Spain may be famous for its beaches and sunshine, but there’s actually a whole wealth of cities that are just waiting to be discovered! Valencia is definitely one of them – located along the Catalonian coastline, Spain’s third largest city is as diverse as it is beautiful.
As you’ve probably noticed over on my Instagram account that I’ve been on a little adventure to Valencia to get to know the city better! If you’ve still not been here before then you should be excited – you’ve got a wealth of sights, green spaces and fantastic beaches awaiting you here!
My guide to Valencia – how to get that authentic experience
Once you get to Valencia you’ll realise that it really is quite a big city, so it pays to stay somewhere that’s central and close to the sights. The solution? The Old Town, or Cuitat Vella, is the perfect neighbourhood. The old townhouses are absolutely stunning – even the more shabby buildings still have an incredible charm to them that makes it hard to look away. I’ll get back to the Old Town later on as there’s so much to talk about, but my recommendation when looking for a place to stay is Airbnb. My recent trip was booked just a few weeks before, but despite it being high season I managed to get an incredible flat that cost just €80 a night. Split that between 3 or 4 people and you’ll have a fantastic place to stay costs next to nothing!
I’ve said it before: Valencia is big. But don’t let that put you off! The Old Town is the perfect size to explore by foot, and there’s always the Metro system that connects the outer suburbs together. However if you really want that local experience then hire a bike! You’ll notice that almost everyone cycles here, and as a result the infrastructure accommodates cyclists very well. There’s plenty of cycle paths to follow, and even in the narrow streets of the Old Town all you have to really watch out for is making sure you don’t go the wrong direction up a one-way street!
The cheapest place to rent a bike I found was the service provided by LikeApartments next to Plaza Negrito. For 5 days I managed to get hold of a bike (complete with basket) for just €7 a day – most places normally charge around €9 or €10. Once you’ve got your hands on one it’s just a case of heading off and exploring to your heart’s content!
There’s so much to see in the Cuitat Vella that it’ll be impossible to list it all down! Easily explored by foot or bike, it really is place where even taking a wrong turn can lead to some wonderful surprises. Most of the action revolves around Plaza de la Virgen and Plaza de la Reina, where you’ll find the very impressive Cathedral of Valencia. Many tourists come here, so unless you don’t mind forking out a load for some very average food, I’d avoid the restaurants and cafés here.
However, while you’re at Plaza de la Virgen don’t miss Café Almudin whatever you do – this is a personal favourite of mine as they serve some of the most incredible tapas and local specialities around. The grilled squid and home-made meatballs are divine! So is the paella for that matter – the dish originated in this city so as you’d expect nowhere else does it better.
Continue walking west past Plaza de la Virgen and you’ll eventually get to the neighbourhood of Barrio del Carmen. One of my favourite places, since things are a lot more relaxed here. Taberna el Olivo is located in a tiny square (Plaça de l’Abre) but it’s worth the effort finding it. There’s nothing better than sitting beneath the shade of the olive tree and enjoying some tapas or a cold beer!
Plaça del Tossal is another great place: trees provide plenty of shade and it’s a place where both tourists and locals mingle. Excellent restaurants such as Café Infanta serve delicious food (their beef carpaccio sandwiches are incredible!) and it’s a fantastic place to watch the world go by.
No matter where you go you’ll walk past stunning churches and more street art than you can shake a stick at (keep an eye out for the ninjas!). And of course let’s not forget the Merkat Central – Valencia’s central market is a hub of activity and a feast for the senses. I’ve never seen fresher seafood anywhere else!
Valencia is famous for its green spaces. Take one look at the map and the first thing that will probably catch your eye is the massive park that snakes it way through the city. This park, Jardín del Turia, actually used to be a river, but after severe flooding affected the city the river was drained and diverted away in the 1950s. The empty riverbed was subsequently converted into one of the most incredible parks I’ve ever seen. No matter what time you come here you’ll see tons of people jogging, cycling, relaxing, or playing football at one of the several training academies. There’s even a fairground, and if you follow it all the way to the end you’ll eventually reach the City of Arts and Sciences. This impressive place is a collection of museums and features some of the most bonkers architecture I’ve come across. It definitely has a wow-factor that will leave you gobsmacked each time!
Another place that worth exploring are the Royal Gardens, or Jardínes del Real. There’s some lovely landscaping, the ruins of an old palace and even the Museum of Natural Sciences tucked away in here. See if you can spot the parrots flying around!
City beaches can sometimes be associated with masses of people, dirty water and almost no space to get your beach towel laid out, but not in Valencia! The city is blessed with a spacious beach that’s very well maintained, and it’s a place frequented by both locals and tourists. Even when it’s busy it’ll never feel too cramped or claustrophobic. The waves can be quite strong so keep an eye on the lifeguards’ flags, but otherwise there’s nothing better than cooling off from the summer sun than a quick dip in the sea! It’s easy to cycle here from the Old Town too – simply follow the Jardín del Turia past the City of Arts of Sciences and head north until you’re past the harbour. It won’t take longer than 25 minutes – depending on how fast you cycle of course!
However if you’re looking to escape the city for a little while and enjoy some real piece and quiet then don’t worry – the perfect beach is waiting for you, and it’s just a short bus journey away! In the small seaside town of El Saler you’ll find a wonderful sandy beach set in the heart of a small nature reserve. Things are a lot more peaceful here so it’s perfect for a little day trip – bring a picnic with you and you’re all set!
One thing you’ll notice about Spain is that the city only really comes to life properly during the latter half of the day. Things can sometimes seem a little subdued during the day and many restaurants will be shut, but once the sun starts setting and the lights come on the city will be in full swing and a wonderful, lively atmosphere will descend upon all the squares and streets.
Most of the nightlife in the Cuitat Vella revolves around Calle Cavallers and the surrounding neighbourhood of Barrio del Carmen. One of my favourite places to start the night is at Bar Negrita – get a glass of local wine, sit in the square and soak up the lovely atmosphere before exploring other bars such as Fox Congo. If you want to go up market then head to the Marina by the harbour – the yachts that are docked nearby hint at the very chic clientele here. Or you could just stay by the beach – there’s plenty of bars along the promenade, and sometimes there’s nothing better than just cracking open a beer or two by the sea and watching the sun go down! ;)
Planning a trip to Valencia
You can probably see why I love Valencia so much! It’s beautiful, diverse, laid-back and exciting all at the same time. If you’re looking for a wild few days or want to soak up some serious culture, this city will cater to your every need. If you’re passing by then it’s worth stopping by for a day or two, but even if you end up staying for even a week or more you’ll discover new things time and time again. Just writing this is making me want to plan another trip back!
If you want to visit Valencia for yourself then I’ve included some handy links for you below to help with planning your holiday. And if you’ve been here before, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Perhaps you have some extra tips for me – if so, just send me a message!