The most Spanish of all the cities in Spain! This is how many foreigners describe Valencia after a trip to this amazing city. Corrida, hot Spanish people and flamenco are enough to make Valencia an alluring destination. But there is still so much to do and see here. While Madrid and Barcelona elbow their way to get the reputation of the most attractive cities of the country, Valencia is the city, which has not been spoilt with the ultimate attention of the tourists yet. This may be the reason why the traditional way of life is more preserved here and those who seek for Spanish aesthetics are welcomed! Also known as the city of flowers and boasting its boiling never-ending festival life, trips to Valencia always provide limitless joy to its visitors.
Notwithstanding its size, the city is surprisingly livable. The modernized international airport is just 8 km away from the city center. To get to the city center from the airport you can take a taxi paying 20 euros or by metro which will cost less than 5 euros. As soon as you enter the subway the first thing that may catch your attention is the number of posters advertising flamenco. This is how you understand partially what awaits you in this city.
Valencia boasts one of the richest monumental city centers of Spain. Its cultural heritage, art and architecture make it more and more popular year by year. Due to the envious location, the climate is Mediterranean with relatively wet and mild winters and dry summers. The city has an active commercial port and a large leisure marine very characteristic to the Mediterranean coast. Not far from the historical center a new district has been built lately, which is called the City of Arts and Sciences. This complex of modern buildings contrasts sharply with the rest of the city, which brims with traditions of this sun-kissed country. Valencia, constantly changing, is the perfect balance between modernity and tradition and if you plan a visit soon, here is our handpicked selection of the things to do in Valencia.
Dance Like a Spaniard
Flamenco is a devil cocktail of Spanish dances, songs and the guitar. It is the brightest representation of the hot Spanish temperament. This dance was initially performed by men only, because for a dance like this, one needs a huge reserve of energy. But now both men and women are performers and it’s hard to say whether they outshine or complete each other.
When it gets darker and it’s not that hot any longer, the locals begin to dance, but they don’t visit nightclubs like the other Europeans. They visit special establishments instead to dance the most passionate dance ever – flamenco! Flamenco evenings are also held in restaurants. Be ready to pay up to 50 euros to enjoy an evening like this. The impressions you’ll get far outweigh the cost. The budget travellers don’t need to panic as well, because there are many other establishments all over the city, where you can watch flamenco with much lower cost, but the emotions won’t be lighter. Cafe del Duende offers live flamenco show 4 days a week from Thursday to Sunday, but be sure you book a place beforehand, because the place is an absolute favorite for not only the tourists but also the locals. El Loco, La Buleria and Radio City are also famous venues for live music, but on the days when a flamenco show is to be performed they get even more popular. Flamenco is very often performed in spontaneous gatherings, and if you are lucky enough to witness one, no one holds you back from trying some basic moves. In a country, where nobody is supposed to recognize you later, this may be your finest hour! Who knows?
Catch the Fiesta Fever
Valencia is a very religious city, where various ceremonies and festivals are held throughout the year to honor the saints and the most extravagant of all is probably the one dedicated to the Holy Virgin. It is called Our Lady of the Forsaken Festival and is celebrated on the second Sunday of May. La Plaza de la Virgen is the hotspot of the ceremony, where all the residents of the city come together. The festival begins with a march of Spanish soldiers. Then you can witness the procession of men and women in traditional Valencian dresses. The dresses are multilayered and seem not the right ones to wear in hot weather. But the people still strive to come to the festival in such costumes, which are by the way very expensive. A costume can cost up to 6000 euros and sometimes even more depending on the financial status and the fantasy of a person. The culmination of the festival is the moment when the statue of the Holy Virgin is demonstrated to the public. The process is described with a high level of excitement and admiration of the people and of course the loud applause of the public. Thousands of people in fancy costumes follow the statue, which is guarded by more than one hundred Spanish soldiers, while the others throw rose leaves from the balconies. The fireworks are the final phase of the festival.
