A city of contrasts, Valencia offers stunning architecture, world-famous food and beautiful beaches. Izzy Bunting suggests ten ways to spend time in the city
Above: City of Arts and Sciences
Located on the Mediterranean coast, Valencia is Spain's third largest city, and home to a wealth of culture and experiences.
From old town charm to spectacular futuristic architecture, the city is a visual delight. Throw in some world-famous cuisine and beautiful beaches, and you have all the ingredients you need for a fantastic holiday.
What's more, with more than 300 days of sunshine a year and mild, dry winters, it's ideal as a year-round destination.
Here are 10 ideas for things to see and do in the city.
1. Street art
Exploring the historic centre is a great start to a visit to Valencia, as there is plenty to see. It's possible to spend hours wandering through the winding cobbled streets. Make sure to keep an eye out for street art – from graffiti scrawls to huge, intricate murals – which is found around every corner.
3. La Lonja de la Seda
La Lonja de la Seda (the Silk Exhange) is another highlight. Built in the 1490s, this building was originally used for trading silk, as the name suggests. With a main hall full of distinctive twisted columns and a peaceful courtyard full of orange trees, it makes a fascinating visit – and it's clear why this site has been granted UNESCO world heritage status.
4. Mercado Central
It's also worth paying a visit to Mercado Central (Central Market). This building is comparatively modern, with a stunning stained ceiling above the bustling market stalls. A huge diversity of food is sold here, from local fresh produce to wines and extensive selections of spices. We took the opportunity to buy the latter for a homemade paella, and also to try the famous local oranges.
5. City of Arts and Sciences
If modern architecture is more to your taste, head to the City of Arts and Sciences. Here, it's difficult to believe that the striking futuristic architecture isn't straight from the set of a science fiction film. The buildings aren't space ships, however, but a variety of museums, aquariums and theatres. L'Umbracle (pictured above) was our favourite – a sculpture garden filled with native Spanish plants against a backdrop of geometric white arches.
2. Los Torres Serranos
We started our exploration of the city at Los Torres de Serranos. This 14th century gateway was once the main entrance to the city's fortifications; from the 1500s to the 1800s it became a prison for the nobility. Today, it's a focal point in the old town, with impressive towers and photogenic steps leading up to rewarding views over the city. Even better, entrance is free on a Sunday (and very affordable for the rest of the week, at only 2 euros per person).
6. L'Almoina Archaeological Museum
Throughout the city, there are more than 30 museums to explore. We visited L'Almoina Archaeological Museum, which is built directly on the remains of the Roman city centre. The excavation site is covered with a glass roof immersed in water – the sunlight filters through to create ripples, giving the exhibition an underwater-like atmosphere. Since Valencia was founded by the Romans in 138 BC, the city has been home to Romans, Visigoths and Muslims. Artefacts from all three of these periods are on display at the museum, allowing you to experience three important periods of the city's history.
© Visit Valencia
Valencia is well known for its unique gastronomy. We were particularly intrigued to try horchata (or orxata in Valenciana), and it definitely lived up to our expectations. Horchata is a sweet, milky drink made from tiger nuts and spices – it's often accompanied by sugar-glazed pastries called fartones. It's available in most cafes, but the best can be bought from street stands selling fresh, organic horchata.
© Visit Valencia
Of course, it's impossible to talk about Valencian cuisine without mentioning paella. The city is the birthplace of this famous Spanish dish – rice is sourced from the nearby s'Albufera wetland area. Traditionally, paella contains chicken, rabbit and white beans, but today, there are many varities. The seafood version is possibly the most well-known, but vegetarian options are available too. We visited Es Paella for lunch, which was both delicious and affordable – but you can find it practically anywhere in the city.
9. Turia Park
Valencia's largest park (and, in fact, the largest urban park in Spain) is Turia Gardens. After the river was diverted in the 1950s to prevent flooding, the former riverbed was transformed into a vast green space. It stretches more than 9km through the city centre, and is the ideal place to run, cycle, or wait out the heat of the day under a shady tree with a book and a picnic.
La Malvarossa Beach is easily accessible from the city centre, and is backed by a variety of restaurants (including tapas and paella) and chill beach bars. If you're visiting there during the summer, it's worth visiting in the evening to avoid the heat and the crowds. Look out for spectacular sand sculptures on the beach. It's also possible to take a day trip out to beaches outside of the city, such as El Saler and Sagunto.
Horchata and paella images courtesy of Visit Valencia. All rights reserved.
Green Adventures June 2021