The main draw behind Alcala de Henares is that it is the world’s first city planned around a University and it is a UNESCO world heritage site. It has amazing architecture, lots of literary and academic history and best of all it’s an easy day trip from Madrid.
The town is located about 30 km. Northeast of Madrid and it can be easily reached by cars buses or by trains.
Reaching Alcala from nearby Madrid, Spain
Trains: can be taken from the Atocha Station and the Nuevos Ministerios station in Madrid.
Buses: Probably the most direct and affordable option (as it usually is in Spain) can be found at the Avenida de America station all day long. Catch the 223, 227 or 229.
Car: The main highway runs between Madrid and Alcala, driving time is around forty minutes and there are some tolls.
Once in the town there’s no need of public transit. The historic area is completely contained within the ancient walls, it is flat and very easy to navigate. Every street offers views of historic churches and convents, university halls, theaters and squares with impressive fountains, markets and palaces.
These are the essential Alcala de Henares sights:
Universidad de Alcala. The front fascade of the University is a unique Spaniard style architecture known as plasteresque with excellent details and symmetry. It is one of the most historic University sites in the world.
House of Miguel de Cervantes. this 17th century Spaniard is one of the greatest literary composers in the language. His house is home to many old editions of his most famous work Don Quixote and many famed translations of the work as well.
The Plaza de Cervantes is the central square in town and is full of monuments and quotes from Don Quixote as well as the town hall, the famous chapel of Oidor and the Teatro de Cervantes which is a great tour of how ancient theater operated and is home to many famous performances.
Gothic Cathedral. This Herrara style church is unmissable and always seems to have events and celebrations going on. We stopped by on the feat of the three kings in January and the town was full of parades, music and food.
Other places not to miss are the Archbishop’s Palace which is an impressive fortress like castle. Also the Colegio de San Ildefonso which houses the tomb of Cardinal Cisneros, the visionary and founder of the university town, the house of the interview where Queen Isabella first heard the proposed plans of Christopher Columbus.