City Guide: Valencia, Spain

| June 13, 2016 More
Mercado Central Valencia

The modernist Mercado Central, one of Europe’s largest fresh markets

Things to do in Valencia, Spain’s third largest city and the birthplace of paella

In the past decade, the number of visitors in Valencia has increased by 50%, and it is no surprise. Spain’s third largest city (population 800,000) is worth a visit for its mild Mediterranean climate and urban beaches, farm-to-table cuisine, modernist architecture, and hip neighborhoods. And you can easily explore the city on foot or by bike, taking advantage of its many green spaces. Whether you visit Valencia for a weekend getaway or longer vacation, you will not be bored. Here’s my list of things to do in Valencia.

See also: 10 Reasons to Visit Valencia, Spain

BEST MAJOR ATTRACTIONS

Valencia first got my attention thanks to the City of Arts and Sciences, an ultramodern science-leisure complex. It was designed by local architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, along with Spanish-Mexican architect Felix Candela. There are several unique structures, such as the Prince Felipe Science Museum that looks like a whale skeleton and L’Hemispheric (planetarium, IMAX theater) resembling a giant eye. The tower of the cable-stayed l’Assut de l’Or bridge is the highest point in Valencia (410 ft./125m).

The City of Arts and Sciences is located at the end of the Turia Gardens, a 6mi (10km) long park created in the former riverbed after a flood. It winds through the city, taking you from one point of interest to another. Turia has foot paths, bike lanes, leisure areas, gardens, ponds, and cafes. Go up to the Flower Bridge (Puente de las Flores) to see its 27,000 flowers.

City of Arts and Sciences Valencia

Santiago Calatrava designs make City of Arts and Sciences one of Valencia’s most recognizable features

If you enjoy the sea, Valencia’s waterfront is the place to be. You can walk through the Blue Star-certified Marina Real Juan Carlos I, which fits 800 boats in the inner harbor, or visit the nearby beaches. Las Arenas, Malvarrosa, and Patacona are connected by a promenade. Go for a swim, do outdoor activities, or try Valencian cuisine with a view in the beachfront cafes.

The beaches are only 20 minutes by taxi from the historic city center, one of the largest in Europe. The Almoina Square is where the Romans founded the city in 138 B.C. The 12th century Cathedral of Valencia by Plaza de la Virgen houses what’s believed to be the Holy Grail, plus Renaissance frescoes and Francisco Goya’s paintings. The 16th century Silk Exchange Market, a Gothic building used in silk trade during the city’s golden age, has been named a USESCO World Heritage Site. The Round Market from 1840 is a charming circular plaza surrounded by traditional craft stalls and tapas bars.

Valencia architecture

Cafe life in Valencia’s historic center. The area has UNESCO sites and many modernist buildings.

Valencia has one of Spain’s greatest collections of modernist buildings from the early 20th century. Don’t miss the Central Market, built with metal, glass panels, and Valencian tile. The Colon Market features a glass roof and decorative brick facade. Other examples of the style are the ornate Clock Building with a corner tower and the North Railway Station (ceramic ceiling and columns).

Two of the best museums in Valencia are the Museum of Fine Arts in the St. Pius V Palace. Its collection consists of about 2,000 works from the 14th – 17th centuries, including Goya’s Playing Children and a self portrait of Diego Velazquez. The National Ceramics Museum is housed in a 15th century palace (note the alabaster entrance) and focuses on traditional ceramics and textile art.

NEIGHBORHOODS

El Barrio de Carmen is one of the oldest and most diverse neighborhoods of Valencia, dating back to the Arab period. Calle Caballeros is the main drag, but explore – or rather, easily get lost in – Carmen’s many small streets. Look for street art and independent book stores. The area is also home to Valencia’s alternative nightlife, with many venues located near Plaza Ayuntamento.

South of the historic center lies Ruzafa, the current “it” neighbohood during the day and at night. Start your tour at the Ruzafa Market, then explore little shops and art galleries. If you get hungry or thirsty, there are many spots to choose from: bars, outdoor cafes, eclectic restaurants. Try Cannalla Bistro for globally-inspired tapas and a hip vibe, or have Michelin-level Mediterranean food at Restaurante RiFF.