Another strong reason to visit Valencia is probably the Fallas festival, which takes place on March 15th annually. If the smell of gunpowder and the sight of gigantic flames excite you, then this is your chance to get the brightest impression for your lifetime. The entire city seems to get crazy for five days. Though the festival has a religious background (it’s actually dedicated to St. Joseph, the patron Saint of carpenters), the whole celebration seems more than secular. Fancy dresses, fireworks, drinks and partying make up the whole festival. But perhaps the weirdest part of it is the burning of the huge fallas (elaborate statues, that may be a few storeys high), which have been made throughout the year and may cost up to 100.000 Euros. Quite a reasonable explanation of the current financial crisis in Spain!
Paella, Paella and Paella Once Again!
No matter how you pronounce the name of this dish, you’re going to love this for the rest of your days, if you taste it in the right place. But take our advice and say “pay-eya” when ordering to make the impression of an in the know person. Believe it or not, you’ll get a better portion. Almost every restaurant, especially in the touristy areas, claims to have the real La Paella Valenciana, but it’s not that right. First of all, let us make it clear what traditional paella is. The natives say that it should contain the following ingredients: short grain rice, some form of meat or chorizo sausage, seafood or shellfish, olive oil, some sort of beans, fish or chicken stock, saffron, salt and other spices if you like. Seems rather simple. After all, there are lots of other elaborate dishes with tongue twisting names that require a great deal of concentration and culinary genius to prepare, but few of them enjoy a fame like paella does. Yet, there are a few other secrets that make La Paella Valenciana a bit more unique. The water from the Turia River is an important component of the dish (to tell you the truth, this point seems a little exaggeration, since the bottled water can replace it very well). The dish should be cooked on a wood fire to get that amazing flavor and that oh-la-la crispy bottom part. However, each area has its way of cooking the dish and each of them claims to have the best recipe. There are varieties even in the serving of the dish. Can you imagine paella with a soupy consistency? But it’s more than accepted in some parts of Valencia and is equally delicious. You should only keep in mind, that the best part of the day to have this dish is before 4 pm. It’s quite reasonable, if you take into account what you get in your portion. And one more thing – you may wish an additional portion for most of the time, because no one has ever got enough of paella.
To find the best paella in Valencia, avoid the flashy tourist spots and opt for places, where the locals prefer to eat mostly. If the flamenco in Valencia is equally gorgeous everywhere, no matter you pay 50 euros or much less, it doesn’t work with paella. You can of course buy a portion of this traditional dish with more or less 3 euros in the city market, but don’t expect it to taste like the one in a top class restaurant. So paying less for good paella is a no go! If you have some time, head to the village of El Palma to get the best paella ever. A boat trip on the lagoon of L’albufera will be an added bonus. However, if you prefer to keep closer to the center, then go to El Raco de la Paella, where you can even take a paella cooking course. The restaurant La Riua is one of the best places to taste 20 different types of Valencian Paella, like vegetarian versions, only seafood or only meat based ones and finally Arroz Negro, which has a characteristic black color due to the squid ink. La Fonda in Plaza De la Reigna always gets high ratings from the tourists, so it’s also an option.
It seems like paella outshines all traditional food of the Spaniards, but jamon serrano and manchego cheese are also worth trying once you are in Valencia.
What regards the traditional Valencian drinks, sangria holds all the records of popularity, but wait! Have you ever heard anything of Horchata? If not yet, it’s a good chance to add this drink to your list of top favorites. Horchata is served in special establishments called Horchateria. At first sight the drink is very similar to milk, but it’s only the first impression, because basically, there is no milk in it. The main ingredient is the special plant called chufa, which resembles an almond. The process of making this drink is very simple; chufa is dunked in water, then grated and is mixed with water and sugar. Horchata is usually served with special cookies and is considered to be the best drink to quench the thirst in hot weather. You can get the best Horchata ever in Alboraya, a small cozy neighborhood in Valencia, which is famous for its Horchaterias.
