People often ask me: “What’s so special about Valencia?”. After a nostalgic sigh or two, I start to tell them all about the perks and magic that surrounds Valencia. Luckily it’s never been hard to convince a non-believer of my entousiasm. Fair enough, I lived there for half a year so I had the time to really discover the city, but even for a first time visitor, it shouldn’t be too hard to experience that head over heels kinda feeling.
So let me take you to the city that turned my world around and upside down. Twice! (Yes, this is going to be a long post!)
Valencia is certainly not as huge as New York or Tokyo. It was put back on the map with their Formula One street circuit (where the European Grand Prix is held), the America’s cup and their modern buildings; la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. It’s outer circle is historically surrounded by a river, el Turia, which they laid dry and turned into a wonderful park. The park is therefore a great point of reference when you’re wanderdering around the city. Since I’m not a great geographer and easily lose my way (even in my own hometown) it’s good to know that Valencia is a fairly easy city to explore.
Best time to visit Valencia
Starting mid January it’s already 20°C in Valencia, so perfect city tripping weather. In July it start to get really hot, but luckily there’s a beach nearby where you can cool down. You can escape to the shade of the various parks that Valencia has to offer. If you like a good (party)time, then Las Fallas is you’re answer. It’s one of the most notorious festivities and if you can, visit Valencia in that period (second week of March). Look up some more info about the festival first, because it can be really crowded and noisy during that time. I however love the atmosphere, all the parties on the Streets and the fireworks at night…
Once you arrive at the airport you’ve got two great options. Either go for the lazy one and take a cab to your hotel (around 26€ for a one-way trip) or take the subway (Metrovalencia) to your final destination. For just 1,45€ each you can be immediately thrown in the Valencian way of living. There’s a good connection between the various lines, you never have to wait long for the next train to arrive and it’s a super relax and easy way of travelling. You only need to check in advance which station is nearest to your hotel/B&B/hostel/apartment…
If you’re planning to use the public transport often, I’d advice you to buy a Bonometro, which is valid for 10 journeys. Taxi rides in the inner city aren’t expensive either, the most I ever paid was 12€ (for a ride from the city centre to the beach which is approx 15min away). If you want to take it up a notch and be a real local, you can even take the bus (EMT), but these are a bit harder to puzzle, especially if you don’t know any Spanish.
Valencia offers many alternative forms of transportation. To find the route that’s best for you, use the Route Calculator on the following site: http://www.emtvalencia.es/ciudadano/index.php
Where to stay
Although I consider myself a globetrotter, I must admit that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to accomodation. Meaning, I value my comfort. The only time I went camping was during Pukkelpop, a 3 days Belgian Music Festival, where I couldn’t care less if I smelled like roses or not. Secretly I did thank God for perfume and wet towels.. It’s not that I have an issue with camping, it’s just something that I’ve never really done before.
Besides a comfy bed, a good, decent, exstensive breakfast can make or break my day. Ironically, I only have breakfast on the weekend or on holiday. During a working week I want nothing more than those 10 minutes of extra sleep (aka 25 minutes of Snooze) and that healthy start of the day can just bugger off.
In Valencia I had the best breakfast at Primus Valencia. They offered such a great buffet with a wide range of fresh fruit, yoghurts, all kinds of bread, pastries etc without forgetting about the English classics. They even had Jasmine tea (my favorite!) and Nespresso coffee (which my mom for example, can’t live without). It’s a nice, modern hotel, situated just around the block of the buildings of la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and right accross the street of a large shopping mall. Be sure to check out their website.
If you’re not that in-house breakfast kind of a tourist, then go to el Parisién where you can have amongst others the best pastries, fresh croissants and it’s even a great place for lunch. They’ve got 3 venues, the most centrally oriented one is on Avenida Baron de Carcer, 22. Google it, it’ll be worth your while.
