Often in the shadow of its more popular neighbors Madrid & Barcelona, Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, seems quite happy to live under the radar. Natural, man-made, and cultural elements collide in this Spanish city, creating a plethora of things to do and see for visitors, while simultaneously rendering it one of Spain's most livable cities. Whether you're simply strolling the streets of the Old Town, cooling down in the refreshing waters of the Mediterranean, running in the undulating (and totally ingenious) Turia Park, gawking at the otherworldly City of Arts & Sciences complex, or eating a traditional paella in its birth place, Valencia literally has it all. Go with no expectations like I did, and Valencia will most definitely blow you away.
Walk or Bike - Being flat, Valencia is an incredibly easy city to walk or bike through. You can either rent a bike for a day from the numerous bike shops throughout the city or get a membership with Valenbisi (the city bike share program) if you plan to use a bike on multiple occasions.
Bus / Metro System - Easy to use and widespread, both Valencia's bus and metro systems are a good way to get around the city. A variety of single tickets, combined tickets, and monthly passes are available for purchase. See some options here. Another option is purchasing a Valencia Card offered in 24, 48, and 72 hr intervals that offers free use of all public transport as well as discounts on some sites and attractions within the city. GoogleMaps is fairly reliable with bus and metro schedules and pick up points.
MyTaxi or Cabify - There is no UBER in Spain, but fear not similar apps are available for seamless transport throughout the city. My personal preference is MyTaxi as it was efficient, easy to use, and you can pay via credit card in the app with a simple swipe.
WHERE TO STAY
Palau de Mar - Housed in a former palace, the Palau de Mar blends design with excellent customer service. Conveniently located in the heart of the Old Town, the hotel is a good base for all Valencian adventures.
Airbnb - The Old Town as well as the hip Russafa neighborhood are full of renovated and tastefully decorated apartments. Shop around online to find the best space to suite your needs.
WHERE TO EAT
Casa Carmela - Parked on the beach, Casa Carmela is a bright and inviting restaurant that is known for their paella. With a wide array of paellas from the classic Valencian to seafood to vegetarian, Casa Carmela is an easy option for everyone. Do make a reservation as some paellas can only be ordered in advance. Service is friendly and the menu has a selection of other tasty seafood options as well.
Jamon Jamon - Slightly more upscale, sit-down tapas venue that does all the classics. The padron peppers and baked goat cheese with homemade tomato jam are a must! It can get busy at peak hours so make a reservation or arrive at opening.
Ricard Camarena - Perhaps the best of the fine dining options in Valencia, Ricard Camarena is housed in a modern revamped industrial space. Wood panels and bold artworks adorn the walls complemented by soft natural light and luxe furnishings. Several tasting menu options are available for both lunch and dinner. To get a sense of the place without totally breaking the bank, the weekday 3-course lunch menu is a great option. Make a rezzie!
Central Bar / Canalla Bistro - By the same chef as the above, both the Central Bar in the Central Market and Canalla Bistro in the hip Russafa neighborhood are good for a tasty bite. The Central Bar is only open until 3pm when the market is open, while Canalla Bistro is more of a dinner venue.
La Mas Bonita - With two locations, one on the beach and one in Russafa, La Mas Bonita is a great place for some simple, but yummy food with reliable wifi to get a few hours of work in. Both locations are nice, but the La Mas Bonita Patacona on the beach, allows for an afternon swim as well.
El Refugio - In the heart of El Carmen (the Old Town), is the cozy, local favorite, El Refugio. The decor is minimal as is the menu, but every dish is well thought out, delicious, and artfully presented. The lunch menu is a great deal!
Horchateria Chocolateria Santa Catalina - The longstanding favorite for the classic Spanish churros with a side of a dipping chocolate, all paired with a glass of cold Horchata. Unlike the Latin American variety, Spanish Horchata is made from tiger nut and has a decidely different flavor than its rice based counterparts.
San Tommaso - Simple but tasty Italian in the heart of the Old Town. The staff is all Italian and speak to one another in Italian, so you know it's good. Indoor & outdoor seating.
San Nicolas - Off the main streets on a quiet square is the family-run San Nicolas restaurant. Pick a fish from the wide selection of local types, select the preparation method, and order a side of veggies to round it all out. Best to go with a couple people so you can share. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Almalibre Acai Bar - For a dose of green and healthy eats stop at Almalibre. They have a selection of salads, veggie burgers, and acai bowls for a break from the meat, cheese, & oil heavy Spanish diet.
Bluebell Coffee - A charming coffee shop in a vaulted arched space complete with a cute and bright back patio. They serve coffees, some very beautiful (no really, go look at them) cakes as well as a menu of light food options.
