Posted by: Students Worldwide
Published on: 16/09/2021Back to Blog
Alcalá de Henares is a little town Northeast of the centre of Madrid. It’s the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the famous Don Quijote, which you won’t forget while you are sunbathing in Plaza Cervantes with his giant statue or walking down Calle Mayor seeing his home every day. And, if you’re lucky enough to be in Alcalá in October, you’ll witness Cervantes Week. The whole of Alcalá is converted to the biggest medieval festival in Europe, including theatrical performances, markets and concerts. This was one of my favourite weeks spent in Alcalá.
Universidad de Alcalá
Alcalá is also the site of one of the oldest universities in the world with the main university building dating back to 1293. Everyday you live there, you’re walking through a UNESCO world heritage site which is pretty cool! Alcalá is the perfect place to perfect your Spanish skills as many of the residents and shopkeepers speak no English, which is pretty daunting at first but incredible in the long run. Finally, the best part of going to this university is that central Madrid is only 35 minutes away by train, so you’ve got the whole city on your doorstep!
If you’re a foodie like me then it will be impossible not to go into Madrid every weekend to get some amazing food! The food highlight of my time in Madrid must be Takos al Pastor, which is just off Gran Via. Every taco is €1, so be prepared to queue to get in. However, it is 100% worth the wait! Madrid is also full of glorious food markets. My favourite was Mercado de San Ildefonso. There are so many great options here, you’ll have to return multiple times until you are satisfied and have tried everything! The ground floor consists of Asian cuisine, the middle floor is a mix, and the top floor has amazing cocktails! It’s everything you could wish for in one trendy place. Another great food market is Mercado de San Miguel, just off Plaza Mayor. You can find tapas, fresh fruit and a giant swordfish head here (decoration only). It is in a stunning glass building making the perfect shot for your inevitable Instagram story. I could write a whole blog post about all the amazing food that I ate in Madrid, so I’m going to end this section here.
Takos al Pastor
Things to do:
My favourite thing to do in Madrid was to walk around Malasaña. This is like the Shoreditch of Madrid with vintage and cool independent shops, street art and great food. You could spend multiple weekends here browsing through the many shops. If the sun is shining head down to El Retiro and rent a boat. It is so peaceful and a fun activity to do with friends. However, beware if the sun is shining there will be a queue! Another fun thing to do on a Sunday morning is the El Rastro market where you’ll find random little trinkets, lots of vintage items and a plethora of denim jackets! It’s hard to come out of there without spending at least a few euros. Lastly, if you’re the cultural type, of course you need to head to the famous Prado museum. You can even visit for free if you go in the last two hours before it closes! The botanical gardens are also just around the corner.
If I could summarise the Madrid nightlife in one word it would be mental. Nights out start way later in Spain, we often wouldn’t pre until after midnight and head to the clubs around 2 or 3am meaning you’re never going to be back in your bed before 5am earliest. The first place you’ll probably visit is Kapital because they always have an ESN discount. Kapital is crazy, consisting of 7 floors and usually a theatrical performance or two. The best part is that the burrito place across the road is always open when you leave making it the best post-clubbing snack. If you’re in Alcalá, the Green is the place to be. I think I went there twice a week or more for my whole time there. Be sure to go on Wednesday nights for karaoke night which was my best part of the week! My biggest piece of advice for Spanish clubbing is get used to reggaeton music because there is no escaping it once you’re there. Of course, there are loads of other places to go out in Madrid as well, such as Joy Eslava, but wherever you go you’re guaranteed to have the best time.
My first piece of advice is to join the Erasmus Social Network (the ESN). This will be your base for making friends, especially at the start. The ESN put on activities throughout the year to make your time abroad the as much fun as pssible. My first night in Alcalá consisted of a tapas crawl hosted by the ESN which is where I met some of my best friends! You also get discounts such as 25% off Ryanair and a free suitcase every time you fly during your year abroad!
Accommodation was relatively easy to sort. Luckily, I had one acquaintance going to the same university, so we used aluni.net to find two rooms available in the same house. We ended up living with four other Spanish students which was really useful for learning all the slang that they don’t teach you at uni. It is also helpful to find someone who went to your uni before to find out all the information, for example I found a girl who helped make sure our house was in a central location.
My biggest piece of advice is to just have the best time. You honestly will never have life that easy and simple again. I wish I could go back to the days where I would go and have a cerveza con limon after uni without a care in the world soaking up good weather and good friends.
Credit – Grace Soning