Last update on November 11th, 2015
I had little knowledge of Valencia before my recent city break to Spain’s third largest city. I knew it to be the home of the famous Spanish dish, the paella and saw friends posting photos on social media of über-modern architecture. In short: I didn’t know what to expect. I had no idea that I’d be visiting a city that mixes a wonderful laid-back vibe with gorgeous architecture, vibrant culture, mouthwatering food, and endless possibilities of shopping (put your hand up if you love a good bargain!)… not to mention a significant cameo in the movie, Tomorrowland.
Valencia is one of those cities that has excellent weather all year round. However, if you’re not a fan of the heat try to plan your visit either in the spring or autumn. This is also the time of festivals such as the grand Las Fallas, a 5-day carnival in March where the city celebrates the end of winter and the Region of Valencia Day in early October.
Valencia International Airport (VLC) has regular flights to most of the major European cities. The connection between the airport and the city center is very convenient with regular bus and metro connections. If you’d rather take a cab, the ride will cost you approximately 20 Euros (EUR).
Valencia has just the right ingredients to be the perfect destination for a city break: an old-town that is easily walkable, generally fantastic weather, plenty of bars and restaurants to enjoy your siesta in the afternoon or paella in the evening, great museums, and plenty of shops for retail therapy.
No matter if you’re young or just young at heart, the City of Arts and Sciences will take your breath away. It is a building complex devoted to science and culture made up of five buildings: the Hemisfèric (IMAX Cinema, planetarium and laserium), the Umbracle (a sculpture garden and landscaped walk), the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum (a museum of interactive science), the Oceanográfico (the largest aquarium in Europe), and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (opera house and cultural center). You can spend hours just by walking around what looks like a sci-fi movie set, but you can also easily spend a full day in just the Oceanográfico.
The City of Arts and Sciences is located at the southernmost tip of the former riverbed of the river Tura, which was drained and rerouted after a catastrophic flood in 1957. Since then the old riverbed has been functioning as a nine-kilometre-long park called the Garden of Turia with plenty of places to sunbathe, play sports, escape to the shade, or tire out the little ones at Gulliver Park. If you feel athletic, rent a bike and pedal through the park – it’s a great way to take in the sights.
Hold onto that bike for another day or so and you can get to the many beaches of Valencia in about 20-30 minutes. Buses and trams also run regularly from the city to El Cabanyal or La Malvarrosa, where you can enjoy an Aqua de Valencia drink overlooking the surf.
No trip to Spain would be complete without a visit to a Mercado and Mercado Central in Valencia is an absolute must. It’s one of the largest and oldest markets in Europe and besides the mouthwatering produce boast an impressive Art Nouveau architecture.
Once you manage to part with the delicious and fresh food of the market, make sure to head over to the Llotja de la Seda (Silk Exchange), a UNESCO heritage site of beautiful Gothic architecture proclaiming the power and wealth of this once trading city.
If you don’t mind feeling small make sure to visit the Museo Casa de la Rocas, a free museum dedicated to the carriages and giant puppets of the Habeas procession. You’ll learn a lot about old Corpus festivities of the cities, and there are some excellent photo opportunities with giant dragons and such.
Eat and Drink
Valencia is the birthplace of paella so you’re bound to find a good restaurant or bar serving this delicious rice dish. However, my suggestion would be to try the typical local paella at Canela. Here you can either eat at the unassuming taberna or their fancier restaurant. Whichever you choose the food will taste heavenly. Be sure to have a mistela at the end of your meal.
For a modern take on the classic Spanish tapas head to Cava Siglos. It’s located on the busy Carrer dels Cavallers so make sure to book in advance especially on Friday and Saturday. They also have a great selection of wine and cava.
If you have a bit of a sweet tooth like I do (a ‘bit’, ha!) you’ll have to visit this small pastry shop just outside of the old town, called Dulzumat. It has a wide selection of mostly sweet pastries so choosing will be difficult but don’t let that discourage you. It’s open daily from 7am until 10pm so you can get your sugar fix anytime during the day.
There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs across Valencia so you won’t be short of choices. Prices tend to be a little higher within the old town so if you don’t mind walking a bit (or are not afraid to bike) make sure to find a place outside of the riverbed.
As always my first option would definitely be an airbnb apartment. Most of these are located within the old town and prices range from as little as 20 EUR to 120 EUR. A lot of these apartments are in beautiful old buildings so keep in mind that while a roof terrace sounds great, walking up 3 flights of stairs might not be as much fun after a long day of sightseeing.
Home Youth Hostel is a cheap and cheerful alternative to airbnb and very popular among young travelers. It’s a stone’s throw away from the Mercado Central and boasts a roof terrace. Room prices are between 20-60 EUR depending on how many people are you willing to share your room with.
For a more upscale accommodation, check out The Westin Valencia hotel, located in the city center in an impressive historical building. This beautiful hotel has a gym, a spa, and even a tennis court if that tickles your fancy after a long day. The price per room ranges from 200 EUR to as high as 700 EUR depending on the room type and amenities.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Valencia.
Travel Tips and Local Blogs
For more information on Valencia and insider tips and suggestions from locals (and expats) make sure to visit the below sites.
The Valencia Tourism Official website gives a great overview of the sights and events in the city together with useful information about public transport, guided tours, and traveling to and from Valencia.
This National Geographic article gives some great tips for Valencia from the point of view of a local.
And of course, a very informative guide to this wonderful city from our friends at the Lonely Planet.