Valencia, Spain Travel Guide: Top Things to Do and See in Valencia
Despite being Spain's third-largest city, Valencia is often overlooked in favour of Madrid, Spain's capital, or Barcelona with its beaches (or indeed, the world-class football of both!) however Valencia has so much to offer. With its own beaches, world-renowned gastronomy and so much history that it seeps from the city's walls, Valencia needs to be highlighted on the map. Pronto.
What to do
- Take part in a free walking tour! These tours are growing ever-popular and are a fantastic way to see a new city while also learning about its history. As the name suggests, they are free to join (although you do need to pre-book) and then at the end you are expected to pay-what-you-feel (think of it as a generous tip!)
- Head towards the port to visit Valencia's otherworldly City of Arts and Sciences. Here you will find activities for everyone as the grounds offer an IMAX cinema, Opera House, Oceanogràfic, and Science Museum, among others — not to mention the architecture which feels as though it's straight out of a science fiction film!
- If you're short on time, make the Oceanogràfic your priority. It is the largest aquarium in Europe and has plenty to show for it. Whether you're interested in the butterfly house, animals of the Arctic, sharks or birds, there is something for everyone. There is also a huge Dolphinarium — book yourself in for a show; the dolphins are incredibly friendly and intelligent and you won't be disappointed!
- Visit the Central Market where you can fill yourself up with tapas on the spot or buy fresh produce, ranging from fish and vegetables, to cured meats, spices and deli foods, including a seriously impressive range of olives!
- If you are in Valencia on a Thursday, head down to Plaza de la Virgen for midday to catch the meeting of El Tribunal de las Aguas (Water Court), now on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage Lists. This tribunal has been meeting every week for over 1000 years in order to discuss water issues in the fields surrounding the city. Due to modern advancements, these days there are often very few issues to discuss so the meeting is often concluded in a matter of minutes, but they still continue to meet for tradition's sake!
- Beaches in Valencia: In Valencia on a hot day? Head to the beach! There are plenty to choose from, with La Malvarrosa offering lots of family-friendly space, necessary facilities and restaurants. Port Saplaya beach is another option, offering more in the way of bars and shops. For a quieter beach trip, head to El Saler. It is less manicured with more exploring to do so why not take a picnic? Nearby you will also find La Albufera Natural Park where you can spot hundreds of species of birds, take a boat ride or indulge in some of the freshest paella around.
Local specialties and where to find them:
- Paella: just behind Plaza de la Virgen, Bar Almudin is the place to go. It is highly recommended that you go early to put your name down for dinner as this place really fills up with locals and there aren't many tables. The wine selection is good, the portions are generous, the atmosphere strikes a perfect balance between local tavern and quaint bistro and, most importantly, they serve proper Valencian paella!
- Agua de Valencia: a lethal cocktail made with orange juice, gin, vodka, cava and sugar, you can find this drink everywhere in Valencia, but why not kill two birds with one stone? Get happy and see the narrow building in one go as they serve up large glasses at Tasquita La Estrecha.
- Fartons and horchata: horchata is a refreshing, non-alcoholic drink made from water, sugar, and tiger nuts. It has quite an acquired taste, which is not how you'd expect (considering that it looks milky), but is something that you have to try when in Valencia. The best place for this is at Horchateria Santa Catalina, where you can also try some local fartons. These are sweet pastries, made from flour, milk, sugar, oil, and eggs and are intended to be dunked in your horchata. They also do delicious churros and chocolate here, if you need an extra sugar fix.
- Tapas: where to start! Of course you can find tapas everywhere in Valencia but for a great little place with a local feel, La Bodeguilla del Gato is the one. For something a little more fancy, Central Bar, located within the covered Central Market, has delicious food but long queues due to the Michelin-star chef. Cafe Infanta is another good bet if you're looking for somewhere moody and popular, somewhere to begin the night with tapas but continue with a large G&T in a candle-lit corner.
- Siestas are lovingly observed in Valencia so expect many places to be closed after lunch until late afternoon (especially smaller/family-run establishments). Make sure you account for this in your itinerary!
- Valencia has lovely weather! Its mild winters see average lows of 9°C, with temperatures often reaching the low 20°Cs. In summer, 30+°C temperatures are accompanied by a cooling sea breeze.
- Valencia is the birthplace of paella! Although paella can now be found worldwide and is most commonly prepared with seafood, the original recipe for Valencian paella is with snails and rabbit.
- Valencia is home to Europe's narrowest building, La Estrecha. Measuring just 107cm wide, it is just wider than Amsterdam's narrowest building but overall is narrower inside — title granted!