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As Spain’s 3rd-largest city, Valencia is growing and with that, constantly reinventing itself. Head to the streets of the Barrio del Carmen for a neighborhood that encompasses the city’s mantra of regeneration; chic cafes are popping up on every corner, buildings are undergoing renovation and the vibe in this area is refreshing.
The city’s oldest part is almost entirely surrounded by the Río Turia, which now is a landscaped riverbed park, perfect for picnics on sunny days, or bike rides on its many cycling paths. It also hosts the Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias, which is Europe’s largest cultural complex, credited with bringing in more tourism to the city. This complex is made up of four futuristic buildings designed primarily by Valencia’s own Santiago Calatrava. Begin your tour at the Hemisféric, shaped like an eye, complete with eyelashes, and the eyeball which screens IMAX movies. The Museo de las Ciencias next-door are exhibits focusing on the relationship between science, the human body and sport. Next, go to Umbracle, which is a series of archways featuring vegetation from the region. Parque Oceanográfico is an impressive and large (one of the world’s biggest!) aquarium. Try the restaurant Submarino located inside, built in a unique underwater area that allows you to dine and enjoy the sea life swimming past you. Finally, Palacio de las Artes, hosts opera, ballet and classical music concerts in stages and halls of varying sizes.
For one of the best art collections in Spain, go to the Museu de Belles Artes featuring work by El Greco, Goya and Velázquez. The museum is located on the grounds of the Jardines del Real/Los Viveros, which host several events and open-air concerts throughout the summer.
With Spain’s rich religious past and present, churches are a dime a dozen. However, Valencia’s Cathedral is worth seeing as it’s known to have a chalice rumored to be used by Christ at the Last Supper. Head out of the church to the Plaza de la Virgen and further along to the Palau de la Generalitat—the seat of the Valenciano government. Make an appointment to see the inside.
The UNESCO-listed La Lonja, site of the Silk Exchange is free and a beautiful building to peek inside of. It features an elegant main hall with vaulted ceilings and wooden tables currently used by coin collectors on Sundays.
For one of Europe’s largest markets, go just across the street from La Lonja to the Mercado Central for hundreds of stalls selling seafood, meat, produce, herbs and more.
Another market worth shopping in is the Mercado Colón (C/Ciriolo Amoros) for its beautiful architecture by Antonio Gaudi’s friend Francisco Mora, as well as its bookstores and charming cafes.
Famous for its oranges, be sure to stop by a frutería and relish in Valencia’s favorite fruit. For tapas and budget-friendly meals, go to the area around the Mercado Central, Barrio del Carmen or the Ruzafa neighborhood. As paella is Valencia´s pride and joy, a visit here wouldn’t be complete without sampling this popular Spanish dish. Try Restaurante El Forcat (C/Roteros, 12) or head to the restaurants along the city’s beach at Paseo Neptuno.
Valencia’s famous beverage is horchata, a cold drink made from tiger nuts and served slighted frozen like a smoothie or liquid. The story behind horchata is that Jaume I, after conquering the city was offered a drink by an Arab girl, in which he exclaimed “Aixó es or, xata” (this is gold, girl.)
Seek this sweet, refreshing drink in horchaterías; try Daniel (Avda. de la Horchata, 41) or go to the suburb of Alboraya, which is known for having the best horchata.
If you travel to Valencia in the summer, be sure to stay on the beach. Hostal El Globo offers good prices outside of the high season and stunning views while Devesa Gardens, though a bit far from the city, is near the beach and surrounded by forest.
For city-lovers, the Red Nest and Purple Nest sister hostels are an affordable, fun staywith in-house bars and organized pub crawls. More relaxing places to rest include Hostal Venencia (don’t let “Hostal” in the name scare you, as it’s actually a 3-star place) or still more-upscale Hotel Neptuno.
Stretch your legs and head to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, a pretty square filled with flower stalls and a floodlit fountain. From there, go to the Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas for impressive Baroque design by Hipólito Rovira.
If you prefer to exercise your arms rather than your legs, try the world-famous Tomatina festival in the small town of Buñol, a day-trip from Valencia. This festival is all about 30,000+ people throwing truckloads of tomatoes at each other. Be aware that accommodation in Buñol is difficult and pricey at this time, so stay in Valencia and road trip in.
The Valencia province is teeming with beautiful pueblos to see. History buffs will enjoy Sagunto, which is the site of Roman ruins including the Teatro Romano; a 2nd Century Roman amphitheater, and the acropolis-castle which is still being excavated.
Vilafamés is a pretty hilltop town that combines medieval, Renaissance and modern architecture and wine lovers will swoon over Benicàssim, famous for its Moscatel wine and annual music festival.
Go to the Palau de la Musica for classical, rock and flamenco music and the Valencia Opera House at the Palacio de las Artesto see the pulse of Valencia’s high-brow music scene.
If you’re more inclined to rock or jazz, the Barrio del Carmen is bursting at the seams with live music bars. Head to Fox Congo (C/Caballeros, 35) for dance music, Jimmy Glass Jazz Bar (C/Baja, 28) for jazz, or Radio City (C/Santa Teresa, 19) for live flamenco music.
Coming during the popular Las Fallas festival (March 12-19) if you are looking to save money. Accommodation prices skyrocket at this time. If this isn’t an issue, definitely go to Las Fallas as it’s a fun, unique festival featuring elaborate paper-mâché caricatures that get set on fire.
Also, never order paella as a set menu item. It takes a long time to prepare it properly, some oftentimes you will make a reservation for paella. Beachside restaurants are the best places to find good paella.