Sneak a Peek Into the Daily Life of the Locals
Coming to the city of Valencia you may want to have an insider look at the life of the city dwellers. The best way to feel like a local is to visit the historic central market, which occupies a territory of 8000 square meters. You’ll be surprised at the sheer grandeur of the building and the huge glass dome with stained glass patterns towering the market, which by the way is in a very modernist style. Here you can find any kind of fresh food, if you go for self-catering. Though strolling around a food market seems rather unwise, if you have limited time to spend in this city, but believe us – this is how you get the real color of the city everywhere you go! The market is well organized and it’s easy enough to find some sort of product in its separate sections. Those who hunt for exotic fruits and vegetables can start their exploration in the fruit section. Meat in Spain is a separate topic! Those who have already been in any Eastern markets, may not be taken aback at the sight of meat displays, but the Europeans, especially the vegetarians may be slightly shocked. The cured meat section will surprise you with the wide variety of jamon, which is an indispensable part of the everyday meal of the Spaniards. Some varieties of jamon may be a bit pricey, like pata negra, which is made from black pigs.
Though the packaging of food on offer may seem a little bit simple, be sure what you buy is more organic and fresh than in the supermarkets, because most of the products are taken here right from the nearby farms. Another great thing is the abundance of dried and fresh herbs with quite reasonable prices. Walking through the Mercado Central in Valencia, you will definitely savour some of the loveliest bread aromas, mixed with the scent of sweet pastries. You are likely to feel hunger after all that flavors and colors of the delicious stuff around, so the abundance of cafes and bars won’t disappoint you. Or you can simply buy some fresh croissants, almond cakes or biscuits flavoured with cinnamon and eat on your way through the market, watching every stall that catches your eye.
Corrida! To Be or Not to Be?
This is how you feel when you watch Spanish corrida or bullfighting for the first time in your life. While many people consider corrida to be a barbaric fun, most of the Spaniards swear by it. You’ll probably hesitate a lot before you decide to watch corrida. On one hand, it’s an indispensable part of the Spanish culture and no matter you approve it or not, it exists and will continue being a unique way of public spectacle, which expresses all the passion of the Spanish temperament. On the other hand, no one can deny that the poor animals (we mean the bulls) suffer and die most of the time to ensure thrilling impressions. Anyway, it’s up to you to decide whether to watch it or not. But keep in mind, that doing this you don’t make any impact on the existence of this tradition, because that is the locals that watch corrida in most cases, and only a small segment of tourists witness this adrenaline fueled attraction.
Valencia is one of the few places, where the most Spanish spectacle ever, corrida is allowed officially. Plaza de Toros in Valencia provides a huge arena in the city, where the toreadors still tease and fight with the bulls to satisfy the public and try to kill them in a theatrical and graceful manner thus making corrida something higher than mere slaughter. Toreadors are as famous as no one else here and are worshipped like half gods. Almost every family keeps posters with their images. There is also a school for toreadors, where the rich and adventurous tourists can afford some lessons. Anyway, if you have decided to watch corrida in Valencia, make sure you double check the info that some companies provide not to miss this attraction while you are on holiday.
Even If You Are Not Into Religion
Religion may be a little bit provocative topic for some of you, but we are sure that in a city, where the Catholic traditions dominate in a very vivid way you will have plenty of interesting things to see. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the architecture of the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Valencia. Surprisingly, there used to be a mosque in the place of the Cathedral, and it’s actually built over the mosque after the Christians reconquered the city from the Arabic rulers. The 13th century Cathedral is now very famous for having the honour to keep what is claimed to be the Holy Grail. Many believers come to Valencia for exactly that purpose. The other more sophisticated ones claim, that even if the Holy Grail exists somewhere on the Earth, it cannot be displayed to the public in such a banal way and last but not least, the Holy Grail seems a bit more opulent than it should be if we take into account the modest way of Jesus’ life. Anyway, religion is religion, so be ready to pay 4.50 euros to see one of the greatest relics for all the Christians. What regards the culture enthusiasts, they can visit the Cathedral to admire the neoclassical side chapels and rich frescoes that highlight the altarpiece.
