Valencia is emerging as one of the nation's most progressive cities. Spain's third largest, it continues to reinvent itself at a heady pace, and is well on the way to equalling the cosmopolitan vitality of Barcelona and the cultural variety of Madrid. In the last decade or so, the vast, iconic Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias – has emerged, a metro has opened and dozens of hip new bars, restaurants and boutiques have injected new life into the historic centre.
Despite its size and stylista cachet, Valencia retains an unpretentious if tangibly charged air. With low-cost airlines bussing in visitors by the planeload, tourism has also hit the city in a big way, and the ubiquitous English breakfast has become a fixture.
The most atmospheric area to explore is undoubtedly the maze-like streets of the Barrio del Carmen (in Valenciano "de Carmé"), roughly the area north of the Mercado Central to the Río Turia. This once-neglected quarter of the city continues to regenerate, making for an incredibly vibrant, alternative neighbourhood. The city walls were pulled down in 1871 to make way for a ring road, and the beautiful church of Santo Domingo, in Plaza de Tetuan, has been converted into the barracks from which that General Milans del Bosch ordered his tanks during the abortive coup of 1981.
The oldest part of the city is almost entirely encircled by a great loop of the Río Turia, now a landscaped riverbed park. The ancient stone bridges remain, but the riverbed now houses cycle ways, footpaths and football pitches, as well as the astonishing Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias, Europe's largest cultural complex.
Valencia's main beach is the Playa de la Malvarrosa to the east of the city centre, which becomes Playa de las Arenas at its southern end.
The city has long boasted some of the best nightlife to be found in mainland Spain. Its fiestas are among the most riotous in Spain; Las Fallas, March 12–19, culminates in a massive bonfire where all the processional floats are burned.
If you are visiting Valencia for the first time or you've heard about this great city, the first thing that will catch your attention is the incredible light that reaches every corner, the great weather that lasts all year long, or perhaps the friendly nature of its people. All this is true, as is the fact that together with Barcelona, these two cities are the most important on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, and, within the last few years, Valencia has grown tremendously.
But perhaps what might surprise you even more is its incredible diversity. Moving from one area of the city to another means being surrounded by completely different urban landscapes; so much so that you might even think you're in a different city altogether.
A good point to start a sightseeing trip through the city is without a doubt the historic center of town. The Ayuntamiento (Town council) and Correos (Main Post Office) buildings stand out as some impressive sites worth visiting. If you head to the Plaza de la Reina , this large square introduces you into an older part of town with turn-of-the-century buildings and, just beyond that, the historic Old Quarter and the Barrio del Carmen neighborhood. Some of the buildings in this area date from the period of Arab domination of the city and others incorporate the old walls of the city into their structure. The palaces in this part have been restored and turned into luxury restaurants or official government buildings. A walk along the narrow, cobble-stoned streets will give you a flavor for the past, contrasting with the modernity that the many bars, cafes, and clubs that this area boasts.
The new Town Council was built in this area as was the Calatrava bridge . The latter is an example of the innovative architecture found in Valencia. It joins the two shores of the Turia riverbed, which has now been turned into a fantastic garden and recreational area running through the entire city. This area is almost like a triangle of modernity between Alameda-Blasco Ibánez-Avenida de Aragón streets where you'll also find a good part of the university campus in the city. It is also where you'll find modern glass skyscrapers, some of the best restaurants, pubs, and night clubs in the city, together with the best parks and gardens, such as the Jardines del Real o 'Viveros' , Jardines de Monforte , or the Alameda. It is here in front of the river Turia that you will find the Palau de la Música , with its huge glass dome and main venue in the city for concerts and all sorts of cultural events.
Classicism, harmony, good taste, luxury shops, and restaurants, are what you will find in the turn-of-the-century buildings-lined streets of the Cánovas area. This is the traditional residential area for the Valencian bourgeoisie, and nowadays home to some of the best clubs and most chic, most elegant restaurants in the city. Bordering on the old quarter, you'll find Colón Street, which has some of the most elegant boutiques and shops in the city, and, of course, the Corte Ingles department store.
We cannot end without talking about the most characteristic feature of this city, which gives it color and life: the Mediterranean. This inseparable part of the Castilian culture is very easily reached, and, if you choose to use the route that takes you by the Avenida del Puerto, your efforts will be rewarded. This last avenue is lined with traditional restaurants, some of which boast the honor of having been visited by Hemingway on one of his visits to Valencia. Other more recently-opened restaurants display unique, modern Valencian designs- a city with a reputation for great creators.
