If, like me, your holidays tend to revolve almost exclusively around fresh, local food and days spent wandering in the sun, then look no further than Valencia. Although technically Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia is cosy and compact, with its shady warren of paved streets; yet mere kilometres from this, past the rugged beauty of El Cabanyal, lies the glittering Mediterranean.
Valencia has something for everyone, somehow managing to perfectly blend the rustic and old with the shiny and modern. Each area is home to its own, unique style, with colour palettes to leave you drooling. Add a dash of Southern European friendliness, seemingly-endless warm nights, and cocktail pitchers bigger than your head, and you have the perfect summer getaway. Read on for my ultimate guide to everything you should see, do and eat in Valencia.
Getting there and getting around
From most European countries, the best airlines which operate to and from Valencia Airport are Vueling and Ryanair. Often, flights with these airlines are inexpensive, leaving you plenty more cash to spend on paella – a very important investment.
Once you’ve arrived in Valencia, the best and quickest way into the city is via metro. Line 5 runs directly from the airport through the southern end of the old town, and out towards the beach. A single ticket costs only €1,50, although you should also consider buying a Valencia Tourist Card; not only does this give you free access to public transport around the city, but also grants you free and discounted entry into attractions such as museums and monuments. The prices of this card ranges from €15 – €25 depending on how long you’ll need it for. And if you buy it online, you get a 10% discount!
Remember, also, that the centre of Valencia is not big: wandering around on foot is the best way to immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant-yet-laid-back culture.
Areas to stay in
The most difficult part of a city break is always deciding where to stay. My secret to budget travel is Airbnb: not only are the prices generally lower than many hotels, but it also gives you the opportunity to cook meals at home and save money. But where do you even start when it comes to searching for the perfect place?
Here are my top 3 areas to look at when considering where to stay:
Valencia Old Town
Of course, the centre of town is always the place to be – and the centre of Valencia is so beautiful that you’ll never want to leave. Anywhere within the city walls is an ideal place to look: although be aware that prices here may be higher than elsewhere.
A large residential area nestled between the city centre and the beach, this area is ideal for anyone who doesn’t mind the odd 20-minute walk. It’s close to transport links, supermarkets, and anything else you may need – and apartments here tend to be less costly than other areas.
Possibly the most unique area of the city, much of El Cabanyal could be found on the set of a Wild West movie. Its low, brightly-coloured houses and rugged charm give the neighbourhood its character. Some of the city’s best fish restaurants and hippest bars can be found here – oh, and it’s right next to the beach.
Points of interest
Plaza de la Virgen
Probably the most well-known spot in the city, this picturesque square is found in the heart of the old town, and is home to both the cathedral and the Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados basilica. The square’s pastel pink stonework and regal, detailed fountain make it a perfect introduction to the beauty that can be found in the rest of the city. Dip your feet in the fountain’s cool water and absorb the breathtakingly stunning architecture.
Jardins del Túria
There are many things that render Valencia unique; and the Jardins del Túria are no exception. What was once a wide, flowing river was emptied in 1957 due to problems with flooding, when the city decided to transform the riverbed into a lush green park. At nine kilometres long, the park is popular with runners, cyclists, and any other sport lovers, housing everything from football pitches to skate parks. It’s also the perfect place to lay down a blanket and have a picnic as you take in the unusual beauty of everything around you. Make sure to pay attention to the many bridges you pass under; designed by a variety of acclaimed architects, the oldest bridge (the Puente de la Trinidad) dates back to the 15th Century, while a short climb up to street level at the Puente de las Flores will have you gawping at the colourful flower displays.
Jardins del Real
Attached to the North-Western side of the Jardins del Túria are the Jardins del Real: a small, fairytale-esque landscaped garden with hidden courtyards, impressive statues, and bright flowers. Most exciting, however, is the giant birdcage, filled with dizzyingly colourful tropical birds. With a shaded outdoor café just around the corner, this makes the perfect shelter from the harsh Spanish sun.
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències
One of the city’s most notable landmarks, the imposing architectural structure of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències is sleek and futuristic. Made up of 7 different buildings floating in shallow, turquoise pools, this museum is found towards the southern end of the Jardins del Túria, and is the city’s home of modern art and scientific development. Entry to the museum costs only €8, where you can discover the various interactive exhibitions on display; it makes the perfect day out for everyone, and is extremely family-friendly. Wandering around the grounds of the museum is amazing in itself, with statues and works of art dotted across the surface of the vast fountains.
Warning: watch your step if you decide to go paddling in these fountains. The floor is slippery; I discovered this the hard way (see photo evidence above).
Platja la Malvarrosa
Valencia’s municipal beach is simple yet beautiful. Its wide expanse of golden sand is bordered by a tiled promenade where you can find numerous beachside restaurants and chiringuitos (beach bars). Bring a ball and make use of their LA-style volleyball courts, or simply lay back and listen to the sound of the sea: a day at this beach is a day well spent. The further North you venture, the wilder the beach becomes, with wandering dunes and crashing waves – and the walk itself is pretty, stunning, too!
