11 Top Tourist Attractions in Cuenca & Easy Day Trips
Cuenca is a magical sight, dramatically standing above a river gorge with its famous "hanging houses" clinging to steep, rocky slopes. This UNESCO World Heritage city is one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Spain. With its cobblestone lanes, town square, and old mansions, Cuenca has wonderfully preserved its Old World character. Tourists enjoy wandering the ancient streets discovering picturesque alleys and hidden corners. Fascinating historic monuments and fabulous views are found at every turn. Cuenca also has outstanding art museums and festivals. For a rewarding cultural experience, visit during Easter to attend the Festival of Religious Music.
1 Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses)
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Hanging Houses are the most emblematic and famous spot in Cuenca. The picturesque Casas Colgadas of Cuenca are reached via the Calle Obispo Valero, built at the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the Huécar River. The houses cling precariously to the cliff side with their balconies projecting over the abyss. The entire Huécar Gorge originally was lined with hanging houses, but only three of them remain. These remarkable medieval buildings were beautifully restored in the early 20th century. The house on the left hand side is known as the Casa de la Sirena (House of the Mermaid).
Address: Calle Obispo Valero
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cuenca - TripAdvisor.com
2 Museo de Arte Abstracto Español
The Museum of Spanish Abstract Art is in one of the Casas Colgadas. Dramatically suspended above a sheer cliff wall, the building has three levels of gravity-defying balconies that jut out over the river gorge. The 15th-century house has been completely renovated but still reveals the original architectural elements, including wooden beam details on the interior. The museum's exceptional collection focuses on Spanish Abstract paintings and sculptures of the 1950s and 1960s as well as works from the 1980s and 1990s. Visitors are astounded by the originality of the collection along with the variety. The collection includes more than 700 art works by renowned Spanish abstract artists. Among the artists represented are Eduardo Chillida, Manolo Millares, Gerardo Rueda, Antonio Saura, Eusebio Sempere, Pablo Serrano, Antoni Tàpies, Gustavo Torner, and Fernando Zóbel. This is one of the largest collections of modern art in Spain after the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.
Address: Calle Canónigos, Cuenca
3 Convento de las Carmelitas Descalzas
This lovely Baroque convent provided a spiritual home for the Carmelite order of nuns in the 17th century. The convent is found at the highest point of Cuenca with a beautiful outlook of the Huécar River Valley, an area listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building now houses the Menéndez Pelayo International University, which hosts cultural events throughout the year. Tourists can visit the convent's historic church that houses the marble and bronze tomb of Saint John of the Cross. The church also displays a noteworthy painting by José García Hidalgo.
Address: 18 Ronda de Julián Romero, Cuenca
4 Catedral de Santa María la Mayor
Dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, Cuenca's impressive cathedral stands proudly on the town's main square. Also known by the name of Nuestra Señora de Gracia (Our Lady of Grace), the cathedral features a mix of Norman and Gothic architectural details. Although the facade was damaged in 1902, the interior has been well preserved. Take time to visit the richly decorated sanctuary; be sure to see the 18th-century high altar by Ventura and a beautiful Renaissance arch, the Arco de Jamete. A unique triforium in the ambulatory is unlike any other church in Spain. Two artistic treasures are the 13th-century Mater Dolorosa by Pedro de Mena in the sacristy and a Crucifixion by Yáñez de la Almedina in the Capilla de los Caballeros.
Attached to the cathedral is the Palacio Episcopal (Bishop's Palace). The lower floors of the Bishop's Palace house the Diocesan Museum, which displays the cathedral's exceptional art collection. Be sure to see the Christ on the Cross and Prayer in the Garden of Olives paintings by El Greco. Other treasures include the 13th-century Byzantine diptych from Mount Athos, exquisite goldsmith's work, elegantly crafted altarpieces, antique liturgical objects, and valuable tapestries.
Address: 1 Obispo Valero, Cuenca
5 Parador de Cuenca
In a commanding position above the Huécar Gorge and opposite the Hanging Houses, the former convent of San Pablo has been repurposed as a luxury hotel, part of Spain's national Parador association. The monastery, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, is on the outskirts of Cuenca in a dramatic and serene setting. With its sheer walls at the edge of the cliff side, the building seems to sprout from the rocky promontory. The views are sublime, with the Hanging Houses and the San Pablo Bridge in the distance. Designed to pamper visitors, the Parador de Cuenca has luxurious modern rooms and an elegant gourmet restaurant in the historic dining room (once used by monks). Tourists will enjoy the restaurant's traditional regional cuisine. Specialties include ajoarriero (cod-potato spread), Manchego cheese, truffled eggs, and alajú (a confection made with nuts and honey). The monastery's Gothic church has been converted into a charming café, and the cloister is now glass enclosed.