The city's coast consists of three beaches: Las Arenas, la Malvarrosa and Alboraya, in addition to the Cabañal neighborhood, where the city's fishermen once lived. If you are fit enough, try to walk along all three in just one morning. If not, just enjoy the landscape and the sea breeze while sipping on a refreshing drink in any of the open-air terraces facing the sea.
This is Valencia in very general terms, but if you decide to get to know it on your own, you will discover lots of details, beautiful plazas, and charming neighborhoods that will undeniably entice you to return to this beautiful city by the sea.
The Mediterranean is not only a region, but also a way of life and a philosophy. Here more than anywhere else in Europe, people enjoy the sun, the light, the sea and, of course, the food. The famous Mediterranean diet is known all over the world not only for its excellent flavour and its natural ingredients but also as a source of health and well-being.
Valencia is one of the most important cities on the Mediterranean coast, and naturally, it has made important contributions to this cuisine. This is the city that invented paella, and restaurants like Samaruch stand out in its preparation. Other Mediterranean options include the baked rice which is the speciality of Hotel Lido or top-quality fish, meat and seafood as offered by the restaurant Casa Navarro , which has the added benefit of being next to the sea.
Another option on the coast that would be unforgivable not to mention is La Marcelina , the most famous restaurant on Las Arenas beach. They have been preparing the best paella and seafood in Valencia for more than a hundred years. It is the best example perhaps of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
If you're not all that hungry, then you could just order tapas. Tasty favourites include Spanish omelette (with potatoes), fried squid, peppers, baby squid and a lot more. Gambrinus offers a great selection of all of these, but other options in the centre include Bar Pilar or Río Sil-Civera .
If we continue along our gastronomic route in the old part of the city, we will find fantastic restored buildings turned into restaurants. Among them, La Mamma, which is an old palace more than 100 years old, stands out. It is full of works of art and they serve delicious Italian food and pasta upstairs and cocktails on the ground floor. Similarly, another converted palace in the same area offers the best Valencian cuisine, both traditional and innovative. It is called Ben Fet , which in Valencian means "well done", an evening here and you will understand why.
In the last few years, Valencia has been visited by increasing numbers of foreigners and some of them have stayed on, becoming residents and providing Valencia with a cosmopolitan touch in both the type of bars as well as restaurants available. You will find Mexican restaurants such as El Coyote Cojo , that brings us all the atmosphere and tastes of Mexico, French restaurants such as Les Mouettes or La Fondue , Tariq from Pakistan and also international restaurants with theme weeks dedicated to the cuisine of each of the six inhabited continents as is the case with Phileas Fogg .
There are also several vegetarian options for vegetable lovers, such as the restaurant, Les Maduixes, and its fantastic meals without meat.
But in Valencia people don't only eat, they also drink. A couple of typical local drinks worth trying include Agua de Valencia, a very tasty cocktail which mixes champagne and orange juice. It will help liven up those nights out on the town, though you should be careful, as it could cheer you up too much. On hot, sunny afternoons and especially in spring and summer, there is nothing better to fight the heat than a glass of horchata. This is a natural drink which consists of squeezing chufas (tiger nuts) to get a milky white liquid which will quench the worst thirst. The horchaterías, Daniel or El Siglo, make it better than anywhere else in the city. If you are hungry, you can order fartóns, an elongated pastry specially made for the occasion.
As you can see, Valencia as a city has known how to preserve the best of the Mediterranean tradition, but it has also adapted to new times, new trends and incorporated the tastes and wisdom of other cultures, proving that Valencia is today more than ever a city open to the world, and one well-worth visiting.
The Old Quarter
Visiting a city's old quarter is the best way to really see a city for what it is, not just what it once was. It's a journey through time that will reveal the secrets of the city you're in now. Valencia's old quarter, or "Ciutat Vella" in the local language, is completely surrounded by the tram or cable car that marks off where the old walls of the city stood until 1865. Within this oval shape is where you'll find the majority of monuments, dating back mostly to the period after the conquest by Jaime I. This concentration of historical and cultural monuments can be easily visited on foot, traversing streets and plazas dedicated to nearly forgotten trades: Correjería (belt-making), Bolsería (bags), Cerrajeros (locksmiths), Tejedores (weavers), Juristas (lawyers)...