No far from the Cathedral (another beautiful square in Valencia) is situated the famous bell tower of Valencia, “El Miguelete”, which is a beautiful gothic-style ancient construction boasting an enormous spiral staircase comprising 207 steps up to the rooftop, where you’ll see the huge bell, as well as breathtaking views of the entire city and even the blue sea in the distance! It’s open every day from Monday to Sunday from 10:00-13:00 and from 16:30-19:00, and the admission fee is only 2 euros, so don’t miss your chance to take amazing pictures of Valencia from the top of the bell tower.
Explore the Old Turia River Bed
The beautiful park in the center of the city has a lot of hidden treasures worth discovering. Surprisingly, El Jardín del Turia was planned on the old riverbed, which once used to be the route of the Turia River. The mid ‘50s were a turning point, because of the mighty storm, which resulted in flooding the center of the city. After this the authorities decided to divert the river onto a new course, thus creating a city park on the riverbed. The park is ideal for walking and cycling and many sport facilities are on offer.
The Botanical Gardens and Royal Gardens can be an ideal escape from the city buzz. The park is also famous for various bridges, which used to connect the two parts of the city and are indeed of great architectural value. While walking along or biking the trails of the Old Turia riverbed you can visit some of the city museums. Museo de Bellas Artes is the right place for traditional art lovers. The medieval Baroque building is a wonder itself, but even more amazing pieces of art await you inside, like the Mosaic of the Nine Muses from the Roman era. There is an interesting collection of Valencian artists, like Joaquín Sorolla and Vicente López, but the most prominent of all the exhibits are probably works by Goya.
Another unforgettable visit, especially for children is the Biopark in Valencia, the latest concept in zoos, designed to immerse the visitor into different world habitats.
Make a Fast Journey Through Time
As you head eastwards in the Jardins Del Turia, be prepared for a shocking view……da-dah… the City of Arts and Sciences! This futuristic complex of fantastic buildings will plunge you into the modern era very unexpectedly. The City of Arts and Sciences is noted for its exceptional architectural beauty. This work of Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela has become another iconic symbol of the city. Here the visitors will discover various aspects of science, technology, nature and art presented in a hands-on and entertaining manner. Within the complex is the largest marine aquarium in Europe – L’Oceanogràfic, which offers a fascinating journey through the seas and oceans around the world. Those who feel ok with sharks swimming above their head can also walk along the glass water tunnel inside the building.
Numerous attractions are on offer in the City of Arts and Sciences, among which is a laser IMAX cinema, located in L’Hemispheric: another mind-blowing building in the complex. El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe with its changing exhibits is simply amazing in terms of interactive educational programs for kids. Nature lovers can visit L’Umbracle for a walk through native plants taking in the scent of rosemary or lavender and marveling at the gallery of contemporary sculptures. El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia with its varied cultural programs and L’Àgora with its sports arena and exhibitions are justifiably must-sees if you are up for something different in entertainment.
Sightsee or Sunbathe?
If you plan to spend some time in the nearby beaches, learn a few basic words in Spanish, which you are definitely going to need, as the area isn’t packed with tourists like Costa Blanca for example. On the other, hand this may have advantages, like the fact that some of the beaches are unspoilt and thus you can have your piece of paradise completely to yourself. The lack of facilities will be compensated by the chillout atmosphere, which you will hardly have in crowded beaches. The classic beach scene has never annoyed anyone. So it’s quite natural to lose track of time enjoying the sea breeze and the tender waves. The most popular of all the beaches is Malvarosa, where you can’t find many bars and cafes, so the best option is to grab a ready-made lunch on your way. Alboraya and Playa Las Arenas are also popular beaches in Valencia, where you can spend a nice time while sipping your refreshing drink at one of tapas bars. By the way, the best and most luxurious hotel in Valencia – Hotel Las Arenas – is located exactly on the beach, just in case you prefer to pay more but enjoy the sea whenever you want. All the above-mentioned beaches are quite accessible by bus and the time you spend to get from the city enter to the beaches is not a big deal – 15 minutes maximum.
