ALCALÁ DE HENARES, SPAIN. Some say that Madrid is currently not comprised of very many original “Madrileños” and that it is actually a collection of transplanted people from different pueblos or smaller cities all across Spain. Whether or not this may be true, why not visit one of these mini-cities to see what many call a more “traditional” Spanish experience? Alcalá de Henares is a prime location to do this kind of visit, as it offers something for all kinds of visitors – shoppers, tapas-enthusiasts, students, and historians.

The layout of Alcalá de Henares includes a central Plaza Cervantes, with a large statue of the Don Quixote inventor himself located in the middle of the square. From this Plaza, there are a number of others, such as the Plaza San Diego, and then a number of residential areas shooting off of the Plaza Cervantes. Alcalá de Henares was the first city in the entire world to be constructed as a university town. This university, called the Universidad Complutense en Alcalá was founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1499, but eventually was moved to Madrid. In its place is the newer, but no less credible Universidad de Alcalá has different buildings scattered throughout the city, along with natural science buildings on a different campus outside of the city and the next stop on the train, titled Alcalá de Henares-University.

I would like to focus on the food in Alcalá de Henares, as you will inevitably want to plan your day around your eating schedule. As breakfast is not a large or social meal in Spain, there are very few places to eat breakfast. If you are craving an egg sandwich or some sausage for breakfast, there is a McDonald’s just off of the Plaza Cervantes, but otherwise, you should be satisfied with one of the pastries from Granier, on Calle Libreros, or other local bakeries.

As comida, or lunch, is the most important meal of the day in Spain, many of the stores close during lunchtime, which is usually anytime between 13:00 and 16:00, closely followed by a siesta. The shops in Alcalá are no exception, and the majority of them are closed between those times. For lunch options in a budgeted price range, check out Pizzeria Casera, El Reloj Café/Bar, and Cassis Bistro. If your budget is more flexible, consider getting lunch at El Parador, located right in the middle of the many Universidad de Alcalá school buildings and offering a luxurious lounge and eating area.

After walking around Calle Mayor and other parts of Alcalá, you will surely be in need of a coffee break. As a student at the Universidad de Alcalá, this is one area of Alcalá in which I can proudly say I specialize. First, consider the local coffee joint called San Diego Coffee Company, located in the Plaza de San Diego. This quaint coffee shop only has coffee to-go, in beautifully crafted, printed paper cups. But taking it to go is not a problem, as the Plaza San Diego offers a beautiful spot to sit down, drink your local coffee, and eat your freshly-prepared carrot cake. If the weather is not as favorable, which is usually never in Spain, consider instead Café Libreros. This larger coffee shop and quick food area has a lovely atmosphere and often interesting local artwork on the walls.

On to tapas… one of the most famous tapas places in all of Alcalá de Henares is Indalo (on Calle Libreros), which has been around for a while and offers a wide selection of tapas for reasonable prices. My favorite, though, and probably one of the most popular is Quinto Tapón, a small tapas place that consistently provides a lively experience. With tapas from all over the world (literally menu pages full of tapas from at least fifteen different countries), you cannot get tired of the food, and it is always packed – which ends up being both a blessing and a curse. La Taberna de Rusty’s, additionally, is always a safe bet, with lots of sitting areas and open feel. Although it has relatively smaller dining selections, all of the food is well-prepared and the service is particularly good.

Other articles of mine will include more tourist information in Alcalá de Henares, about what to see and do in this mini-city gem.

How to get to Alcalá de Henares:

Take the C-7 or the C-3 Cercanías line to the Alcalá de Henares stop