I’ve always found Valencia to be such a pretty city name. While I maintain that I want to go pretty much anywhere (it’s true!), I’ll admit Valencia didn’t feature high on the list of places I wanted to visit in Spain. Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, and Mallorca were all front and centre on the list, but Valencia ended up being in my itinerary on my trip to Barcelona a few years ago as a stop on the way to La Tomatina in Buñol. Like most unassuming things in life, Valencia delivered far beyond my expectations! Here are my favourite things to do in Valencia.
Valencia is the capital of the state of Valencia and the 3rd largest city in Spain. It’s a 3-hour train ride away from Barcelona, and one of the main ferry ports to Ibiza (3 hours), Mallorca (8 hours), and Menorca (15 hours). (No biggie, just the Balearic islansds)
The main language spoken there is Catalan, though most people will speak Castillan and even a bit of English.
Valencia is a city that’s more subtle than the flamboyant Barcelona nearby. The city is bustling into the early morning hours as Spanish cities are famous for, but it’s less surrealist in its architecture, less crowded by tourism, and generally more laid back. So when my friend and I found ourselves in Valencia over 3 days, we did what I would have done in any well-documented city of neighbourhoods: we explored.
The most touted neighbourhood in Valencia, El Carmen, is a subsection of the Ciutat Vella, and pretty much comes alive at night. The beautiful Spanish gothic architecture sets the scene for the lively night time lives of the locals. As you walk down the winding, medieval roads, you’ll pass restaurant after bar after cafe, all bursting with the sounds of a good time being had. The fun is spills out onto the streets and congregates at the Placa de la Verge, the square behind the Catedral de Valencia, in the La Seu subsection of the Ciutat Vella. From the one-man band serenading the square with Elvis tunes to the kids playing soccer at the North end of the plaza to the gang of dancers jiving away near the Cathedral, this area will appeal to the partygoer and spectator in you. I sat on the steps of the square wishing I had a dance partner to join in on the fun being had in the background while simultaneously enjoying the scene. The neighbourhood seems to say “grab a chair and a coffee, we’ll be here for a while!”
We discovered nearby Eixample while looking for taxis back to our hotel. The wider streets and general calm allowed for more appreciation of the architecture, and what a pretty sight it was! Valencia’s Eixample is less surrealist than Barcelona’s, with no Gaudí buildings in sight. What remains are the beautifully intricate designs Spanish modernist architecture is known for. And also a great destination for dropping some hard-earned cash, as Eixample is home to Gran Via Marqués del Turia, the most expensive neighbourhood and a lot of shopping.
Valencia is known as the birthplace of one of the most beloved Spanish dishes: paella. Yes, you’ll find paella pretty much anywhere in Spain but Valencia holds the exclusive rights to calling it their own. The typical paella valenciana is made with short-grain white rice, chicken, rabbit, a medley of beans, tomatoes, fresh rosemary, sweet paprika, saffron, and garlic. The rice is fragrant and yellowed from the saffron, and the whole thing smells pretty amazing.
So here’s what I discovered: you can have mediocre paella. I did, but Kelly Mazur of Kelly Ella Maz had paella at one of the most beautiful locations in the city and loved it: La Pepica. Her picture below describes it all. To top it all off, it’s located on Passeig de Neptu with an unobstructed view of the beach. Food with a view!
La Pepica also serves the more seafood-heavy fideua, which looks like paella but replaces the rice in paella with noodles. I didn’t sample that one but it sounds pretty delicious to me!
If your tastes veer more toward the tapas (when in Spain…), Jamon Jamon is a tapas restaurant with a stone facade and an adorable sign in El Carmen. The cured meats, cheeses, olives, pan con tomate… I can go on, but I’ll give the gold star to patatas bravas are pretty much to die for.
Our home base while in Valencia was the posh and modern Hotel Primus Valencia, nestled in between the marina and the awe-inspiring Ciutat de les Artes i les Ciencies (more on that later). That placed us in perfect walking distance to two neighbourhoods: the Riverbed (Quatre Carrers) and the Beach and surroundings (Poblats Marítims).
The Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències is a massive complex of buildings inspired by and dedicated to arts and sciences. Every building in the campus is modelled after an element occurring in nature: the Àgora is designed to look like the head of a fish popping out of the water, the Hemisfèric is designed in the shape of an eye, the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe is modelled after the ribs of a whale. The entire complex is stunning to walk around and through and doesn’t necessarily warrant a visit inside to appreciate the beauty, but with some pretty cool exhibitions and the overall awesomeness that are interactive museums, I’d definitely buy a ticket for the Science Museum!
The Ciutat de Artes i les Ciencies is bordered by a meandering path running from Jardi del Turia, a greenspace that is the riverbed of the old Turia River, famous for its floods. The Valencians diverted the river and created a space that is now enjoyed by adults and kids alike, with a bike/pedestrian path and a playground with a large-scale statue of Gulliver (of Gulliver’s Travels fame) (is there any other kind really?) that kids can climb.
The beach at Valencia was one of the highlights of our exhausting trip (La Tomatina will definitely exhaust you!). The wide expanse of sandy beach and boardwalk is the perfect place to wind down for an afternoon (or full day). The boardwalk to the West of the beach allows you to linger longer, with plenty of shops and restaurants (like the aforementioned La Pepica) to keep you occupied.
Valencia holds a special place in my heart, where my memories are filled with fun and relaxation. It’s not a place to be overlooked, as I so easily could have done. I’m happy fate (and my BFF!) made me end up in this beautiful city of contrasts: the old with the new, the urban with the coast, the boisterous and the calm. Valencia, I miss you!