Explore Valencia, Spain
Explore Valencia a charming old city and the capital of the Old Kingdom of Valencia province of Spain that is well worth a visit. It is the third Spanish city in terms of importance and population, and the 15th in the European Union, with 810,064 inhabitants in the city proper and 1,832,270 in the Metropolitan Area. It is on the Mediterranean Sea approximately four hours to the south of Barcelona and three hours to the east of Madrid. Valencia is famous for its Fallas Festival in March, for being the birthplace of paella, and for the massive architectural project by Santiago Calatrava called The City of Arts and Sciences.
The river Turia ran through the centre of the city, but it was redirected a while back and replaced by a beautiful park. This is a very nice place to spend any free time you have in the city on a sunny day.
The construction of the “City of Arts and Science by renowned architect and Valencian Santiago Calatrava have made Valencia a city in transition. Massive construction and transformation over the last years have turned a once little-considered medium city into a meatier and more interesting destination.
Valencia was founded by the Romans and was held by the Moors from the 8th to the 13th century. In 1609, the Moors who had converted to Catholicism were expelled from the city. During the Spanish civil war in the 1930s, Valencia was the capital of the Republic, which eventually lost to Franco’s forces.
Valencia Airport is 9 km from the city center.
What to see. Best top attractions in Valencia, Spain
- City of Arts and Science. 10AM-9PM. Very interesting. It is located where the old river Turia used to flow and over there you will find a Science Museum, a Planetarium, an IMAX cinema, an Aquarium and, the Arts Museum.
- The Barri del Carme neighborhood is in the old center. It is the perfect place for a stroll where you can witness the transition from a forgotten area to an up-and-coming diverse neighborhood. Barri del Carme has many outdoor cafes and trendy shops. There is an interesting mix of people, from lifetime residents, to alternative types, hippies, gays and lesbians, and other assorted peoples. The neighborhood swells at night with revelers, but please respect the neighbors who live there.
- Valencia Cathedral (The Seu). A curious cathedral with doors from three distinct architectural periods. The building as a whole, though mostly Gothic, has collected over the centuries some Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical elements. A trip up the Micalet tower (formerly Moorish, but now “Christianized”) provides a pleasing view of the city.
- The La Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange). This building is the site of the ancient local silk trade. It is also a UNESCO landmark and has recently been refurbished. Some of the gargoyles are quite naughty. Contrary to the wealth of material published by the tourism industry touting this to be the “best preserved late gothic/renaissance building in Spain“, in fact only the interior of this building is original. The exterior was renovated in the neoclassical period (approx. 1879) and has been passed off as medieval by the tourism industry in an attempt not dissimilar to the controversial Barri Gotic quarter in Barcelona. Further restoration work in the mid-90’s and again in 2007-2008 has clouded the authenticity of the exteriors decorative features. A visit to the Silk Exchange to see the beautiful interior vaulting should still be on everyone’s itinerary in Valencia, but doubt claims as to the “Gothic-ness” of the miraculously preserved 500 year old stone carvings.
- The Mercat Central. Located in an aging “modernist” building in the process of being renovated. See how the locals shop for food and buy some fantastic fresh produce, meat, or olives.
- Walk along the old Tùria river bed, now a park with soccer and rugby fields, an artificial boating lake, athletics track, playgrounds, fountains, and trails. This massive elongated park spans many neighborhoods and ends at the City of Arts and Sciences. Abundant bike paths make it an ideal place to get in a little exercise and sun.
- Torres de Quart, at the end of Calle Quart. This pock-marked medieval tower was part of the ancient wall that surrounded the old city. Another set of nearby towers called the Torres de Serrano were also part of ancient wall. The Serrano towers have been massively renovated and somewhat modernized, but they are still interesting and are located across the street from the park.
- Lladró Porcelain Museum and Factory. Here is the Lladró Porcelain factory. Visit is free, but it has to be scheduled before. You visit the factory, the process or porcelain making and at the end a large collection of Lladro porcelain some worth $30,000. Photos allowed only at the collection.
- Valencian History Museum. A museum full of artifacts and multimedia presentations detailing the history of Valencia from its birth in the Roman era all the way to the modern times. Easily reachable by metro, near the Nou d’Octubre station.
