Cuenca is located roughly half-way between Madrid and Valencia in the Spanish region of Castile La Mancha. It’s a lovely little inland city that’s easy to reach by train or road. Perfect for a day trip or to stop by for 2-3 days as part of a road trip around Spain. There is plenty to see while exploring the city of Cuenca and we were genuinely taken by its charm.
It’s a little further from Madrid then other popular day trips like Toledo or Segovia so its quiet in comparison and doesn’t cater as much to tourists. The sights to see in Cuenca are understated and the restaurants and bars are full of locals and offer authentic local dishes. I will share a little insight into why I think Cuenca is worth exploring and hopefully inspire you to visit.
Cuenca in Spain
The city of Cuenca was built by the Moors, taking advantage of its high defensive position. They built a successful city based on textile and agriculture. It was captured by Alfonso VIII of Castile in the 12th century, he granted the city a title and the cathedral was built.
After a decline in trade during 18th century. Expansion into the lower lands of the city occurred during the 19th century and the city grew. The old historic centre was well maintained and with modern transport links to Madrid and Valencia added the city thrived and managed to recover from industrial decline.
The main sights in Cuenca
Puente de San Pablo bridge
A walk across the old wooden bridge is one of the first things to do in Cuenca. It’s a little scary, as its 40 metres high, the iron sides are quite low and the wood path is narrow. But its a strong structure in place for over 200 years.
The “hanging houses” are most visible during the walk across the bridge. It’s hard to not be amazed by the design and workmanship. Looking up at the houses they appear to hang off the cliff edge with the balconies jutting out over the river gorge. Build originally as summer houses for the royal family in the 15th century. The two old houses are now joined on either side by more modern buildings that stand along the cliff edge.
Like all Spanish cities the Cathedral is the centre point of the city. Cuenca Cathedral is one of the earliest examples of Spanish Gothic architecture. Its unusual façade was left unfinished following restoration work when the bell tower collapsed in 1902.
In front of the Cathedral is the Plaza Mayor. This is where the main cluster of restaurants and bars can be found. It’s also where the bus to the new part of town and the train station stops and where you will find the taxi rank.
Its well worth walking down this street to admire the colourful buildings. Or stop in one of the cute old fashioned shops that sell local produce.
Ruinas del Castillo de Cuenca
This is the site of the remaining ancient Arabian city walls. The name translates to castle ruins but there is now only a tower, archway and low levels of rock from the walls where a fortress once stood. It’s a about a 10 minute up hill walk through the old town.
Mirador Barrio del Castillo
Located just past the castle ruins, a further 5 minutes walk you will find an amazing viewing platform that overlooks the city.
Cuenca Parador is a large hotel in the former Monastery, the Convent of Saint Paul.
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Fun things to do in Cuenca
Museo del Arte Abstracto
You can see inside the hanging houses as one of the famous buildings is now a gallery for abstract art. Walk through the building to observe the art plus the buildings interior layout, original structural beams, windows and balcony views. For more info visit their website.
Walk along the Rio Júcar river
A walk along the river is a relaxing way to explore the outer edges of the city with great views up to the buildings above.
Explore the Túnel de Alfonso VIII
Learn about Cuenca’s civil war history while walking through the network of tunnels under the city. A guide will explain how they were built and what they have been used for over the years (be aware that some guides may speak Spanish only).
Hike up to the Mirador del Cerro de Socorro
This walk up outside the old town offers another great viewpoint and is perfect if you have more than a day in Cuenca.
Museo de Cuenca
Enjoy observing the roman coins and pottery excavated in the area now held on display within the Museum of Cuenca.
Buy local produce
Pick up local ceramics, wine, cheese or honey in one of the many local produce shops.
Look for the eyes
Los Ojos de la Mora are the large painted eyes overlooking the river gorge. Head to the West side of the old town to Plaza Merced to spot them. They symbolize an old folk tale about forbidden love and are said to be the sad eyes of a young Moorish woman looking out at the spot where she was set to meet her Christian lover, with plans to run away together and get married. But their secret was discovered and the man was killed by her rejected suitor.
Hire a Segway to whizz around the city and down by the river from Segway Cuenca at Plaza Mayor.
Where to eat and drink in Cuenca
- Picaro on Calle de Clavel – A modern bar with a great selection of craft beer, some outdoor seating and a very good value lunch set menu
- Bajo Los Tilos on Calle Santa Catalina – Serves good local food in an outdoor setting with views
- Los Arcos on Plaza Mayor – A traditional Spanish bar with typical local dishes, drinks and coffee
- Los Clasicos on Calle Servero Catalina – A simple bar with a balcony and great views
- Tabernacle Jovi on Calle Colmillo – An old style cocktail bar with lots of character
- Pub Los Elefantes on Calle Servero Catalina – A late night bar serving unusual tapas and cocktails
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My tips for visiting Cuenca
- If you take the train to Cuenca you will need to take a taxi or bus from the station to the old town
- If you drive to Cuenca there is parking by the Túnel de Alfonso
- Cuenca is very hilly so be prepared for up hill walking
- Don’t forget to turn down side streets to find lovely hidden buildings and secret viewpoints
- Take your time exploring Cuenca, it’s a small city with old world charm, there really is no need to rush
How to get to Cuenca
By train – Take the highspeed AVE train from Madrid Atocha station to Cuenca Fernando Zobel in just over 1 hour. A return adult ticket costs from €35.
By bus – Take the Avanza coach service from Estacion de Sur in Madrid to Cuenca. The drive takes approximately 2 hours 15 minutes and costs from €20 return.
By train – The AVE train leaves from Valencia Joaquín Sorolla station. The journey takes just over 1 hour and a return adult tickets costs from €35.
I hope this guide to exploring the city of Cuenca has been interesting and will be useful to those who want to visit.
Have you been to Cuenca before? Share what you enjoyed during your trip with us in the comments box below ↓↓
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