Valencia: filled with history, culture, art and hipster bars…
I have been in Valencia for three months now so it is about time to share some of my experiences! I have visited Valencia many times in the past 15 years and recently I decided I liked this city so much that I should try living here. So I packed my suitcase, found a place to live and off I went!
Valencia is Spain’s third largest city and a lot has changed here in recent years. It has always been a beautiful city with a well preserved historic centre but in the past few years it seems to have become more lively, more international and more popular amongst both tourists and expats.
Trendy coffee shops seem to be opening non stop and cultural, gastronomic, and sports events or meetups are held throughout the city almost daily.
So what I am trying to say is: I have lived in over a dozen countries all over the world and in numerous cities, but Valencia is definitely high on my list of favorite places!
I can’t possibly share all of the things I love about Valencia in one article though. So let’s start with the things you really can’t miss on a short trip to this Spanish city:
This is a practial guide to what to see and do in Valencia
1. Start your day with a Spanish Breakfast
The standard breakfast in this part of Spain consists of Pan con Tomate (bread with tomato) and coffee. If you travel to Valencia you should try this breakfast at least once. And it isn’t hard to find. Pretty much every cafe that is open in the morning will offer this breakfast. And the best part is: the entire breakfast won’t cost you much more than € 2.50
It’s a nice way to start the day. And if you pick the right spot it will be perfect for people watching and to get a feel for how the Spanish start their day.
2. Check out La Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange)
Built between 1482 and 1533, this group of buildings was originally used for trading in silk (hence its name, the Silk Exchange). Called Llotja de la Seda in Valencian, this set of Gothic-style buildings show off the power and wealth of a major Mediterranean mercantile city in the 15th and 16th centuries.
It is well worth having a walk around these buildings as they are some of the most impressive buildings in Valencia’s historic centre and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tip: You pay extra for an audio tour but it’s well worth it if you want to know more about the history and former use of these buildings.
Admission: € 2.00 (free on Sundays & holidays)
3. Cross the street to visit the Mercado Central (Central Market)
The Mercado Central, or Mercat Central in Valencian, is one of the oldest markets still in use in Europe. It has been declared a Heritage of Cultural Interest site by the Spanish Ministry of Culture.
Situated across the street from La Lonja de la Seda, in the heart of Ciutat Vella (the historic city centre), the market is popular among tourists as well as locals. With its numerous aisles filled with local products it’s a lovely spot to immerse yourself in Valencia’s local culture and to find out more about Valencia’s local food.
The market is open from Monday to Saturday, from 7AM until 3PM
For more information: Mercadocentralvalencia.es
4. Be impressed by the Valencia Cathedral and climb the Micalet Tower
The Metropolitan Cathedral–Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia, also known as Saint Mary’s Cathedral or Valencia Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church. It is an impressive building that spans a variety of architecture styles, including baroque, Romanesque and gothic.
Built on the site of a Roman temple, which later became a mosque, the origins of the cathedral date back to the 13th century.
One reason why many people visit the cathedral is because there is a chapel here in which the Holy Chalice, a cup made of ancient gemstone, can be found. Some believe this is the Holy Grail.
Next to the main entrance you will find a baroque style bell tower, the Torre del Micalet (the Micalet Tower). This 13th century bell tower takes its name from the main clock bell, el Micalet. 207 steps lead you up to a terrace area from where you have a lovely view over Valencia.
The Cathedral links two of El Carmen’s most iconic plazas – Plaza de la Reina and Plaza de la Virgen. Both are worth checking out and are good, albeit touristy, places for lunch or a drink.
Admission: € 7.00
For more information: Catedraldevalencia.es
5. Climb one of the old city gates
Valencia used to be protected by an impressive set of walls with 12 gates. Today, the medieval walls have disappeared, but two gates remain: the Torres de Serranos to the north, and the Torres de Quart to the west.
The Torres de Serranos formed the main entrance to Valencia. This is the gate through which the royal processions of visiting kings would enter. The Torres de Serranos, built in the late 14th century, is considered to be the largest Gothic city gateway in Europe. During the Spanish Civil War, the towers protected works of art which had been rescued from the Prado museum. And today, this is where Valencia celebrates la Crida, which marks the start of the famous Fallas festival.
The second remaining gate, the Torres de Quart, was built in the 15th century. The most interesting aspect of this gate are the still-visible bombing marks from the Siege of Valencia by Napoleonic forces in 1808.
From 1586 until 1887 the towers were used as a prison for nobles.
Both gates are impressive and remarkably well maintained. You can climb to the top of either one of them and both give a similar view over the city center. So I would say, just pick the gate you happen to be closest to, but definitely climb one of them.
Admission: € 2.00 (free on Sundays & holidays)
6. Visit the bullring & adjacent bullfighting museum
This is a controversial one and it took me a long time before I finally visited Valencia’s bullring, the Plaza de Toros. Because yes, Valencia still uses it for bullfights.
But, thankfully you can visit the bullring when there are no bullfights. So I eventually decided that yes, I am VERY MUCH AGAINST bullfighting, but I do want to know more about it. Even if it is just to be able to have a better educated discussion about it.
And I have to admit, the building is impressive! It would make such a great place for concerts and other events not harming animals…
Anyway, my personal opinion aside, the Plaza de Toros is one of Valencia’s main sights.
