Located on Spain's beautiful southeastern coast, Valencia is much more than just a pretty port city. Often overlooked by Spain visitors for the chic charm of Barcelona and the vibrant capital of Madrid, Valencia is a gleeful package of history, beaches, culture, and delectable food.
If you're planning your first trip to the city, chances are you'll soon be planning a second – such is the charm of Valencia. There's plenty to see and do for first-timers in Valencia, whether you're a history buff, foodie, or beach bum.
Spread across 2km, the City of Arts and Sciences has become a Valencia landmark. This space encompasses six stunning futuristic buildings that are home to equally interesting features. Visit the Prince Philip Science Museum, housed in a whale-like structure; the planetarium and its 3D IMAX cinema, or Oceanografic, Europe’s largest aquarium. If you're visiting in October or November, catch a performance at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. Conclude your visit with a walk around L'Umbracle, a beautifully landscaped garden.
History- and architecture-loving travelers can often be found around Valencia’s Old Town, admiring the city’s famous cathedral. It's believed to house the Holy Grail – the chalice that Jesus sipped from during the Last Supper. While there's no way to prove the authenticity of the artifact, the cathedral's outstanding architecture is also worth seeing. Stunning frescoes adorn the ceiling of the structure, which was built where a Roman temple, and subsequently, a mosque, once stood. Admire paintings by Goya and others, and trek up the steps to the bell tower for sweeping views of the city.
Until it was diverted in the 1950s, the River Turia used to flow around Valencia. What used to be the riverbed is today an innovative green park – one of the largest in Europe. Join locals as they jog, cycle, and enjoy picnics. Rent a bike or take a refreshing walk along the leafy footpaths, through the botanical gardens, and over the many bridges. Although the park is generally safe, women would be best to visit during the day if they're traveling alone.
If sun and sand are mandatory on your ideal holiday, rest assured that Valencia offers an idyllic beach experience. The Blue Flag beaches of Malvarrosa, Las Arenas, and El Cabañal are perfect for swimming, a game of volleyball, or simply relaxing. There are also plenty of bars, clubs, and restaurants. If you're seeking solitude, venture out further to spectacular beaches such as El Saler, where you can enjoy nature away from the bustling crowds.
Valencia's Central Market (Mercado Central), among Europe’s oldest, has been declared a Heritage of Cultural Interest site. Located in the historic city centre, the modernist structure is home to around 900 stalls selling fresh produce, baked goods, souvenirs, and more. If you intend to try your hand at paella, this is the place to shop for the freshest ingredients. Pick up some saffron and wine to relive the Valencia experience after your holiday.
There's something special about tasting famous dishes in their place of origin, particularly paella in Valencia. La Pepica on Malvarrosa beach offers the traditional version of this Spanish favorite along with chilled white wine. After dinner, make sure to try Agua de Valencia. Although the name translates to 'Water of Valencia,' the drink is actually a power-packed concoction of gin or vodka, cava, and fresh Valencian oranges. As it's quite strong, it's best savored slowly on lazy days with friends. Salud!
The best way to experience Valencia's culture is to visit the city in March for its well-known Falles festival, or in August for the famous La Tomatina. Take part in the Semana Santa, a week-long celebration at the seaside city zones at Valencia. Dating back to the 15th century, this religious festival features soulful music performances by brass bands and parades through the city streets.