El Cabanyal

Traditional fishermen’s houses in El Cabanyal district, decorated with Valencian tile

El Cabanyal near the waterfront is a historic fishermen’s quarter, set to become the next hot spot. Walk among the traditional houses, many decorated with elaborate tiles, and learn about Valencia’s rice heritage at the Rice Museum. For casual tapas and beer, try the nearby Bodega Lapesta El Grao. And don’t skip one of the oldest bars in the city, Casa Bodega Montaña. Founded in 1836, it has stained-glass windows and wine barrels lining the walls. Their extensive wine selection includes 800 Spanish and Valencian bottles.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

Valencia has a long-standing soccer tradition, with not one, but two teams in the first division of the Spanish League (La Liga). It’s worth catching a game for the passionate atmosphere or to have another topic of conversation with the locals. Both Valencia CF and Levante UD play between August and May near the city center. Here’s a photo from a Champions League match at the 55,000-seat Mestalla Stadium, home of Valencia CF.

Mestalla Stadium

Valencia CF match at the the 55,000-seat Mestalla Stadium

Navarro Herbolario near the North Railway Station has been selling natural and organic products since 1881. It now has locations around the country, but still belongs to a Valencian family. Stop by to browse the selection of food of cosmetics, many from Spain.

FOOD & DRINK

You’re never far from a good meal in Valencia. Thanks to the location on the coast, nearby rice fields, and fertile land, chefs have access to the freshest local ingredients. The traditional Valencian cuisine uses lots of rice, seafood, vegetables, and citrus fruits. There are also excellent restaurants serving Mediterranean and fusion dishes.

paella valenciana

Valencia is the birthplace of paella, a rice stew with chicken, rabbit, and beans

For paella, Valencia’s famous rice stew with meat and beans, try the old-school La Pepica on the waterfront. In business since 1898, it was once a favorite hangout of Ernest Hemingway. The upscale Alma del Temple was built around an ancient city wall and is noted not only for its Michelin-recommended Mediterranean food, but also the spectacular setting. Seu Xerea near Plaza de la Virgen serves up creative tapas and fusion cuisine in a a modern setting. Café de las Horas across the street has delicious and strong Agua de Valencia (a mix of cava, orange juice, vodka and gin). Alejandro del Toro in Mestalla is a quiet spot with a local crowd, serving Michelin-level Valencian food.

I you want to make your own meal, shop for ingredients at the Central Market, one of the biggest fresh markets in Europe (more than 400 vendors). Once there, try Valencian horchata – a refreshing drink made with tiger nuts and served with a biscuit called fartón.

See also: Top 5 Restaurants in Valencia, Spain 

Mercado Central Valencia

The Central Market is one of the largest ones in Europe, where 400 vendors sell anything from fruits and seafood to horchata

DAY TRIP

Just 6 miles/10 km south of Valencia lies the Albufera National Park, a vast fresh water lagoon surrounded by rice fields. The protected area is home to rich wildlife and various species of wading birds (herons, flamingos, ibises). Traditionally, Albufera has been used for fishing and rice cultivation, greatly influencing the local cuisine.

For a sample of Valencian rice dishes (paella, arròs a banda), go to restaurants in El Palmar, a fisherman’s village on the edge of Albufera Lake. City residents visit on weekends to find good and inexpensive food. One of the oldest spots in town is Restaurante Mateu, which opened in 1966.

At sunset, take a bird-watching boat ride on the lake. You can find operators on the pier, near El Palmar and El Embarcadero bus stops. Some tours include admission to typical country houses called barracas.

Albufera Lake

Take a bird-watching boat ride and enjoy the tranquility of Albufera Lake, just outside Valencia

Links

I traveled to Valencia with The Travel Mob blogging team and Valencia Tourism. All opinions in this post are mine.

