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Vacation in Valencia

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by Irenke Forsyth (subscribe)
A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at https://www.travelwithirenke.blogspot.com
Published November 14th 2022
Valencia, Spain
Valencia - well worth a visit


Whilst Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain, Valencia is the most underrated and well worth a visit. It's equally charming with an old town area and, at the same time, is known as a city of arts and sciences with futuristic structures.

This port city is perfect for a weekend escape, or longer if you have the time, as there is plenty to enjoy, whether it's a beach break or a concert you're after. Museums and churches abound too with loads of history and culture to immerse yourself in.

Here's a variety of ways to spend your time:-

In the Old Town

This is my favourite area in Valencia. I rented an apartment here and went out wandering the narrow streets without much of a plan. I came across amazing beauty, history and architecture. I started out looking for St Nicholas Church as I had read it is known as the Sistine Chapel of Valencia and knew this would be a stand out work of art and that it was. If not for a few people congregating and looking at a sign on a wall, I would have missed this church and walked past the unassuming entrance set back from the street. Glad I caught it because the inside of the church is what has you in awe.

St Nicholas Church, Valencia
St Nicholas Church sure does compare well to the Sistine Chapel of Vatican City


Founded in the 13th century, this Gothic-style Roman Catholic parish church is an architectural treasure in the El Carmen historic centre. The magnificent ceilings, walls and rooms are full of frescoes and paintings, statues and shrines, altars, leadlight panels and other adornments of Baroque decoration, including the organ. Be sure to sit down for a bit and admire the details and the work that has gone into this marvel full of symbolism.

St Nicholas Church, Valencia
One of many shrines in St Nicholas Church


On leaving the church, my eye caught a glimpse of some interesting buildings up ahead so I wandered further and came across what was to end up as my favourite plaza, that of Plaza de la Virgen. Surrounded by the unique Valencia Cathedral, the pretty pink Real Basilica De Nuestra Senora De Los Desamparados, the Palace of the Generalitat and both indoor and alfresco dining, the beautiful square with the monumental Turia fountain has a wonderful atmosphere where people watching and impromptu music performances take place. Indulging in a fruit pancake (from La Crepe) at an outdoor table, it wasn't long before a singer placed down her speaker and got her microphone out to start singing. What a bonus this was, getting to listen to some Spanish songs whilst immersing myself in the culture of the area. I felt like I was in a romantic scene from a movie, if only there was a handsome gentleman in front of me.

Valencia Cathedral
The unique Valencia Cathedral

Plaza de la Virgen, Valencia
Great vibes in Plaza de la Virgen


Other great plazas to visit in the old town area include Plaza de la Reina (the Queen's Square) where you can hire a horse-drawn carriage, Plaza de Colegio del Patriarca lined with orange trees and a Renaissance palace, and Plaza del Ayuntamiento with its Neoclassical Town Hall and fountain in the park centre surrounded by flowers.

Further beauty can be found at the National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts, dedicated to not only ceramics but porcelain, textile arts, traditional costumes and furniture. Ceramic pieces date from the 18th century to the contemporary period and include works by Picasso. The gorgeous building is of Baroque design and also houses merchandise from the Silk Route.

National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts, Valencia
Loads of gorgeous detail here in this museum building showcasing ceramics


Speaking of silk, the La Lonja de la Seda building of Gothic architecture is noteworthy for being a centre of commerce, with the former Silk Exchange being housed here. Built in the late 15th century, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. It has four main sections - the Contract Room, the Tower on whose ground floor is the chapel, the pavilion of the Consulate of the Sea, and the patio/garden (court of orange trees). Features include gargoyles, towering columns supporting the framework of the ceiling in the hall, Latin inscription on the walls, chandeliers, a spiral staircase, paintings and carved decorations.

La Lonja de la Seda, Valencia
The historic La Lonja de la Seda towers over the local market


Right next to this building is a beautiful old church, the Temple of Santos Juanes. Of Baroque style, the facades of the building feature a circular rose window, the Virgin of the Rosary and child with hand on the globe, cherubs, a clock tower and a roof dominated by statues of the Juanes (Johns) that include John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, and symbols, such as a lamb atop a book with five seals. The interior of the building sees statues depicting the twelve tribes of Israel, whilst large frescoes adorn the ceilings.

