Photo of Alcala de Henares

Visit Alcala de Henares

Alcala de Henares is a city in the Madrid Province region of Spain. It is about 30 km from Madrid.

Alcala de Henares is a modern industrial city but it has an attractive medieval centre and a place in history as the first city to be built as the seat of a university.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Alcala de Henares is also famous for being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.

Explore Alcala de Henares

Spain This Way review: Alcala de Henares is a historic town with a UNESCO World Heritage listing. It is also a charming town with lots to see and is well worth a visit. It is an easy day trip from Madrid.

University of Alcala de Henares

Alcala de Henares is one of the oldest university towns in Europe. It was founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1499 and in the 16th century its university rivalled the university of Salamanca.

It is home to many historic buildings dating to the 'Golden Age' of Spain. These include university buildings, churches and monasteries.

The main sights lie in the medieval centre. Many of the university colleges have been destroyed but the magnificent San Ildefonso college remains. This has a wonderful Plateresque facade, a cloister, a Great Hall with a Mudejar ceiling and Renaissance and Baroque courtyards.

The Cervantes Literature Prize ceremony takes place every year in the Great Hall and is presented by the King of Spain. The ceremony takes place on the 24th April every year to commemorate the death of Miguel de Cervantes.

Within the university area is the 'Hostería del Estudiante' which was built in the 17th century as a convent and which is now one of Spain's wonderful Parador hotels, the Parador d'Alcala de Henares. It overlooks the Patio Trilingue of the university where Greek, Latin and Hebrew were once taught.

Next to the university area is the Plaza de Cervantes which is the main square of Alcala de Henares. It is a beautiful square full of flowers and with a statue of Miguel de Cervantes and a charming bandstand at its centre.

Take a look at the square column supporting the statue, it has been decorated with scenes from the book of Don Quixote designed by Pepe Noja.


At one end of the square is the Tower of Saint Mary which you can climb to get views over the university and the Plaza de Cervantes.

Also here is the Chapel of the Oidor which is the church where Cervantes was baptised.

Nearby can be found the Corral de Comedias, the oldest theatre in Europe. It has been restored and you can take a guided tour to explore the building and its history.

From the Plaza de Cervantes you can walk along the Calle Mayor which is the longest porticoed street in Spain.

Its columns were originally made of wood though these were changed to stone columns. Some of these medieval and Renaissance columns still exist but most were replaced in the 19th century with granite columns.

The Calle Mayor is a charming and vibrant street with lots of cafes and restaurants.

Half way along the Calle Mayor is the Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes which is built upon the site of Cervantes birth and has been built and furnished in 16th century style.

The building is typical of the Castilian style with a central courtyard and rooms around its edges. Several items related to Cervantes plus a few early copies of Don Quixote, his masterpiece, are kept in the museum.

Alcala de Henares is the birth place of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, which is considered to be the first modern European novel. Miguel de Cervantes is one of the world's greatest novelists.

Every year at Alcala his birthday, the 9 October, is celebrated with the Cervantes festival. On the anniversary of his death, the 23 April, there is a major awards ceremony for the coveted Cervantes prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.

Further along the Calle Mayor is another of the city's most important buildings, the cathedral. The cathedral is dedicated to the saints Justus and Pastor, two schoolboys martyred by the Romans in the 4th century.

The cathedral lies on Santos Ninos Square and was built in the 15-16th century. Have a look at its 17th century belltower which is home to a storks nest!

A short walk from here is the Archbishop's palace where Christopher Columbus and King Ferdinand planned Columbus' voyage to the west. The palace has an original 13th century tower and its facade is 16th century.

Some of the original defensive walls can be seen here too and all around the walls are sculptures by numerous artists making up an outdoor Sculpture Museum.

Nearby the convent of San Bernardo was built in 1617 by Cistercian monks and is now open to the public. The Madre de Dios convent is also nearby and is home to an Archeological Museum.

Calle Major

Where to visit near to Alcala de Henares

The Roman City of Complutum with the remains of its monuental forum is a short bus ride away as are the remains of the House of Hippolytus which was a sort of Roman leisure centre.

Of course Alcala de Henares is close to Madrid, a stunning city not to be missed on your travels.

A particularly interesting way to visit Madrid is to take the 'Cervantes train'. A group of actors perform scenes from Cervantes 'Don Quixote' whilst the train travels between the two cities. The train runs on Saturdays in April to June and October to December.

One of Spain's most visited monuments, the monestry complex of El Escorial is to the west of Madrid.

Fans of Don Quixote will also want to visit the famous windmills at Consuegra.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Madrid guide and the Madrid Province guide.

See also: 

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Map of Alcala de Henares and places to visit


Alcala de Henares places to visit

University of Alcala de Henares

University of Alcala de Henares

The university of Alcala de Henares is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

University of Alcala de Henares guide
Museum of Archeology and Paleontology of Alcala de Henares

Museum of Archeology and Paleontology of Alcala de Henares

The Museum is free to visit and has some interesting exhibits.

Museum of Archeology and Paleontology of Alcala de Henares guide


Madrid is the beautiful capital of Spain with some of the world's best art museums.

Madrid guide


Aranjuez is home to the wonderful 18th century Palacio Real, the royal summer palace and its gardens.

Aranjuez guide
El Escorial

El Escorial

El Escorial is a huge UNESCO listed palace complex.

El Escorial guide
Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso

Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso

The Royal Palace is a stunning royal palace with superb formal gardens.

Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso guide

...or see all our recommended places to visit in Madrid Province