Valencia: festivals, culture, sport, gastronomy, nightlife…
Valencia: Capital of Paella, home to The Holy Grail, boasting sunny beaches where you can swim most of the year round, bursting with funky architecture, this vibrant city is not to be missed. You will soon see why Spain’s third largest city attracts nearly 2 million visitors a year. Starting with the Ciutat Vella, the Old City District, there is plenty to keep you entertained for days. Pretty cobbled streets, shady alleys, charming squares and pavement cafes are of no shortage.
The Silk Exchange, UNESCO site and a masterpiece of gothic architecture.
Undoubtedly one of Valencia’s most important monuments, and well worth the €2 entrance fee, is La Lonja de La Seda, the Silk Exchange, which is a UNESCO site and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
Construction began in 1483, a time when much of the silk coming into Europe was transported form North Africa, making Valencia a perfect location to be distributor from Spain to the rest of Europe. The building reflects the city’s prosperous trade through its majestic columns, incredible interiors and predominance of Valencian heraldic symbolism. Don’t miss the stunning carved wooden ceiling in the Consulado del Mar Room (Consulate of the Sea) and the grotesque gargoyles leering down from the parapets.
Resting place of the Holy Grail?
One of Valencia’s oldest claims to fame is as the resting place of The Holy Grail. According to rather convoluted legend, in the fifteenth century the Grail made its way to Valencia via Catalonia, Huesca and The Pyrenees. The chalice is now housed, behind protective glass, in the lavish Chapel of The Holy Grail in The Cathedral of Valencia. The cup may seem rather over-elaborate for a humble carpenter’s cup, but only the top part, carved from deep red agate, polished with myrrh, is thought to be the original chalice. The base, handles and precious stones were added centuries later.
Cathedral with mummified arm and tower view challenge
The Cathedral of Valencia was consecrated in 1238 and was built over a former mosque. The predominant style is Valencian Gothic, but the building has Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical elements. Other notable features include two paintings by Goya and the grisly mummified arm of St Vincent the Martyr. The adventurous can climb the 207 steps to the top of El Miguelete, the Cathedral’s Bell Tower, for stunning views over Plaza de la Virgen and the historical centre, and a glimpse of “Miguel” the ten-ton bell.
Ciutat Vella’s characteristic streets
Ciutat Vella is easy to navigate on foot, and certainly the best way to savour the characteristic streets, churches and squares such as Plaza de Reina. Look out for Plaza Lope de Vega, where you can find the narrowest building in Europe and the unusual Plaza Redonda, which is actually round, and features stalls selling lace, aprons, crafts and haberdashery.
Gastronomic delights in the Central Market
The weary tourist will no doubt require sustenance and there is no better place to seek gastronomic delights than the Central Market. Built in the 1920’s, this splendid art nouveau structure has stunning mosaics and an impressive glass dome. The real attraction is the incredible array of fresh produce sold in over 1,000 stalls. Huge hams, fresh fish, and mouth-watering fruit and vegetables are a feast for the eyes and stomach. This is the ideal place to find ingredients for a perfect picnic and pick up some paella rice to take home. Don’t forget to try the freshly squeezed fruit juices. See our separate post on Mercado Central de Valencia
Mercado de Colon
Mercado de Colon, built in 1914 can be found in one of Valencia’s most important modernist buildings, reminiscent of the style of Gaudì. This former market has been completely renovated and is now a chic space, home to tiny cafés, flower shops, craft stalls and gourmet food shops.
Futuristic buildings reminiscent of Star Wars
In complete contrast to the Gothic architecture of the historical centre, is Valencia’s City of Arts and Science. This complex of futuristic buildings, designed by architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, can be found at the end of the former riverbed of the Turia river, which was drained after a catastrophic flood in 1957. This vast area features six striking structures. El museum de las Ciècies Principe Felipe is an interactive science museum that resembles the inside of a whale. L’Hemisfèric, designed to look like a giant eye, is home to an IMAX cinema, planetarium and laserium.
L’Umbracle is an open structure landscaped walk containing plant species indigenous to Valencia and The Walk of Sculptures, a collection of outdoor contemporary sculptures by artists such as Yoko Ono.
The largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe
Built in the shape of a giant lily, L’Oceanogràfic is the largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe and houses over 500 species including seals, rays, jellyfish, dolphins and penguins. Watch out for sharks overhead as you make your way through the underwater tunnels. El palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, is an opera house and performing arts centre. The most recent addition, L’Agora is a covered plaza for sports and other events. It would certainly be impossible to visit all of these in one day but the City of Arts and Science is well-worth exploring and certainly one of Valencia’s highlights.
