If you are visiting Valencia for the first time or you've heard about this great city, the first thing that will catch your attention is the incredible light that reaches every corner, the great weather that lasts all year long, or perhaps the friendly nature of its people. All this is true, as is the fact that together with Barcelona, these two cities are the most important on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, and, within the last few years, Valencia has grown tremendously.
But perhaps what might surprise you even more is its incredible diversity. Moving from one area of the city to another means being surrounded by completely different urban landscapes; so much so that you might even think you're in a different city altogether.
The Center & Old Quarter
A good point to start a sightseeing trip through the city is without a doubt the historic center of town. The
The new Town Council was built in this area as was the
Classicism, harmony, good taste, luxury shops, and restaurants, are what you will find in the turn-of-the-century buildings-lined streets of the Cánovas area. This is the traditional residential area for the Valencian bourgeoisie, and nowadays home to some of the best clubs and most chic, most elegant restaurants in the city. Bordering on the old quarter, you'll find Colón Street, which has some of the most elegant boutiques and shops in the city, and, of course, the
We cannot end without talking about the most characteristic feature of this city, which gives it color and life: the Mediterranean. This inseparable part of the Castillian culture is very easily reached, and, if you choose to use the route that takes you by the Avenida del Puerto, your efforts will be rewarded. This last avenue is lined with traditional restaurants, some of which boast the honor of having been visited by Hemingway on one of his visits to Valencia. Other more recently-opened restaurants display unique, modern Valencian designs- a city with a reputation for great creators.
The city's coast consists of three beaches: Las Arenas,
This is Valencia in very general terms, but if you decide to get to know it on your own, you will discover lots of details, beautiful plazas, and charming neighborhoods that will undeniably entice you to return to this beautiful city by the sea.
The Old Quarter
Visiting a city's old quarter is the best way to really see a city for what it is, not just what it once was. It's a journey through time that will reveal the secrets of the city you're in now. Valencia's old quarter, or "Ciutat Vella" in the local language, is completely surrounded by the tram or cable car that marks off where the old walls of the city stood until 1865. Within this oval shape is where you'll find the majority of monuments, dating back mostly to the period after the conquest by Jaime I. This concentration of historical and cultural monuments can be easily visited on foot, traversing streets and plazas dedicated to nearly forgotten trades: Correjería (belt-making), Bolsería (bags), Cerrajeros (locksmiths), Tejedores (weavers), Juristas (lawyers)...
Route 1: The Cathedral Area
The Cathedral presides over the historic centre of the city. It is early Gothic in style and inside you'll find wonderful treasures, such as the Holy Grail in one of the side chapels, while in the Museo de la Catedral, there are valuable paintings by Goya, Jacomart, silver-work by Cellini and paintings from the Valencian School dating from the 15th to 17th centuries. It's also worth climbing the 207 steps to the top of 'el Miguelete', the bell-tower, for the fantastic panoramic views over the old quarter. Some people even like counting the bells, 300 according to Victor Hugo.
Next to the Cathedral, you will find the basilica dedicated to the patron saint of Valencia, la Virgen de los Desamparados, and on a nearby narrow street, you can visit el Almudín, an old warehouse, and today a museum. Just a bit further away is the Plaza de la Almoina, site of some of the most important archaeological finds in the city, which trace Valencia's history back to Roman times, the Visigoths and Moors. Continuing along towards the east, we come to the San Esteban church, where it is believed that local Saint Vicente Ferrer was baptised and where 'el Cid', a legendary figure in the battles between Christians and Moors, had his daughters married. Just a step away is Palau street where you'll find the Baños del Almirante, the only remaining Arab bath house in the city.