The bullring is a neoclassic building built between 1850-1860. It is 18 metres high, has a diameter of 52 metres and can hold around 12.000 people.
Right next to the bullring you’ll find a small bullfighting museum. This was founded in 1929 and is one of the oldest and most important bullfighting museums in Spain, holding historical objects from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It also shows a video of what happens during a bullfight. If you have a weak stomach or hate seeing animal cruelty you might want to give this video a miss…
The main bullfights take place during the Fallas festival and at the July Fair.
Tip: the entrance to the bullring and the museum is a bit tricky to find since it is in a sidestreet. Check out the map here, or type in Museo Taurino de Valencia in Google maps.
When you are here, also check out the impressive central train station, Estación del Norte (Estació del Nord in Valencian) which is located right next to the bullring.
Admission: € 2.00 (free on Sundays & holidays)
The bullring and museum are closed on Mondays.
7. Be amazed by the architecture of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, or City of Arts and Sciences, is a collection of ultra-modern buildings housing several attractions. It has become the icon of the city and is a must visit on any trip to Valencia.
The City of Arts and Sciences is the most important modern tourist destination in Valencia and one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. Originally budgeted at €300 million, it has cost nearly three times the initially expected cost.
Inside the different buildings that make up this futuristic complex you can find the following attractions to visit:
- Oceanographic, Europe’s biggest aquarium
- Hemisferic, a 3D cinema
- The Príncipe Felipe Science Museum
- Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, an opera house and cultural center
- L’Umbracle, a sculpture garden and landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia
Apart from L’Umbracle, which is free to enter, all of these attractions are surprisingly pricey. But, even if you are not willing to pay for any of these, do still visit the area. Stroll around, take pictures of the impressive buildings and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere while sipping on a refreshing drink at one of the outdoor cafes.
Tip: everyone I have spoken to seems to agree that the science museum is a bit of a letdown and not worth the money
For more information and tickets: cac.es
8. Go for a stroll or a bike ride in the Turia park (Jardines del Turia)
The Jardines del Turia (Turia Gardens) are located in the former riverbed of the River Turia. The river, which was drained and rerouted after a catastrophic flood in 1957, ran around Valencia’s city center. The 9km long park that has since been created is one of the things many of my friends in Valencia love the most about life in this city.
The park offers a mixture of playing fields, cycling & walking paths, fountains and gardens. It even boasts a bizarre looking children’s playground called Parque Gulliver.
The Turia Gardens is one of the largest urban parks in Spain, crossed by 18 bridges full of history. It forms a lovely green space which is easily accessible from anywhere in the city. People of all ages actively use the park and you can often find me here for an afternoon walk, a sports class or a picnic with friends.
9. Relax at one of Valencia’s stunning beaches
Despite being on the Mediterranean Sea, even locals say that “Valencia has always lived with its back to the sea”, meaning that the core of the city is not integrated with its beaches. The city center and the most visited neighborhoods are quite far from the beach. While Valencia is a very walkable city and most of its tourist attractions are within walking distance from each other, to the beach you probably want to take a bus, tram or taxi. Or rent a bike and cycle to the beach.
La Malvarrosa is the name of Valencia’s main beach which most locals and tourists go to. La Malvarrosa is a lovely long and wide sandy beach. It offers a few (beach) bars, numerous restaurants and a long boardwalk -Paseo Maritimo. It can get crowded here in summer but in general it’s the perfect place for a beach day.
Although it looks like one long beach, La Malvarrosa is split up into different beaches. The three main areas are: Malvarrosa, Las Arenas and Patacona. Patacona is the most Northern part of the beach and if you are looking for a quieter stretch of beach than this is your best choice. Plus Patacona has some lovely breakfast and lunch places that are well worth checking out!
10. Admire some great street art and end your day with drinks in El Carmen
You can find cool street art throughout Valencia but the neighborhood of El Carmen is one of the best places to wander around in if you enjoy street art. Additionally this area also offers some of the city’s best nightlife.
Barrio del Carmen is peaceful during the day and bursting with life at night. It’s one of the most popular areas of Valencia’s medieval old town.
Barrio del Carmen is located in the north west of the old town behind Plaza de la Virgin and near Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart. El Carmen is famous for its many cafes, bars and restaurants.
Keep in mind that the Spanish don’t have dinner before 8pm (10pm is a much more appropriate time) so save this area for the end of your day to really soak up the atmosphere.
11. Visit some of Valencia’s many museums
Valencia has a surprisingly large offering of museums. From art and history museums to a ceramics museum and a museum dedicated to the famous Fallas festival.
Try to fit in at least one or two museums during your visit. Most museums are small so they won’t take up much of your time and most only cost around 2 euros to enter.
Check this link for a list of museums in Valencia.
How much time do you need in Valencia?
Of course the more time you have, the more you can soak up Valencia’s culture. And the more hidden gems you can find, away from the touristy sights. But, thankfully Valencia is a very compact city so you don’t need a lot of time to see the main sights. Most tourist attractions are within walking distance from each other and a weekend is enough to see the highlights.
Also check my other articles about Spain if you are thinking about visiting more than just Valencia.
Enjoy your travels and I hope you will love Valencia as much as I do!
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