Tag Archives: Alcala de Henares

Ten Nearby Madrid Towns that are Bona Fide Day Trip Destinations

So charming is Madrid, Spain that first-timers are likely tempted to stay within its confines and wallow in its beauty. Every barrio of the city is unique and fascinating that it is pure fun to hop from one place to another, walk thru paseos, loiter around the plazas and calles, and soak up on what it can offer. Trust me, I did all this a countless number of times — and every time, it’s just insane fun.

Everywhere in Madrid are breathtaking sites and attractions — world-class museums like Prado and Reina Sofia, among many others; towering basilicas and cathedrals such as San Gines and Almudena; and gargantuan parks and gardens like Retiro and Sabatini, respectively.

The city is a gastronomic paradise.  Restaurants and cafes of different shapes, sizes, and culinary delights are scattered all over — there’s Museo del Jamon, Bar Santurce, Botin, Cafe Melo’s Bar, to name a few of my favorites. I swear there must be a joint offering sumptious Spanish comida in every street corner.

Madrid is where you blend easily with the crowd at evening street parties and gatherings — events commonplace in the city, on any day of the week. Here is also where you can witness solemn processions that venerate the Lady and various saints, and participate, to your heart’s delight, in thunderous festivals held all throughout the year.

Still, did you know there’s so much to see and discover on the outskirts of the city? So many towns are situated very near the capital, and needless to say, all are a must-visit as they boast of tons of attractions as well.

I myself had traveled, wandered, and explored quite a number of these pueblos. Referred to as day trip destinations, they are so near that you can go there, experience and relish these places, and be back in Madrid — all within the day.

Here are my top 10 beautiful and exciting towns near Madrid:

1. Avila

Bright yellow walls of AvilaOne of Spain’s major Castilian towns, Avila is famous for its perfectly preserved Murallas or Town Walls. The haunting Catedral de Avila is touted as one of the first Gothic churches built in the country. And if you happen to be in Avila, make sure you have a taste of its popular yema, a sweet delicacy, among many other traditional pastries offered by the town.

How far from Madrid: 2 Hours
Recommended Mode of Travel: Autobus – Avanza Bus (at Estacion Sur)
Cost of Fare: More or less 14 euros (lda y vuelta)

2. Alcala de Henares

imageThe town is known for being the birthplace of famous Spanish Writer, Miguel de Cervantes. In front of his home are the bronze figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Pancho, the main characters of the Cervantes’ novel, the Don Quixote de la Mancha. The prestigious Colegio Mayor de Sn Ildefonso or the University of Alcala is the reason this pueblo within the Community of Madrid is called the University Town.

Number of hours from Madrid: 50 minutes
Best Travel Option: Cercanias trains. Get your ride at Nuevos Ministerios, or other select Metro stations such as Chamartin and Atocha.

3. Colmenar Viejo

imageThis town is proud of its tiny, historic hermitage called the Ermita de Santa Ana, and the Basílica dela Asuncion de Nuestra Senora.

Distance from Madrid: 37 kms. (less than an hour)
Best Travel Option: Autobus 721 at Plaza Castilla
Cost of Fare: 7.20 euros round trip

4. Manzanares el Real

Manzanares el Real Castle is also called Castillo de los MendozaA town made famous by its two castles, the New Castle of Manzanares and the Castillo Viejo. The former is also a fortress and said to be the most preserved castle within the Communidad de Madrid. If you love to hike, the nearby Pedriza Mountain can be reached by walking in just under an hour. Continue further up the hill beside the mount and you will encounter the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Peña Sacra.

How far from Madrid: 50 kms. (less than an hour)
Enjoy going there via: Autobus 724 at Plaza Castilla
Cost of Fare: 8.40 euros Ida y Vuelta

5. Town of Chinchon

imageSome 40 minutes or so away from Madrid is the quaint and tranquil pueblo of Chinchon. Its plaza mayor is a bit peculiar because it is shaped like a bullring. The fact is that the square is used actively for the sport; because of this, Chinchon is recognized as one of Spain’s bullfight towns. Must-eat are Teta de Novicia and Pelotas de Fraile, delightful, traditional breads sold in pastelerias within the town’s plaza mayor.

