Last updated on 14-Apr-2023
Valencia is a beautiful coastal city in Spain, the third most-populated in the country. It is famous for being the birthplace of paella, the delicious rice dish and a well-known example of Spanish cuisine. It’s easy to find many restaurants serving paella as well as fideuá (similar preparation, but using noodles instead of rice), everything from fancy sit-down experiences to relaxed takeout counters and market stalls. Beyond these, many other foodie delights (savoury and sweet) await in this charming metropolis, but there is much more to discover!
We visited Valencia for the first time on a road trip starting from Lisbon and we are sharing some attractions, tips and favourites. 🙂
The city has a long history. It was founded by the Romans in 138 BC and later occupied by the Moors (Arabs) in the VIII (8th) century until the Aragonese Christian conquest in 1238, when the city became the capital of the Kingdom of Valencia. Afterwards, the Iberian kingdoms were united and it was much later that the country of Spain as we know it today was formed. Through empires, kingdoms and wars, trade has been a major activity in the city due to its location. Different influences and cultures are well represented in its architecture, cuisine, celebrations and traditions.
Valencia impresses with a mix of modern architecture and historic charm, a comprehensive transit system and very walkable flat terrain (bicycles are another great way to explore the city). Driving and parking can be a hassle, especially in the old town, but part of the fun is exploring the historic areas on foot, seeing the attractions at our own pace and enjoying the many surprises to be found along the way.
Love the sea? Valencia sits on the southeast coast of Spain and offers a long stretch of sandy beaches (our favourite is Platja de la Patacona or Patacona Beach), a nice promenade along the shore, and plenty of restaurants, cafés and bars in the area, including the popular seaside bars/eateries called chiringuitos. It also has the fifth busiest seaport in Europe and the busiest port in the Mediterranean, handling both cargo and passengers.
One of the features we really like in Valencia is the beautiful Turia Garden, one of the largest urban parks in Spain. It runs through the city offering nine kilometres of green spaces, pedestrian and bike paths, leisure and sports areas, playgrounds, cafés, indoor/outdoor venues, and quiet spots where you can relax. The park was built on the former riverbed of the Turia River after it was diverted to prevent the persistent floods in the city. We can access the park using several entry points and as well as use one of the 18 bridges to cross over it. Each bridge boasts a different style and has its own charm. We love this park because, besides being beautiful, it’s very accessible/enjoyable to the locals (and visitors!), since you are never too far from it. The park also links many of the city’s museums and monuments, which are located on either bank.
Another striking feature is La Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències complex, simply known as “La Ciutat“. This group of futuristic-looking buildings nestled within the Turia Garden (towards the end of its length), includes a science museum, a centre for the performing arts, a huge aquarium, a garden esplanade (the Umbracle), an IMAX theatre, a few restaurants/cafés, and much more. It’s an amazing place to walk (or bike) around, appreciate the beauty and the unique spaces, and enjoy the many exhibits, performances, events, and more.
If you know some Spanish, you may get a bit confused. That’s because Valencia is actually a bilingual city, with many people speaking both Spanish and Valencian. Many signs and business names are in Valencian only, but Spanish is widely spoken. Both languages are used in public buildings, points of interest, etc., and we were able to communicate well in English for services and tourist information.
We hope to go back often and will add to this list as we discover more of this amazing city!
- La Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències / Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias – Science and Entertainment complex with unique, modern architecture, set within the Turia landscaped park.
- Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe – Science museum with interactive exhibits.
- Hemisfèric – IMAX and 3D theatre featuring special screenings.
- Palau de les Arts – Cultural and performing arts center hosting opera, theatre, recitals & more.
- L’Oceanogràfic – Valencia Aquarium.
- Jardí del Río Turia (Turia River Park or Garden) – Nine kilometre-long (5.5 miles) urban park built on the former riverbed of the Turia River.
- Porta de la Mar – Beautiful arch, a replica of a historic city gate, pays tribute to the Spanish civil war victims.
