The ciudad (city) of Alcalá de Henares is a must-see when you’re living and studying in Madrid

Now you’re in Madrid studying Spanish, it’s about time you got out and saw some of the other amazing places near the capital filled with sitios de interés (interesting sites) to get more of a flavour of Spanish culture. The ciudad (city) of Alcalá de Henares is a must-see when you’re living and studying in Madrid. It is, like Segovia which featured in one of our previous blogs, classed as patrimonio de la humanidad (a World Heritage Site) and is the lugar de nacimiento (birthplace) of Miguel de Cervantes who authored the famous novel El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha.

The city of Alcalá de Henares takes its name from the Moorish defensive settlement which was built in the pre-exiting town dating from prehistoric times. Nowadays, the city is the third biggest settlement in the Comunidad de Madrid (Madrid region) and an important university town. Let’s take a look at what there is to see and do there.

Visitar la casa natal de Miguel de Cervantes – Visit Miguel de Cervante’s birthplace

If you’re taking an excursión (excursion/trip) to Alcalá, you’ve absolutely got to go and see the home of the author Miguel de Cervantes. Located on the beautiful Calle Mayor (Main Street), the house is now a museo dedicated to the author’s life and connection with the city. Also, right in front of the building is un banco (a bench) with bronze statues of the main characters from the novel Don Quijote – the man himself and his famous sidekick Sancho Panza. Take a moment to sit next to them and sacar una foto (take a picture) to show all your classmates in your Spanish lessons!

Spanish cities – Alcalá de Henares

Dar un paseo por Calle Mayor – Take a stroll down Calle Mayor

In order to reach Cervante’s house, you’ll need to dar un paseo (take a walk) down the famous Calle Mayor in the city centre. This street is extremely well-maintained, and is in fact the longest calle soportalada (street with colonnades) in Europe! It’s full of tiendas (shops), bares (bars) and cafeterías (cafés) to buy some recuerdos (souvenirs) or tomar algo (have something to eat or drink). A bonus is that you’ll get to speak Spanish with some locals while you’re there and impress them with what you’ve learned in your Spanish classes.

Pasar un rato en la plaza de Cervantes – Spend some time in the Plaza de Cervantes

The central square, la plaza de Cervantes, is about halfway down Calle Mayor and serves as a focal point for all the fiestas (festivals) which take place in the city each year. The most important fiesta is the Ferias de Alcalá de Henares which takes place every August for one week. There are all sorts of activities during this time, including lots of conciertos en directo (live concerts) and the curious pasacalles de Gigantes y Cabezudos (the parade of the giants and big heads). Hundreds of massive marionetas (puppets) representing different historical people and cultural figures are marched through the streets of the city accompanied by the sounds of traditional music. It’s a great way to see some authentic Spanish culture in action so don’t miss it on your stay here learning Spanish.

Ir a ver la sede de la Universidad de Alcalá – Go and see the University of Alcalá

In the Plaza de San Diego, just off plaza de Cervantes, you’ll find what is today the central offices of the Universidad de Alcalá. This university, fundada (founded) in 1499 by Cardenal Cisneros, a famous Spanish cardinal, is housed in some of the most spectacular buildings in the city. In fact, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid is actually, due to various historical reasons, the continuation of the original school from 1499 but the Universidad de Alcalá was re-launched in the 1970s and occupies the original school’s buildings. It’s definitely worth hacer una visita guiada (taking a guided tour) of the university’s main faculties as they are all architecturally interesting. Also, once you’ve been studying Spanish for a while you might decide to go and do a carrera (degree) there as it’s a prestigious educational institution.


Obviously, all the walking you’ll be doing around Alcalá will mean that at some point you’ll fancy something para comer (to eat). Alcalá de Henares, like pretty much any Spanish city, has hundreds of bars and restaurants where you can try all the different local tapas (small dishes). We’d recommend gambas al ajillo (prawns in garlic oil) or maybe some migas al pastor (breadcrumbs with chorizo sausage, pancetta and paprika)¡delicioso!

That’s just a few of the things Alcalá de Henares has to offer, so when you come to take a Spanish course here at Hablamos, we definitely recommend visiting and seeing for yourself this amazing medieval city.

Hablamos - full-on Spanish!