Next time I’m going to Valencia, I’ll be staying at the Caro Hotel. Situated in central Valencia, housed in an old palace and just 200 metres from the cathedral. This small boutique hotel offers 36 totally individually designed rooms, where old meets new. I’ve always prefered staying at boutique hotels. They generally give that extra personal touch and make you feel more at home and welcomed.
Melia Valencia, Medium Conqueridor (mediocre breakfast), Zenit Valencia (rather noisy, situated next to the trainstation), Chill Arte Jardin Botanico (nice boutique hotel, but situated just outside the city centre) are other hotels worth considering. If you want to stay at a beach hotel and money is no issue, then try Las Arenas, it’s really ‘le grand luxe’, but very expensive. Personally I don’t find it’s location ideally, as it’s situated at the beach. You will always have to take a cab or metro to get somewhere. I rather stay at a hotel in the center and go a day to the beach if I have the time.
Google a bit if you prefer to stay at a hostel, B&B or apartment. There is plenty to choose from, so you’ll always find a good place to stay.
First day in Valencia
Once you arrived at your hotel, unpacked and relaxed, you’re ready to explore the city. Start off with the historic part of town. Let a cab (or subway train) take you to la Plaza Ayuntamiento and walk towards Plaza de la Reina. Be sure to enjoy the scenery, have a drink and try a pincho in one of the local bars. Sagardi in Calle San Vincente Martir is for instance super yummie! If you’re more in the mood for a fresh, healthy juice and a super pancake, go to La Zumeria Naturalia (Calle del Mar,12). Last time I checked they open at 5PM and close around midnight.
Walk towards Plaza de la Virgen and between Plaza de la Reina and Plaza de la Virgen you’ll find the cathedral. Open for visits and a real Valencian pride.
Valencians don’t wine and dine before 9 PM (lunch starts at 2 PM) and if you can’t wait till then you can always go to the mediocre tapasbars which you’ll find around the squares. If you prefer a more culinary experience, try to make a reservation at Suexerea (Calle Conde de Almodóvar, 4). Here they serve tapas at a higher level, go for their tapas menu and you’ll be in for a treat. Check their website to discover the latest one.
At night you can visit el barrio del Carmen, a charming, historic area (between the streets of Caballeros y Seranos) filled with bars and small restaurants (which often switch owners, so it’s hard to give you recommendations!). Ideal for those of you who’ve had it with the real clubbing. Especially during high season you will have to watch out for beggars and pickpockets, but if you keep your belongings close (and in sight) at all time you shouldn’t worry about it.
Second day in Valencia
Go to the old part of the city to el Mercado Central. With more than 300 traders you can discover all the great products that Valencia has to offer. Manchego cheese, Jamon Iberico, ensaimadas… There all just so good! Market is open from Monday til Saturday and from 7 am til 3 pm. Outside you can find some foodstalls where you have to try a zumo de naranja (fresh orange juice) and even take grab some take-away Paella or Fideos. Accross the street you will find La Lonja de la Seda, a beautiful architectural and historical building, a true must see.
If you have the time, go to the Mercado and buy all your goodies and then go picknicking in the park (El Turia) or go directly to la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and enjoy the scenery over a fresh made sandwich.
There’s a lot to visit in la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. I’m going to spare you the details and all the historical info. You can find everything there and I don’t want to reveil it all here, because then some of its magic will be lost. Just make sure to bring your camera. I will tell you that one of the buildings, the Hemisferic, is an IMAX cinema and a nice afternoon activity (last movie starts at 6 PM).
Another must see is the aquarium (Oceanogràfic). I’m a sucker for sealife and it’s a really well maintained park with a large variety of Nemo’s. They even have a dolphin show.