How far from the capital: 45 kms. (55 minutes)
Recommended travel option: Veloz Autobus 337 at Avenida de Mediterraneo
Fare Cost: 4.20 euros one way

6. Segovia

The Roman Acqueduct at Segovia, SpainIf only for its historic Romano Acueducto and breathtaking Alcazar or fortress, I’d take the bus or train trip to Segovia in a heartbeat. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of seeing these wondrous Segovian landmarks. The aqueduct, for one, is the main symbol of the town. Did you know that this ancient structure still works, and is capable of transporting water throughout the city? The Alcazar, on the other hand, is compared to the castle of Disney — both are charming and enthralling. The whole town itself enjoys the fine distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By the way, don’t leave without having a taste of its savory and mouth-watering delicacy – the Cuchinillo or suckling pig.

Recommended mode of travel: RENFE train (Chamartin)
Time of travel by train: Less than 30 minutes

7. San Lorenzo El Escorial

imageI recommend this place if you are looking for a fine and quiet respite, away from the noise, and the hustle and bustle of Madrid. Be sure to check out the interior of the fabled Monastery, which once served as a royal palace of the King. Visitors will be mesmerized by the grandeur of its library, while the mighty courtyard of the Old Testament kings is something to marvel at. You must also see the Pantheon, where the remains of many royalties are kept.

How far from Madrid: 45 kilometers
Best Travel Option: Catch the autobus 661 at Moncloa, if you want to go the Galapagar route. Take 664 if you want to pass by the Valley of the Fallen gates.
Fare Price: 4.20 euros one way

8. Toledo

imageOne of the most visited towns within the Community of Madrid, not only because Toledo is very near the capital, but also because it is filled with many spectacular attractions. Its alcazar is its most recognizable landmark, a magnificent site lying in the town’s highest peak. The best view of the edifice can be had from the Tagus River. Other interesting sites to see in Toledo are the Museo de Separdi, the Toledo Cathedral, the Ancient Walls and Towers, and the Transito Synagogue.

Distance between Madrid and Toledo: 45 minutes
Recommended Bus: ALSA autobus, at Plaza Eliptica.
Price of autobus ticket: 5.39 euros single trip; 9.70 euros for ida y vuelta tickets.

9. Aranjuez

imageIt is bestowed the title, Spain’s Royal Town. The stately Palacio Real will not be missed, since its grandness conspicuously sprawls right in the midst of Aranjuez. The palace, the beauty of which rivals Madrid’s own Palacio Real, is accentuated by gardens of manicured hedges and multi-hued flowers dedicated to both the King and Queen. It is surrounded by gushing waterways — natural and man-made. The Iglesia de San Antonio, the Royal Church, is found in one part of the plaza of the same name, and one of the Aranjuez’ major attractions.

How to go: Via 423 autobus at Estacion Sur bus station, Mendez Alvaro.
Fare cost: 4.20 euros, one way

10. Cuenca

imageAnother quiet, enchanting pueblo within the Castille La Mancha region. Cuenca is a little over two hours away from Madrid, making it as one of the farthest nearby towns. Still, you’d realize the rather long trip is well-compensated after seeing the breathtaking Casas Colgadas, or Hanging Houses. Another must-see is the mesmerizing Cuenca Cathedral, looming on one end of the Plaza Mayor, opposite the arch gates.

Hours from the capital: 2 hours
Best travel option: Via autobus Avanza, at Estacion Sur
Price of bus fare: 25 euros for round-trip tickets

Madrid Attraction: Biblioteca Nacional de España

imposing national museum of SpainThe library’s facade turns yellow when kissed by the rays of the afternoon sun. If you’re someone with a great fondness for beautiful edifice, the biblioteca is one you will marvel at.