- Mercat de Colón (Colon Market) – Grand market hall from 1916, restored and transformed into a shopping and dining hub. Open daily. Sun-Thurs, 7:30 am to 2 am. Fri-Sat, 7:30 am to 3 am.
- Plaça de l’Ajuntament (City Hall Square) – Busy and large main square with a lovely fountain, across from City Hall and surrounded by historical buildings, cafés, bars, and restaurants.
- Mercat de Russafa (Russafa Market) – Traditional market with about 160 stalls offering local produce, meat, cheese, seafood and more. Open Mon-Sat, 7:30 am to 3 pm. Closed on Sundays. The Russafa (or Ruzafa) neighbourhood, where the market is located, is a historic area with Arab roots, currently known for its lively nightlife with many bars, clubs and restaurants.
- Porta de Serrans / Torres de Serranos – Imposing gothic-style towers considered the official entry to the city at the time, and part of the old walls built at the end of the XIV (fourteenth) century.
- Sant Nicolau de Bari i Sant Pere Màrtir – Gothic-style Catholic church sometimes called the “Sistine Chapel of Valencia” with an ornate baroque interior, including gilding and ceiling frescoes.
- Torres de Quart (Quart Towers) – Twin gothic-style defensive towers that were part of the old city walls, built in the early XV (fifteenth) century.
- Mercat Central (Central Market) – Hailed as the largest market with fresh produce in Europe with over 300 vendors, this emblematic modernist building is sure to impress. The original construction dates back to 1914, at the same location where an open-air market had sat since 1839. The market, one of the main works of the Valencian Art Nouveau style, has been recently renovated/restored to better house the large selection of food and other products, and the large flow of shoppers and visitors. Open Mon-Sat, 7:30 am to 3 pm. Closed on Sundays.
- Llotja de la Seda / La Lonja de la Seda (The Silk Exchange) – Built between 1482 and 1533, this UNESCO World Heritage site facility was originally used for trading silk. The grandiose structures illustrate the city’s Medieval riches with elaborate stonework and carvings.
- La Finca más Estrecha de España (The Narrowest Façade in Spain) – just a cute/curious site to see in the old town. The original building façade is only 107 cm (42 in) wide, and what used to be the narrow 5-storey building can be seen from the street, squeezed between two other buildings. Inside, the space has been joined with the building next door, so only the exterior appearance remains.
- Plaça/Plaza de la Reina – Lovely and iconic square in the centre of the old town, surrounded by restaurants, cafés and shops, and near the cathedral.
- El Micalet / El Miguelete – Soaring octagonal bell tower of the Valencia Cathedral, rising to over 50 m (164 ft) high. Climb the 207 steps and be rewarded with panoramic views of the city.
- La Seu de València (Valencia Cathedral) – Beautiful church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, full of history and impressive religious art. Built on an ancient Roman temple that was later a mosque, the cathedral is a Gothic-style building, although it preserves many elements from different periods. Besides holding some of the most important pieces of art from the first Spanish Renaissance, the church also holds the Holy Chalice (the Holy Grail of Valencia), a relic considered to be the vessel used by Jesus in the last supper.
- Plaça de la Verge (Square of the Virgin = Mary) – Lively square, home of the Turia Fountain, lined with iconic historic buildings and outdoor cafés. It’s where the main entrance to the cathedral is located.
- Jardins del Real / Vivers (Royal Gardens / Nurseries) – Quieter landscaped city park anchored by a large fountain, with sculptures, a rose garden and tree-lined walking paths. It also houses the Natural Science Museum of Valencia.
- Platja de la Patacona (Patacona beach) – Nice beach with a wide stretch of light-coloured sand. The surrounding area looks nicely developed, with newer buildings and amenities. It’s further from the city centre (Malva-rosa, Cabanyal and Las Arenas are closer, on the way back to town), but it still has restaurants, bars and shops as well as many sports facilities. We like it for the modern (and more upscale) vibe and because it’s further from the port, which improves the views.
Have any favourites in Valencia to suggest or have any questions? Talk to us in the comments! 🙂
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