What to do in Valencia, Spain
Valencia has a fantastic festival each March called Fallas, in which local areas build big papier maché models. They are mostly of a satirical nature and can be as tall as a few stories.
Another feature of Fallas is the fireworks. It’s like the city’s a war zone for a week! They wake you up early in the morning and go on through the day. Every day, there are three fireworks events, la despertà, la mascletà, and el castillo.
The days of 17th and 18th of March is La Ofrenda. The falleras from each falla take flowers to the Plaza of the Virgin. These flowers are used to construct the virgin. The processions are grand and very beautiful and worth catching. They follow two main paths: one down calle San Vicente and the other down Calle de Colon.
At the end of a week displaying the ‘fallas’ they are burnt. This is called la cremà. The fallas infantiles are burned at 10PM and the fallas mayores are burned anywhere from midnight to 1AM. The one at the town halls is burned last at 1AM. The most impressive to see are the fallas in Sección Especial, because these are the largest and most dramatic when they burn. These tend to be very crowded and one should arrive early.
Things one should do during fallas:
- Go around and see the various fallas, but especially the Sección Especial.
- Pay to enter one of the bigger fallas to get a closer look at the individual ninots.
- See la mascletà and the la nit de foc.
- See one of the various parades, especially the ofrenda.
- See the virgin made of flowers.
- Buy churros or buñelos at one of the many stands on the street.
- Go to one of the temporary bar/nightclubs set up on the street and dance all night long.
- Playa de Malvarrosa and Playa e Levante o de la arenas are the most popular city beaches, just north of the port.
- El Saler is the nicest and best developed beach near Valencia. Devesa is undeveloped and has nice surroundings. At Devesa and Playa Pinedo there are nudist sections. These beaches are located south of the port.
- The Fuente de Los Baños hot spring is located 90km north of Valencia in in the town of Montanejos. The crystalline waters of the lagoon bubble up from the earth at a temperature of 25ºc all year round. This place well known by the locals is still undiscovered by most travelers. Dip into the water for a swim and explore the lagoon snorkeling, see the fish around you and discover the hidden caves. For the brave, there´s the option to jump off cliffs right into the deepest part of the lagoon.
What to buy
- Patriarca Square (Plaza del Patriarca) is a good place to look for the major national brands like Loewe, LLadró, Louis Vuitton, Dolores, Farrutx, etc.
- inVLC magazine, Various locations. inVLC magazine is a free magazine for visitors, expats, locals and anyone learning English. It can be found in lots of locations in the city and the Community. It contains independently written articles about local facilities, such as restaurants, bars, shops etc, essential local holidays and fiestas information, guides to local towns within the local community, and language sections for anyone learning English.
What to eat
- To recognize “real” local paella from tourist junk, avoid any places with large paella pictures on the door step. This is a sure sign for frozen/microwaved paella. There are several versions of this tasteful rice dish: Paella Valenciana, with meat (chicken and/or rabbit usually), Paella de Marisco, with fish or seafood, or even Paella Mixta, with meat and fish at the same time, the least popular amongst locals. If you want to eat authentic Paella, try it at the Malvarrosa beach area; you will find there are several good restaurants. The authentic Valencian Paella is made only with fresh ingredients, in a special iron pan and using a fire made with wood (not gas or electricity). Vegetarian Paella is called “Paella vegetal” or “Paella de verduras”.
- Arròs a banda and arròs negre. This rice is black because it contains squid ink. You can find these dishes at the same places as above.
- Fideuà, a paella-like dish, with short noodles and fish, was invented in the Gandía and Denia area (Alicante) and can be usually found in paella restaurants. It deserves a try too.
- All i pebre — All i pebre is made of eel, a snake like fish typical from the Albufera, a lagoon near Valencia. You can drive to El Palmar and taste it there. Delicious, but a very special taste. You can find good paella, and other traditional dishes at the restaurants here too.
- Salted fish “salaons”: tuna (“moixama”, “tonyina de sorra”), cod (“bacallà”), roe, anchovies, capellans are very popular delicatessen. Also dried octopus. Check them at the local markets, like Mercat Central de Valencia. Large choice of pickles such as olives, tomatoes, onion in brine. Great with tomatoes and olive oil. Check out on local varieties of vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, aubergines etc. Also season fruit, probably varieties you don’t see at home.
