12 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.
For more ideas on things to do in this enchanting city, read our list of the top tourist attractions in Cuenca.
See also: Where to Stay in Cuenca
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
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
Official site: http://www.march.es/arte/cuenca/?l=2
3. 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.
The richly decorated sanctuary and the 18th-century high altar by Ventura are especially noteworthy, as is the 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, including 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
4. San Pablo Bridge
Among Cuenca's most important landmarks, San Pablo Bridge is one of the most popular, a footbridge originally built in the 16th century to connect San Pablo convent to the old town over the Huécar River. The current bridge was constructed in 1902 of iron and wood, and those who don't mind heights or a little swaying will enjoy the best possible views of the Hanging Houses.
Another famous Cuenca landmark is Torre de Mangana, also originally built during the 16th century and renovated many times since. It stands as a symbol of the city, known as the "tower of the hours" thanks to its prominent clock.
Location: Río Huécar, Cuenca
5. 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 Fundación Antonio Pérez, a large gallery of modern art that is a surprising juxtaposition in such a historic setting. Collections include the personal "found objects" of founder Antonio Pérez, an influential poet, editor, and artist. The museum also houses over 4,000 pieces of modern art including paintings and sculpture, as well as other media, with special emphasis on Spanish artists.
Tourists can still visit the convent's historic church, which 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
Official site: https://fundacionantonioperez.com
6. Museo Paleontológico de Cuenca (MUPA)
The Paleontological Museum of Cuenca is home to an impressive collection of fossils from the Castilla-La Mancha region, as well as numerous exhibits that bring the past to life.The museum's dinosaur exhibits are among its most popular, especially with children, featuring finds dug from nearby sites. Visitors will also find numerous models of dinosaurs both great and small within these exhibits, as well as information about the ecosystems in which dinosaurs lived.
Outside the museum, the Paleontological Park is home to the largest of the replicas, where you can stroll among them on the grass. Along with evidence of the earth's earliest known life in the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras, the museum also features sections dedicated to the Miocene and Pleistocene periods, and exhibits include models of long-extinct species like saber-toothed tigers and woolly rhinoceroses. Areas dedicated to early humans show scenes of Neanderthal hunters and cave dwellings.
Address: Calle del Río Gritos, 5, Cuenca
Official site: https://mupaclm.es/
7. Science Museum of Castilla La Mancha (Museo de las Ciencias)
Another excellent family attraction is Cuenca's Science Museum, where there are many interactive exhibits that keep kids engaged. The museum explores every facet of science, starting with the basics of physics, the "big bang," and earth sciences like geology, biodiversity, meteorology, weather, and climate. The museum also has a strong focus on climate change and energy, exploring clean energy sources.
Other exhibits move out of the atmosphere to the satellites that surround us, and beyond our planet to visit the moon, Mars, and more. Numerous audiovisual exhibits immerse the visitor in exploration of the solar system and even time itself.
Address: Plaza de la Merced, 16001 Cuenca
Official site: https://pagina.jccm.es/museociencias/
8. 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.
The majority of the museum's archaeological specimens were discovered at the Ancient Ruins in Segóbriga, where a first-century to second-century Roman settlement was uncovered. 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: 6 Calle Obispo Valero, Cuenca
9. Túnel Alfonso VIII
One of Cuenca's coolest "hidden" attractions is the Túnel Alfonso VIII and its surrounding tunnels. What began as a series of natural tunnels, these passageways were expanded centuries ago beneath the town and have served many purposes over time. The toured parts of the tunnel are well-lit and have walkways that make it accessible to most travelers.
Portions of the tunnels are now open to the public via guided tours, during which tourists will learn about their uses as aqueducts and even crypts. The bulk of the tour is focused on the use of the tunnels as shelters for townspeople during the Spanish Civil War. For those who like excitement, the living-history tours bring this era to life with a mock air raid siren and actors.
Address: Calle Alfonso VIII, 89, Cuenca
10. Museo de la Semana Santa
Each year, Semana Santa is celebrated in conjunction with Easter celebrations, and Cuenca's festivities are known far and wide. During this time, the city comes alive with its festival of religious music, which is marked by not only performances but also a massive parade featuring elaborate floats and costumed performers.
