Whilst being bathed in sun almost all year long does make for a pretty good reason on its own to visit Spain’s third city, Valencia’s got plenty more to offer lucky visitors, from a lively city centre to the Mediterranean Sea on its doorstep. Our guide to the city is here to show why a trip to Spain’s sunny coast is a must:
A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the heart of the city, our guide to Valencia unsurprisingly begins at the masterpiece known as La Lonja. Constructed in the 15th century, the Silk Exchange’s late gothic style and sheer magnificence has made it a symbol for what is now regarded as the city’s Golden Age; the striking spiralled columns that dominate the main hall as well as the charming surrounding courtyards and the adjoining Renaissance chapel will no doubt impress. Also built during the 15th century, the Torres de Quart is described by Lonely Planet as ‘Spain’s most magnificent city gate’ – see if you can spot the dents caused by the French cannonballs during the Napoleonic invasion in the 19th century!
Restored to its previous glory in 2012, the enchanting Plaza Redonda’s eye-catching design makes it one of the city’s more unique hotspots. From the vantage point of the fountains in the centre of the round square, you’ll be able to catch a lovely view of Santa Catalina’s late baroque bell tower. Keeping on a similar vein, it would be a mistake not to pay a visit to the imposing cathedral on the Plaza de le Virgen. Built in 1238, the cathedral’s 207-step Miguelete bell tower is well worth venturing up for 360-degree city and skyline views. You’ll also be able to snap a few pictures of the two Goya paintings in the Chapel of San Francisco de Borja and a chalice that is claimed to be none other than the Holy Grail.
For easy travel around the city, make sure you pick up a Valencia Tourist Card that entitles users to free entry to public museums and monuments, public transport in zones ABCD and a 50% discount at selected shops and restaurants. That way you should have no trouble making your way between other must-see sites, including the modernist Mercado Central, the Plaza del Carmen and the fantastic Bioparc. More than enough to keep you busy!
Where to start?! Boasting an abundance of Blue Flag beaches, you’ll be spoilt for choice for sandy spots to relax and enjoy the sun in Valencia. Stretching over 1000m, La Malvarrosa is considered by many to be the city’s main beach, though the quieter Las Areans just to its south may have something to say about that. Fancy visiting them both? Not an issue – both are located just a short walk from the city centre. You can even take a stroll down the connecting Neptuno Promenade and take them both in on one lovely lazy day by the Mediterranean.
Just a 30-minute yellow bus journey away in the beautiful La Albufera National Park on the southern outskirts of the city, the 2.6km untouched sandy stretch known as El Saler beach is well worth the trip. A favourite of locals and tourists alike, the popular beach is regarded by many as the jewel in the crown of Valencia’s coastline, with sun-worshippers conveniently protected from the westerly winds by the surrounding sand dunes and pines. Unlike the previously mentioned beaches, you won’t find any sun loungers or parasols already set up there for you to use, so make sure you come prepared.
Fireworks, Festival and Flames
Valencia is famed for its fireworks, so naturally come festival time you can expect to see a whole host of inventive pyrotechnic displays that’ll last long in the memory. For five days each March the city comes alive for Las Fallas, a typically-Spanish celebration in honour of Saint Joseph. Each night, spectators gather along the Paseo de la Alameda to witness spectacular displays that never fail to light the city up in stunning style. Make your way down on the last night (the Night of Fire) for an incredible 30-minute showing that is the undoubted highlight of the festival (though you will have to get there early to snag a prime viewing position).
Amongst the important ceremonial events and traditions that take place during the festival, the parading of giant, specially made papier-mâché figures is definitely the most remarkable. Often reaching up to 20ft in height, these impressive models (named after the festival) are later set on fire on the last day at the Cremà (or ‘the burning’), though one is spared and given a place amongst the growing collection at the dedicated Fallas Museum in the city.
Thanks in large part due to the city’s seaside setting, Valencia boasts a rich culinary heritage that leaves visitors absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to finding somewhere to grab a bite to eat. Despite the neighbourhood’s uncertain future, we recommend heading to Valencia’s vibrant old fishermen’s quarter El Cabanyal in the east of the city for the best in authentic Spanish dishes. Amongst the beautifully tiled houses and art-nouveau stylings of the barrio, you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants offering the freshest fish and tapas – keep an eye out for the imaginatively named El Cabanyal restaurant for what is described as ‘a real taste of Spain’, and the Bodega Casa Montaña in the very same neighbourhood for one of the best tapas bars in the country (booking in advance is recommended).
Rice is a staple ingredient in the city and the crux of Valencia’s many gourmet specialties, including its most famous food invention paella. Explore the surrounding villages and you’ll find each has its own preference for ingredients and rice mixes, though you won’t have to travel too far from Malvarrosa beach to find the city’s most famed paella hotspots. A favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway, La Pepica’s walls are plastered with signed pictures of the restaurant’s most famous patrons, though an outdoor table with a view of the sea instead might be more preferable when dining during the summer. One of the restaurant’s many specialities is the authentic version of paella known as the ‘valenciana’, a spectacular dish made with ingredients from the garden rather than from the sea – just click here to read more about the restaurant.