Traditionally Barcelona and to a lesser extent Madrid have been the prime destinations for a city trip in Spain. In March we visited the third largest Spanish city Valencia. We mainly went there for the amazing Las Fallas festival, the mindboggling modern architecture at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and because Valencia has a lot of fantastic street art.
Because of all the activity connected to Las Fallas and the huge amount of visitors in the city we sometimes lost track of what else there was to see. But somehow, making for a very busy schedule, we managed to squeeze in some other sights as well. In this post we list some great things to do in Valencia. But we’re sure there are many more that got lost in the festivities somewhere.
Great things to do in Valencia
Celebrate Las Fallas
Valencia is a city that loves to celebrate festivities and holidays. The biggest happenings occur during Las Fallas and Semana Santa (Holy Week/Easter). We visited during Las Fallas mid-March, which is the biggest festival in Valencia. This traditional event has developed into a fun cocktail of eating, drinking, music, traditional clothing, fireworks and the most fantastic displays of papier mâché figures and scenes that you’ll ever see. We wrote a separate post about it – with many, many pictures – that you can find here.
Relax in Jardin del Turia
This nine kilometer long park encircles much of the city center. The park was created in the river bed of the Turia river after a devastating flood hit the city in 1957. The course of the river was diverted and the dry river bed got redeveloped into a green oasis with gardens, playing fields, cycling and walking paths. It now is the biggest city park in Spain and a perfect place to escape the bustle of the city or the heat of summer.
Admire modern architecture
The eastern end of the Jardin del Turia is home to one of the absolute highlights of a visit to Valencia: the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences). Created by local architect Santiago Calatrava and built between 1996 and 2009, the striking buildings offer spectacular photo-ops. Take a look at this post for more pictures.
Hit the beach
Another perfect place to while away a warm and sunny afternoon is at Valencia’s Las Arenas and Malvarossa beaches, just 15-20 minutes by public transport from the city center. The wide beaches aren’t picture postcard perfect but offer enough space to work on your tan. The Paseo Maritimo boulevard behind the beach has plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy a drink, seafood or paella. For those interested in maritime history: the port – redeveloped for the America’s Cup in 2007 – is close-by.
Rent a bicycle
Much of the sights in the city center can be explored on foot but Valencia is also made for cycling. There are many cycling lanes (though some of them stop at unexpected moments) and the city is mostly flat. There are many rental places in Valencia, most of them charging the same for renting a bicycle.
Valencia based Dutch tour agency Verrassend Valencia provided us with a pair of free bikes for 24 hours. We used them to ride the entire length of the Jardin del Turia and to get to the Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias, the port and beaches, which was perfect.
Verrassend Valencia uses sturdy white bicycles recently imported from Holland. They proved to turn many heads in Valencia, we even saw people taking pics of them. To be honest: We’ve never had such quality rental bikes before.
Eugénie was especially happy with the wide bike saddle. For the first time in her life she didn’t end up with a sore butt after riding a rental. Some bikes sport an orange crate on the front to add some local flavor. It looks nice, but if you’re not sure about your bicycle handling skills it’s best to rent one without them as they make steering a bit heavier.
Verrassend Valencia also sells a guide book (in Dutch) with a bicycle route, seven walking routes and interviews with locals about their favorite spots in Valencia.
Find street art in El Carmen
Narrow winding streets, cozy plazas, historic buildings, small museums and boutique shops make El Carmen – the oldest Valencia neighborhood – a place best explored on foot. Once home to prostitutes and drug dealers El Carmen has developed into a up-and-coming neighborhood with a vibrant nightlife and creative scene. Never before have we seen so much street art in such a small area before. Many examples of street art can be found in this separate street art post.
Climb Torres de Serranos
We love having city views from high vantage points. Unfortunately Valencia doesn’t have many opportunities to do this. The only one we found accessible during our stay was the 14th century Torres de Serranos. Together with Torres del Quart this city gate is all that’s left of the old city walls. The views of El Carmen and the Jardin del Turia were nice but not great.
Visit the Mercado Central
If you’re looking for traditional dry-cured meats, fresh seafood, local grown vegetables or fruit, the Mercado Central is the place to be. The biggest covered fresh market in Europe was built in 1928 and is also a prime example of the Modernista architecture that Valencia is also known for.
Other noteworthy Modernista buildings are the central post office and town hall at the Plaza de Ayuntamiento and the Estacion de Norte train station.
Sample local food at a tapas bar
No visit to Valencia is complete without a visit to a tapas bar or sampling typical Valencian paella. We’ll not give any recommendations here. It’s best – and most fun – to just wander around and let your nose – and your own good judgement – guide you.
Look for the holy grail
Valencia’s cathedral was built over a mosque in 1238 after the Moors had been expelled from the city. The unusual small entrance hides an impressive, mostly Gothic, interior. Next to a beautiful altarpiece the cathedral claims to display the holy grail – the cup from which Christ sipped at the Last Supper. But they’re not the only one claiming this….. The 50 meter high bell tower can be climbed, but was closed during our visit.
Valencia travel tips
Stay – Because of Las Fallas accommodation in Valencia was ridiculously expensive when we were there. When we started looking for a room on hotel booking sites in December availability was limited, basic rooms in a hostel being the cheapest option at almost 100 euros. Luckily Airbnb had some cheaper options.
We stayed in a nice small loft apartment with two bedrooms, a sunny balcony and great Wifi in the Cabanyal area near Valencia’s port. City busses and trams stopped a two minute walk away and the Maritim-Serraria metro stop – with a convenient direct link to the airport – was only a five minute walk away. At the same time it was a nice escape from the Las Fallas crowds and noise in the city center.
Transport – The city center can easily be explored on foot. For sights further away there are plenty of public transport options. During Las Fallas the metro seemed to be the best option with many bus routes being redirected because of the festivities in the city. The metro is also a good choice for getting to/from the airport. When we arrived by train at the Joaquin Sorolla train station from Cordóba late in the evening we found taxis to be surprisingly affordable.