It’s taken me a while, but after talking this place up for the past year, I’ve finally gotten around to posting about my beloved Cuenca. While living in Madrid last year, I decided to visit Cuenca, Spain, one weekend after simply looking at a map and picking a place I had vaguely remembered hearing about. This sleepy yet incredibly picturesque town completely surpassed my expectations: it may just be the cutest town you’ve never heard of. In fact, its well-preserved medieval old town is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site! If you have some extra time while in Madrid or Valencia, I highly recommend paying a visit.
8 reasons to visit Cuenca, Spain
#1. Cuenca is an easy day trip from Madrid or Valencia.
Logistically speaking, this stands out among the many reasons to visit Cuenca, Spain. Cuenca is right smack in the middle between Madrid and Valencia – about an hour train ride from each (BTW the Spanish train system is easy and amazing). That means it’s a great spot for a one-night trip, like what I did, or just a day trip. To be honest, though, I wish I had stayed the whole weekend!
#2. Cuenca’s Casas Colgadas, or Hanging Houses, project almost impossibly off a cliff.
The casas colgadas, or hanging houses, are probably what Cuenca is best known for (see the main photo for this post above). These houses, which jut out over the Río Huécar gorge, were built to maximize living space for Cuenca’s growing population in the Middle Ages. You can get photogenic views of the casas on and across the San Pablo Bridge. Beware – this bridge can give you serious vertigo. In addition to these impressive casas, you’ll find other charming houses throughout the old town that boast colorful facades as well as medieval stone structures that really take you back in time.
#3. Cuenca’s got modern art with a view.
So you may be wondering if anyone actually lives in these casas colgadas…and the answer is no, because they now house a sleek art museum, el Museo de Arte Abstracto Español. The coolest thing about this museum is the fact that the art is displayed in front of and near windows from which you can see the river gorge, creating a stunning visual.
#4. Cuenca has jaw-dropping landscapes.
The city’s location and scenery are definitely among the top reasons to visit Cuenca, Spain. While I was there, I felt like I stumbled upon a gorgeous view almost everywhere I turned. After all, the word “cuenca” does mean “basin,” and the city definitely earns its name with its many gorges, hills, and rocky cliffs. As you roam through the old town, various passageways and roads will lead you to impressive vistas, so just let yourself get a little lost!
#5. Cuenca’s scenic walking trails are a great way to get some exercise in Mother Nature.
As you may expect, Cuenca’s hiking and walking trails are a great way to enjoy the city’s landscapes. You can get some truly breathtaking views of the Río Huécar gorge from the Mirador Barrio del Castillo, a stunning lookout point near old castle ruins. I loved exploring the paths around this area, which are lined with poppies and wildflowers in the spring. For another great view, head up the hill called the Cerro del Socorro, on top of which you’ll find a statue of Jesus (kind of Rio de Janeiro-esque). The path to the top is actually marked by stones bearing the 14 Stations of the Cross. You will definitely work up a sweat on the way up, but it’s worth it. Another scenic path is along the Río Júcar. Walk along the river until you reach Bajada Angustias, which takes you up to a church called El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de las Angustias. Check out the church and then continue upwards – you’ll find yourself right back in the old town!
#6. A visit to Cuenca’s underground tunnels is a worthwhile history lesson.
Los Túneles de Alfonso VIII, the subterranean tunnels under Cuenca’s old town, have served various purposes over the city’s history. Of particular interest to me was their use as a bomb shelter during the Spanish Civil War. Due to its location between Madrid and Valencia, republican Cuenca suffered pretty serious air raids during the war. The people of Cuenca would hide in the tunnels during these attacks. I recommend booking the tour of the tunnels at Cuenca’s tourism office, right in the center of the old town. The tour takes you into the tunnels – helmets provided and all – and creates a theatrical simulation of what it would have been like to be down there during an air raid. The tour is both a chilling thrill and a provocative lesson in Spanish history.
#7. Cuenca is an ideal place to munch on Manchego cheese.
Cuenca is located in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha, the home of Manchego cheese. This cheese abounds in the castizo taverns and bars of Cuenca, so be sure to ask for a tapita of it as you enjoy a caña. As an American, I think Spain can be pretty affordable overall, but these tapas and beers in Cuenca are especially easy on the wallet!
#8. Cuenca has a beautiful cathedral.
Like many other Spanish cities, Cuenca is home to a historic cathedral, located right in the Plaza Mayor. This Gothic church features beautiful stained-glass windows and artwork. I particularly enjoyed the audio guide, which explained details I may have otherwise missed.
These are just some of the many reasons to visit Cuenca, Spain. This city is no longer my little secret – I encourage you to go out and explore it!
Have you ever paid a visit to Cuenca, Spain? Have you even heard of it? Comment below!