Where the houses hang from the cliffs
For a long time now visiting the city of Cuenca was on the list, however because of every time I return to Madrid it tends to be for short time (weekends mostly), there has been never real time to manage the trip here even though it is only 2 hours by bus from Madrid, or merely 50 minutes by high-speed train. In this occasion in the other hand, with over 2 weeks holidays during the Christmas period where I did not go anywhere far this year as is usually the case, there was plenty of time and luckily for us, the weather could not be better. Cold we don’t mind, but was actually warm-ish and perfect blue sky. With no hesitation we booked the bus tickets and went the following day.
The city lies in between Madrid and Valencia and is the capital of the province of the same name within the autonomous region of Castilla la Mancha. It is the 3rd least populated area in Europe, yet linked to some of the most densely inhabited cities in Spain within an hour. Considering the small size of the city, the amount of historic sights is literally resumed to absolutely every construction within the old town, no wonder why it has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
While everyone knows Cuenca for its hanging houses on the cliff, (after all, this is what every tourist have in mind to visit), it is also home to the very first Gothic cathedral built in Spain, timeline for its construction almost in coincidence with the second Gothic cathedral in Spain, in the city of Avila.
Visiting the city is straightforward. With such a reduced size, and that very compact historic core, with majority of the small streets in the old town pedestrian friendly, you can easily follow a circuit similar in order as how I list the sights below in the next section. That’s anyway the most logical way in order to see most of the sights along your way. There is no need to calculate a lot of time neither, a one day trip is well more than enough and will actually be probably too much, so if you are coming from Madrid, Valencia, or other points in between, no need to return back to your base too late.
For more information about Cuenca check Wikipedia site. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Cuenca
- Around the old town Surrounding the old town hill is the River Huecar and the parallel streets to this. It is a must-do in order to admire the entire old town that sits on the hill and the fortification walls.
-Paseo del Huecar This is the promenade on the Huecar River Gorge, southeast of the old town heading directly to the Bridge of Saint Paul and farther ahead. From here you will get the most famous view of the hanging houses and the entire old town atop the hill.
-Bridge of Saint Paul Originally built from wood in 1589 across the Huecar Gorge connecting directly to the old town on top of the hill, the current metallic structure from 1902 is a symbol of the city.
-Calle Tintes If instead of heading east along Paseo del Huecar, you head west along the small Huecar River, you will see the western side of the old town, and the original Moorish fortification walls all the length, notoriously around the Huecar Park and the end of the street.
-San Anton Bridge A little bit farther ahead from the Huecar Park you reach this bridge across the Huecar River from where you will see the old town in the distance and this historic district of San Anton.
- Old town Built by the Moors atop the hill, was originally fully fortified. In 1996 was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list for its outstanding architecture and history, retaining mostly intact its medieval urban core.
-Hanging Houses Built on the cliffs of the Huecar River gorge in the 15th century, from the many that once stood only these remain, being the landmark number one in Cuenca and one of the major reasons for its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
-Plaza Mayor The central square within the old town is of rectangular shape, longer than wider, completely surrounded by colourful houses, restaurants, bars and cafes.
-Cathedral Built from 1182 to 1270, the first Gothic cathedral built in Spain, together with Avila’s one. There is a fee of 5 Euros to enter that also grants you access to the cloister and museums within.
-City Hall At one of the edges of the Plaza Mayor, built in 1762 in baroque style is easy to recognise as the building closing the square with the porticoes at its base leading to the street.
-Alfonso VIII Street Starts at the City Hall and runs all the way through the old town heading towards the bottom of the hill, and through a smaller street to its right, to the Citadel.
-Citadel The former Moorish castle, now in ruins, is the highest point within the old town.
-Mangana Tower At the highest point in the old town, its origins are unclear, however a tower was already existing in 1565. The current look dates from 1968. From the viewpoints in this area you can see towards the new town and the Jucar River Gorge.
-Paseo and Solera Streets Both very narrow, starting from Alfonso VIII Street downhill towards the Huecar River by Calle Tintes.
-Plaza de Espana West from Calle Tintes, already in the “new town”.
-San Julian Park South from Plaza de Espana, surrounded by nice buildings at all sides.
-Carreteria Street The main thoroughfare in the city, full of shops and bars.
Cuenca is a day trip from Madrid, and actually even if this surprises you, Valencia. While it takes around 50 minutes by high-speed train from Madrid it is 1 hour from Valencia. However, the train station for high-speed trains is not near the city itself, but few kilometres away. Shuttle buses connect it to downtown. For the conventional railway, trains take near 3 hours to Madrid. By bus it is 2 hours journey time, with very frequent buses all day long. The nearest airport is also that in Madrid.
Within the city once you arrive, either at the bus or conventional train station which are next to each other, it is a short walking distance towards the old town, however from the high-speed train station as mentioned before you will first need a shuttle bus to the bus station.
It takes approximately 15 minutes from the stations to the Paseo del Huecar, the promenade right by the Huecar River gorge that leads towards the Bridge of Saint Paul and the old town itself. The city is very small, consider maximum of 6 hours there to see everything, that’s all it took us and we over calculate with 8 hours, having another 2 to kill.
As we came on a day trip from Madrid, I cannot comment on how is the situation with the hotels in this city. Bearing in mind it is a small city, and quite touristy, I would not be surprised if the night fares are higher than expected. There is not a large choice of hotels, but still great for anyone’s need. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.