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Category: CITIES

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About the Author (Author Profile)

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

Comments (39)

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  1. We wanted to see this city last winter! Unfortunately we didn’t, but maybe this year we can try again – everything sounds so good! ;)

    • That was my story too when I first visited Spain. We got to see many places, but somehow not Valencia. I’m glad I had a chance to see it eventually. :)

  2. Ohhh, Valencia! One of the cutest spanish cities I’ve seen. I remember much sun, orange trees and lovely L’Oceanogràfic – one of the coolest places in european universe ;-)

  3. avatar kori says:

    Nice description if I finally reach Valencia I’ll use your guide.

  4. The birthplace of paella! In my pre-vegetarian life that would have been enough to get me to Valencia! Oh well, it seems to have plenty of other reasons for me to visit. I haven’t explored too much of Spain unfortunately. Always so much more to explore – adding Valencia to the list!

    • Actually, you can get vegetarian paella in Valencia quite easily. That’s what I did. :) I hope you’ll get to visit soon and enjoy the city just as much.

  5. avatar Kinga says:

    I would totally like to visit Valencia one day, the only drawback in all the planning is lack of convenient flight connections between my city and Valencia. But I will surely give it a go sooner than later! ;-)

  6. avatar Hamak Life says:

    Valencia is one of these places where I’ve been to many times and there many stories happened. One of those where I simply enjoy strolling down the streets or spending a lazy time in whatever cafe para tomar un cafecito and just feel its vibe and plunge into my memories :) A sentimental location, not just a tourist spot. At least for me ;) But I must admit the modern architecture there is stunning! And have no doubt that Santiago Calatrava’s work is a good reason to get there even if just to catch a glimpse :)

    • Hi Dominika. I know you had trouble posting this comment, but so glad it didn’t get lost in the shuffle! It’s great to hear from someone who knows the city well and has so many memories associated with it. I can relate to walking around and drinking some cafecito, Valencia is perfect for that. I do hope to go back, for more Calatrava and strolling. :)

  7. I can’t believe I’ve never been to Valencia before! The historic centre looks especially beautiful- that architecture!!!

  8. avatar Morgan says:

    Wow, what a magnificent place to visit! Valencia is so beautiful, as you can see very clearly from this post. I absolutely love the architecture of those buildings. It’s so unique and intricate. Thanks for sharing this cool adventure!

  9. avatar mark wyld says:

    Wow looks like a great place to visit. The Paella looks fantastic we love a good Paella. We are heading to Spain in November I am now disappointed that we are not going to Valencia. The central market looks fantastic we always go to the markets when in town

  10. avatar Natalie says:

    Wow! Valencia looks incredible! I hope when I get to Europe again that I’ll have time to visit Valencia. I’ve wanted to try Paella for awhile and where better than where it was invented?

  11. Nice, I’m planning to visit Spain this year, but I’m not quite sure yet what part of it. This’ll give me something to think about.

  12. avatar Kenny says:

    Thanks for the detailed information about Valencia!
    I have heard a lot of great things about the city and your post gave me a lot of ideas. I would be interested in all the markets in the historic city center! @ knycx.journeying

  13. avatar Christina says:

    I would love to go back to Spain and visit Valencia. So far I have only seen Madrid. The boat tour on Albufera lake sounds like something I would really enjoy.

  14. avatar Asia says:

    Loved reading about Valencia, I really hope to visit that fastastic city this summer. Thanks for this post! :-)

  15. Such a fan of this city… its great to experience the contrast of old and new and then contemplate it over paella… Stay Loving Valencia, Craig

  16. avatar Mara says:

    Thanks for the inspiration! I’d love to visit the historic center. And Albufera Lake sounds lovely.

  17. Watching a football match in a cozy bar in Valencia … that would be on my bucket list for sure! :)

  18. avatar Alan says:

    A very under-rated city destination, often over-shadowed by Barcelona

  19. avatar zoyoyayep says:

    Nice city in Spain that I ever visit. Lovely guide, thanks for all of these.

  20. Great photos! The bird watching boat ride looks pretty amazing.