Port Saplaya and La Pequeña Venecia
It’s for good reason that this tiny port town is dubbed “little Venice”. Only a 45-minute walk north of Valencia’s beach area, this is one of the most picturesque areas in the city – and the journey there is equally as breathtaking. Leading you through sand dunes, abandoned fields, little lagoons and delicate houses that seem as if they were made of paper, arriving at Port Saplaya is a feat in itself. But it’s entirely worth the journey: the marzipan buildings circle the dock, their colours reflected in the calm water. It feels here as if you’re a million miles away from the centre of the city; and if the thought of the walk back makes your legs feel suddenly numb, then the 112 bus takes only 20 minutes to reach the centre.
Shopping and markets
El Asilo del Libro & La Guarida de las Maravillas
If you’re a lover of old-fashioned, wood-clad bookstores, then look no further than El Asilo del Libro and La Guarida de las Maravillas. Both located in Valencia old town, you are immediately transported back in time as you step through the doorway. Books are overflowing from the crowded shelves, spilling into piles that line the floor in an organised chaos. Expect also to find battered comics, vinyl discs, and large maps and posters. These stores are the perfect place to duck away for an hour or two from the crowded city streets.
The throbbing heart of the city is the Mercat Central; open from 7:30 – 15:00 every day except Sunday, this covered food market was originally opened in 1928 – these Art-Deco influences are evident in the building’s impressive architecture, with its high ceilings and sharp edges. A wander around this market is an assault to the senses, but in the best possible way. Regional and national delicacies such as meats and different cheeses line the stalls, with every type of freshly-caught fish imaginable. Grab a fresh jamón baguette for lunch and settle yourself down on the stone staircase in the street outside.
Cabanyal Flea Market
Every Thursday, the streets of El Cabanyal fill with the bustling stalls of the flea market. Immerse yourself in this truly local experience in one of the city’s most unique residential areas, and browse the snaking trail of tables boasting clothes, jewellery, bags, and almost anything else you can think of. If you find yourself getting a little overwhelmed, a good starting point is the Carrer de Just Vilar: one of the area’s main streets.
Food and drink
La Fabrica de Hielo
Calle José Ballester Gozalvo, 37, 46011 Valencia, Spain
Located in an abandoned building that faces the seafront is the Fabrica de Hielo: a cultural space which houses a number of different bars and food stalls. The space is used as a platform for local creatives, and hosts a number of events for DJs, actors, dancers, musicians and more. By day, the atmosphere is chilled, with weary beach-goers settling down for a drink; but by night, the space transforms into a hub of activity, with something different happening every day. Oh, and no trip to Valencia is complete without sampling the local beer: Turia.
Ca La Mar
Carrer de Just Vilar, 19, 46011 València, Spain
Being only a 5-minute walk from the beach, it’s no wonder that the seafood at tapas bar Ca La Mar is fresh and delicious. Its modest décor and vast outdoor space makes for the perfect accompaniment to its inventive menu, with dishes such as calamari in a cinnamon sauce, homemade hummus, and tuna and tomato salad (all pictured). Its friendly, helpful staff and affordable prices make this tiny restaurant an absolute dream!
L’Orxateria del Mercat Central
Plaça del Mercat, 46001 Valencia, Spain
If you weren’t searching for this place, you’d walk straight past it: but you’d be wrong to do so! A simple stall at the foot of the Mercat Central staircase, L’Orxateria is the perfect spot for coffee and dessert. Its small but delicious menu consists almost entirely of Valencian specialities, such as churros with chocolate and horchata with fartons. ‘What is horchata with fartons?’ I hear you ask: horchata is a sweet drink made from ground tiger nuts, while fartons are the sweet bread which accompanies it. If I haven’t sold it yet, then try it for yourself; I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Carrer del Mar 29, 46003 Valencia, Spain
This small, understated tapas bar holds a special place in my heart as the first place I sampled the infamous Agua de Valencia, and I’ve never looked back. But don’t be fooled by the name: this cocktail is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a combination of orange juice, champagne/cava, gin and vodka. Yes, that’s right: gin AND vodka.
Mar Bar also boasts a small but yummy tapas menu to accompany your lethally-alcoholic aperitif. Their croquetas are a must!
Arroceria La Valenciana
Carrer dels Juristes 12, 46001 Valencia, Spain
Now for the important stuff: paella. Although traditionally eaten at lunch, we decided to try this traditional Valencian dish for dinner, and weren’t disappointed! This modern restaurant, tucked away in a narrow street in the city centre, serves traditional paella dishes in deliciously large portions. Try the paella marisco (seafood paella) and wash it down with a glass of white wine. Arroceria La Valenciana also has a sister restaurant on the seafront if you find yourself suddenly craving this fresh, rice-based dish during a sunbathing session.
Carrer de l’Hedra 5, 46001 Valencia, Spain
Along the promenade of La Malva Rosa lies Le Favole: a dreamy, beachy pizza restaurant who will have you coming back time and time again. Its fluffy dough and inventive toppings make this restaurant a popular choice, made only more wonderful by the beachfront outside space. This tiny white house has elements of Ibizan glamour, with simple yet delicious cooking. I can also confirm that a group of Italians said it was just as good as the real thing. You heard it here first, people.