Lienzo - With a seasonal and locally sourced ingredient menu, Lienzo quickly became one of my favorites in town. A few tasting menu options are available as is an a la carte menu and an extensive yet affordable wine list. Make a rezzie! The weekday lunch menu at 20 euros is a steal!
Copenhagen - Vegetarian eats in a minimalist, Danish designed space in Russafa.
Matilda - Just across the street from Almalibre (above) is this neighborhood bistro. The menu of the day offers a choice of appetizer, main, and dessert plus a drink. Each dish was surprisingly delicious and artfully plated. Both indoor and outdoor seating.
La Finestra - For all your pizza cravings head to La Finestra and enjoy their unique pizza concept. Order several pizettas and be surprised by what the staff brings you. You can rule out things you absolutely can't eat or have allergies to, but the element of surprise is fun/everything I sampled was excellent. Often busy!
Federal - For an easy, everyday brunch or lunch spot, head to Federal in El Carmen. The space is open and airy and the wifi is functional. For once in my life I DO NOT recommend the avocado toast, but rather the shakshuka. The restaurant gets crowded at peak hours and on weekends.
Tintofino Ultramarino - Cozy & tiny tapa joint with cool bar seats facing the narrow streets. Try the albondigas, their unique approach to the classic patatas bravas, and a $3 glass of local wine.
Lambrusqueria - With tons of outdoor seating and delicious homemade pastas, a dinner at Lambrusqueria is always good.
WHAT TO DO
Get lost in the winding streets of El Carmen (the Old Town). Restaurants and boutiques line the streets, and almost every single building is beautiful. Tasteful street art can also be found in this neighborhood creating a dynamic play between old and new.
Head to the markets. Valencia is blessed with multiple stunning markets selling produce, meats & cheeses, seafood, and more. My personal favorite and daily morning stop was the Art Nouveau styled Central Market, featuring lofty ceilings, tile, and some of the nicest vendors you'll ever meet (it was also the cleanest market I've ever been to). Be sure to visit Martina at Retrogusto Coffemates for a coffee to enjoy as you peruse the stalls. Other notable markets are the modernista Russafa market and Mercado Colon.
Walk, bike, or enjoy a book in the Turia Park. After a devastating flood in 1957, the Turia river's course was diverted south of the city, and the former Old Town adjacent riverbed was transformed into an impressive winding 9km ribbon of green space. No roads cross this park, as the riverbed lies below the city level, making it a dream for runners and families. This park, after the Central Market, was my favorite aspect of the city.
Gaze in wonder at the science fiction-like City of Arts & Sciences. Designed by world renowned, but locally born architect, Santiago Calatrava, the City of Arts & Sciences is a feast for the eyes with multiple museums, waterways, and outdoor arcades all done in Calatrava's signature style. Although the museums are interesting to visit, just walking the grounds and appreciating the architecture is satisfying as well. In the summer months, free concerts are put on Fridays at 7pm.
Stare at the beautiful ceilings of La Lonja or silk market. The UNESCO World Heritage site is an impressive display of civic Gothic architecture. Free on Sundays, but the entry fee is nominal throughout the week. The Audio Guide is a good idea if you're not on a tour.
Photos by Stephen Walsh
Explore the towering Cathedral & surrounding squares. After the reconquest of the city in 1238, the Cathedral was constructed over the Moorish mosque in the Gothic style, with various alternating styled elements added in later years (the entryway is clearly Baroque and was completed in the 18th century). Do hike up the octagonal Miguelete tower for 2 euros to enjoy views over the whole city and to the sea.
Splash around in the balmy waters of the Mediterranean. The large swath of beach near the city is divided into three areas - the closest las Arenas beach, the middle Malvarrosa beach, and my personal fav and northern most Patacona beach backed by a variety of eateries and beach amenities.
Eat paella in its birthplace then catch the sunset in the Albufera Nature Reserve. Home to the largest lake in Spain and some of the most important wetlands on the whole of the Iberian Peninsula, the Albufera Nature Park is full of rare species and wildlife, but also supplies ingredients for many of the regions most famous dishes, like rice for paella. Sample this local staple in the village of El Palmar, the town where paella was invented. Contrary to popular belief, the classic paella does not have seafood, but rather is a mix of vegetables, rabbit, and chicken. After the meal, hop on a boat and cruise the lake as the sun begins to dip. Take the number 25 bus from town and hop off at El Palmar.
Climb up the Torres de Quart. Built in the 15th century as part of Valencia's city wall fortifications, the twin defensive towers offer a glimpse of military architecture as well as offering nice views over the city.
Take a day trip to the coastal town of Peniscola. About 1.5-2 hrs north along the coast is the fortified seaport of Peniscola. Walk the narrow streets of the Old Town, hike up and explore the castle perched at the top of the slopes, grab lunch, and then enjoy a lazy afternoon on the beach. Peniscola was the city of Meereen for you Game of Thrones buffs.