For those who aren't visiting at the end of March and early April, the Semana Santa Museum gives tourists a chance to experience it by way of an immersive audio-visual presentation that showcases highlights of the parade. The museum also houses exhibits of traditional costumes and notable items from the parade's long history.
During Cuenca's Religious Music Week, there are numerous concerts of sacred music performed by world-class orchestras, soloists, and choirs. These are performed at venues including the cathedral, Las Carmelitas Convent, and San Miguel Church.
Address: Calle Andrés de Cabrera, 13, Cuenca
Official site: http://www.msscuenca.org/
11. 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, which was once used by monks. Tourists will enjoy the restaurant's traditional regional cuisine, which features specialties like 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
12. Visiting the Churches of Cuenca
Cuenca is home to many beautiful historic churches that are visited by tourists interested in their religious significance, architecture, and history.
Exemplifying ornate Rococo style, the Oratorio de San Felipe de Neri (Oratory of San Felipe) was designed by the architect José Martín de Aldehuela, built in 1739. 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.
The Iglesia de la Virgen de la Luz (also known as San Antón) is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, 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.
The scenic walk along Calle Pilares to Nuestra Senora de las Angustias gives visitors the impression of a pilgrimage. Arriving at this 17th-century shrine, 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.
The beautiful San Julian 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.
Where to Stay in Cuenca for Sightseeing
- Luxury Hotels: The Parador de Cuenca is the city's premiere luxury hotel, occupying a converted 16th-century convent that sits just outside the city walls, perched on a hill to provide picture-perfect views of the walls and the cathedral. Guest rooms are very large, featuring tile floors, large windows, and a comfortable seating area. Hotel amenities include an outdoor pool, tennis courts, and an excellent restaurant, as well as plenty of function space. A more modern luxury option is Hotel Boutique Pinar, and although it is located a little over four miles from town, it is the perfect place to stay for a quiet retreat or romantic getaway. There are only a total of five guest rooms, but each is a private bungalow with its own saltwater pool and hedges for extra privacy. This boutique hotel is pet-friendly, and guests can enjoy room service, breakfast, and free Wi-Fi.
- Mid-Range Hotels: NH Ciudad de Cuenca is a modern hotel located on the southern end of town, and within 10 to 15 minutes by foot to most of the city's tourist attractions. For those with a car, there is free parking on-site, and the hotel offers a wide range of amenities including a fitness center, sauna, business center, and many convenience services. Tourists who want to stay in the center of town will appreciate Hotel Convento del Giraldo, a stylish four-star hotel housed in a historic 17th-century building that has surprisingly affordable rates. The hotel is located just a minute's walk from the cathedral, Plaza Mayor de Cuenca, and other top attractions, as well as several restaurants. There is also a restaurant on-site, and the rooms and suites are updated and spacious while retaining authentic features of the building.
- Budget Hotels: A good centrally-located bed-and-breakfast for travelers on a budget is Posada de San Jose. Just steps from the cathedral, it has beautiful views of this landmark, as well as the Huécar River Gorge. Guest rooms and suites in this restored 17th-century building feature original wood-beam ceilings and balconies; the staff is exceptionally welcoming. Another dependable budget B&B is the Hotel Plaza, located on the southern end of town near the Paleontology Museum. Rooms are well-appointed with unique décor, and wheelchair accessible rooms are available as are non-smoking rooms. Pets are welcome, and there is free Wi-Fi.
Day Trips from Cuenca
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 wall 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
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.
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
Official site: http://castillodebelmonte.com/en/
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Historic Walled Towns: A place well-known for its cathedral and numerous medieval convents, Ávila is also revered for its well-preserved town walls (Murallas). The picture-perfect walled town of Segovia is also home to an impressive cathedral, as well as several historic churches, a monastery, and a small Jewish Quarter.
Holy Toledo: For those seeking a multicultural experience, Toledo is known for being home to not only important Christian monuments but also Islamic mosques and Jewish synagogues, and the city's variety of local traditional crafts reflects this centuries-old blend of influences.