It is hard to talk about Valencia without having a bit of awe in your voice. This city has a history of over 1000 years and 3 different civilizations and yet it somehow gracefully mixes its history with some of the most contemporary ultra-modern architectural designs in Spain.
If this is your first time to Valencia—or even your 10th—I recommend you take a tour to really get the most out of this elegant city. We took a Free Tour which we thoroughly enjoyed. Our guide was knowledgeable, entertaining and gave us insight the city's recent and past history that we would have never learned otherwise.
A quick history lesson on Valencia:
Over 1000 years as a walled city. The original wall was built by the Romans which was torn down by the Arabics who built their own larger wall. When the Christians took over they tore down what the Arabics built, and put up a longer wall.
The most recent wall survived wars from beyond its borders (mostly with the French) and revolutions and wars from within but was removed in the 1950’s when the city was expanding. During this time period, Spain delighted in ruining its historic culture and replacing it with block apartment buildings or other equally unattractive architectural disasters. What the city then discovered was that as the wall was no longer a barrier for the river and the city regularly flooded.
The city then decided on a project to divert 10km of the river converting the river bed into a park.
The current Arts and Science complex is on part of what used to be the river; the water for the ponds surrounding the complex is water from the river.
What to see in Valencia:
The centre of Valencia is filled with elegant old buildings, former palaces, marble sidewalks and planted-filled plazas. Just wandering around the city is an interesting experience.
A must see though is the central market. The city market has been in this same place for 1000 years. Originally it was an outdoor market. But in 1914 the construction was started on the stunning building that is still used today. This eclectic structure can be called the Valencian Art Nouveau style that is common along the coast but adds a twist as it combines ceramic into the design. The design uses a large dome in the centre, along with high windows to play with light and make the whole place feel light and airy. While taking in the beauty of the building you can also explore the local products which are sold in the market.
The market is open 7 am to 3 pm Monday to Saturday.
Across the street from the central market, you will the 1st bank in Europe. The bank was built strategically in this spot to give loans to the merchants who sold products in the market. The bank had a prison incorporated into the building for anyone who defaulted on his loan. If the person wasn’t able to pay after one month in prison he was hung in the square in front of the bank. And I thought loans are stressful now!
Visit the City of Arts and Science Centre:
The City of Arts and Science centre is a group of ultra-modern structures along where the river originally ran. The complexes were designed by Santiago Calatrava, a native Valenciano.
If you wanted to explore each of the buildings and the expositions within, you could easily stay in Valencia for a week. For more detailed information about what each place offers, you can read this article: Arts and science centre
The beach at Valencia
Valencia is right on the Mediterranean. And while most people would suggest that you head out of Valencia and along the coast to some of the better beaches, (for some ideas check out A guide to the beaches in Spain) the option of going for a walk on the beach in Valencia is inviting. Some of the best restaurants are along the beach and heading to the beach makes for a relaxing day.
Albufera; a nature reserve minutes from downtown Valencia
Albufera is the largest lake in Spain, and one of the most important wetland areas on the Iberian Peninsula. It is a protected area with a variety of species of birds and wildlife. This area traditionally was worked by fisherman and rice growers.
Take a sunset boat ride along the lake. Not only will you want to bring along a camera for the stunning sunset photos, but you will want your bird book to help you distinguish the species of the 100’s of birds you will see.
Shopping in Valencia
I love the opportunity of shopping in Valencia. It has a growing list of designers and many shops carry local fashion. My plan is to head to Valencia exclusively for the shopping as many new and upcoming designers break onto the Spanish fashion scene in Valencia. My husband so far has managed to keep this shopping dream on hold as he is usually the planner of our trips.
If you manage to shop in Valencia, head to the boutique shops on the side streets. You will find unique styles at reasonable prices.
Where to eat in Valencia:
Paella of Valencia
It would seem almost sacrilegious to come to Valencia and not have a Paella—it is after all where Paella was invented.
As a note, part of the secret to why the Paella tastes so much better in Valencia than elsewhere in Spain isn’t just because they have perfected it after years of practice, it actually has a lot to do with the water. The water? It turns out that the water in Valencia has a lot of calcium which makes it taste terrible when you drink it—but it means that the rice takes much longer to cook and it therefore absorbs all the flavour of the ingredients into the rice.
It is true that Valencia grows rice in the area and has almost every variety of rice imaginable, but if you were to buy a package and take it Madrid and cook it you would be disappointed with the result. What is a relatively tasteless dish in Madrid (and quickly prepared) is a delicious, flavourful dish in Valencia.
A restaurant that was recommended to me by a local is the Arrozaria la Valencia. As the name suggests, this place is all about rice. So if they don’t do rice well with a name like that, they would have to pack up and go home.
They have two restaurants, one in Valencia itself and one at the beach. You can contact both at the same email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cuisine from a local Michelin-star chef
When in Valencia what could be better than heading to one of Valencia’s own chefs, Ricard Camarena? Pride goes into everything that leaves the kitchen of his flagship restaurant Camarena. Ingredients are locally sourced in Valencia and from the Mediterranean. The dishes are made to look simple but involve a long labour of love before they are served. The Camarena has 1 Michelin star and 3 Repsol suns to its name already.
Reservations are required: ricardcamarena.com
If you want to try the hipper, international version of Camarena’s cooking head to his Bistro—Canalla Bistro.
Other Valencia specialities
There are two drinks that you will find throughout Valencia—Agua de Valencia and Horchata.
Agua de Valencia
Agua de Valencia—Don’t let the name fool you—this drink has no water. Rather it has fresh squeezed Valencian orange juice with cava (Spain’s version of champaign), gin, vodka and a bit of fresh lime. This is usually served in pitchers, so make sure you order this with a friend! It goes down smooth, but beware: it carries a punch.
The 2nd drink in Valencia is a non-alcoholic drink called horchata. It is made with tubers called tiger nuts (also called earth almonds), or chufa in Spanish. I had never heard of tiger nuts before—not much wonder as they only are grown around Valencia—but the result of soaking the tiger nuts for 24 hours and then pounding them into a pulp is a milky white liquid. Sugar is added and the drink is served ice cold. It is a unique “love it or hate it” type of taste. If you are in Valencia, especially when it is hot, it is worth trying this refreshing healthy drink to see if you are in the “love it” camp.