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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
- Valencia Tourism – the official tourism website of Valencia
- Travel Mob’s Guide to Valencia – our team’s Valencia resources