Like I mentioned in my last post, I didn’t spend as much time working in Valencia like I’d originally planned. In fact, if you had seen me digital nomading in the month of August, you would have laughed at the absurdity of my work life. But those stories are for another post.
I knew that two months in Valencia would go by quickly, especially since I spent three of those weeks traveling outside the city. I had to make my time in Valencia count, and looking back at my photos – my roommate Tiffany and I did an amazing job. I did, I kid you not, 99% of all the activities I set out to do in Valencia. I went on a food tour, a street art tour, day trips and even several local events. Therefore, with all my Valencian “expertise,” I present to you the ultimate Valencia travel guide– fondly known as almost everything to do in the city.
1. Check out the street art in El Carmen
If you’re a street art lover, you’re in luck. Valencia has a thriving street art scene, with murals, graffiti, and paintings dotting the city. Although El Carmen is home to a huge number of pieces, the best way to gain a deep understanding of the artwork and respective artists is by taking the Urban Adventures Street Art in Old Valencia Tour. Lenny is a dynamic and knowledgeable guide and her obsession with street art means you’re guaranteed to leave armed with knowledge about Valencia. She also hosts a food tour too!
2. Get your tan on at the beach
Spaniards love to hate their city beaches, but as an Angeleno, I can honestly say the Valencia city beaches are quite nice. The most popular (and easiest to access) is Malvarrosa. The city center empties out in the summer, but you can find all the Valencians are at the beach. For a slightly quieter and cleaner beach with fewer tourists, head to Patacona. No matter which you pick, you’re in for a good beach day.
3. Picnic at Turia Gardens
Once upon a time, Turia was a river that ran through the entire city of Valencia. After it flooded, the water was diverted to dams and the remaining land was turned into a park. At 9km long, Turia runs throughout the entire city, from the Bioparc all the way to the City of Arts and Sciences. It is an excellent place to have a picnic or just take a stroll. No matter what time of day, it’s always filled with people walking dogs, exercising or just hanging out. During the summer, you can find live concerts, outdoor movies, and other cool events as well. I suggest grabbing some fresh eats from Mercado Central or Mercado de Russafa and making a lazy afternoon of it.
4. Eat your way through the Mercado Central
I probably ended up at the Mercado Central at least once a week over the summer, whether or not I needed groceries. The Mercado is essentially a giant farmer’s market that sells every food item your heart could desire. They have everything from foodie souvenirs (hello, olive oil!) to fresh veggies to cured meats to specialty olives. Plus, they also have some bakeries and ready-to-eat meals, so you can eat while you shop. With rows and rows of stores, it’s a foodie’s paradise, and you could easily spend an hour here. Special shout out goes to Mercado de Russafa – a much smaller version of Mercado Central, but easier to shop in since it’s far less crowded. Note that both markets are closed on Sundays.
5. Marvel at the Museum of Toy Soldiers (L’iber)
I’m not a huge museum person, but I couldn’t resist visiting this somewhat strange and enchanting museum. Home to the largest collection of toy soldiers in the world (yes that’s a thing), this privately owned museum is guaranteed to wow you. Its recreations of famous historical events and people bring a whole new meaning to making history come alive.
6. Visit the jaw-dropping Parroquia de San Nicolas
Every guidebook will tell you to visit the Cathedral of Valencia, but Parroquia de San Nicolas is where it’s at. The “Sistine Chapel of Valencia” has incredibly intricate murals and carvings; the entire interior is a giant piece of art. Special thanks to the Urban Adventures team for suggesting it to me!
7. Go on a free walking tour
Free walking tours are AWESOME because 1) they’re free and 2) the guides are extremely knowledgeable about the city. I try to do them in every city I go visit because it’s a great introduction to a new place. The Valencia Free Walking Tour is pretty lengthy (nearly 4 hours), but covers a good chunk of the city. Here’s a brief overview of some of the things you’ll see:
- La Lonja Silk Exchange: Once upon a time, the Silk Exchange was it exactly what it sounds like..a silk exchange. It then evolved into a center for local trading and commerce before it stopped being used. Nowadays, you can still find people outside the Silk Exchange on Sundays, selling and bartering their collectible items.
- Cathedral of Valencia: This Mosque turned Cathedral has quite the interesting history, both architecturally and as a symbol of the evolution of religion in Valencia.
- Plaza de la Virgen: This was our meeting spot for the tour and is one of the largest plazas in the Old Town. Here, we learned about the historical significance of the Water Court, Turia Fountain, and Basilica de la Virgen.
