Been to Barcelona? Take an alternative Spanish city break in the capital of the Costa Blanca, where the food is first-rate, the festivals are (literally) on fire and there's a beach thrown in for free. Here's what to see and do in Valencia.
1. La Playa de la Malvarrosa
Marvellous by name and by nature, if you’re more a beach bum than a city slicker you could easily spend a whole weekend break here, baking in the Mediterranean sun. Pause to visit one of the shoreline restaurants serving up traditional Valencian paella as the temperature cools; try La Pepica, La Marcelina or Casa Carmela, Valencian institutions, frequented by tourists and locals alike.
2. Valencia Cathedral
Valencia Cathedral’s controversial claim to fame is that it is the supposed home of the Holy Grail. Millions flock to see the holy chalice, housed in its own chapel, but the church itself is well worth a visit to see its frescoes, ornate relics and Goya paintings. A climb up the Miguelete tower will also reward you some of the best views in the city.
Opening times: (20 Mar to 31 Oct) Mon to Sat 10am – 6.30pm; Sun & holidays 2pm – 6.30pm. (1 Nov to 19 Mar) 10am – 5.30pm; Sun & holidays, Cathedral closed from 1pm – 5pm.
Location: Plaça de l’Almoina.
Price: Adults €7, Concessions €5.50.
3. Las Fallas (1 – 19 March)
See the city at its most animated, quite literally, during Las Fallas festival in March. Each of the city’s neighbourhoods builds giant statues of satirical caricatures that are judged and then set alight in the last day of the festival. Throughout the week there are parades, fireworks, lively fiestas, food competitions and all other things quintessentially Spanish: your eardrums and liver will seriously be put to the test. The atmosphere builds throughout the month, culminating in a week of bonfires and kaleidoscopic fireworks displays from the 15th to 19th March. Fancy a fiesta? Discover the best carnivals around the world.
4. City of Arts and Sciences
In sharp contrast to Valencia’s old town, the series of twenty-first century architectural wonders that make up Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias are a symbol of the city’s fast and furious rejuvenation. Explore and admire Valencia architect Santiago Calatrav’s curiously-shaped white buildings, surrounded by clear blue reflecting pools. Attractions include an opera house – Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía – an IMAX planetarium and an aquarium, as well as The Umbracle, a garden and platform from which you can admire the entire complex below.
5. Go deep at The Oceanogràfic
The biggest aquarium in Europe, Valencia’s Oceanogràfic is also one of the best designed, featuring ten themed buildings dedicated to different climates such as the Antarctic, Temperate and Tropical Seas and the Red Sea. Expect to meet dolphins, Beluga whales, sea turtles, walruses and myriad other marine animals through immersive displays and interactive shows – there’s over 500 species in total! To cap it all off, head to the underwater Submarino Restaurant to dine as the shimmering shoals swim by right past your table (set menu €30 – €45).
Opening times: (Low season: 02/01 to 07/04, from 18/04 to 16/06, from 18/09 to 11/10, from 15/10 to 05/12, from 10/12 to 23/12 and from 26/12 to 30/12) Sun to Fri 10am – 6pm, Sat 10am – 8pm. (Medium season: from 08/04 to 13/04, from 16/04 to 17/04, from 17/06 to 13/07, from 01/09 to 17/09, from 12/10 to 14/10 y from 06/12 to 09/12) daily 10am – 8pm. (High season: from 14/07 to 31/08) Daily, 10am – 1am.
Location: Autopista del Saler 5.
Price: Adults €27.90, Concessions €21.
6. Browse Central Market
Housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building, Valencia’s central market is buzzing with locals stocking up on fresh produce from its 1000-odd stalls. Even if you’re not doing the week’s food shop, just marvel at its wares, from the piles of staring tuna fish to the punnets of ripe cherries to the glass mosaics above.
Opening times: Daily, 7am – 3pm.
Location: Plaça de la Ciutat de Bruges.
Price: Free to enter.
7. Eat tapas
What are weekends away in Spain without filling yourself up with plates of authentic tapas? Check out the Barrio del Carmen and Centro Histórico districts for the most interesting joints, or head straight for the stand-out Bodega Casa Motaña in the Cabanyal quarter. Being one of the oldest in the city, it has garnered quite a reputation and is always packed with people filling up with plates of jamon washed down with a cerveza.
Opening times: Mon to Fri 1-4pm & 8-11.30pm, Sat 12.30-4pm & 8-11.30pm, Sun 12.30-4pm.
Location: Calle de José Benlliure 69.
Price: Tapas €4-14.
8. Drink horchata
This simple and delicious drink, pronounced ‘orxata’ in Valencian tongue, is made from tiger nuts and a speciality in the region. It is particularly refreshing on a hot day when served in a traditional horchateria with light pastries called fartons (no sniggering, please) to dip. There are a couple of established places to try it in Plaza Santa Catalina: Santa Catalina and El Siglo.