Address: Paseo Hoz del Huécar, Cuenca
6 Religious Music Week
For those planning to visit Cuenca at the end of March and early April, this festival of religious music is a top attraction coinciding with Easter celebrations. Cuenca's Religious Music Week presents concerts of sacred music performed by world-class orchestras, soloists, and choirs. Adding to the experience are the marvelous concert venues including the cathedral, Las Carmelitas Convent, and San Miguel Church. Some performances require tickets, while others are free.
7 Oratorio de San Felipe de Neri
Exemplifying ornate Rococo style, the Oratory of San Felipe was designed by the architect José Martín de Aldehuela, built in 1739, and restored in 1989. The church has a single barrel-vaulted nave shaped like a Latin cross. The plain exterior belies an exquisite interior with fanciful Rococo details, especially the side chapels and decorative columns with lovely capitals. Tourists can only visit the church during hours of worship.
Address: Calle Andrés de Cabrera, Cuenca
8 Iglesia de la Virgen de la Luz
This beautiful church dedicated to the Virgin Mary is also known as San Antón, after the city's patron saint. The building dates to the 16th century and was completed in the 18th century with a splendid Rococo interior in contrast to the austere exterior. An old convent is also connected with the church. A precious object in the church is the Black Madonna, typically found in medieval pilgrimage churches. In the Auvergne region of France, many of the ancient churches possess similar Black Virgin figures that are sacred to pilgrims.
Address: Calle San Lázaro, Cuenca
9 Nuestra Senora de las Angustias
The scenic walk along Calle Pilares to this 17th-century shrine gives visitors the impression of a pilgrimage. Arriving at the Nuestra Señora de las Angustias, tourists discover a beautiful Baroque church dedicated to the diocese's patron saint. The church was built on the site of an older hermitage that once stood here. It is a custom for visitors to kiss the cloak of the Viernes de Dolores (Friday of Pain) Madonna.
Address: Bajada de las Angustias
10 Museo de Cuenca (Museum of Archaeology)
The Museo de Cuenca is near the Hanging Houses and is a worthwhile stop for tourists interested in archaeology of the Roman era. The collection displays antiquities that were discovered in the area surrounding Cuenca, which had an important ancient Roman settlement. A highlight of the collection is the first-century marble bust of Lucius Caesar. Other interesting exhibits include the reconstruction of an ancient Roman kitchen and an assortment of antique Iberian dolls.
Address: 6 Calle Obispo Valero, Cuenca
11 San Julian Seminary
This beautiful seminary was built in 1745 on the site of the Palace of the Marquis of Siruela. Tourists can admire the lovely Baroque façade but unfortunately cannot view the interior as the monument is not open to the public.
Address: Plaza de la Merced, Cuenca
Day Trips from Cuenca
La Ciudad Encantada ("Enchanted City" Rock Formations)
An incredible geological site is just 36 kilometers from Cuenca by way of the romantic and rugged Valley of Júcar. The scenic drive offers beautiful views of the town and the valley. La Ciudad Encantada ("Enchanted City") is a stony labyrinth of crags, caves, lakes, and waterfalls which, with a little imagination, can be seen to resemble a ruined city with its houses and streets and squares. The rock formations are the result of erosion hewn out of the sedimentary rocks, over the course of many thousands of years.
Monasterio de Uclés
About 70 kilometers from Cuenca, the town of Uclés was founded in the 10th century by the Order of Saint James. During this period, Uclés was the capital of their territory, although the Knights of Saint James later relocated to Malta. The monastery of Uclés was built between the 16th and 18th centuries in the Renaissance style (although the southern facade is Baroque). Decorating the front doors are scallop shells on crosses of Saint James, the symbol of pilgrims who trekked the medieval "Way of Saint James" to Santiago de Compostela. Arranged around a beautiful courtyard with a double cloister, the building has a sense of serenity and harmony. In the center of the courtyard is a Baroque well adorned with the Order of Saint James' coat of arms. The monastery's 16th-century church features a magnificent paneled ceiling and medallion portraits of the Grand Masters of the Order. Tourists may visit the monastery on a guided tour, available by appointment.
Address: Calle Castillo 16450 Uclés
Belmonte Castle is one of the most impressive fortresses of the Castile-La Mancha region. Standing on the San Cristobal hill, the 15th-century Gothic-Mudejar castle was constructed for Don Juan Pacheco, Marquis of Villena, for use as his private home. The imposing medieval castle is shaped like a six-pointed star. Cylindrical towers add to the fairy-tale look.
Address: 1 Calle de Eugenia Montijo, 16640 Belmonte
Ancient Ruins in Segóbriga
This archaeological site in Segóbriga reveals fascinating remains of a first-century to second-century Roman settlement. The excavation site includes the ancient city's theater, amphitheater, basilica, and thermal baths. The remains of these splendid buildings indicate that Segóbriga was an important administrative center of the region. Guided tours of the site are available.
Address: Carretera Carrascosa de Campo a Villamayor de Santiago, Segóbriga