- Plaza de la Reina: this is the main square of Valencia and really the heart of the city. Here you’ll find a multitude of shops and restaurants, as well as the entry point into the Old Town.
- The Old Town (Ciutat Vella): There is so much to see in the Old Town, and this tour gives you an excellent taste. You’ll see La Estrecha (the thinnest building in the city), Plaza Redona (a round plaza) and the Central Market.
As you head deeper into the old town, you’ll get even more information about Valencia, stopping by the Market Square and Government Palace. Basically, even if you’re only in Valencia for a few days, I highly recommend this tour to get a taste of the city!
8. Climb the Torres del Serrano (and Torres de Quart)
Old Valencia (Ciutat Vella) is sandwiched in between two towers: Torres del Serrano and Torres de Quart, both of which were part of the original city walls. I only visited Torres del Serrano, located at the edge of the El Carmen neighborhood and known as the largest Gothic city gateway in Europe. Fun fact: Torres del Serrano operated as a prison for nobles and knights for 300 years. It has amazing architecture (#Instagram) and for €2, you can huff and puff your way up the stairs for some spectacular views of El Carmen, Turia, and the rest of Valencia.
9. Wander through hipster Russafa
Before renting my summer apartment, I asked several people about their favorite neighborhoods in Valencia. The unanimous answer was Russafa, and I completely understand why. Russafa is the trendy meets hipster neighborhood. It’s affordable and has a local feel, but still caters to the “cool kids” with good ethnic food, well-designed cafes, and quirky boutique shops. If you have the time just wander through this area and see what you find!
10. Escape the city and visit Denia
Remember how I mentioned that Spaniards love to poo-poo at their city beaches? Valencians are no different and when one local realized I hadn’t been to any non-city beaches, she immediately insisted I take a day trip to Denia. So, when a couple of our girlfriends were in town, that’s what Tiffany and I did. Besides being clean and well equipped with amenities, the water in Denia was perfection. Plus, it’s not as popular to visit as some of the larger beach towns, so it wasn’t overcrowded at all. I recommend staying overnight as it’s about a 2-hour bus ride from Valencia.
11. Take a peek into the future at the City of Arts and Sciences
This futuristic area is the new part of Valencia, and the architecture is truly mind boggling. This “city” is made up of a science museum, opera house, Imax theater, garden / nightclub, events venue, and aquarium. Although it’s a long walk from the Old Town, it’s definitely worth the visit. I suggest coming to this area around sunset for some beautiful views. Did I mention you can do a mini boat ride in the pool?
12. Get inspired at L’Oceanografic
The main building worth exploring at the City of Arts and Sciences is L’Oceanografic, Europe’s largest aquarium. Tiffany I went during a special evening series they were running during the summer, which included live classical orchestras playing throughout the aquarium. We also watched a really dramatic and classy dolphin show, complete with lights and classical music. It surpassed my expectations and is totally worth the 28 euro entrance fee.
13. Discover your inner chef at La Escuela de Paella y Arroces
I wrote an entire post about how I became a paella “chef.” La Escuela de Paella y Arroces manages to make cooking a two-hour dish both fun and educational. It’s a great way to learn how to cook the national dish of Valencia and get a better understanding of the history of paella.
14. Drink ALL the Orxata
Orxata is easily the national drink of Valencia, and Tiffany and I were enthusiastic consumers. This tiger nut drink tastes like a better and refreshing version of almond milk and is best consumed alongside a fartón, a slightly sweet and light breadstick. The best place to get it is Casa de l’Orxata, although the most famous version is from Santa Catalina. Try both and thank me later. Tip: Casa de l’Orxata is located in Mercado Colón, which is an excellent location to spend a lazy afternoon.
15. Visit the birthplace of Paella (La Albufera)
While Valencia is known for its delicious Paella Valenciana, what most people don’t know is that the true birthplace of paella is La Albufera, a small town just outside the Valencia city center. It’s easy to do a half-day tour from Valencia, which includes a peaceful boat ride, transport to and from the town, and a 3-course paella lunch. Yum! You can also take the city bus and book the bus and lunches separately if you want to go on your own schedule. Even though it’s not far from the city at all, La Albufera feels like another world with its expansive green fields and quaint town center.
16. Party all night at L’Umbracle
For those of you who know me, you know that I am so NOT a clubbing person. I love to dance but clubs are just…no. Usually, anyway. However, every single person I spoke to said I HAD to go to L’Umbracle at least once and let me just say, it did not disappoint. First of all, it’s an outdoor club so the ambiance is a lot more relaxed and classy. There are two levels, with the indoor basement level playing the real clubby music, while the main floor evoking a lounge vibe. So fun! If you want to party with actual Spaniards, don’t bother showing up until 3 am – that’s when the party really starts. That explains why I only went once. I so cannot hang with the Spanish schedule.
