No matter how long you’ve been abroad, a visit from you family or friends in Spain is an unforgettable experience that you will all remember for the rest of your lives. The mere fact that someone has dropped everything back at home to take a flight across the ocean to see you is something that should not be taken for granted. After about three years in Alcalá de Henares, my family is taking the journey. To have the opportunity to share with my family what has been my life and my home for so many years is so special. They will now understand why I’m not ready to give up the charming cobblestone streets of Calle Mayor, the warm colors of the buildings that bare a constant reminder of the beauty that surrounds me, and the countless days of sun that seem to make even the biggest of shut-ins gravitate outdoors. Who can forget Plaza Cervantes in all its glory with abuelos and abuelas sitting along the benches, chatting about recent events as the roses take in the lively, positive energy emitted from the passersby to bloom larger and brighter with each day that follows? The constant parades, events, and music that pass through the streets bringing people together no matter where they’re from. With history to be told around each corner, what’s not to love about this quaint yet thriving town?
Graduation for the Master students is approaching rapidly and new bouts of study abroad students are arriving. Alcalá will be host to many parents and siblings within the upcoming weeks. Having travelled so far, it’s important to provide your guests with an enjoyable and remarkable experience. So where should you bring your family and friends to give them a little taste of life in Alcalá? Here are the ten top things you can do with your ever-so-thoughtful and wonderful visitors:
- Guided Tours
- Tickets for guided tours can be found at the Alcalá Tourism Office (located across from the Cathedral in Plaza Santos Niños) with a variety of tours to choose from.
- The Cervantes Train from Atocha to AlcaláWhy take the regular Renfe (other than the price) when you can take a themed train with Don Quijote and Sancho Panza that takes you from Atocha Station to Alcalá de Henares. This price of this tour includes information on sites seen on the walk from the train station to the center of town and tours of the University and the Cervantes Birthplace Museum. Discounts for participating restaurants for after the tour are also included. However, as will be discussed, tours of the University and the Cervantes museum cost little to no money on their own.
- Price (adult): 22 euros – check out the website for timetables and to buy tickets
- If you’re taking any train from Madrid to Alcalá check out Laredo’s Palace on your walk to the center, built in 1882 with amazing design and architecture. Guided tours are given on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30am-1:30pm and 4:30pm-6:30pm. Book in advance at the Alcalá Tourism Office. Only 2 euros!
- Tourist Train in Alcalá
- There is also a train that leaves from Plaza Cervantes (it’s red and very touristy looking – you can’t miss it) that takes you for a ride around the town of Alcalá de Henares. Unfortunately, I don’t know how much it costs, but I know that it is definitely much cheaper than the train tour from Atocha to Alcalá discussed above.
- Located at 48 Calle Mayor, this home is said to be the birthplace and family home of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote. The museum has a collection of Cervantes’ works and has recreated the rooms to see the lifestyle during the early years of Cervantes’ life. Take pictures with statues of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza directly outside – a number one attraction in the city of Alcalá.
- Open Tuesday – Sunday from 10am – 6pm (last entrance at 5:30pm)
- Entrance: Free!
- College of San Ildefonso
- Make sure to take your parents to Plaza San Diego to see the beautiful detail on the façade of this university building. Founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1499, it was one of the first universities to be established in Spain. Names such as Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega, and Calderón de la Barca are just a few that have passed through these halls.
- On weekdays you can go into the building for free as it is public, but the only way to see the Paraninfo (where the Premio Cervantes is awarded – one of the most important awards in Spanish literature) or the chapel you will have to pay 4 euros. However, I have heard a rumor that if you have a university card you can get the tour for free, so be sure to show your Student ID Card for a chance for savings.
- At the end of the tour, check out the gift shop to buy some souvenirs to remember your time at the Universidad de Alcalá.
- Plaza Cervantes
- This square was used for markets and trade in medieval periods. The square was also used as a bullring for special events. With beautiful roses in bloom and numerous events taking place on the stage throughout the year, this would be a great place to sit down on a bench, have some artisanal ice cream from Dall’agnese located directly across from the Plaza, and watch the people stroll by.
