Ten things to do in Valencia

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City of Arts & Sciences

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona. While its two bigger sisters steal much of the tourism limelight, Valencia has quietly risen through the ranks and is now a worthy contender. The city has much going for it; a stunning medieval core, a multitude of architectural styles, urban savvy, colourful festivals, a vibrant nightlife and gastronomic scene, and a laid-back beach vibe make Valencia an attractive destination for all sorts of visitors. What I particularly like about Valencia is the fact that many attractions in the city centre are within walking distance whilst the City of Arts & Sciences, beaches and marina are easily accessible via the city’s efficient public transportation network. The Valencia Tourist Card makes it even easier for visitors to get around cheaply.

Visit in the spring and you’ll be greeted by gorgeous floral scents as you stroll around the city and its parks. In the summer, its beaches and international events (like the Formula One Grand Prix) take centre-stage whilst the famous Fallas Festival is the main attraction in late-winter (mid-March). Should you choose to visit Valencia, and I highly recommend you do, here are ten things to do and see in this wonderful city:

1. Explore the City of Arts & Sciences

The City of Arts and Sciences is a true architectural gem. Consisting of a series of stunning, highly photogenic buildings strung along the old river bed of the Turia, the City of Arts and Sciences was designed by Santiago Calatrava (a native of Valencia) and Félix Candela. You can spend the whole day exploring the city, with its blue reflective pools, clean white surfaces and leafy parks. I recommend visiting the Oceanografic (Europe’s largest aquarium) and the Museum of Sciences. A wonderful place for a meal is the Submarino restaurant located in the Oceanografic – it’s not cheap but the experience of dining while thousands of fish swim around you is certainly unique!

El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe

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One of many tunnels at the Oceanografic

2. Get lost in the Old Town

Valencia’s Old Town is a labyrinth of streets and alleys with something to see around every corner. Pastel and bold coloured façades mingle alongside ancient churches and bustling markets. There is a great variety of restaurants, cafés, art galleries and intriguing shops. My advice is to wander aimlessly through the maze of streets, admire the architecture and drop into any of the lovely cafés and shops.

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Left or right?

3. Find the Holy Grail

I’m not sure why people are still searching for the Holy Grail. It’s right here… in Valencia. I won’t tell you where but it’s not hard to find. When you do find it, prepare yourself for a truly enchanting experience! Oh, and find out why the locals believe it’s the one and only Holy Grail.

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The Holy Grail in Valencia

4. Explore Valencia’s history and architecture

Valencia can trace its past to the 2nd century BC when it was founded as a Roman colony. The city was later occupied by various powers including the Byzantines, Visigoths and the Moors. In the 15th century, Valencia experienced a time of rapid economic growth. Also known as the Valencian Golden Age, it was a period in which arts and culture fluorished in the city. In the early 1900’s, the city experienced another revival with many new buildings and monuments built. Remnants of this colourful past can still be seen, from the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum (at the Archeological Museum) to the beautiful 15th century Silk Exchange (Lonja de la Seda), the Cathedral, the medieval city gates and the stunning Art Nouveau buildings scattered around the city. The best way to get acquainted with the city’s history is to go on a walking tour and visit some of the world-class museums such as the National Ceramics Museum (with its breathtaking façade) and the Museum of Fine Arts San Pio V (located in a beautiful convent and home to a stunning collection that includes works by El Bosco, Goya and Velázquez). Make sure to look up when you’re at the Cathedral or the Silk Exchange – you’ll find some intriguing sculptures, some highly erotic, that adorn the façade. Oh, and find out why the bat is the symbol of Valencia!

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The Cathedral

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The interior of the Valencia Cathedral

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The gorgeous columns in the Silk Exchange

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The stunning façade of the Ceramics Museum

Valencia boasts a multitude of architectural styles, from the Gothic medieval period to Renaissance and 20th century Art Nouveau. Some of the most beautiful medieval examples include the Cathedral and Silk Exchange (above) whilst Art Nouveau enthusiasts should visit the Estacio del Nord (the train station), the Central Market and the buildings around the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

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The Estacio del Nord

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Plaza del Ayuntamiento

5. Go square-hopping

The Old Town of Valencia is a maze of streets and while you’re out on a stroll, you’ll soon discover the many hidden squares, each with its own distinct character. What I truly enjoyed doing was going from one square to another – square-hopping – stopping for a coffee or a drink each time and watching local Valencians go about their daily activities. At the Plaza de la Reina, at the main entrance to the Cathedral, you’ll find a terrace that serves a fantastic sangria!

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A cosy square in Valencia’s Old Town

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Have a jug of sangria at Plaza de la Reina

6. EAT!

Valencia has many culinary treats. Being the home of the world famous paella, this delicious rice dish features prominently on many menus but Valencia has lots more to offer. From tapas/pintxo bars to Michelin star establishments, there’s a broad range of restaurants to choose from. My favourites include La Riua, a popular paella restaurant; Sagardi, a pintxo bar and grill; Alma del Temple (a contemporary, reasonably-priced restaurant in the Caro Hotel); La Lola (a quirky restaurant near the Cathedral serving modern Valencian cuisine); and Vertical(a Michelin-star restaurant with fantastic views of the City of Arts & Sciences).