A giant model of Gulliver and (live) lions, leopards and lemurs
However, the Turia riverbed has even more to offer. Stretching over 7km, the area is now an urban park. Highlights include the Parque Gulliver featuring a giant model of Gulliver with slides, ramps, a skating area, a giant chessboard and mini-golf course and the BioPark, a recreation of the savannah with natural barriers, where visitors can observe lions, leopards, lemurs and other exotic creatures.
With miles of coastline and excellent weather all year round, you cannot visit Valencia without heading for the beach. Just 2km from the city, La Malvarrosa consists of three sandy beaches, which are all clean, safe for swimming, family-friendly and fairly undeveloped. Malvarossa is popular with locals and has a large promenade. Arenas is the place to head for paella, tapas and cocktails. Patacona is a quieter beach with relaxed beachfront cafes. 13km from the city, El Saler can easily be reached by bus. This blue-flag winning beach consists of sandy dunes and is a great place to find peace and quiet, and maybe a few nudists.
Valencia is the home of Spanish Paella
It would be almost criminal to visit Valencia without tasting paella, one of Spain’s most famous dishes, which originates in the wetlands of the region’s Albufera lake, ideal for growing rice, which was introduced by the Moors in the tenth century. Paella gets its name from the pan in which the dish is cooked. The traditional recipe includes chicken, rabbit and local white beans called garrafo. Seafood, vegetables and combinations of fish and meat are also popular.
But there are many other local delicacies…
Other local delicacies include Fideuà, a noodle-based dish with seafood such as shrimp, squid and monkfish and Alli pebre, an eel and potato stew cooked in a sauce made from garlic, paprika and almonds. Tapas, although not traditionally from Valencia, can be found all around the city. Esgarrat is the name given to small pieces of salted cod with sweet red pepper and garlic, which is a Valentian tapas dish. Horchata, a local favourite, is a drink consisting of ground almonds, tiger milk, cinnamon and vanilla which is usually served with fartons, which are strips of sweet bread glazed with sugar. Those looking for a local cocktail should try agua de Valencia, a potent mix of orange juice, cava, vodka and gin, which is usually served by the jug.
Want to party? Valencia’s the place!
Valencia is also a great party city. El Carmen, the area behind the cathedral, is full of bars, clubs and restaurants, many concentrated on and behind Calle Caballeros. Radio City is one of Valencia’s famous venues and the place to go for live music, open mic evenings and flamenco shows every Tuesday night. Zona Blasco Ibanez, in the old town, is an area well known for student nightlife, pubs, disco bars and nightclubs. If you fancy something more elegant and unusual, L’Umbracle in the City of Arts and Science features a classy nightclub with stunning views and strong cocktails. You can always head for the beach, which has a variety of summer terraces and clubs along the promenade, such as Akuarela.
Valencia’s festivals are spectacular and legendary
The city also hosts a number of spectacular festivals. The most famous is certainly Las Fallas. Artists spend up to a year building incredible papier-mâché sculptures, usually ornamental or satirical in nature, which are ceremonially burnt on March 19th, after being paraded around the city. The Parade of the Three Kings, featuring over 30 floats, takes place on the Epiphany and the Semana Santa (Holy Week) is full of solemn processions.
And don’t forget “La Tomatina”
Another unusual festival, known as La Tomatina, can be witnessed in the village of Buñol, not far from Valencia. A two-hour tomato-hurling war happens on the 29th August. Don’t wear your best if you decide to go.
Also museums, tower climbing, cooking classes, street art and shopping…
If all this is not enough, you can also take in one of Valencia’s museums, which range from The Museum of Ceramics to IVAM the Institute of Modern Art. The City Museum is housed in the impressive Ayuntamiento (Town Hall). You could also climb one of the city towers, admire striking street art, take cooking classes and enjoy shopping in elegant and contemporary surroundings.
Many visitors just spend a weekend in Valencia, but the city’s captivating cultural mix is sure to leave you wanting more.
USEFUL INFORMATION ABOUT VALENCIA
FOOD AND DRINK
Otherwise known as La Pilareta, this bar has been open since 1917 and is an ideal place to sample tapas.
A tiny bar in the historical centre serving excellent tapas
Bodeguilla del Gato
Carrer dels Catalans, 10, 46001 València
An excellent restaurant serving great tapas. It’s very popular so worth booking.
An elegant cocktail bar famous for Agua de Valencia.
Traditional Valentian Cuisine in the City Centre. (Lunch only)
One of the oldest restaurants on the Malvarrosa promenade featuring a terrace with sea-views.
We stayed at Hostal Antigua Morellana, a clean, comfortable hotel in the historical centre.
For 4-star comfort in the historical centre check out the following:
For all other hotels in Valencia, See Here
Valencia also offers a large supply of very nice apartment rentals. See Here for the list.
https://www.cac.es/en/home.html The official site of the City of Arts and Science