Have you ever been to the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid? If you’re going to the direction of Plaza de Cibeles and Barrio Atocha via Paseo de la Castellana and Recoletos, you certainly will not miss it due to its sheer size and magnificence. The National Library of Spain in English, it is the largest library of the country, and one of the largest in the world.

The building is right in the corner of the paseo immediately after crossing the Plaza de Colon. In front is the Museo de Cera and Colon Metro Station.

Wealth of resources at Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid

The library boasts of large collections of books, documents, and reading resources. More than 26 million items are found in its keep;these are mainly 15 million books, thousands of “revistas” and journals, and various forms of manuspcripts and printed materials. It also possesses numerous items in different medium types such as audiovisuals, sounds and music scores, and electronic-based documents.

The library’s collections are overflowing that the items which could not be accommodated here are sent to an extention library located in Alcalá de Henares campus. The latter must be an appropriate choice for the library’s extenstion site since Alcala de Henares is considered to be the university town of the Communidad de Madrid.

Enjoy the Services of the National Library of Spain

While most public libraries in Madrid, and Spain as a whole, offer loan privileges, this is not the case with the National Library. In order to enjoy access to designated books and various library resources, you need to obtain a reader’s or researcher’s card.

Q1. What is a Readers Card?
Once you acquire your own Card, this affords you the basic privilege to borrow books.

Q2. What is the validity duration of the card?
It is valid for 3 years.

Q3. What are the requirements when applying for one?
You must present any of these legal documents: national identity card, residence permit, valid passport, driver’s license.

You can also apply for a card thru its website. Upon the approval of your application, you may claim your card at the library upon presenting any of the required ID’s.

Needless to say, Biblioteca Nacional is no ordinary library; but clearly, it reaches out to as many would-be users as possible, ensuring its easy accessibility via its Reader card.

Library Museum

Did you know that the Library has its own museum? 

Known before as the Book Museum, its task is to aid the library in providing the maximum educational, cultural, and recreational benefits to users and visitors. It also offers the public valuable information on the library’s history, operations, and various resources.

The museo’s collections include a number of valuable artistic and cultural pieces such as paintings and sculptures, and items that pertain to books, reading, and education, like typewriters and equipment used in the making of books.

imageThe library was built in 1712 during the administration of then King of Spain Philip V

imageThe Statue of Alfonso X, or Alfonso the Wise, stands on the entrance staircase of the building. He was the 13th-century ruler of Castile and Leon

imageBeside Alfonso X’s statue is that of San Isidoro. It is advisable to secure your own reader card to take full advantage of the benefits of being a borrower

imageIf you are a bibliophile, Spain’s national library is the best place for you to hang out and enjoy any of the immense reading resources that offers

Nacional Library of SpainOne of the two main gates of the building in front of Paseo Recoleto

How to go to the extention site:

Direccion: Meco, Alcalá de Henares, 28805 Madrid

By autobus: In Madrid, take bus number 227; upon reaching the town, take autobus 12, 250, 2

By Train: Ride the Renfe Cercanías Lines C2 and C7

Horarios:

Library hours: Mondays to Fridays: 9AM to 9PM; Saturdays: 9AM to 2PM

Museum hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays: From 10AM to 9PM; Sundays: 10AM to 2PM

Please refer to the website (by clicking at the link below) for any possible changes in the opening hours.
Admission: Entrance is Free

Library’s Website

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Outside Madrid: The University Town of Alcala de Henares

imageAlcala de Henares is famous for two things: first, it is the birth place of premier Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, and second, it is recognized as the earliest planned university town in the world.

But I believe many flock to Alcala because it is conveniently close to Madrid. Imagine a beautiful town just 30 kilometers away from the city, such a proximity makes Alcala Spain a perfect day-trip destination. It is very near the capital many thought it is a mere suburb of Madrid when it is actually a legitimate Spanish town.

