Spain’s third largest city continues to be somewhat of a secret which is really surprising considering what this beautiful city has to offer.
With its stunning old town, large green areas within the city, the amazing Calatrava-designed City of Arts and Sciences, lots of little shops, restaurant and cafés and not to forget the nearby white sandy beaches along with nearly guaranteed perfect weather from May through to early October, Valencia is the perfect destination for a short (or longer) trip.
Here are some suggestions what you should not miss in the city.
Explore Valencia’s historic town
The beautiful old town with a network of narrow streets and its two main squares, Plaza de la Reina in the north and Plaza del Ayuntamiento in the south, lots of little shops, cafés and restaurants is perfect to simply stroll around and every now and then sit down on one of its many little squares to sip a coffee or glass of wine.
One of the city’s most iconic monuments, the impressive Torres de Serranos, constructed in 1392, is one of the twelve gates that in the past formed part of the city wall.
Located in Valencia’s El Carmen neighbourhood between Plaza de la Reina and Plaza del Virgen, the imposing Basilica of the Assumpion of Our Lade of Valencia, also simply referred to as Saint Mary’s Cathedral, built in the 13th century, it the city’s largest Roman church. The site where it stands has an even longer history. In fact, today’s cathedral was initially a Roman-Visgoth Temple and later during the Moorish occupation of the city, it was converted into a Mosque. Today, you can still see some pieces of the original temple including a crypt chapel dating back to the 6th century.
The large fountain in the middle of Plaza del Virgen was built by local sculptor Silvestre Edeta and represents the city’s Turia River and its seven irrigation ditches.
Just off Plaza de la Reina sits the gorgeous Torre de Santa Catalina. Originally built in 1245 the tower was constantly remodelled in the following centuries and today spots a mixture of styles.
The old silk exchange La Lonja was built in the 15th century and today is one of Europe’s best examples of Gothic architecture. It is also a World Heritage site.
Originally built in 1368, Iglesia Los Santos Juanes, just opposite La Lonja is another of Valencia’s historic churches built on the remnants of a former mosque. The original Gothic building burned down almost completely in 1592 and was later rebuilt in Baroque style. The main facade still features a walled up oculus of a rose window from the historic church.
Plaza del Ayuntamineto is lined by stunning palaces, including the Corresos y Telegrafos (the post and telegraph building).
There is something I will invariably do in every city I visit: go to the local market. Mercado Central in Valencia is a food lover heaven with more than one thousand stalls selling the best local produce. The art nouveau building, which dates back to the 1920s, is indeed home of one of the largest food halls in Europe.
Head to the City of Arts and Sciences
Interested in the most recent scientific discoveries? Head to the Science Museum with lots of interactive exhibitions that change every two months.
Want to see some intriguing maritime life? The Oceanographic is Europe’s largest aquarium with more than 45,000 species.
Also within the complex is an IMAX cinema, planetarium and an opera house.
Aside from the expositions and maritime species that call the complex their home, the beautifully sculptured sleek white complex itself, designed by star architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela, is worth spending time and exploring.
Fun fact: The complex is features as one of the twelve treasures of Spain.
As much as I love wildlife encounters, I am not a huge fan of zoos which by definition mean animals will be kept in confined areas. That said, over recent decades there has been huge change and most now put a high focus on providing the best and most nature-like conditions (albeit it will clearly never match the conditions in nature).
However, having seen some intriguing images, I decided to explore Valencia’s Biopark. It’s main intention is to provide the animals conditions that are as natural a habitat as possible. One can explore the ecosystems of the savannah, the forests of Madagascar and equatorial Africa, while admiring the impressive silverback gorillas alongside leopards, lions, rhinos, hippos and the adorable meerkats.
Speaking of nature, Turia Gardens were built after the Turia river was diverted in the 1950s following a severe flooding. The then dried land became a beautiful park that stretches the whole length (about nine kilometres) from Bioparc to the City of Arts and Sciences. During the summer months, it also hosts many events like concerts and outdoor movies in the evenings.
Eat paella and sip on a horchata
Valencia is the birthplace of the famous Spanish paella. So there is no excuse not to eat the real thing at least once while you are there. If you wonder what I mean with ‘the real thing’ you will quickly find out in the city: differently to the mainstream perception a true paella recipe includes seafood and chorizo, the original one instead is served with chicken, rabbit and green beans.
Another must is to drink horchata, a traditional cold drink made from tiger nuts, sugar and crushed ice. You won’t have trouble to find it as it is served everywhere. However, make a point to go to Horchateria Santa Catalina (directly opposite of the Iglesia de Santa Catalina), said to make the best in town.
Spend time at the beach
Not to be missed is the roughly three kilometre stretch of Malvarrosa beach to the east of the old town. There’s also a broad boardwalk and lots of typical beach shops, cafés and restaurants.
Have you been to Valencia yet? Let me know about your experience.