When you come out to the Plaza de Nápoles y Sicilia, take a right until you reach the Plaza de San Vicente Ferrer. Here you'll find the San Juan del Hospital church, admirable for its elegant Gothic facade. Continuing on Las Comedias street, we'll head towards the old university. If you look down La Paz street, you can make out the Santa Catalina church bell-tower. In front of the antigua universidad de Valencia, the old university, a neoclassical building with a wonderful cloister inside, you'll see the impressive Real Colegio del Patriarca (or del Corpus Christi)--a former seminary. Inside is the Museo del Patriarca , a small museum with valuable works of art, and perhaps the most beautiful Renaissance cloister found in Spain. There are also wonderful works of art in the church and the Capilla de la Comunión chapel, with incredible Flemmish tapestries on the walls.
When finished with this visit, if we walk down La Nave street, we can stop for a break in the small garden found in the Plaza de Alfonso el Magnánimo. A rest will do you good, because there's a lot more to see.
Route 2: The Central Market Area
If we start at the Plaza de la Virgen, with the Cathedral behind us, we'll head off in the opposite direction from the previous tour. Take Serranos street which leads to Plaza de Manises. Here you'll find the Batlia and Marqués de la Scala palaces. Both now house a part of the local government's offices. They date from the 15th and 16th centuries and have both been declared National Historic and Artistic Monuments. We'll soon reach Caballeros street, and the old aristocratic neighbourhood. This street turns into Calle Quart which ends at the Torres de Quart (1441), a tower and medieval gateway, one of two left in the city. If we go back down Quart street, take a right at Plaza Tossa and head down Bolsería street until you reach the Plaza del Mercado. Here you'll find 3 of the most important buildings in the city: the Mercado Central (Central Market), modernist in style; la Lonja de Seda (Silk Market), built by Valencian merchants in 1483; and Santos Juanes church, whose dome was site to the world's largest murals at the time.
Heading down Avenida de María Cristina, we come to San Vicente Mártir street, one of the main arteries through the old quarter. Heading back towards the Cathedral, we recommend stopping off at picturesque Plaza Redonda, especially on a Sunday. Here you'll find all sorts of stalls set up selling an incredible assortment of items and local products. Take any of the winding streets and head towards the Plaza de la Reina. Once here, you have several options: take a carriage to see the rest of the old quarter the old fashioned way, or sit down at one of the outdoor cafés, restaurants and hot chocolate bars to watch the world go by. If you prefer, you can sit at one of the benches in the Plaza's garden and feed the pigeons, while contemplating the Cathedral's Miguelete bell-tower and Santa Catalina's, the city's legendary lovers.
Any time of year is great for enjoying the city's beaches, although as they say, when the heat strikes, the coast comes to life in a special way. From the Arenas beach to Alboraia, by way of the Malvarrosa beach, the entire area is steeped in the maritime character of the land, complete with everything that this entails: sun, sea, fun, good food, and that special light that you'll find in Sorolla's paintings. The beaches are easy and quick to reach from downtown, barely a 10-minute ride in one of the many buses of the EMT urban fleet, or via a special bike lane, tram, metro, or even on foot.
Along the Arenas and la Malvarrosa beaches, you'll find the Paseo Marítimo (Boardwalk), which is now one of the best leisure zones in the city. Every day, crowds of people stroll, skate, exercise, or enjoy the seafood specialties at the many popular restaurants that, after almost a century of tradition, have modernized their menus without compromising in the slightest their savoury treats. L'Estimat with its arroz a banda (rice platter with garlic mayonnaise), its fish dishes, and its baby squid and red mullet, the seafood paellas of La Marcelina, La Pepica's arroz negro (rice with squid in its own ink); or the seafood rice del cabañal carefully prepared in La Rosa are all good examples of the delicious and healthy Mediterranean cuisine found here.
After a great meal, there's nothing like a good horchata (cold drink made from tiger nuts). Just head to Alboraia, Patacona, PortSaplaya, or stay in Las Arenas or La Malvarrosa, and enjoy a cold drink in one of the many terraces, ice-cream shops, or horchataterías along the Boardwalk. There are also many options available for those looking for history and culture. For example, you can visit the Casa Museo de Blasco Ibáñez, the house and now museum of this important Valencian writer. Here you'll discover his personal objects and a wide selection of his literary works. In the south, you can visit the PinedoPinedo beach which houses a variety of delicious restaurants. Explore the beach of El Saler, the winner of a European blue flag award for its pristine sands and translucent water.
