Cave restaurants, hanging houses, illuminating statues and more make the town of Cuenca feel like a magical city. Cuenca was originally built by the Moors in the 12th century as a fortress between the Jucar and Huecar rivers . Much of the city’s defensive walls are still intact, as well as the precariously perched buildings, which makes this location an ideal UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, the town of Cuenca is home to about 55,000 residents, but still retains its magical feel and impressive medieval views.
In a city built on cliffs, you can imagine how great the rock-climbing routes are. Brooks, who is a huge fan of rock climbing, could hardly stand simply watching the rock climbers on the massive sandstone cliffs. If you too are a fan of the sport, make sure to bring your gear!
Cross the Puente De San Pablo (Saint Paul Bridge)
The iron bridge that sits above the Júcar River completes the look of this enchanted town. The bridge is painted a vibrant red which stands out against the lush greenery at the bottom of the city. The origin of the name is from over 100 years ago when St Pablo ferried people across the river.
Ciudad Encantada (“Enchanted City”)
As if Cuenca was not enchanted enough, about 40 minutes north is a park known as the “Enchanted City”. This park as a huge amount of rock formations in a variety of shapes. The most prominent of the rocky outcroppings have been given names based on what they look like; ships, animals, and a human face all can be seen with a little bit of imagination. The park costs 5 euros to enter, and guided tours are 6 euros (in Spanish only). There are paths, small vendors selling snacks and souvenirs, restaurants, and clean bathrooms. Above all, the geological marvels at Ciudad Encantada are worth the visit and entry fee.
Eat in a Cave
One of the reasons why we love traveling with Airbnb is the connections to and recommendations from the locals. Our host pointed us in the direction of the most amazing restaurant, Grotte Del Huecar, which was built into the side of the cliff. The patio alone offers astonishing views, but when you step inside, it becomes clear that you are in an actual cave. We expected to pay more for this magical atmosphere, but the food and drinks all had reasonable, affordable prices. We would never have found this cave restaurant if it where not for our wonderful Airbnb host.
Be Inspired at the Museo de Arte Abstracto Espanol (museum of abstract art)
While the art inside the Museum of Abstract Art was interesting, the best part was the views. As you walk inside this building, it is hard to believe you are walking above a ravine. From inside there are many views of the Puente de San Pablo as well as the gorge below. This museum has free visiting hours, so there is no excuse not to stop in.
Visit the Cuenca Cathedral
There are several churches and cathedrals in Cuenca. As you walk through the city streets each cathedral is stunning. However, you simply cannot miss the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Gracia (Basilica of Our Lady of Grace). To walk inside the cathedral you will have to pay a 3 euro toll. It is worth it, but you also can get some free views from the entry way at the immaculate interior.
Hike Along the Town
There are several obvious trails around the city. Each trail boasts impressive views of the town, namely the hanging houses and ancient arcs . One destination in particular is the Mirador del Cerro Del Socorro. This statue of Jesus is elevated on the hill next to the main city streets, and it visible from most places in the city. In the evening there is an illuminated halo around the statue’s head, visible from afar and definitely awe-inspiring.
Walk Inside the Casas Colgadodas (Hanging Houses)
We were on our way to Valencia and we wanted to break up the drive with a night in Cuenca, so we immediately started looking at Airbnbs. The Airbnb listings in Cuenca are incredible! Some of these iconic, cliff clinging buildings are over 10 stories tall. Just like visiting the Abstract Art Museum, it is an incredible experience to stand inside of these building sitting precariously on a cliff side, where they have resided for hundreds of years. Our Airbnb was the perfect way to feel apart of the medieval looking town.
You do not need to be a history buff to visit this archaeology museum. Roman coins, artifacts and more are found in the Museo de Cuenca. There are free visiting hours posted on their webpage.
The science center in Cuenca which has several displays translated into English as well as a planetarium.
Parador de Cuenca and Espacio Torner
Originally a monastery this building across from the St. Pablo Bridge, is now a hostel as well as a gallery. King Felipe and wife Letizia honeymooned at this hotel in 2004. Today you too can stay in the hostel or visit the gallery during the day. The art in the gallery displays the work of Gustavo Torner who is from Cuenca.
Mangana Tower lies on the site of an ancient Arabian fortress. Built in the 16th century, Mangana tower notable monument in Cuenca which marks the location of an Arabian fortress. It is possible to explore this site up close, though it is hard to miss this site from a distance.
We came to the city on a hill by car, but there are trains and buses to this city which make it an easy day trip destination from Madrid or Valencia. Visitors to either of these larger cities should consider a trip to Cuenca. If you have more time, make it a whole weekend adventure!