- Corral de Comedias
- Originally built in 1601, the Corral de Comedias is one of the oldest outdoor theatres setup on an inside patio. It has been restored since and is used for a variety of performances nowadays. Located next to Plaza de Cervantes and McDonald’s, it doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, but once inside you can see the combination of the three styles used in its design throughout its history.
- A list of shows can be found here. Tickets can easily be bought online.
- Puerta de Madrid
- Built in 1788, this ‘Gate to Madrid’ served as the traditional route to Madrid used by the people of Alcalá de Henares. This ‘gate’ was previously the entrance to the old city of Alcalá with the walls found next to it as the borders to the city. Also located in the city center of Madrid is the Puerta de Alcalá.
- Archbishop Palace
- This Palace has been around since the 13th century (with many restorations, of course). One interesting fact is that in this building, Queen Isabella I of the Catholic Monarchs interviewed Christopher Columbus here when deciding whether to finance his infamous journey in 1492. Seriously, how crazy is all this history?!
- While you’re here, if you like museums, there is the Regional Archeological Museum located right next door. Open 11am-7pm Tuesday – Saturday and 11am – 3pm on Sundays. And guess what?? It’s FREE.
- Plaza Santos Niños and The Cathedral
- In this plaza, located next to the Tourism Office, it is said that two children were assassinated defending Christianity. These children were declared saints and chapel was built there to keep their remains. The Cathedral stands there now and two years ago I went to the top of the Cathedral for just 2 euros. You get a great view of Alcalá although there are quite a few old stairs that can make it a little nerve racking if you’re not a fan of heights. This plaza definitely plays a significant role in the town of Alcalá.
- There are so many bars and restaurants throughout the center of Alcalá it’s hard to name just a few so I will list them out and you can do a bit of research on where you’d like to go.
- Hanoi – has a ‘rooftop’ terrace where you can get some good tapas and a nice drink; great atmosphere
- El Lagar de Rusty – a great cider spot with awesome patatas bravas and choricitos a la sidra. A big favorite of mine. Worth checking out.
- Noah Wine Bar – located right across from Hanoi this restaurant has great wine and great food
- La Seda – while I’ve never been myself, I’ve heard excellent things about the food from the locals.
- Bar Nino – an established restaurant on Calle Mayor with great food and amazing grilled mushrooms (champiñones a la plancha)
- El Casino – for a fancy dinner out, located in Plaza Cervantes. Make a reservation ahead of time.
- Tapas – Indalo, Rusty, La Española, Lizarran, Quinto Tapón, La Cartujana
- El Gato Verde – located at the end of Calle Mayor they have great tapas that come with an excellent variety of craft beers (no Mahou here!)
- There are honestly so many places to choose from, you can’t really go wrong, so go wherever your little hearts desire. I know there is even more I could mention, but these are just a few of my top recommendations.
- Alcalá isn’t just buildings upon buildings. There is a beautiful nature side to the town as well. If you have the time, or want something a little more outdoors, here are some places you should check out.
- Los Cerros (The Hills) – beautiful trails located in the ‘mountains’ of Alcalá and not too far from the city center.
- Rio Henares – a calm and scenic river to walk along in order to forget any stress from all the sightseeing. Interestingly, and while this may not seem so nice, my friend was running there a few weeks ago and noticed a new sign posted up. The history continues to be revealed as many people who were considered traitors during the Franco dictatorship were taken here and killed… maybe try not to think about that while trying to clear your mind? But also, I think it’s important we realize how much has happened here.
- Parque O’Donnell – a beautiful park located right off of Via Complutense near the Archbishop Palace. There is a municipal pool located here as well if you need to beat the heat.
See?! There are tons of things to do and see in Alcalá de Henares. It may not have as many options as the city center of Madrid, but this town is a gem, filled with history, and with a lot to offer. The prices aren’t too shabby either! Having others from home understand where you’ve spent a lot of your time throughout your stay in Madrid will make it easier to talk about experiences and memories later on if and when you do return to the states. So, enjoy the time you have with your family and friends and make the most of it!
Study abroad in Spain Fall 2015
MA in International Education 2017-2018
Alice Gould Award 2018