Last Updated on January 5, 2024
Situated in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, Cuenca stands as a captivating testament to Spain’s rich culture and history.
Perched high on a limestone ridge, this enchanting city in the autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha boasts a unique landscape characterized by dramatic cliffs, deep gorges and medieval architecture. Cuenca’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets that wind their way around well-preserved buildings, showcasing a blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque influences.
Overlooking the Huécar and Júcar Rivers, the city’s iconic hanging houses cling to the cliffsides, creating a picturesque panorama that has earned Cuenca its reputation as one of Spain’s most picturesque and culturally significant destinations. With its rich history, stunning scenery and vibrant arts scene, Cuenca invites visitors to immerse themselves in the magic of its past and present.
Though visitors tend to gravitate to more popular Spanish cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville, there’s something to be said about smaller, more quaint towns like Cuenca. Even I have this on my travel list for my hubby and me next time we visit to Spain.
When we do go, these are the sites I’ll be sure to see.
Explore the Hanging Houses (Casas Colgadas)
This is perhaps the most iconic feature of Cuenca, Spain. Perched on the edge of the Huécar Gorge, these medieval structures defy gravity as they cling to the cliffs, creating a breathtaking spectacle.
Dating back to the 14th century, Casas Colgadas are characterized by their wooden balconies that seemingly defy the laws of physics, extending over the gorge below. Originally built for wealthy families, these houses now serve various purposes, including housing the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art.
Visitors can explore the interior of these unique buildings, immersing themselves in the historical and architectural significance of the Casas Colgadas while enjoying panoramic views of Cuenca’s picturesque surroundings.
Visit the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art
Located in the Hanging Houses, this museum displays works by prominent Spanish abstract artists, offering a deeper understanding of the country’s modern art movement, and standing as a testament to this artistic style of the 20th century.
Founded in 1966, the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art features works by prominent artists associated with Abstract Expressionism, geometric abstraction and other avant-garde movements. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, and other forms of abstract art that demonstrate a departure from traditional representational styles.
Admire the Cuenca Cathedral
There’s just something we love about European cathedrals. Even in smaller towns, the churches and cathedrals always appear impressive and ornate.
So it is with Catedral de Santa María y San Julián, a stunning Gothic masterpiece that dominates the city’s skyline. Construction of the cathedral began in the 12th century and as a result of its various renovations and additions throughout the years, it also features Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance elements.
Highlights of its rich interior include the Chapel of the Constables, the Altarpiece of the Holy Family, and the Renaissance-style golden custodia, a monstrance used for displaying the consecrated Eucharistic host.
One of the most notable features of the Cuenca Cathedral is its “Triforio,” a unique gallery of arches and columns encircling the interior of the cathedral, creating a sense of lightness and elegance. A climb to the top of the cathedral’s towers offers panoramic views of Cuenca and its surroundings, providing a spectacular vantage point to appreciate the city’s medieval layout and the stunning landscape beyond.
Stroll Through the Old Town (Casco Antiguo)
We find that one of the best ways to get the real feel for a destination is to wander your way through its Old Town. Casco Antiguo is a captivating labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets, medieval architecture and charming squares. The well-preserved historic district transports visitors back in time.
Wandering through its winding alleys, you’ll encounter a wealth of architectural gems, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque structures that reflect the city’s evolution over the centuries. The Old Town is home to numerous churches convents, and palaces, each telling a story of Cuenca’s past. N
otable landmarks within the Casco Antiguo include the Cuenca Cathedral, the Plaza Mayor, and the Co-cathedral of Saint Julian.
One of the distinctive features of the Old Town is its strategic location on a high ridge between the Huécar and Júcar Rivers. This vantage point not only offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape but also contributes to the defensive character of the city.
The central square, Plaza Mayor, serves as a lively hub where locals and visitors alike gather to enjoy outdoor cafes, markets, and cultural events. The atmosphere is infused with a sense of history, with each cobblestone and archway echoing the footsteps of generations that have called Cuenca home.
Admire the San Pablo Bridge (Puente de San Pablo)
While in Casco Antiguo, travelers will note this medieval structure that spans the Huécar River.
Constructed during the 16th century, Puente de San Pablo is characterized by its semi-circular arches and sturdy stone construction. The bridge provides a picturesque entrance to the Old Town, adding to the charm of Cuenca’s overall landscape. As visitors traverse the bridge, they are treated to breathtaking vistas of the Hanging Houses (Casas Colgadas) clinging to the cliffs above the Huécar Gorge.
The strategic positioning of the San Pablo Bridge also makes it an ideal vantage point for capturing the scenic beauty of the city. Photographers and sightseers often pause on the bridge to admire the unique blend of natural and architectural elements that define Cuenca.
Hike in the Cuenca Mountains
Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate the rewarding and immersive experience of exploring the natural beauty and rugged landscapes surrounding the city of Cuenca.
The Serranía de Cuenca that envelopes the city is characterized by diverse ecosystems, deep gorges, and lush forests, making it an ideal destination for hikers of all levels. Visitors can hike from Old Town to the Mirador Barrio del Castillo offering panoramic views, choose a more adventurous trek to Ciudad Encantada (Enchanted City), or follow the course of the Júcar River, exploring its banks and surrounding woodlands.
This trail offers a peaceful and picturesque hike, allowing hikers to enjoy the soothing sound of flowing water and immerse themselves in the natural habitat. This is just for starters, there are many other options.
Tour the Enchanted City (Cuidad Encantada)
Cuidad Encantada is renowned for its whimsical limestone formations. These natural sculptures take on shapes that spark the imagination, with names like the Mushroom, the Sea of Stone, the Elephant, and the Cupola.
The site’s unique karst topography is a result of the dissolution of soluble rocks, primarily limestone. Over thousands of years, natural processes of erosion, weathering and water action have shaped the rocks into their current intriguing forms.
The Ciudad Encantada features natural caves and passageways carved by the forces of nature, creating a sense of wonder as hikers navigate through the intricate network of stone structures. Photographic opportunities abound as the interplay of light and shadow on the rock formations creates an ever-changing visual spectacle.
The next time you’re looking at a trip to Portugal to your travel itinerary, you may want to consider Cuenca as one of the places you’ll want to see and explore.