A day trip from Madrid: Alcalá de Henares

A storyboard on a wall in Alcala

Alcalá de Henares, which means citadel on the Henares river,  is a town thirty minutes outside of Madrid by train. Famous Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote has brought this town fame for being his birth town (though he grew up elsewhere). On an recent visit to Madrid to visit my dear friend Angelica, we decided to trade in the hectic-ness of Madrid for an afternoon in a medieval town. We braved overcast skies and visited this quaint town on a Saturday afternoon.  I quickly scoured a few Spanish expat blogs before we headed to Atocha train station to take a cercania (local trains) and learned Alcalá de Henares is also famous for serving free tapas with every drink you order. Score. This town is like Ameria province with a menu of tapas you can choose from with every drink you order. Who knew

We arrived at 4 in the afternoon and let our senses guide us to the center of town. We didn’t bother bringing a map, though in hindsight we had one in the guidebook, nor ask anyone. Alcala is a small town and rather easy to find your way.  We noticed Arab influence within minutes of arriving from when the Moors arrived in 711. It’s not only the region of Andalucia that has the beautiful Arab architecture.

Arab architecture in Alcalá-  Laredo palace

We snapped pictures of the town as we made our way to the center… 

Some more Arab influence

...but with food always on my mind, I was worried most of the tapas bars kitchens would be closed before we would have a chance to sample Alcala’s tapas. Spain has strict eating and kitchen hours and being a food lover, I’ve learned if you don’t want to settle for a Doner Kebab or McDonald’s, you have to make food a priority with your plans to ensure you don’t arrive hungry to a closed restaurant.

A menu of tapas to choose from

We ran into the first bar we saw, Indalo, and I recognized the name from the blogs and a guidebook, both giving this place a worthy mention. “This place must be good, I keep hearing about it,” I thought. As we sat down, I asked the waiter if the kitchen was still open and seemed surprised by the question and told him our drink orders. We looked over the menus with photos of over 40 tapas and you know what? I wasn’t impressed and only a few sounded appetizing. Maybe it’s because I lived in the land of free tapas last year, I had my fill of mediocre and excellent tapas.  But when my tapa of croquetas arrived lukewarm, my suspicions were confirmed and I wondered why Indalo seems to be the place to be. Neither of us thought highly of the food but we’re happy to hear kitchens in Alcalá don’t close after the afternoon lunch hour, like most places in Spain do.

How amazing!

A glass of white wine and croquetas for 2.85 Euros!

But with our late start and daylight savings time not on our side, and our tummies upset from eating too much salty and unhealthy food for 3 days in a row, we opted to explore the town rather than the insides of tapas bars.

We made our way to the Cervantes plaza. No one is sure of the exact place Cervantes was born but many people believe he was born where his statue stands in Cervantes plaza.

Statue of Cervantés

Alcala is a university town and has famous resident white storks who have made many of the tall buildings their home. The storks are a symbol of the university.

Storks are a symbol of the university

With the Henares river nearby, the storks have plenty of food and wildlife available to them to make Alcalá de Henares a perfect place to live.

Resident storks on a government building

Though we weren’t hungry, we decided to sample the custardy, meringue flaky, desert, Costrada. Tasty but very sugary. Our mouths enjoyed Costrada but our tummies weren’t happy with our decision.

Typical Alcalá Desert


Having a conversation with Cervantes

Having a conversation with Cervantes


Angelica and I hanging out with our friend, Cervantes

Angelica and I hanging out with Cervantes



Have you been to Alcalá de Henares? Have you been to an author’s town/city? If so, Where and What did you think?



6 thoughts on “A day trip from Madrid: Alcalá de Henares

  1. Pingback: 2012 Travels in Review: A slideshow of Photos « Roamingtheworld

  2. Nope, never been. But I’ve been to Oxford – that should count for something especially for its rich history.

    I’m hungry now. And curious – does it feel like you ever left?

    • Yes, Oxford counts! I haven’t been but did got to Cambridge!

      I’m hungry too…
      Good question Azra- it does feel like I left because this is a completely new region but still figuring out the differences between the North and South. So far, they don’t seem as obvious or “so different” as everyone makes them out to be… will see.. it’s only been 2 months after all.

    • Hi Cat,
      Funny how some sights just evade us, and others we keep going to. Hope you make it soon! I still haven’t seen Toledo!

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