The old Kukës was located at the confluence of the White Drin and Black Drin. In 1976 the town was submerged beneath the Fierza Reservoir, which is held back by a Chinese-built dam. The new town (Kukësi i Ri - "New Kukës") was built in the 1970s in the plateau nearby which is 320m over the sea level. Kukësi i Ri is surrounded by the artificial lake of Fierza and it looks like a peninsula from the above. It is linked with the other parts of the country by three bridges. On the East it faces the snow covered mountain of Gjallica, 2468m over the sea level. The district is improverished, with poor road connections, and major problems with crime.
Illyrian tombs were found at Këneta nearby Kukës. It was a small Roman settlement, a stopping point on a branch road leading to the Via Egnatia, and a minor Ottoman market centre and trading post on the road to southern Kosovo. It was there (Qafa e Kolosjanit) where Albanian resistance stopped a Serbian invasion in 1912.
Kukës attracted international attention during the Kosovo conflict when 450,000 Kosovo Albanian refugees crossed the frontier and were housed in camps in and around Kukës. There is a mosque and a closed alpine-style hotel, part of a failed attempt to establish a tourist industry there. OSCE maintained a villa there.
A popular spot is a place just off the main square called the Bar America where the speciality is Tavë Dheu. There is also a local historical museum and a carpetfactory. The food industry is confined only to production of alcoholic drinks produced in a drink factory, and to some local small workshops producing drinks and dairy products.
The Highlanders in the region are well known for their developed agriculture. Kukës has a carpet factory whose products is for domestic and trade use. There is also a copper processing factory as the raw material, copper, is found in this place. Kukës is a good centre for fishing and walking in the surrounding mountains. In the bad weather Kukës can be dramatic, with huge threatening cloud formations over the Vikut Mountains, and the sparse streets of the little town and the lake, subject to violent gusts of 'Bora' snow.