As soon as you get enough of your dose of vitamin D, go explore the nearby village of Chulilia, which is a favorite place for extreme lovers, who seek new impression in rock climbing or discover a natural paradise in the Albufera National Park.
What regards the historic monuments and districts of Valencia, one must have a lot of time on his hands to have a look at every corner of the city with a good pocket of history. To start with, you can visit the central Plazas in the old town of Valencia, which are the witness of the city’s Moorish past. Plaza de la Reina is the very heart of the city, decorated with colorful flowers and fountains in summer and where the city’s Christmas tree is located in winter. For those interested in the Roman past of the city, there is the Roman Museum near the Cathedral, but some of you may not want to spend hours inside museum buildings watching the exhibits. They can just wander around the city and discover the remains of the Roman dominion here and there. We also advise to spend some lovely time at one of the cafes near Torres de Quart, an imposing part of the old defensive wall of the city or take in the views of Valencia from the terraces of Torres de Serranos, the Gothic style gateway to the city. By the way, you can climb the Torres de Serranos completely free of charge, getting closer to the ancient history of Valencia and admiring the beauty of the city from the top.
Go Shopping Like a Spaniard
This city is a paradise for shopaholics, that is to say an ideal spot for women. The fashionistas will appreciate numerous shopping options in various boutiques at Centro Commerciales, where both the local designers and international brands are available. But buying a piece of brand in Valencia is incomparable with the pleasure you get while buying some unique goods that can be found only here. So what to buy in Valencia? This is the question that every tourist may ask. Of course, the variety of interesting stuff around can cause vertigo, but there is no need to pull everything on your way to yourself. Our advice is to focus your attention on local ceramics, which is indeed the calling card of Valencia. So this may be a good idea for your shopping plans in this city. By the way, here you can find not only the figurines, which, strictly speaking, are associated with the term “ceramics” most of the time. Attention should be paid to the vases, cups, dishes, plates… Moreover, all these things are simply amazing and sometimes it’s quite difficult to decide what to buy and what to leave behind. And all this is easy to find in tiny souvenir shops. In specialized shops the situation is even worse (we mean your wish to buy everything you see). Here you can buy plates and vases with €15–20 and above, but of course there are cheaper items as well, but you should bear in mind, that the quality of cheap goods will make you upset after all.
Sweets in Valencia are a special topic. No matter you have a sweet tooth or not, you are definitely advised to treat yourself and your loved ones with the traditional sweets of the city, that have a slight touch of Arabic influence. They are mostly based on almonds and honey, and turon is considered a vivid example of these delicacies. This little delight can cost from €1,5 to 3.
What regards the cheese, this dairy product is every bit as popular as the local sweets and wine. You have the opportunity to choose several of the most popular varieties made of cow, goat or sheep milk. Depending on the type and quality, the price may range from a few euros up to 20-30 and more for a few hundred grams.
Traditional dresses of Valencia are of great cultural and aesthetic value, but most of them are not for financially faint-hearted. You should have a decent amount of money to buy a true Valencian dress, which can cost up to 6000 euros or more. But even with €1000–2000 it’s possible to buy this exclusive gift from Valencia.
And finally the wine! How is it possible to leave Spain without wine? Here each of the regions has its secrets of wine making, so the variety of this drink is simply mind-blowing. Yet, you are advised to buy the famous sweet wines and dry Muscat, which slightly intoxicates your consciousness from the first gulp. The prices for this type of alcohol are quite ambiguous. Depending on the brand and the grape variety, the cost of a bottle of wine can range from €8-10 and reach unprecedented prices.