Temple of Santos Juanes, Valencia
Pretty impressive for the back of a church, this one dedicated to the St Johns


Another point of interest you should seek out in the old town area is the ancient Serranos Towers. They were one of twelve gates that formed part of the medieval city wall, designed as a defensive structure in the event of an attack. The towers also served as a place for ceremonies to welcome ambassadors and kings as they were the main entrance to the city and, from 1586-1887, they were used as a prison for knights and aristocrats. Since then, they have been used for various purposes. During the Spanish Civil War, works of art from the Prado Museum were stored in the building and, nowadays the towers are open to the public. You can climb the stairs to the top of the 14th century towers for some great views.

walled city mural, Valencia
This tiled mural shows the walled city of Valencia as it was centuries ago

Serranos Towers, Valencia
Serranos Towers is one set of two gates that are all that's left of this former walled city


In the Modern City

The Ciutat de les Arts i les Cičncies (The City of Arts and Sciences) buildings in Valencia are worth taking a look at for both their interesting modern designs and what lies within. There's four of them in this cultural complex that also includes a plaza, a landscaped walkway and a couple of bridges.

The first building to be completed in the project was L'Hemisferic, opening in 1998. It's the centrepiece of this futuristic area and, built in the shape of a human eye, it symbolises the look and observation of the world that one discovers on a visit.

Housing the IMAX Dome in the pupil of the eye, the planetarium and a laserium, you can enjoy 3D projections, astronomical representations and entertainment shows. At night, the building turns into a stunning artistic display with the lighting creating an image of a whole eye by way of the reflecting pool.

The building of L'Oceanografic showcases marine habitats and is currently the largest oceanarium park in Europe. Created for leisure, training and research, it has several areas that reflect aquatic species from the Mediterranean, the oceans, the polar regions of the Arctic and Antarctic, the wetlands, the islands, the tropical seas and temperate seas and the Red Sea. You'll see everything from a range of different types of jellyfish and sea anemones to flamingoes, pelicans, sharks, walruses and penguins.

Oceanografic, Valencia
There's loads to enjoy here


There's also a dolphinarium with entertaining shows, an auditorium, different garden areas and services that include shops and eateries, including an underwater restaurant where you can have dinner surrounded by a massive aquarium.

El Museu de les Cičncies Príncipe Felipe is the interactive Science Museum that resembles the skeleton of a whale. Unique for the geometry of the building and its organic shapes, it's a great place to take the kids. Over a number of floors, you'll find a multitude of science exhibitions and activities that include Science on Stage, the Legacy of Science (based on the research of Nobel prize winners), a sculptural representation of DNA, the Chromosome Forest, the Foucault Pendulum, Zero Gravity and the Space Academy.

El Museu de les Cičncies Príncipe Felipe, Science Museum, Valencia
All things science and technology at this interesting museum


The last major component of this complex to open was Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, the flamboyant Opera House. Completed in 2005, this performing arts centre accommodates four venues for opera, music, ballet and theatre.

Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Opera House, Valencia
The flamboyant Opera House staged its first opera in 2006, that of Beethoven's Fidelio


From musicals to plays and open-air concerts, it's an all-embracing cultural centre with a stage measuring 1500 sq metres and technology that encompasses portable platforms, interchangeable sets and simultaneous translation through screens built into the seats.

Part of this overall complex, and worthy of mention, is L'Umbracle. It's a landscaped esplanade with plant species indigenous to Valencia and an outdoor sculpture garden/gallery featuring works from contemporary artists. It is also a good vantage spot from which all the buildings, lakes and walkways of the City of Arts and Sciences can be seen.

L'Umbracle landscaped walk, sculpture garden, Valencia
Embrace some calm in L'Umbracle


Apart from this complex, Palau de la Música (Music Palace) is another example of modern architecture. Surrounded by slender columns, the emblematic building has an enormous glass dome that runs parallel to the Turia river-bed park. The exterior ambience penetrates the interior with green areas flourishing in the foyer and a great glass waterfall that looks like it pours into the pool.

