When you think of Spain, I bet you think of Barcelona – the bars, the abstract architecture of Gaudi, or the beaches. Or maybe Madrid springs to mind initially with its many museums. But I bet the town of Valencia doesn’t rate a mention unless you’re talking about the annual food fight La Tomantina, which is held in the nearby town of Bunol.
After a recent visit to Valencia, all I can think about when people mention Spain is that city and I can’t wait to go back and discover more of its beautiful charms. I can’t recommend this city enough, and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of all that Valencia has to offer.
It’s unusual for me to stay longer in a city than I intended. I’m usually ready to leave after a few days and move onto the next city or country. But I stayed two days longer in Valencia than I’d originally planned, and would have liked to stay longer except I had to make my way back to Australia. It’s a big compliment to a city I was only staying in originally to go to a festival.
Barcelona’s a fun city, San Sebastian has tasty pintxos bars around every corner, and Granada has the fascinating Alhambra, but Valencia stole my heart for many reasons.
Valencia has such a relaxed vibe, is easy to navigate, and has dozens of beautiful historical buildings and structures. People are friendly and all the food is high quality.
I didn’t need a lot of money to enjoy Valencia, as I loved just wandering and practicing my photography, sampling all the appetising food, relaxing in the sun near the city’s squares or fountains, or chilling out on the sprawling beach, Platja La Malvarrosa.
You could wander Valencia’s old town quite happily for hours with its street art, vintage clothing stores, and historical buildings. Make sure you check out the Torres de Quart, Cathedral, Miquelet bell tower, a bullring that looks like Rome’s Colosseum, and the many plazas. The buildings housing the Post Office and City Hall are also impressive.
If you’re hungry or want to pick up some fresh fruit or pastries, make sure you head along to the Mercat Central de Valencia – the central market. It’s considered one of the oldest European markets with a market existing at this location since 1839. It’s open 7am to 3pm Monday to Saturday.
There’s everything from fresh juices, fruit, and empanadas here that are easy to grab and go, and if you have kitchen facilities where you’re staying, you can pick up fresh seafood and meats.
You can also stop and have a coffee and people watch both tourists and locals.
I made this my daily breakfast stop as well as grabbing something for lunch here. It was cheap and delicious, and I still crave the spinach empanadas. Just outside one of the market entrance, there’s also a great churros stall.
For dinner options in Valencia, you don’t have to go far from the city centre and there are lots of possibilities around the Plaza de la Reina, which marks the city centre. You’re spoilt for choice for tapas and pintxos bars and choices start as cheap as a euro each. Both a lunch and dinner option, don’t miss the Almalibre Acai Bar near the central market. You can’t go past the acai bowls, and they also have vegan burgers on the menu.
For ice cream fans, you can’t miss the ice cream shop near the tower in Plaza de la Reina. It has all the regular suspects, as well as some flavours I would never think of putting in an ice cream such as Red Bull, fabada (a Spanish bean stew), anchovy and gin and tonic.
While it’s not the prettiest beach, Platja La Malvarrosa is easily accessible by the metro, sitting to the left of the port. It will take you about 15 minutes to get here on the metro. There’s a beachside market here selling clothes, bags and the normal assortment of market wares, and there are plenty of beachside bars for fresh juices or restaurants that all have seafood paella on the menu.
Due to the length of the beach, it’s easy to find a spot to pull out your beach towel but bring a hat, sunscreen and maybe even a beach umbrella as there’s no shade. The beaches have boardwalks running down intermittently so it’s even wheelchair accessible. There are also lots of free bathroom facilities spread along the promenade which is rare in Europe.
If you’re looking for a prettier and less touristy beach, head right from the port. This can easily be reached by bike and there are plenty of bike rental options in the old town.
There was once a river in Valencia, but now the riverbed is a 9km linear park.
Ride or walk through along the old river bed, and if you’re walking east you’ll come across the unique buildings of the City of Arts and Sciences.
If you’re young at heart, make sure you take a look at the Gulliver playground – based on the Gulliver’s travels stories. The playground is made up of slides, steps and ropes following the shape of the Gulliver giant. You’ll wish this was your local playground when you were growing up.
The metro is efficient and well connected. There are nine lines all up and it’s easy to navigate. You’ll probably find you go via the Colon station a lot which is one of the central stops.
If you’re staying a few days, the 10 journey travelcard is great value for €7.20, which will get you to the central parts of the city, or a single fare is €1.50.
If you’re coming by train into Valencia, you’ll most likely arrive at the Joaquin Sorolla train station, which is not far away from a metro station. I found the intercity trains to be a very convenient and reliable way to get around Spain.
Bicycles are also another great option.
Valencia is also a good city to walk. I recommend put the map away and just wander – that’s when you find the most beautiful parts of Valencia.
If you’re seeking out a party vibe, then try the Red Nest or Purple Nest hostels. The Home Backpackers hostel has a more relaxed vibe. If you’re looking for something a bit more private but still affordable, I highly recommend the B&B Hi Valencia Boutique, with its lovely modern rooms, central location and friendly staff. To keep my costs down, I got a room with an external bathroom but it was just outside my door and I had it all to myself.
Lisa Owen is a pint-sized Australian following her dreams to travel to as many places as she can, and loves to share her photography, travel hacks, hiking adventures, and food discoveries along the way. At last count, she has travelled to more than 40 countries in between working in public relations and discovering hidden gems in Australia's great outdoors.
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