- Llet merengada. A kind of milk-based soft ice cream with a cinnamon-lemon taste.
- Bunyols — Fried doughnuts, sometimes round shaped, sometimes like rings. Widely available only during March. Dip them in hot chocolate. Sometimes they are too oily, so don’t eat a lot of them or you will not be hungry again for several hours. If you can choose the ‘carabasa’ (pumpkin) version, you should try it. They are generally tastier.
What to drink
Barrio del Carmen is a major nightlife destination in Valencia. There are numerous restaurants, bars, and dance joints, which tend to cater to a youngish crowd, in particular along Calle Caballeros.
Plaza del Cedro is a nice place where all possibilities are given to spend a night in a less touristic ambiance than in the center.
A lot of Bodegas and Tapas bars where you can get typical Spanish dinner for quite good prices. When you arrive early (the Spanish early) at about 8PM they are usually having special offers like “Tercio y Tapa”. To find them orientate more to the parallel streets to Carrer de Doctor Manuel Candela.
Later to drink something occupying the time between dinner and going out there are many bars with different kind of music present.
If you feel like dancing there are famous pubs where especially at the weekends a lot young people can be found. The entrance is normally for free and they are almost neighbors all located in Calle Campoamor. The music is more alternative (Rock/Indie/Pop) that in general in Spain but it changes depending on the DJ. So just have a look to all of them to find the one you like most. They are closing at half past three in the morning and if you don’t want to be alone maybe the best time to arrive is between half past one and half past two. For more details see:
Additionally there is typical Spanish nigh-life feeling on the Plaza del Cedro itself. Different kind of people enjoying the mild Mediterranean sit outside talking, drinking and playing guitar often until the sunrise.
Other centres of are night-life are Cánovas (more upscale), Juan Llorens (young also, less “alternative”), around the university (students), and increasingly in the area near the beach and port.
Wine lovers may want to explore the wineries of the Valencia wine region , including Bodega El Angosto, Bodegas Los Frailes, and Bodegas Murviedro.
Traditional Regional Drinks
- Agua de Valencia — Valencia water is a very famous mixed drink. There are several recipes, mainly based on a mix of orange juice and Cava, the local sparkling wine.
- Orxata — A drink made from tiger nut (Cyperus esculentus), xufa in Valencian or chufa in Spanish. Being cold and sweet, it is especially popular during the summer months. In Spanish it is called ‘horchata’ and it can be found in ‘horchaterias’ or ‘orxateries’, but also in most of the cafes and bars. When ordering a horchata, you will most probably be asked whether you would like to have a ‘farton’, a small pastry for being dipped in horchata, as well.
- Cibada — An iced malt drink.
- Llima Granizada — Iced lemonade.
- Café del Temps — Espresso on ice.
- Blanc i Negre — Iced coffee with leche merengada.
- Calimocho – A popular drink, originating in the Basque Country, made with red wine and cola mixed.
- A fresh water lake. Rice is cultivated in the surrounding area. The Albufera also hosts many interesting varieties of migratory birds. The local village in the area, El Palmar, is also a good place to try some paella or other local dishes.
- These beaches are on “protected” land and are the cleanest, most secluded beaches within easy reach of the city. Accessible by bus, but that requires a good level of organization.
- Manises, 15 km south west of Valencia. It is not only the site of Valencia’s airport, but also an important center for pottery. Some 100 ceramics factories are located in the municipality, where the art has been practiced for at least 700 years. At the MCM Museum, there are exhibitions about the history of ceramics in the area.
- La Tomatina, hosted by nearby Buñol on the last Wednesday of August. A festival that involves thousands of participants throwing ripe tomatoes at each other. Make sure you wear clothes that you can throw out afterwards, as it gets very messy.
- Do a day trip to any number of picturesque villages or small cities in the region, including Chulilla, Sot de Chera, Xátiva, Sagunto, among others.
- Hot Spring and other discoveries: A small tour company (Hot Spring Day Tour) offers rides and guided visits to off-the-beaten-path destinations around Valencia. The most popular tour is an incredible hot Spring natural pool in a canyon, 90km of Valencia. Access by public transportation is difficult.
- Cuenca: Its 200km from Valencia with houses which looks like hanging from the hill. It is a city in the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha in central Spain. It is the capital of the province of Cuenca.