Route 1: The Cathedral Area
The Cathedral presides over the historic centre of the city. It is early Gothic in style and inside you'll find wonderful treasures, such as the Holy Grail in one of the side chapels, while in the Museo de la Catedral , there are valuable paintings by Goya, Jacomart, silver-work by Cellini and paintings from the Valencian School dating from the 15th to 17th centuries. It's also worth climbing the 207 steps to the top of 'el Miguelete' , the bell-tower, for the fantastic panoramic views over the old quarter. Some people even like counting the bells, 300 according to Victor Hugo.
Next to the Cathedral, you will find the basilica dedicated to the patron saint of Valencia, la Virgen de los Desamparados , and on a nearby narrow street, you can visit el Almudín , an old warehouse, and today a museum. Just a bit further away is the Plaza de la Almoina , site of some of the most important archaeological finds in the city, which trace Valencia's history back to Roman times, the Visigoths and Moors. Continuing along towards the east, we come to the San Esteban church , where it is believed that local Saint Vicente Ferrer was baptised and where 'el Cid', a legendary figure in the battles between Christians and Moors, had his daughters married. Just a step away is Palau street where you'll find the Baños del Almirante , the only remaining Arab bath house in the city.
When you come out to the Plaza de Nápoles y Sicilia, take a right until you reach the Plaza de San Vicente Ferrer. Here you'll find the San Juan del Hospital church, admirable for its elegant Gothic facade. Continuing on Las Comedias street, we'll head towards the old university. If you look down La Paz street, you can make out the Santa Catalina church bell-tower. In front of the antigua universidad de Valencia , the old university, a neoclassical building with a wonderful cloister inside, you'll see the impressive Real Colegio del Patriarca (or del Corpus Christi) --a former seminary. Inside is the Museo del Patriarca , a small museum with valuable works of art, and perhaps the most beautiful Renaissance cloister found in Spain. There are also wonderful works of art in the church and the Capilla de la Comunión chapel, with incredible Flemmish tapestries on the walls.
When finished with this visit, if we walk down La Nave street, we can stop for a break in the small garden found in the Plaza de Alfonso el Magnánimo. A rest will do you good, because there's a lot more to see.
Route 2: The Central Market Area
If we start at the Plaza de la Virgen, with the Cathedral behind us, we'll head off in the opposite direction from the previous tour. Take Serranos street which leads to Plaza de Manises. Here you'll find the Batlia and Marques de la Scala palaces. Both now house a part of the local government's offices. They date from the 15th and 16th centuries and have both been declared National Historic and Artistic Monuments. We'll soon reach Caballeros street, and the old aristocratic neighbourhood. This street turns into Calle Quart which ends at the Torres de Quart (1441), a tower and medieval gateway, one of two left in the city. If we go back down Quart street, take a right at Plaza Tossa and head down Bolsería street until you reach the Plaza del Mercado. Here you'll find 3 of the most important buildings in the city: the Mercado Central (Central Market), modernist in style; la Lonja de Seda (Silk Market), built by Valencian merchants in 1483; and Santos Juanes church, whose dome was site to the world's largest murals at the time.
Heading down Avenida de María Cristina, we come to San Vicente Mártir street, one of the main arteries through the old quarter. Heading back towards the Cathedral, we recommend stopping off at picturesque Plaza Redonda , especially on a Sunday. Here you'll find all sorts of stalls set up selling an incredible assortment of items and local products. Take any of the winding streets and head towards the Plaza de la Reina . Once here, you have several options: take a carriage to see the rest of the old quarter the old fashioned way, or sit down at one of the outdoor cafes, restaurants and hot chocolate bars to watch the world go by. If you prefer, you can sit at one of the benches in the Plaza's garden and feed the pigeons, while contemplating the Cathedral's Miguelete bell-tower and Santa Catalina's, the city's legendary lovers.
Any time of year is great for enjoying the city's beaches, although as they say, when the heat strikes, the coast comes to life in a special way. From the Arenas beach to Alboraia, by way of the Malvarrosa beach, the entire area is steeped in the maritime character of the land, complete with everything that this entails: sun, sea, fun, good food, and that special light that you'll find in Sorolla's paintings. The beaches are easy and quick to reach from downtown, barely a 10-minute ride in one of the many buses of the EMT urban fleet, or via a special bike lane, tram, metro, or even on foot.
