The UNESCO-protected city of Alcalá de Henares is an ideal daytrip from Madrid. Pretty plazas and grandiose sandstone buildings decorate the streets of the city’s old quarter, museums celebrate Spanish art and literature and restaurants serve up authentic tapas. Romans built a settlement in Alcalá de Henares in the 1st century B.C. and the Moors later turned it into a fortified town. In 1293 King Sancho IV of Castile established the University of Complutense, one of the world’s oldest universities.
Experience college life at the University of Alcalá, which occupies some of the buildings of the city’s first university. The magnificent Mudejar-style Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso houses the Paraninfo, the setting for the annual Miguel de Cervantes Prize ceremony. See the mausoleum of Cardinal Cisneros, an important university figure, at the Chapel of San Ildefonso. The Museum of Latin American Art of UAH has works by influential artists from Spanish-speaking countries.
Get acquainted with the fascinating life of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, at the Cervantes Birthplace Museum. Inside the Madre de Dios Dominican Convent, the Regional Archaeological Museum has everything from paleontological fossils to Bronze Age relics and Roman mosaics. A group of around 50 sculptures make up the Museum of Outdoor Sculpture of Alcalá, set outside the walls of the Archbishop’s Palace.
Dedicate time to visit other outstanding landmarks such as the Magisterial Cathedral, the burial place of Cardinal Cisernos and baptism site of Catherine of Aragon. Views from the cathedral tower are worth climbing the spiral staircase for. Enjoy more great views from the medieval Santa Maria Tower. Discover artistic influences from the Alhambra, Pompeii and plateresque traditions at Laredo Palace.
After a busy day, take a seat at the tapas bars situated on Calle Mayor and Plaza de Cervantes. Attend concerts, poetry readings and theater productions at the Corral de Comedias. Learn about the history of this 400-year-old theater on a guided tour.
Alcalá de Henares is about 22 miles (35 kilometers) east of Madrid. Getting here is quick and easy by catching the train from Madrid’s Atocha Cercanías station.