Valencia is a charming old city with fine cuisine at good prices and a number of excellent museums. It is the third largest city in Spain in terms of importance and population, and the 15th largest in the European Union. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, it is about two hours traveling distance from Madrid and Alicante, and three to four hours south of Barcelona, with great transport into and around the city. Valencia is known for its Fallas Festival in March, for hosting the 2007 and 2010 America’s Cup, and for the massive architectural project by Santiago Calatrava called The City of Arts and Sciences. It is also the birthplace of paella!
Valencia has lively nightlife and great range of activities available. You can enjoy nautical sports, explore its lush nature, visit its spectacular museums, go shopping, see the pleasant orange groves that surround the city suburbs and relax or sunbathe on its beaches. The food is excellent here and well priced at many superb restaurants.
Despite being on the Mediterranean Sea, a popular saying with locals is “Valencia has always lived with its back to the sea”, in other words, it is not a beach destination, yet rather an exciting vacation destination with a superb, vibrant centre that just so happens to have a few beaches close by!
Below are five things that we think are essential to see and do when in Valencia:
1. City of Arts and Sciences (la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias)
The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia is a unique and stunningly designed complex devoted to sciences and culture. It is made up of five main elements: the Hemisfèric with IMAX cinema and digital projections, the Umbracle, the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, the Oceanográfico aquarium with over 500 marine species, and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.
The amazing complex designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela and it was officialy opened in 1998, although the final piece was not completed and opened until 2005.
It is a superb place to walk around and visit, even if you cannot afford to enter the various superb exhibitions and complexes. It sits on the Turia River Bed and is an excellent example of how Valencia wants to be seen, not just as a European city, but as an essential European city to visit!
2. Valencia Cathedral and the Holy Chalice (Catedral de Valencia y el Santo Cáliz)
Centrally located on the Plaza de la Reina, this is the religious centre of Valencia and one of the city’s landmarks. Founded in the 13th century on the site of the main mosque, it is a spectacular hybrid of styles, from Gothic to Baroque and Neo-Classical. You need to walk completely around it all to fully appreciate it. Atop the Cathedral is the impressive octagonal bell-tower known as El Micalet. It is a famous landmark of Valencia and you can climb the stairs to the top to enjoy the views of Valencia’s old town.
The inside of Valencia Cathedral is worth visiting as it has many interesting elements, from the overall decor to famous religious relics and art, including a piece by Goya.
Of course, the most famous relic of all resides here – the Holy Grail. It sounds like a very bold claim, but more and more researchers are in joining in agreement that the chalice in the Valencia Cathedral is the authentic cup used by Jesus in the Last Supper.
3. Valencia’s Market (Mercado Central de Valencia)
The Mercat Central de Valencia was opened on the 23rd January 1928, 14 years after it first began construction in 1914. There is no doubt that the Mercat Central is a spectacular piece of architecture and one of the most attractive and visited buildings in Valencia. Its architecture matches the aesthetics of the square and blends perfectly with two other important monuments close by: La Lonja de la Seda (the silk exchange) and the Church of Los Santos Juanes.
The Mercat Central de Valencia covers approximately 8,000 square metres and is divided into two zones. The meat, fruit and vegetable market, and the smaller fish market. Almost 400 small traders and 1,500 people are involved in its daily activity and it is the largest centre of its kind in Europe.
We recommend that you visit, not just to see, hear, smell and taste the superb goods on offer, but to enjoy the wonderful building in which the bustling, vibrant market is housed!
There are many great museums in Valencia but that we like the most are the Museo de Bellas Artes, the Museo Fallero and the IVAM (Institut Valencià d’Art Modern).
Museo de Bellas Artes
If you love art as I do, this museum is a must see. The Museum of Fine Arts contains pieces predominantly from the Valencia School of painters, but besides the paintings there is a collection of approximately 11,000 drawings, done by famous painters from the 16th to the 20th century. There are also about 300 sculptures and artifacts from the times of the Romans to the Visigoths. This museum is one of the best fine arts museum in Spain and is well organized, showing the works of the best artists of the history of Valencia.
IVAM (Institut Valencià d’Art Modern)
The Valencian Institute of Modern Art, also known as IVAM, was the first center of modern art created in Spain, and it opened in 1989. The Institut Valencià d’Art Modern is an important center for modern and contemporary art in both Spain and the whole of Europe.
The museum offers both permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, discussions, courses and conferences, workshops and concerts related to exhibitions organized and other fields of contemporary art. The exhibitons are of continuous developments of art and photography of the twentieth century. If you are a fan of modern art then you will not want to miss this museum!
If you cannot attend Las Fallas in March, then a visit to this museum will give you a good idea of what occurs each year! The Fallas festival is unique to the Valencian region, and it is so spectacular that a visit to Valencia will be not be complete without learning a little about the event.
You will see ‘statues’ from the last 80 years of Las Fallas, as well as videos, posters and images of the best fallas from years past. There are also sections on the history of the festival, how the fallas are made, and even a model of a mascleta. The museum is very close to the City of Arts and Sciences.
5. Turia River Bed Gardens and the Old Town
Turia River Bed Gardens
The Turia River Bed Gardens stretch for nine kilometres through the city of Valencia. In 1957 the original river was diverted due to flooding and now the fertile earth provides lush vegetation, cycle paths, ponds, buildings, cafes and more. It’s a vibrant, beautiful and cultured area of the city and you’ll often find exhibitions and fairs held in the centre of the park. You will find the Palau de la Musica in the river bed, flanked by a large pond where you’ll find dancing fountains and free music on Saturday lunch times. The river bed is crossed by numerous bridges, with two of the most attractive being the Calatrava Bridge, designed by the architect who created the City of Arts and Sciences, and the beautiful Puente de las Flores, or ‘Bridge of Flowers’.
A cycle path runs the entire length of river bed, from the City of Arts and Sciences at one end, to the Parque Cabacera and its stunning lake, at the other.
The Old Town of Valencia
The old town is full of twisty, winding streets where you may discover hidden courtyards where markets and antique shops reside, and larger open plazas. Dotted amongst these pretty streets are cafés full of locals serving authentic tapas, and small interesting shops with products that you would never find in the larger commercial stores of the center.
Valencia’s old town contains beautiful plazas such as Plaza Ayuntamiento and Plaza Victoria which are surrounded by dozens of fantastic historical buildings, many of which are free to explore. You will find architectural styles from Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque to Neoclassical. Loose yourself in the old town and you never know what interesting building is around the next corner to delight you.
Your thoughts on Valencia
Have you been to Valencia? What did you make of it? Is it a city that you would return to? What other places of interest would you recommend?
Please leave your thoughts in comments below. Thanks for reading!