At night the Umbracle transforms into a night club/ lounge and I urge you to have a drink there. The scenery is amazing and seeing al the buildings lit up really gives a whole other dimension to the city of science and arts. And if you want to go to the real zoo, visit the Bioparc. (Avenida Pio Baroja, 3)
Third day in Valencia
If you like shopping, then this is your time to shine. Keep in mind that most shops are normally open from 10am to 1:30pm and from 5.30pm to 8.30pm. In some tourist areas they tend to stay open uninterruptedly from 10am to 8.30pm (for example in Calle Colón as well as the shopping malls).
Go to the north station (Estación del Norte) and take a look inside. The architecture is amazing. Next to the station you’ll find Plaza de Toros, known for its bull fights. I’m a big contestor so you’ll never see me visiting one of those shows. If you go further down the street, you arrive at Calle Colón where you can start your shopping spree. This the largest shopping street of Valencia where you can find all the Spanish brands (Zara, Zara Home, Massimo Dutti, Mango, Üterque, Women’s secret, Oysho, Stradivarius…), other typical affordable brands and El Corte Inglés (a Spanish department store). Good to know is that Spanish brands are approx. 20% cheaper than in Belgium! Yay!
Explore the boutique shops of Valencia near the vicinity of Calle Jorge Juan. Here you’ll find my favorites like Sandro, Comptoir des Cottoniers and Bimbo y Lola. There are some lovely concept stores as well, but I lost their address, whoops. So you’ll just have to wander around and find them yourself ;). At the end of Calle Jorge Juan make a stop at el Mercado Colón. A lovely renovated building where you nowadays find a couple of outdoor cafés. Ideal place to relax, have a drink and/or a bite to eat. Great surroundings for having lunch! Downstairs you can still buy some great meat-products, fresh fish and veggies, but they’re rather expensive.
For some serious designer shopping go to Calle de la Paz and Calle Marques de Dos Aigues where Hugo Boss, Loewe, Bvlgari, Carolina Herrera, Louis Vuitton etc. all have their own store. Visit the palace (el Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas) while you’re there.
Once your dead beat after all carrying all those bags, you might want to return to the hotel and drop everything off. If you didn’t want to tag along shopping in the first place, you could validate the “you owe me one” card and take your fellow traveler(s) to a football game. Even if you’re not a real fan, it’s something you won’t regret doing afterwards. FC Valencia is not a bad team at all, so they’re fun to watch. The Mestalla stadium is fairly old, but still charming in its way. You can buy your tickets online by clicking on this site. http://www.valenciacf.com/en/Taquilla/
If you’re planning to go see a game, I suggest you eat something in the near area of the stadium. If you couldn’t convince your football hating friend(s), then no worries I’ve got another great restaurant for you to try!
Appetite Valencia, Pintor Savador Abril 6.
It’s an Asian fusion restaurant that I discovered by coincidence, but love ever since!
The happy little chef, Bonnie, makes sure that you don’t go home (hungry) and is a real gem. Being a Singaporean Aussie she never minds to have a little chat when you visit. You can only choose between a 6 or 8 course menu, but she will make sure to ask in advance if there’s anything you don’t like or can’t eat. More importantly is that she want to know if you like your dishes spicy. Rest assured that her interpertation of spicy is truly spicy! Fun fact is that they also offer cooking lessons (which I tried and was pure fun!). Opening hours can be checked on their website http://appetite.es/main/page_espaol_nuestro_restaurantes_horarios.html
If you have time to spare:
Spend a day at the beach (Playa Malvarrosa) Approx 15 min from the city center by cab. Have lunch at Vivir Sin Dormir for great sandwiches (Passeig de Neptú, 42 ) or at one of the fish restaurants at the beach. While your there, visit the harbour where the America’s Cup is held. You can find there some hip & trendy bars as well!
Visit El Jardín Botánico, a nice botanical garden owned by the Valencian University.
Don’t be naive, Valencia may be filled with friendly people, but keep your belongings with you (and in your sight) at all time and don’t go wandering around the parlk late at night!
After writing this article, I’m already thinking when my next trip to Valencia will be. Time to check Skyscanner.net for the best flights!
Que te diviertas!