Along the Arenas and la Malvarrosa beaches, you'll find the Paseo Marítimo (Boardwalk), which is now one of the best leisure zones in the city. Every day, crowds of people stroll, skate, exercise, or enjoy the seafood specialties at the many popular restaurants that, after almost a century of tradition, have modernized their menus without compromising in the slightest their savoury treats. L'Estimat with its arroz a banda (rice platter with garlic mayonnaise), its fish dishes, and its baby squid and red mullet, the seafood paellas of La Marcelina , La Pepica's arroz negro (rice with squid in its own ink); or the seafood rice del cabañal carefully prepared in La Rosa are all good examples of the delicious and healthy Mediterranean cuisine found here.
After a great meal, there's nothing like a good horchata (cold drink made from tiger nuts). Just head to Alboraia, Patacona, PortSaplaya, or stay in Las Arenas or La Malvarrosa, and enjoy a cold drink in one of the many terraces, ice-cream shops, or horchataterías along the Boardwalk. There are also many options available for those looking for history and culture. For example, you can visit the Casa Museo de Blasco Ibáñez , the house and now museum of this important Valencian writer. Here you'll discover his personal objects and a wide selection of his literary works. In the south, you can visit the PinedoPinedo beach which houses a variety of delicious restaurants. Explore the beach of El Saler, the winner of a European blue flag award for its pristine sands and translucent water.
And when night falls, everything is transformed. Music and vibrant color come to life in the Valencian nights. You'll find outdoor terraces, cocktail bars, and recently opened spots that have joined alongside the previously existing ones in the Port and beyond. There is something for every taste: calm and low-key, such as Vivir sin Dormir , salsa clubs, such as Casablanca, or dance clubs, like Acuarela Playa and Caballito de Mar .
A full route, both during the day and at night, that will meet the leisure and entertainment tastes of every visitor, from the sun-worshipers to the night owls.
The Old River
The old Turia River , now diverted around the city, has become one of the most famous areas of Valencia in the past few years. The city has invested a great amount of effort in making the old riverbed what it is today, especially the section from the Calatrava Bridge to the City of Arts and Sciences.
The riverbed separates the urban center from the rest of the capital, and is, at the same time, the link between Historic and Futuristic Valencia. Across the riverbed, tradition and modern times alternate in a perfect symbiosis that is nothing more than a reflection of the character of the people of the region.
The section mentioned above is an interesting route for the traveler who would like to take a stroll through the past and the future of the city in record time. The suggested itinerary takes barely a half-hour, depending on your pace, of course. It begins at Calatrava Bridge , better known as La Peineta, as it vaguely resembles the Spanish ornamental comb (peineta). The bridge spans the riverbed between the Santo Domingo Convent —today the Military Government Building—on one side, and Paseo de la Alameda on the other.
From La Peineta, walk down into the riverbed. You'll find yourself in a lush garden that muffles the sounds of the city and will calm even the most agitated soul. The entire area is designed for the enjoyment of tourists and locals. Here you'll observe an interesting mix of people who visit the riverbed daily: exercisers, bicyclers, the hippied-out university students studying, an older man with his newspaper and his dog, a couple in love lying in the grass, a group learning Tai Chi, a few reckless skateboarders, children enjoying an afternoon snack, and mothers gossiping in group, though, of course, who you meet will depend on the time of day.
Continuing the walk, you'll cross the not-so-ironically named Puente del Mar (Sea Bridge), which once linked the old town to the port, and the highly trafficked Aragón Bridge. You'll soon come to the area around the Palau de la Música (Music Palace). If you're lucky, you might be able to watch the fountain "dance" to the rhythm of the music pouring out of it. If you're around at night, the colored lights make the show even more attractive.
Leaving the Palace, you'll cross another bridge. This one is sure to bring you good luck because it is the Puente del Angel del Custodio or Guardian Angel. This celestially named bridge will lead you to a magical place called Gulliver , a park for children. A giant figure of the famous Gulliver, full of slides and twists and turns that send the little ones (and sometimes not-so-little-ones) screaming in delight. Here everyone is Lilliputian!
After you're worn out from sliding and swinging, you'll soon reach the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences .
You'll have journeyed through the past and the present, and here you'll find yourself looking at the future. Or, at least you'll feel that way when you see the Palacio de las Artes , L'Hemisfèric (the city planetarium and IMAX theatre open to the public), and further along, the Oceanographic Park , a vast 80,000-square-meter underwater city.
If you still have some energy left, you can keep going up the last bridge to street level and to the El Saler Shopping Centre , just a few steps away, to catch up on your shopping or simply get a bite to eat.