17. Experience Las Fallas at the Museo Fallero
Valencia is well-known internationally for the Las Fallas Festival – the Festival of Fire. It takes place every March to commemorate Saint Joseph. Although it officially lasts 5 days, I’m told the festivities and shenanigans last a month, with people launching fireworks and partying all night long. During Las Fallas, every Valencian neighborhood has an organizing committee (casal faller) who is tasked with uniting workers and designers to make paper maché and cardboard structures (ninots) representing a designated theme. On the last day of Las Fallas, all the ninots (except the “best” one) are burned to the ground in conjunction with fireworks. The Museo Fallero is where you can see the best ninots from all the Fallas since the early 1930s. It’s fascinating to see their evolution over time, both in terms of materials used and the winning themes. Some of them are seriously so strange…
18. Catch the train to Alicante
We spent most of our summer enjoying a fairly empty Valencia city center. When I asked where everyone was the answer was “the beach!” Since one of the closest beach towns is Alicante, it made total sense that it was where all the hustle and bustle was. Alicante is a smallish beach town about an hour and a half from Valencia and is the epitome of #summervibes. Warm nights, crowded beaches, cool waters and al fresco dining – Alicante is the cool place to be. It’s a little pricey to stay here during peak season, but it’s a fun getaway from Valencia.
19. Pay homage to the House of Cats
When I was first introduced to the House of Cats, I knew I would love Valencia. This house used to belong to an elderly lady who loves cats. When she died, she left her house to the cats of Valencia, and it has since turned into a cat sanctuary. Apparently, nobody is allowed onto the actual grounds, but the cat entrance was built to resemble a miniature house. How cute is that?
20. Attend awesome events by Love Valencia
Want to know what cool events are going on in Valencia at any given time? Love Valencia is the ultimate resource for anything and everything happening in the city. Tiffany and I were enthusiastic followers of Love Valencia and attended our fair share of summer events. Valencia hosts an impressive amount of events (and manages crowds really well), so I highly recommend checking out Love Valencia for the days you’re in town.
The 1% (of things I didn’t do):
There are always more things to see! These are a few of the popular activities that I didn’t do. I’m sure there are more than I can think of!
- Go to a bullfight at Plaza del Toros: I purposely skipped this. I’m all for cultural experiences but I’m not sure I could stomach a bull fight (nor do I want to). If you’re into that sort of thing (no judgments), Valencia is one of the few cities that still hosts fights. You can also opt to do a tour of the bullring. I did it during my visit to Seville and it was fascinating.
- Go inside the Cathedral of Valencia: I know, I know, I should have done this. I did walk around the entire outside during a walking tour, though so that counts, right? Anyway, one of the most interesting things about this Cathedral is that it used to be a mosque before the Inquisition. Instead of destroying it completely, it was turned into a church. You can still see remnants of Moorish and religious architecture here although I did hear the inside is not as impressive as the outside. Who knows?
- Walk on water at the waterballs: I am SO SAD I didn’t do this. I honestly just ran out of time and was a bit lazy. This activity runs all summer long through October 31st, so if you’re in Valencia during summer or fall, go make a fool of yourself on my behalf.
- Climb Torres de Quart: I mentioned this earlier in the post, but these towers are the entry point into the old city. I’m super lazy and it was hot, so I went to one pair of towers and deemed it enough. These ones are free if you want to save yourself a €2 entry fee.
- Hang with animals at Bioparc: I often get a bit wary of visiting zoos and safari parks because I’m concerned about the state of animal care in these places. However, Bioparc is exceptional and clearly cares for its animals. Not only has it rebuilt wildlife habitats for these animals (no caged animals here), but it’s government managed as well. Plus, there’s even a Bioparc foundation to support wildlife conservation. It’s a bit outside of the main city, but can easily be reached by bike, bus, or cab.
Despite being the third largest city in Spain, people often overlook Valencia as a tourist destination. Those that do visit only pass through quickly (unless they’re there for Las Fallas). However, as you can see, Valencia is chock-full of cool places to go, amazing food to eat, and fun activities. It has a Spanish cultural vibe that you won’t find in some other cities and is definitely worth at least a few days of your trip. You can easily reach Valencia by bus, train, or flight from most major cities in Europe. Check out Rome2Rio for more details.
Tell me: have you ever been to Valencia? If so, did I miss any hot spots on this list? Share in the comments below!
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