Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, could be forgiven for sitting back and resting on its laurels while Barcelona and Madrid dominate the public discourse and visiting tourist’s attention. But no, the city is perhaps Spain’s most forward-thinking; vibrant, in parts futuristic, and with a thriving, thrusting cultural scene. For its size, it’s also an eminently manageable city to get around; if you’re planning on doing lots of that, then a Valencia tourist card makes things even easier. Those tourist cards can be found easily in many websites, one of the most known is the one from VisitValencia. With one, you can get free transport and free or discounted entry to numerous attractions around the city. And now you’re thinking about filling in that itinerary, consider this; our 8 IDEAL things to do in Valencia.
SHOP AND EAT AT MERCADO CENTRAL
Arguably the most stunning market in the whole of Spain, Valencia’s central market (Mercado Central) is set within a magnificent Modernista building and is atmospheric, bustling and noisy – in the best possible way. In this downtown market, you’ll find fresh fish from the Med’, with the mercado bringing in the best of the sea’s bounty daily. Buy a whole fish to cook at your own convenience, or simply snack to your heart’s content at one of the many restaurant stalls. If fresh fruit and vegetables are your thing, then you can’t get fresher or better than the stuff at Mercado Central. Valencia is famous for its fertile ‘huerta‘ gardens, a vast area of cultivated land surrounding the city, and the produce that comes from these lush land supplies the market.
If something a little more sedentary is up your straza, a central tapas bar gives you the chance to sit back and take in the buzz. Before leaving, don’t forget to pick up some bits for a picnic in the park, which brings us neatly to….
STROLL AROUND THE PARKS
There are some gorgeous parks in and around Valencia, and with Spain’s Mediterranean sunshine, they’re the perfect place to bask. Jardine’s del Turia, which was once a riverbed, is now a green haven running through the heart of the city. Before it was changed into a park, it would consistently flood, culminating in a particularly damaging one in the 1950s. Practical, savvy Valencians subsequently turned it into a green space for leisure. If you’re after an all immersive art and nature experience, then head to Montforte Gardens, where sculpture blends seamlessly with nature’s own artistic offerings.
EAT & DRINK YOUR WAY AROUND THE CITY
Like many cities in Spain, the restaurant and eating culture here is full of verve and deliciousness. For us, it’s one of the highlights of the city and there’s some serious eating to be done here. Valencia is particularly, and quite rightly, famous for its rice dishes, namely paella, as it’s where the dish originated. There’s a huge variety of this world-famous rice dish on offer; indeed you’ll find chicken, prawns and other types of seafood atop the saffron rice. However, there are some restaurant’s doing it the old way, with rabbit. Yep, the real paella Valenciana is a mixture of rabbit, snails and butter beans; sounds bloody marvellous to us. Some of the best places to eat paella are housed down at the Malvarrosa city beach.
The moody and dramatic looking dish arròs negre is also a must try. Made from rice and containing various types of seafood, namely cuttlefish or squid, the dish is dyed with a deep black colouring, which comes from cuttlefish or squid ink. Yet another rice dish that will tickle your taste buds is Fideuà which is similar to paella but made with pasta noodles instead of rice.
If you’ve had your fill of rice, suquet de peix is another popular dish. This potato-based seafood stew is said to be the Valencian version of Bouillabaisse. For a snack, esgarrat, which you’ll find in many bars across the city, is just the ticket. It’s made up of salt cod, red peppers and garlic, doused in a healthy lashing of olive oil and usually served with crusty bread. Oh and don’t forget to try the classic Valencian breakfast option of Fartons which are long and thin iced buns washed down with a cup of horchata; a sweet, milky drink made from tiger nuts. These nuts were originally brought to Valencia by the Arabs and are now grown in many towns across the region.
HANG OUT AT THE PLAZAS
One of the most beautiful squares in Valencia is the Plaza de la Reina, in the heart of the old town. Enjoy some drinks here and a favourite pastime of many; people watching. We would caution against eating in this area, however, as tourist prices and a relative lack of quality tends to be the theme here. The somewhat contradictorily named Placa Redona (Round Square) is only a short walk away and another lovely little (it’s one of the city’s smallest ‘squares’) place to hang out.
For a spot of carousing, Russafa and the Barrio del Carmen (especially on the weekend) are the boozy bar areas. If you plan on dancing later, do remember that the discos don’t get goings till after 1am.
BASK AT THE BEACH
Valencia is in a privileged position of being both a big, confident city and having a stretch of beach, too. Just a few minute’s stroll from the centre, there are three popular hangouts; Las Arenas, Malvarrosa and El Cabanal. A little further away (10km to be exact) you’ll find the less populated, more peaceful El Saler beach. In the summer, the beachfront comes alive and hedonistic behaviour is the name of the game, with the nightlife shifting from the town to the beach. As such, there are many beachfront eateries and bars offering entertainment and a great place to socialise; the northern part of Playa de la Malvarrosa is probably the most popular focal point of the fun. If you don’t fancy the walk here, then the tram is a pleasant, traditional way to get to the beach.
CLIMB THE CITY’S FORTRESS
Castillo de Sagunto looks over the city across twin hilltops and is the place to appreciate Valencia from a distance. While yes, you can learn about the fortress’ history here, it’s mostly visited for the majestic views. That said, the fortress itself is pretty impressive and contains the remains of Iberian villages, Gothic and Muslims ruins and even a Roman forum, shafts, columns and a cistern carved out of rock. There’s a tourist train that’ll do the legwork for you if you don’t fancy the climb.
TAKE IN SOME CULTURE
If you’re a culture-vulture on a budget, you’ll be pleased to know that Valencia’s many municipal museums are free to enter on Sundays. When visiting the city, a trip to the Museum of Arts and Sciences is an absolute most, perhaps what Valencia is now most famous for. Work of the Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava is one of the defining features of the city, with his futuristic designs instantly recognisable.
While we’re talking architecture, Valencia is known for its cathedral and is the home of the holy grail (according to a pope or three), so be sure to take that in, too.
GO VINTAGE SHOPPING
Valencia is a treasure trove of vintage outlets where you can find carefully curated second-hand garments. Many say that Madam Mis is the best spot to get your vintage-fix; it also has an array of quirky, unusual knick-knacks. Keepsake, souvenir or gift for a loved one back home? Well, that’s up to you.
PLAN YOUR TRIP AROUND FALLAS FESTIVAL
Spring in Valencia is a lovely time to visit. The weather is warm and the season plays host to the famous Valencia Fallas festival (next years falls on the 15th to 19th of March, but the whole month has a festive feel). This street-based celebration is focused on bonfires and the burning of bad items and spirits, with costume, colour and of course culinary wonder all playing a part in a party it’s impossible to ignore.