Alcalá de Henares
The main Tourist Information Centre Promoción Turística de Alcalá is at Plaza de los Irlandeses 4, phone: +34 91 882 13 54.
By planeMadrid Barajas airport is 15 km west, with extensive connections across Europe and beyond. A direct bus #824 runs between Alcalá and Terminals 1 & 2, every 30-40 min weekdays and hourly at weekends from about 07:00 to 22:00, taking 40 min. All these buses run from central Alcalá (corner of Via Complutense and Calle Murillo); some of them continue to the University.
Reaching the airport by metro & suburban train involves going into Madrid and changing at Chamartin or Atocha to come out again.
Estación de Alcalá de Henaresphone: +34 902 240 505 (reservations)address: Plaza de la Estación, s/nAlcalá is connected to central Madrid by Renfe suburban train (cercanias) lines C2 and C7. They run every 5-10 minutes, taking 38 minutes to Madrid's main station Atocha, 47 minutes to Nuevos Ministerios and 52 minutes to Chamartín. Line C7 ends here in Alcalá, line C2 continues NE to the university and Guadalajara. The station is 200 m north of Via Complutense the town's main street.
Estación de La GarenaThe less important station mostly serves local residents and is of lesser importance for tourists. It is however closer to the Roman ruins than the central station,
Estación de Alcalá de Henares UniversidadServing the modern university (not its historic buildings) to the east of the town center.
By busBuses from Madrid start from Avenida de América, outside the Metro station. Line 223 runs to central Alcalá (Via Complutense) every 15 mins or so between 06:00 and 10:00, then every 30 min. Journey time is 40 min; last bus into Madrid is at 23:00, last bus out to Alcalá is at 00:00.
Bus 227 runs to Alcalá university campus at Escuela Politécnica, M-F every 15-30 min, taking one hour. This circles the northern burbs of Alcalá and isn't convenient for the centre.
Bus 229 runs to Alcalá Virgen del Val bus station, east end of town, M-F every 15-30 min and hourly at weekends, taking 50 min. This bus serves the south edge of town along Calle Ronda Fiscal and isn't convenient for the centre.
Night bus N202 runs to Alcalá between 00:00 and 06:00, hourly Su-Th and every 30 min F Sa & holidays, taking 40 min. It runs through the centre along Via Complutense and east as far as Calle Avila.
Two Alsa buses per day from Madrid stop in Alcalá on the way to Zaragoza (4 hours) and Barcelona (7-8 hours).
La Universidad de AlcaláFounded in 1499 by Cardinal Cisneros, and the centre of academic excellence in Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries. Visit by guided tour only, hourly in Spanish, in English at 14:00. The tour takes in the ornate plateresque façade, the three interior patios, the mudejar chapel, and the Paraninfo auditorium where the Cervantes Literary Prize is presented by the King annually on April 23. The University goes back to an older institution that did not teach the full range of subjects of a "proper" university founded in the 13th century and was moved to Madrid as the modern day Complutense University in the nineteenth century. In the 20th century a new university was founded in Alcalá.
address: Calle Mayor 48This is the house where the famous author of El Ingenioso Hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha was born in 1547, and lived his early days. The museum recreates life in a Spanish house of that period, though perhaps a more stable, prosperous household than Cervantes' own. His father was a barber-surgeon, so the old shaving & blood-letting bowl foretells Don Quixote's mad helmet. The book was widely translated soon after Part One was published in 1605, and there's an impressive collection of translations and other books and manuscripts from around the world. Free admission but to avoid overcrowding they only let in a dozen or so at a time, so there may be a queue.
Hospital de Antezanaa 15th C charity hospital, probably the oldest in Europe in continuous use. Nowadays it's a care home for the elderly.
Cathedralwas originally 15th C, but rebuilt after fire damage in 1939. It's called a "magisterial" cathedral because its clerics were all masters, ie graduate teachers of the university. Contains the Cripta de los Santos Niños a reliquary dedicated to two children who were supposedly executed for their Christian faith under emperor Diocletian allegedly also containing their mortal remains. It's also Cardinal Cisnero's site of burial although his much more elaborate tomb is found in the Chapel of San Ildefonso on University grounds.
Archbishop's Palacebuilt as a fortress in the 14-15th century, turned into an episcopal palace in the 16th century, but much of it burnt down in 1939 during the Civil War. It saw the birth of England's Katherine of Aragón and Germany's Emperor Ferdinand, the death of John I of Castille, and the first meeting (the Spanish term "entrevista" literally means "interview") where Christopher Columbus pitched his idea to Queen Isabel of sailing west to reach India. You can't visit the interior.
However the interview room is recreated, along with other exhibitions, in the nearby House of the Interview (Casa de la Entrevista, Calle San Juan 2). The building was a 16th-century convent for Franciscan nuns. Open Tu-Sa 11:00-14:00 & 17:00-20:00, Su 11:00-14:00.
Archaeological Museumhoused in the 17th C Madre de Dios monastery-college on Plaza de las Bernadas. Prehistoric and Roman finds from the area.
House of Hippolytusaddress: west end of town by Av de Madridprobably a 3rd- or 4th-century college, with well preserved mosaics
Castillo de Alcalá la ViejaThe rests of the old Muslim fortress that gave the town its name, partially rebuilt in the 14th and 15th century
address: 15 Plaza de CervantesDating back to 1602 and thus older than Shakespaere's "Globe" in London it claims to be one of the world's oldest theaters even though it hasn't been in use as such without interruption. Both guided tours and plays are on offer.
Alcalá is known for its almendras garrapiñadas, a sugar-coated almond candy. You can buy them at El Convento de San Clarisas de San Diego (Calle Beatas 5), a cloistered abbey where the nuns make the candies with nothing but "almonds, sugar and love."
There are frequent gastronomic events very tenuously linked to passages in Don Quixote, whose woeful hero ate next to nothing, and enjoyed less.
Baratariaphone: +34 918 88 59 25Restaurant & tapas bar. Good for grilled meat; its specialty dish is ribs with honey.
The Parador restaurant Hosteria del Estudiante (Calle de Colegios 3) is excellent.
phone: +34 918 88 03 30address: Colegios, 84-star hotel in centre of this University town. Grouped around the 17th-century Dominican Convent of Santo Tomas de Aquino, but the accommodation is modern and spacious. Guest parking per night, no pets allowed.
Heading north & east towards Barcelona, spare a day for Zaragoza, which deserves to be better known.
Most other onward destinations will involve transiting Madrid.