And so the fact that Alcala de Henares is just 50 or so minutes away and could be reached easily by train or bus, not to mention it owns a few impressive bragging rights and titles – all this makes it a popular and favourite destination for tourists.

Despite being home to top schools and tourist attractions, Alcala appears to me as a quiet and quaint town, the opposite of the noisy and tourist-drenched Madrid. I love that many of its sites and attractions are clumped close together; allowing tourists to explore them without having to make long walks in between.

Here are some of the Alcala de Henares attractions that are certainly worth seeing:

1. Cervantes Square

The plaza is dedicated to one who´s widely regarded as the greatest writer of Spain — Miguel de Cervantes. His statue stands in the middle of the plaza, while in its far end is the 19th-centuray built Kiosk of Music. You can also see in the background the Church of Santa Maria Tower (what´s actually seen in the photo is the remains of the ancient edifice).
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2. Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso

Also called the Old University and the University of Alcale de Henares, San Ildefonso College is famous for its Plateresque facade (currently being renovated). It is the best known creation of Rodrigo Gil de Hontanon, a Spanish architect from the Renaissance era.

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3. Capilla del Oidor

This baroque-style chapel is where Miguel de Cervantes was baptized. Capilla del Oidor is actually the existing remains of the Santa Maria Cathedral and one of the important edifices on the south end of the Cervantes Square.

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4. Museum of Miguel Cervantes

Cervantes’ birthplace is transformed into a museum in his honor. Here, I’m seated between the bronze likeness of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the main characters from the Spanish writer’s most famous novel, Don Quixote de la Mancha. Museo de Cervantes is located at the historic Calle Mayor.

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5. Corral de Comedias

Below is the Courtyard of Comedies, situated at the right side of the Cervantes Square if you face the statue. It is claimed as the oldest comedy courtyard since it dates back to the beginning of the 17th Century. It now functions as a theatre, and permits guided tours.

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6. Catedral de los Santos Niños Justo

The early 16th century Gothic Church is built in dedication to Saint Mary Magdalene. It is situated in the middle of the town, an imposing presence at the Plaza de los Santos Ninos.

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7. Calle Mayor

A highly historical street in the country, the Calle Mayor is one of the best proof that urbanism and commercialism already existed and flourished in medieval-era Spain.
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8. Archbishop’s Palace

What was once a fortress castle, as evidenced by the presence of the murallas nearby, is now the the residence of the Alcala de Henares Diocese. The palace is a proud World Heritage site monument.  Direccion: Plaza de Palacio

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9. Convento de las Clarisas de San Diego y Alonso Carrillo

Standing in front of the Convento de las Clarisas de San Diego is the statue of Archbishop Alonso Carrillo. The convent is of the Franciscan order. Direccion: Calle Beatas (near the Colegio de San Ildefonso)

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10. Puerta de Madrid

A historical structure from way back 1788, it primarily served as the point of entry from the ancient town of Alcala to Madrid, and vice versa. Direccion: Calle Andres Saborit

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11. Alcala de Henares Walls

Known as the Murallas de Henares, a significant portion of these 12th century walls are seen near the Palacio de Arsobispo. It served as the town´s protection, and was a effective means of taxing products entering the city.

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12. Laredo Palace

An edifice built in the 19th century by Spanish architect Manuel de Laredo, it features no distinct style but rather displays a strong evidence of varied architectural influences from Moors, Renaissance, and Goth. It currently functions as a Museo de Cisneros.
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How to Go

Cercanias (train): Ida y vuelta tickets are available at 7.60 euros, with the vuelta ticket valid until the morning of the next day. I bought my tickets at Nuevos Ministerios, albeit I presume tickets can also be had at Chamartin, Recoletos, and Atocha since the trains also pass thru these stations.

A little advice: For first timers to Cercania service, be attentive of the periodic voice announcements informing passengers of the train stops. The train is fully-packed at certain points of the trip and so the noise from the crowd can render the announcement weak and hard to hear. This might cause one to miss his stop altogether.

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