The building is considered one of the most important concert halls in Europe and is located in the beautiful Gardens of Turia where you can watch fountains spouting water to the beats of music.

The venue hosts a wide range of events, from concerts to conferences, ballets, operas and more. People rave about the acoustics in the concert hall that is home to the Orchestra of Valencia. A bar at the rear end is great for that pre- concert cocktail.

On the Water

If you want to bask in the sun and work on your tan, go for a swim, catch a wave or participate in a water activity, then Valencia's city beaches are the perfect spots. They are easily reached by bus, metro or tram and are located along a 3.5km long promenade lined with palm trees.

Once there, you can wander the length of the three different beach sections by foot or rent a bike and comfortably ride down the promenade filled with restaurants and bars.

Playa del Cabanyal, also known as Playa de las Arenas, is the most popular beach of the three main city beaches. It's the southernmost and is considered a party hotspot, making it the busiest spot (especially in summer). People celebrate 7 days a week here to enjoy the cool beach flair and sip cool drinks from a multitude of beach bars, including the luxurious Marina Beach Club with its pool and cocktails.

Playa de las Arenas, Valencia beach
The popular Playa del Cabanyal, aka Playa de las Arenas


For many, the most beautiful of the three beaches is Playa de la Patacona. It is on the northernmost end of the promenade and visitors love the clean bright sand, the colours of the sea, the chilled vibe and unique style of its surroundings. Behind the palm trees are some hip bars, like La Mas Bonita, where you can spend a few hours eating and drinking to your delight.

In between the above two beaches is Playa de la Malvarrosa. This beach is loved for a variety of reasons. It has free fitness equipment for sports enthusiasts, volleyball opportunities, soccer goals and playgrounds for children. Tourists love the beach restaurants where local delicacies and cool refreshments are served.

Other activity on the water and around it can be had nearby at the city's harbour and the marina, where you can rent a boat to take out and/or use it as your accommodation. It's also the spot for concerts and the Valencia Boat Show, which brings together design, music, sport and sustainability.

Valencia's container port, the busiest on the Mediterranean Sea, also provides interest at its entrance point with the beautiful old Port Authority building and colonial clock tower catching one's eye.

Reloj del Puerto, Port Authority building, Valencia
This Neoclassical Port Authority building stands out at the entrance to Valencia's port and opens on exhibition days


Outside the immediate city, there's a number of other beaches to explore, notably Playa Saplaya which is located in front of the picturesque Port Saplaya. The locals call it the Venice of Spain, due to its eye-catching colourful holiday homes providing contrast to the light sand and blue sea. It's only around 4kms from the northern end of the city's beaches and has become a popular destination for bike tours.

Indulging in the Cuisine

Valencia is a magnet for foodies. It's the birthplace of paella and you'll get the best here. Whilst the most well-known versions of the dish are covered in seafood (namely shrimp and mussels), traditional Valenciana paella combines rice with chicken and rabbit or pork ribs, beans, garlic, tomato, sweet paprika and saffron.

Be sure to try some whilst in this city, as well as tapas (appetisers) which can be had cold or hot in bars and restaurants everywhere. Popular tapas include bowls of olives, small pieces of potato and tiny chorizos, a wedge of cheese and ham with bread or a salad. There's a big range on offer.

goats cheese tomato salad, La Rentaora Bodega tapa, Valencia
One of a couple of tapas I tried at La Rentaora Bodega - goat's cheese and tomato salad with Iberian ham


For something larger, try savoury items like the Spanish omelette (which has potatoes in it), calamares (squid), arros a banda (a dish of rice cooked in fish stock) and fideua (made of noodles, fish & shellfish). On the sweet side, to cap off a meal, try churros or bunyols (pumpkin-infused doughnuts), apple cake, Coca De Llanda (sweet bread with fillings & toppings), Flan Valenciano (incorporates oranges into the traditional caramel-based custard dessert), Turron (nougat confection made with honey & almonds) and Pastissets De Moniato (fried pastry filled with sweet potato jam & topped with cinnamon sugar).

