Alcala 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
7. Calle Mayor
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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.