9. Climb Torres de Serranos
Built in the fourteenth century, Torres de Serranos boasts the claim to fame as the largest Gothic gateway in Europe. It’s certainly one of the best preserved monuments in the city, and offers up sterling views from its turrets, across the city and over to the Turia riverbed.
Opening times: Mon to Sat 9:30am – 7pm; Sunday & public holidays, from 9:30am – 3pm.
Location: Placa de los Fueros.
10. Walk the riverbed at Turia Gardens
Valencia is a city that moved its river, forced to divert the Turia after frequent flooding devastated buildings and livelihoods during the twentieth century. Today, the former riverbed of the Turia makes for a green and pleasant spine running through the urban centre, where people from all walks of life gather to stroll, run, cycle and play. Lined with photogenic features like fountains, pine woodlands and orange trees, Turia Gardens links to the City of Arts and Sciences at one end and Cabecera Park at the other, and is a great place to while away an afternoon.
11. Explore Museo Nacional de Cerámica
Housed in the dramatic Marqués de Dos Aguas Palace, the museum contains some beautiful ceramics, but the entry fee’s all the more worthwhile for the original features and furnishings of this former baronial residence. Don’t forget to admire the incredible Rococo stonework and Baroque relief outside the building, representing the name, meaning ‘Marquis of the Two Waters’. Free on Saturdays after 4pm.
Opening times: Tues to Sun 10am – 2pm & 4pm – 8pm; Sun & holidays 10am – 2pm.
Location: Poeta Querol, 2.
Price: Adults €3, Concessions €1.50.
12. La Lonja de la Seda
Unusual in that it’s one of the few secular Gothic buildings in Europe, the Silk Exchange building is one of the essential things to see in Valencia and rightly on the World Heritage list. Built between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it’s hard not to be impressed by the mercantile might that the building demonstrates, with its towering pillars, vaulted ceilings and elaborate stonework on the exterior. There are even a few gargoyles to spot around the roof outside. A window into a time when Valencia was at the height of her trading powers.
Opening times: Mon to Sat 9:30am – 7pm; Sun & holidays 9.30am – 3pm.
Location: Calle de la Lonja, 2.
Price: €2. Free on Sundays & holidays.
13. Institut Valencià d’Art Modern
Crank the time machine forward a few hundred years to the modern day art scene in Valencia at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, known as IVAM for short. It’s not just the contemporary artists that are covered here, but the founders of the European Modernist movement in the 1900s, including notable Valencian Impressionist Ignacio Pinazo and sculptor Julio González.
Opening times: Daily, 11am – 7:30pm.
Location: Calle de Guillem de Castro, 118.
Price: Adults €6, Concessions €3.
14. Shop around the siesta in Valencia’s boutiques
A short break doesn’t mean no time to shop, and Valencia has some purveyors of fashion and accessories that are too good to miss. Calle Sorní and Calle Cirilo Amorós are some seriously swanky shopping streets, but bargain-hunters will be happy on Calle Don Juan de Austria. Head to Plaza Redonda for the flea market if you’re here on a Sunday, and look out for specialists in local crafts, like the beautiful handmade fans at family-run Abanicos Carbonell. Just don’t get caught out by the siesta – a lot of smaller shops close between the hours of 2pm and 4/5pm.
Si a ti te gustan más los abanicos más vanguardistas, esta propuesta seguro que te entusiasma. Abanico diseño moderno en…Posted by Abanicos Carbonell on Monday, January 30, 2017
15. Visit Sagunto
Around a half hour train ride from Valencia is Sagunto, a small port city best known for its hilltop castle and Roman amphitheatre, but featuring many points of interest, including an old Jewish quarter. Climb up the winding stairways through the old town for a spectacular seaview – the castle walls alone measure around 1km so take a good pair of walking shoes! The Roman theatre is still used for occasional summer performances including the August theatre festival Sagunt A Escena; check the website for this year’s dates.
How to get to Valencia
Fly direct to Valencia from UK airports like Nottingham East Midlands, Bristol, Edinburgh and Newcastle, with the shortest flights and often cheapest fares from London Gatwick and Stansted (easyJet and Ryanair, respectively). You can connect to Valencia with other lost-cost European airlines like Eurowings, who fly from Heathrow, via Dusseldorf.
Valencia Airport is north-west of the city centre, near Manises, and you can get easily between the airport and Valencia via underground lines 3 and 5.
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Where to stay in Valencia
Check in to a classy suite at the 4-star Ayre Hotel Astoria Palace in El Carmen, the perfect central location for a quick city break (rooms from £78). In fact, you can get lots more for your money in Valencia, with budget hotel rooms from £26 a night at La Flamenca and dorm beds for only £10 at Purple Nest Hostel, both right next to the green belt of the Turia Gardens.
*Published March 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.
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