And when night falls, everything is transformed. Music and vibrant color come to life in the Valencian nights. You'll find outdoor terraces, cocktail bars, and recently opened spots that have joined alongside the previously existing ones in the Port and beyond. There is something for every taste: calm and low-key, such as Vivir sin Dormir, salsa clubs, such as Casablanca, or dance clubs, like Acuarela Playa and Caballito de Mar.
A full route, both during the day and at night, that will meet the leisure and entertainment tastes of every visitor, from the sun-worshipers to the night owls.
The Old River
The old Turia River, now diverted around the city, has become one of the most famous areas of Valencia in the past few years. The city has invested a great amount of effort in making the old riverbed what it is today, especially the section from the Calatrava Bridge to the City of Arts and Sciences.
The riverbed separates the urban center from the rest of the capital, and is, at the same time, the link between Historic and Futuristic Valencia. Across the riverbed, tradition and modern times alternate in a perfect symbiosis that is nothing more than a reflection of the character of the people of the region.
The section mentioned above is an interesting route for the traveler who would like to take a stroll through the past and the future of the city in record time. The suggested itinerary takes barely a half-hour, depending on your pace, of course. It begins at Calatrava Bridge, better known as La Peineta, as it vaguely resembles the Spanish ornamental comb (peineta). The bridge spans the riverbed between the Santo Domingo Convent—today the Military Government Building—on one side, and Paseo de la Alameda on the other.
From La Peineta, walk down into the riverbed. You'll find yourself in a lush garden that muffles the sounds of the city and will calm even the most agitated soul. The entire area is designed for the enjoyment of tourists and locals. Here you'll observe an interesting mix of people who visit the riverbed daily: exercisers, bicyclers, the hippied-out university students studying, an older man with his newspaper and his dog, a couple in love lying in the grass, a group learning Tai Chi, a few reckless skateboarders, children enjoying an afternoon snack, and mothers gossiping in group, though, of course, who you meet will depend on the time of day.
Continuing the walk, you'll cross the not-so-ironically named Puente del Mar (Sea Bridge), which once linked the old town to the port, and the highly trafficked Aragón Bridge. You'll soon come to the area around the Palau de la Música (Music Palace). If you're lucky, you might be able to watch the fountain "dance" to the rhythm of the music pouring out of it. If you're around at night, the colored lights make the show even more attractive.
Leaving the Palace, you'll cross another bridge. This one is sure to bring you good luck because it is the Puente del Angel del Custodio or Guardian Angel. This celestially named bridge will lead you to a magical place called Gulliver, a park for children. A giant figure of the famous Gulliver, full of slides and twists and turns that send the little ones (and sometimes not-so-little-ones) screaming in delight. Here everyone is Lilliputian!
After you're worn out from sliding and swinging, you'll soon reach the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences.
You'll have journeyed through the past and the present, and here you'll find yourself looking at the future. Or, at least you'll feel that way when you see the Palacio de las Artes, L'Hemisfèric (the city planetarium and IMAX theatre open to the public), and further along, the Oceanographic Park, a vast 80,000-square-meter underwater city.
If you still have some energy left, you can keep going up the last bridge to street level and to the El Saler Shopping Centre, just a few steps away, to catch up on your shopping or simply get a bite to eat.
In the last few years, the tourism industry in Valencia has grown spectacularly. The refurbishing of historic buildings within the city's old quarter together with the completion of new cultural and business projects such as City of Arts and Sciences or the Palacio de Congresos conference centre have led inevitably to a growth in the number of hotels needed and consequently being built. There are other factors, too, which make Valencia an attractive place to visit and which create a strong demand in this sector, such as the Fallas festival or the various trade fairs organised. Although there are fewer hotels available in Valencia compared to other Spanish cities, what is here is well balanced. You are sure to find a hotel that will suit both your individual taste and budget.