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Traditional Valencia paella with rabbit, chicken & vegetables

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Pintxos at Sagardi

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Jamon Iberico at Alma de Temple

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Shellfish platter at Vertical

If you’re spending a day at the city’s beaches, I can recommend the paella at La Ferradura and the wonderfully atmospheric La Lonja del Pescado.

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La Lonja del Pescado, Las Arenas, Valencia

Two other Valencian treats you shouldn’t miss are horchata (a refreshing drink made of tiger nuts) – try the Horchateria Santa Catalina, near the Plaza de la Reina – and the fresh juices (Valencia is famous the world over for its oranges) at Zumeria Naturalia in Carrer de la Mar. If you’re looking for something a bit stronger at Zumeria, ask for the Agua de Valencia (orange juice with cava and vodka).

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Zumeria Naturalia

7. Tantalise your senses in Valencia’s markets

There are many markets in Valencia but there are two that are absolutely worth a visit: the Central Market (one of Europe’s largest) and the Cólon Market. The fresh produce, seafood, cheeses and meat are guaranteed to get your appetite going. In addition, these are two of my favourite Art Nouveau buildings in Valencia.

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Central Market

8. Bioparc

A relatively new attraction in Valencia is the Bioparc, a huge park that showcases Africa’s flora and fauna. You’re probably scratching your head and wondering if this is something you absolutely must do in Valencia. I had the same reservations when I heard about it but I’m very glad I went. The park is absolutely amazing, hence its mention in this list. The Bioparc is organised in accordance with the various eco-systems in Africa and the animals roam around freely. Some of my favourite sections include Madagascar (where you can get very close to the lemurs), the hippo area and the savannah. The Bioparc is easily one of the most beautiful zoos I’ve been to and I can definitely recommend it for a lovely morning or afternoon stroll.

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Bioparc

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The hippos at the Bioparc

9. Hit the beaches

When you’re done exploring the city, head for the beaches! The city’s main beaches are Las Arenas and Malvarossa, both a short metro ride away from the city centre. The long boulevard that runs along the length of the beaches is a favourite spot for local Valencians to see and be seen. There is also a variety of cafés and restaurants along the boulevard. The main attraction, however, is the broad arc of white sand and the bright blue Mediterranean Sea. There are other gorgeous beaches situated just south of Valencia (an easy bus ride away) such as Playa Pinedo, Playa El Saler and Playa Devesa (an off-the-beaten-path nudist beach). These beaches are relatively less crowded than the city beaches and are more popular amongst the locals.

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Las Arenas beach

10. Stroll the length of the Turia River park

In 1957, Valencia was hit by a devastating flood that killed many and left the city underwater. As a result of the flood, the decision was made to divert the Turia River to the southern outskirts of the city. When the river was diverted, the dry river bed became a contentious issue for the city government. Plans to build a highway along the river bed clashed with the locals’ demands to create a park. The locals won and this is arguably the best thing to happen to the city in its modern history. The Turia park stretches almost 9 kilometers from the Bioparc to the City of Arts & Sciences at the southern end. Whereas a highway would have divided the city into distinct western and eastern halves, the park plays a pivotal role in uniting the city, bringing the locals together for all sorts of activities – there are cycling and jogging paths, water parks and facilities for a multitude of sports and cultural activities. Moreover, the rehabilitation of the river bed paved the way for the planning and construction of the magnificent City of Arts & Sciences. A stroll through the park (between the Alameda station and the City of Arts & Sciences) is a must-do, if only to enjoy the beautiful trees and flowering shrubs, and to admire the city’s historic bridges.

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The rose gardens in the Turia park near the City of Arts & Sciences

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Turia park

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Valencia Tourist Card

I hope you enjoy Valencia as much as I did. I have one more tip: if you’re visiting Valencia, I recommend purchasing a Valencia Tourist Card which can be used for your public transport needs (unlimited use of metro, bus and tram services within the city and to/from the airport). The card is available in three durations: 24, 48 and 72 hours. Those who purchase the card also receive a handy pocket map and a voucher booklet with heaps of discounts and free offers at many attractions and restaurants.

In partnership with the City of Valencia Tourism Board, I’m pleased to offer my readers a 10% discount when the card is purchased via this page.

Search for hotels in Valencia.

Note: A big thank you goes to the City of Valencia Tourism Board for hosting me in your wonderful city. All opinions expressed above are, as always, mine.

