Cuenca: A Surprising Day Trip from Madrid

Cuenca is a small Spanish town, in the Castilla-La Mancha region, with a surprising historic centre. It can be a great day trip from Madrid, as well as an interesting stop on the high-speed train line to Valencia.

The historic walled town of Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage site boasting a well-preserved medieval fortress that blends harmoniously into the natural landscape.

The peculiar Casas Colgadas, or Hanging Houses, are one of Cuenca’s most famous sights, with their big balconies perched on the edge of steep cliffs overlooking Huécar River. Only three hanging houses remain today though.

View of Cuenca’s Hanging Houses

What to Do and See in Cuenca

  • Casas Colgadas: The only three remaining hanging houses have more than 600 years, but their origins are still today largely unknown (some say they are Islamic, others say medieval). Either way, the houses have been restored in the 20th century to shelter the Spanish Museum of Abstract Art with works of Antoni Tapiès and Antonio Saura.

  • The Rascacielos in Barrio de San Martín are other of Cuenca’s famous buildings. San Martín is a quaint neighbourhood of narrow streets, but what makes it unique are its 16th century skyscrapers up to 10 storeys high.

  • Cathedral: As other Spanish towns, Cuenca has its cathedral in Plaza Mayor. It’s a large gothic building of French influence.

  • Fundación Antonio Pérez: This modern-art gallery is set in a former Carmelite convent, with windows and terraces offering amazing views from its cliff-top position. The collection is broad with some provocative works. The Spanish artist and writer Antonio Saura is well represented, as are other artists from the 1950s and 1960s era, including Andy Warhol. Entrance costs only €2.

  • Calle Alfonso VIII: With its multi-coloured houses, it’s one of the most beautiful streets in Cuenca. Named after Alfonso VIII, King of Castile (1155-1214), who conquested Cuenca in 1177, the street stretches from the Church of San Felipe to the Cathedral of Cuenca, connecting the modern part of the city to its casco histórico.

Where to Eat

To sample the local cuisine, El Secreto (Calle de Alfonso VIII 81) offers views of the Casas Colgadas from the back of the restaurant. Taberna Albero (Calle Clavel 1) is another popular restaurant in Cuenca.

Where to Stay in Cuenca

San Pablo Bridge

If you decide to spend the night in Cuenca, there are a few nice accommodation options.
Parador de Cuenca set on a former convent offers one of the best experiences. Besides the historic building, you can take in the views to Casas Colgadas. NH Cuidad de Cuenca and Exe Cuenca are other available accommodations.

When to Go

Just like in Madrid, it can get quite hot during the summer months in Cuenca. While temperatures above 30ºC (86ºF) are common in July and August, spring and autumn can be pleasantly warm with plenty of sunshine and average temperatures around 17ºC (64ºF). Winters see low temperatures, with daytime averages of 10ºC (50ºF), and increased precipitation.

How to Get to Cuenca

Cuenca is located midway between Madrid and Valencia. While driving a rental car is an option, there are other good transport connections.

From Madrid, take the high-speed AVE train in Atocha station with departures throughout the day. The trip takes about 55 minutes, and the ticket can be as low as €16 one way if bought some time in advance. However, it will usually be a bit more expensive as most people end up buying on the day of travel or very close to it.

Note that Cuenca’s Fernando Zobel railway station is about 5 kilometres outside the historic centre. There’s a bus (Línea 1) that you can take for €2.15 to reach the city centre. A cab ride costs around €10.

Another option to get from Madrid do Cuenca is by bus operated by Avanza. The trip takes around 2 hours, and fares start at €13. The bus departs from Estación Sur, also known as Méndez Álvaro bus station after the Madrid neighbourhood. In Cuenca, the bus station is located close to the historic centre.