In terms of luxury five-star hotels, one outstanding option is the Monte Picayo hotel, which has been declared a Centre of National Tourism Interest. It's located in the town of Puzol and attached to the Gran Casino Monte Picayo. It only takes 10 minutes to reach by car from the centre of the city and is on Monte Picayo mountain itself, affording fantastic views. Another luxury hotel is the Sidi Saler, located on the beach between a pine-covered strip of land separating the sea and the l'Albufera lake and Natural Park. All the rooms face onto the Mediterranean. Another good option in this same area outside Valencia is the four-star Parador Nacional de El Saler with top-quality facilities and an unbeatable location, next to the beach and surrounded by pine trees, with the added benefit of having it's own nationally rated 18-hole golf course. Another five-star option, this time in the city of Valencia itself is the modern Meliá Valencia Palace, located just opposite the gardens in the Antiguo Cauce del Río Turia riverbed, and close to the Palau de la Música, an important venue for a wide range of musical and cultural events.
There are several hotels within the three and four-star category worth mentioning. For those wishing to stay in the heart of the old quarter, the Meliá Confort Inglés is a good choice. It's found next to some of the most important monuments in the city, while the hotel itself is classically designed, with a distinguished English ambience inside. Another interesting option is the Ad Hoc, occupying an elegantly refurbished 19th century building. It too is in a privileged spot, next to the Turia riverbed gardens and between the Palacio del Temple, monastery of the legendary warrior-monks and guardians of the Holy Grail, and the Torres de Serranos tower. Continuing on this hotel tour through the old town, you'll find the Astoria Palace, one of the oldest hotels in the city, in a beautiful little plaza. Just a step away from the old quarter is the Husa Reina Victoria hotel which is known for its classic elegance. The Meliá Plaza, a four-star hotel, is in the heart of the city in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Its façade has been completely redone and it is the most centrally located hotel within its category. Lastly, another option worth considering is the Rey Don Jaime, located just a few meters from the Palau de la Música. This hotel successfully combines English style with the Mediterranean air that surrounds it.
Other more practical options within this category include the Feria or Vora Fira hotels, both of which are just opposite the Feria de Muestras de Valencia trade fair complex and close to the Palacio de Congresos conference centre, the Technological Park and the studios of local television station, TVV-Canal 9. These two hotels cater mostly for travellers visiting the city on business.
All of this is just a brief list of the hotels available in Valencia; there are a lot more to choose from. If you consider the number of lower category hotels, and hostels throughout the city, you'll see that there really is something for everyone in this great city. There's even something for the more adventurous: several campsites can be found near the city and the beaches.
Pensioned-off Roman legionaries founded 'Valentia' on the banks of the Río Turia in 138 BC and first developed irrigation for the surrounding regions.As Rome collapsed, the Visigoths moved in, only to be expelled by Muslim cohorts in AD 711. The Arabs made Valencia a rich agricultural and industrial centre, establishing ceramics, paper, silk and leather industries, and extending the network of irrigation canals in the rich agricultural hinterland.Muslim rule was briefly interrupted in 1094 by the triumphant rampage of the legendary Castilian knight El Cid, but almost a century and a half were to elapse before the Christians definitively retook the city in 1238, when Jaime I incorporated the area into his burgeoning Catalan kingdom. Valencia's golden age was in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was one of the Mediterranean's strongest trading centres. Like Catalonia, Valencia backed the wrong horse in the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-13) and in retribution the victorious Bourbon king Felipe V abolished Valencia's fueros, the autonomous privileges the city had enjoyed.
The Spanish Civil War proved similarly unlucky; Valencia, having sided with the Republicans (and acting as seat of the Republican government from November 1936 until October 1937) was slighted for years by successive victorious nationalist governments. The city suffered a blockade and seige during the war.The fueros may not have been restored, but, benefiting from the decentralisation that followed Franco's death, Valencia and its region was once more granted Autonomous Statutes in 1982.
The new millenium saw the creation of the architecturally magnificent City of the Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias). Situated over four different sites, it's a major centre for culture, science, entertainment and leisure and an example of how Valencia is showcasing its jewels to the rest of the world.