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31 Responses to “Ten things to do in Valencia”

  1. Keith Jenkins 05/08/2013 10:02 am
    #

    Hi Andrea,
    Thanks for your lovely comment! Love your new mantra! :-)

    Cheers,
    Keith

  2. Andrea 04/08/2013 5:58 pm
    #

    Hi, just wanted to say, thank you for enjoyed Valencia for me ahead of time. It’s my kind of place to see in Spain. I have been 2 Barcelona twice and loved it so much. As I am now hooked on touching every inch of Italy right now, I envy you. I can’t quit my job yet, but I can buy myself a plane ticket every yr. this allows me to nibble a bit, then go back for a bite.
    So, thanks for all the helpful info and inspiration to travel.
    This is my new mantra,
    The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

  3. Keith Jenkins 23/07/2013 2:47 pm
    #

    Glad you enjoyed Valencia! :-)

  4. Andrew Davison 23/07/2013 1:54 pm
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    I loved Valencia… it was perfectly sunny the whole time I was there? Didn’t get a chance to check out the arts and science centre annoyingly… spent to much time wondering around Old Town in total bliss :-)

  5. dave 18/04/2013 6:07 pm
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    Have to agree with you, Valencia is a great place to visit but seems to overshadowed by Spain’s more well known cities.

    Strolling around the old town at night is fun, so many people out strolling, and loads of bars and restaurants to stop off at.

  6. Ksenia 28/11/2012 11:38 am
    #

    Superb article! All Valencian wonders in one place and with such juicy and appealing photos!
    Just one little addition to your #4 – you didn’t mention that nearly all museums in Valencia are either totally free or have free entrance on weekend. Here’s a list of all museums with information on the days with free entrance: http://www.traveling365.com/2012/11/valencia-museums-with-free-entrance/

  7. Anita 30/10/2012 9:22 pm
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    Thank you for these great tips and the nice shots :-) I really need to visit Valencia one day – seems to be a great city!

  8. Keith Jenkins 30/10/2012 9:46 am
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    Enjoy Valencia! I’m sorry but I’m not familiar with the Family Card.

    Keith

  9. Dal 29/10/2012 9:58 am
    #

    My wife, 6yr old twins and I are visiting Valencia in a few days, first time and really looking forward to it. We are there for 4 days should we get the family card? I was not sure of difference with tourist card.

    Rgds
    Dal

  10. velvet 04/09/2012 2:29 pm
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    Thanks for the Bikeshare tip Jenny! :-)

  11. Jenny 04/09/2012 2:12 pm
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    We were only supposed to spend 4 days in Valencia for la tomatina and ended up loving it so much, we stayed for 9! You forgot to mention the amazing Valencia bikeshare. It only costs about 14 euro for a 7 day membership and helped us get around quickly and easily!

  12. Diana Hamilton 11/08/2012 9:29 am
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    I have been looking for somewhere to spend a few days in October when I have time off from work in Gibraltar. Your description of Valencia has made me feel very enthusiastic about this city so I think I may be visiting soon! Thank you for all the good tips and advice.

  13. velvet 10/07/2012 5:02 pm
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    It’s a tourist card that gives you unlimited use of public transport and discounts at restaurants, museums, etc… You can find more info about the card (and a discount) at the bottom of the post.

  14. Hotelopia UK 10/07/2012 3:44 pm
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    What’s a Valencia card???

  15. velvet 09/07/2012 3:18 pm
    #

    Have a great time in Valencia! I’m sure you’ll love it. Don’t forget to get your Valencia Card! :-)

  16. Hotelopia UK 09/07/2012 3:06 pm
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    Thanks for this super long post, I’m off to Valencia in just over a week for the first time!! :D If I was already excited, I’m twice as impatient now lol, those images look amazing!

  17. velvet 04/07/2012 10:19 pm
    #

    Hi Lesley,
    Thanks for your comment. I loved Valencia – see it as a ‘provincial’ version of Barcelona (though that description probably doesn’t do it much justice as it’s so distinct) and had a wonderful time there. It’s definitely a city I can highly recommend.

    Cheers,
    Keith

  18. Lesley Peterson 04/07/2012 8:38 pm
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    Extraordinary architecture – and yummy food shots! Valencia looks a place I’d love.

  19. velvet 25/06/2012 11:11 am
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    Glad you enjoyed the post Marin! :-)

  20. Marin Gorrie 25/06/2012 11:10 am
    #

    Spent four days there in September 2011. I absolutely loved the city, the people, the food and reading your blog just took me back. Thanks!

  21. Rob Innis 20/06/2012 4:06 pm
    #

    Yes Valencia is finally well and truly on the map, well worth visiting and it is very easy to walk around and see so much. Glad you mentioned the Holy Grail – a little know fact (or fiction?) about the city. Easy to get too as well – one of the latest AVE connections.

  22. Gary 14/06/2012 2:08 pm
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    Was here for a month stay last year. Truly the most underrated major city in Spain.

  23. Hellen Villarroel 13/06/2012 4:27 am
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    Surely a place I woul want to visit! Just beautiful!

  24. Jeff @ GoTravelzing 12/06/2012 5:01 pm
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    It’s nice to see Valencia is finally getting some respect. I was there five years ago and really enjoyed it. It should be on everybody’s list of place to visit in Spain.

  25. velvet 12/06/2012 2:41 pm
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    Woohoo, thank you Lisa for your kind comment! :-)

    Cheers,
    Keith

  26. Lisa Sadleir 12/06/2012 2:39 pm
    #

    Excited, hungry & thirsty …. a few words to express my feelings having read your article! As lovers of Spain, we must congratulate you on sharing your knowledge and obvious passion for Valencia. It is now high on our list of places to see and visit in Spain.
    :)

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