An Expert Guide
Valencia has many personalities. If you come to Valencia looking for quintessential Spain, you’ll find only a small portion. You best head to Segovia or Toledo instead (Check these out here). Valencia is built for living and is best experienced at an appropriate pace. So, carve out a good chunk of your Spain itinerary and dedicate it all to “living” in Valencia.
Visitors often bypass Valencia, headed full steam to Barcelona. But those that take the time are rewarded with a striking architectural mixture, centuries-old traditions, and incredible parks. We compiled the best things to do in Valencia so you can make the most of your trip. Vamos!
Best Things to Do in Valencia
Tour Valencia Cathedral
Exploring ancient buildings in Spain is going to be a treat for history and architecture buffs. Just like many other cathedrals in the country, Valencia Cathedral was constructed on a mosque in the 13th century, which was built in place of a Roman Temple. As a result, the cathedral displays several architectural styles. First, step inside to admire the painted frescoes on domes and the Holy Grail used by Christ at the Last Supper, allegedly kept in the Cathedral. Then, climb up the tower of Micalet for spectacular views of the city.
Have Lunch at Plaza de la Virgin
After the climb, take your time people-watching over a beverage of choice and lunch at Saona at the Plaza de la Virgin. Enjoy views over the Cathedral and the Turia Fountain, depicting Neptune.
The Plaza also serves as the place of flower offerings during the Fallas festival. It is celebrated in March and involves setting fire to artistic monuments created specifically for this event. The entire city is set ablaze during this welcoming of spring, which was given UNESCO World Heritage status. If you cannot align your trip to experience the festival, then head to the Fallas Museum to see the figures that were rescued from flames.
Visit Valencia Silk Exchange
The historic building of the Silk Exchange was once a designated place to trade silk since Valencia was a big silk producer. Now, it’s a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site full of impressive halls, like the Hall of Columns that twist upwards, resembling palm trees. The building is united by a lovely luscious courtyard with orange trees, while the upper floors served as a prison for merchants with bad debt.
Roam Around Turia Park
If you take a look at the map of Valencia, you’ll see that the city straddles a green stream snaking straight through the middle, all the way to the sea. This is Turia Park, which used to be a river, but because it would constantly overflow and flood the city, the river was diverted. And 9 kilometers of the original route were repurposed as parkland, which still has a series of beautiful bridges towering over it. So if you are someone who loves staying active on vacation or suffers from a runner’s high addiction, this uninterrupted stretch of running and biking paths and workout areas is your dream come true!
Explore the City of Arts and Sciences
The beautiful Turia park ends in front of the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, designed by a well-known architect Santiago Calatrava. The combination of sandstone rock, turquoise pools, and glass feels like stepping on the set of a science fiction action film. But the complex is full of enriching and cultural activities, held at the concert hall, science museum, aquarium, and 3D cinema. And in the summer, you can go paddle boarding in the large swimming pools.
Discover Urban Valencia
Valencia has everything from historic buildings to futuristic constructions to hip neighborhoods. To admire stunning street art, head to the streets of El Carmen and then take a long stroll to the up-and-coming neighborhood of Russafa, which is one of the trendiest areas in Valencia. If you are craving avocado on toast, third-wave coffee, or looking for vintage clothing steals, put Russafa on your itinerary. Have a coffee break at Bluebell Coffee Roasters and before you go, visit Russafa Market’s specialty shops to pick up some edible souvenirs.
Scrumptious Must-Tries in Valencia
Valencia’s Ancient Refresher
Horchata has made its way from Spain to Latin America, where each country puts its own special twist on it. The horchata we’ve come to love in the US, which traveled over from Mexico, is made from rice and cinnamon and tastes like rice pudding. In Spain, though, the original recipe, which originated in Africa, uses tiger nuts (chufa). The Spanish horchata tastes more like rich almond milk and is traditionally accompanied by long pastries called fartons, perfectly shaped for dunking in your glass. Oh, and tiger nuts are full of health benefits. But to reap these benefits, you’ll need to head to an Horchateria and get your hands on the real deal without a ton of sugar. There are plenty of Horchaterias to choose from, but the one we visited has been operating for two centuries and is traditionally decorated with painted tiles – Horchateria de Santa Catalina. Bottoms up!
Paella the Valencian Way
Valencia is the birthplace of paella. And the traditional paella Valenciana is made with chicken, rabbit, white beans, and snails. The traditional way to eat it? Home cooked on a fire in good company on a weekend in the countryside. So, book a rural paella cooking class or join an event. Or go straight to the source for the most authentic paella-eating experience. The traditional rice used in the cooking process is grown only 20 kilometers from Valencia in the rice fields of Albufera. You can tour the rice fields, learn about the history and then enjoy the dish in the town of El Palmar, alongside the fields. That’s an unforgettable dining experience, and you are guaranteed the title of a paella trivia rock star back home.
Sample Your Way Through Mercado Central
Aside from the two iconic dishes, you should sample the different types of jamon, olive oil, tapas, and wines. Embark on a food tour or take yourself on a self-guided tour through Mercado Central, one of Europe’s most beautiful markets. It is hosted inside a modernist building constructed in the 1920s and is filled with stalls of fresh produce frequented by both tourists and locals alike.
The daily routine of a Valencian revolves around food. Locals enjoy five meals and a siesta between 2 pm and 5 pm. To an outsider, it may seem like the locals are very laid back. But marveling at everything Valencia has to offer, it becomes apparent that its residents are anything but. And somehow worked out the perfect balance. We are grateful for the experience and hope you come and see it for yourself.