If you visited a particularly wonderful restaurant, or stayed in a fantastic hotel, or even ate a tremendous local dish, please let us know here! Any tip whatsoever will be greatly appreciated by our Spain loving community of travellers.

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You may also be interested in: University of Alcala de Henares, Guide to Madrid, Introducing Madrid, Recommended Hotels in Madrid.