apple cake, El Siglo restaurant, Valencia
Delicious apple cake was had for morning tea one day at El Siglo restaurant


There are so many places serving not just Spanish food but a range of cuisines. It all depends on what you want to eat or drink and what your budget is. If you don't have a particular place in mind, you can check out pages and pages of reviews on Tripadvisor but what I enjoyed doing was to just wander around and find a surprising establishment that takes my fancy for their menu and vibe. Most cafes, restaurants and bars have their menus displayed on the window outside so you can see what they have, along with the prices.

Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia
Horchateria de Santa Catalina is a beautiful cafe I came across in my wanderings that serves up hot chocolates, churros & pastries

Horchateria de Santa Catalina, Valencia
Apart from delicious food, the above cafe in Placa de Santa Catalina is also known for its painted wall tiles


A walking tour with a food host is a good way to taste traditional food and see some sights along the way. The 10 Tastings of Valencia, using withlocals.com, is a private tour for just under EUR70. Your tastebuds will be taken on a journey of savoury and sweet delights, with drinks. You'll be trying the best of Spanish cuisine at real local hotspots.

If you have booked a room with a kitchen, then you might want to get some fresh produce from one of the markets to cook up something special. Mercado Central is the largest market in Valencia with more than 1200 stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, seafood, cheese, bread, nuts, spices, wine and pretty much everything you can consume. It is full of Mediterranean life with the colours, aromas and smells of traditional products.

Mercado Central, Valencia market
Plenty of produce at Mercado Central, Valencia's largest market


No kitchen, no problem. You can also purchase pre-made salads and meals from stalls for consumption either onsite or to take away. There's also the Central Bar within the market that serves up tapas, sandwiches and a few dishes. You won't be left hungry on a trip to this market and, apart from food, you'll find other stalls selling the likes of perfume and pottery.

The building itself is that of the Art Nouveau style and is full of decorative references to the orchard La Huerta and gardens of Valencia. The tiles, stained glass and impressive central dome are immersed in a structure formed by iron columns. Definitely worth a visit.

Mercado Central, Valencia market
Mercado Central's exterior entrance

Mercado Central, Valencia market
The impressive dome of Mercado Central has decorations of orchard fruit at the top


Another market of the same architectural style is Colon Market, however, whilst the Central Market has more of a real market feel, this one is more modern in part with a water feature and escalators inside that make it look like a present-day shopping centre. On the outside, the building has certain features reminiscent of buildings in Barcelona. The triumphal arches, the colourful decorative facade with ceramic tiles and an artistic wrought iron fence surrounding the premises, all scream Gaudi.

Listed as a national monument, it's also chic looking with flower stalls, cafes, fine restaurants and drinking establishments that make for a great meeting spot. The venue regularly holds culinary events too in this mix of old meets new.

Last but not least, you might want to consider a cooking class. Learn how to make Valencian paella and enjoy it, along with a sangria and dessert afterwards. Many include a visit to a market first to collect ingredients. There's a number of class listings on Viator that offer good value for money.

Valencia, Spain
Cheers to a great time in Valencia


All in all, Valencia is a surprise around every corner. There are plenty of options to get there from Barcelona, with a 1hr flight being the quickest way. Whilst there, you'll find public transport aplenty but walking around is a great way to discover the unexpected. If you're short on time, hire a bicycle and weave your way around the city in all its glory of the old and the new, the quirky and the hip. Either way, you won't be disappointed.
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Your Comment
What an astonishing place Irenke. Just as well you didn't miss St Nicholas church, it is truly magnificent inside.
by Gayle Beveridge-Marien (score: 4|10118) 18 days ago
Valencia looks incredible. It was great for you to profile this beautiful city with great vigor and insight. Well done.
by Gillian Ching (score: 3|5783) 18 days ago
Gosh, Irenke, what a fabulous trip - I love the old cities/towns/villages in Europe, and especially the old churches. A well-deserved gold!
by Elaine (score: 3|9077) 19 days ago
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