19 Exciting Things to do in Valencia, Spain – An Insider’s Guide
Valencia is one of those cities that have come up on people’s radar as a popular European city break destination only in the last few years. Take ten years ago – a lot of people would not have heard of Valencia, let alone known where it was. At best they would have guessed that it was in a Mediterranean country. A pretty good guess, as it has that Mediterranean ring to its name.
I have family in Valencia, so I have been visiting on a regular basis for the last 15 years. During this time, I have seen the changes that this city has gone through. I have to admit that I didn’t used to be overly impressed with the place. Unlike other Mediterranean destinations, I didn’t find it particularly warm, welcoming or interesting. But this has changed in the last few years and I am glad I have seen it evolve into a city that invites you to explore its secrets and stories.
So grab some comfy shoes and get exploring this exciting city. With so much variety of things to do in Valencia, there is something for everyone!
For Culture Vultures
City of Arts and Sciences
Welcome to the future… Actually, if the future looks like this incredible cultural and architectural complex, take me there right now!
Designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, the complex includes a concert hall, a science museum, Europe’s biggest aquarium and a 3D cinema with a 900-metre (yes, 900 metres!) screen amongst other amenities. But what will truly blow your mind is the architecture itself. You will have seen nothing like it!
If you want to visit the science museum (Principe Felipe), the aquarium (L’Oceanografic) or the 3D cinema (Hemisfèric), you can purchase individual tickets or a combined ticket for the entire complex.
It is not just about history in #Valencia.⠀ ⠀ The City of Arts and Sciences is a futuristic cultural and architectural complex that has some of the most striking buildings I have ever seen. Designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava, this is the Hemisfèric, a 3D cinema with a 900 metre screen and the Science Museum right behind it. ⠀ ⠀ Have you ever seen anything like it? ❤️⠀ ⠀ #broganinspain 🇪🇸⠀ #spain #visitspain #spaincities
Top tip: Visit twice if you have time – once during daytime and once when it’s dark. You will be amazed how different the place looks when the lights come on.
Modernist Architecture at the North Railway Station
The North Railway Station (Estación del Norte) is one of the architectural jewels of the Valencia. Built in the modernist style at the beginning of the 20th century, the façade shows the most typical elements of Valencian culture – oranges, barracas (Valencian traditional houses), La Albufera lake and women dressed in traditional costumes.
The railway station is still actively in use today and it’s one of the busiest train stations in the country, with rail links to Madrid and some of Europe’s major cities. It is located in the city centre, so it’s easily accessible.
Top tip: Don’t just stay outside and admire the façade. Go inside to see the beautiful wooden ticket booths decorated with ceramic mosaics and murals.
The Round Square (Plaza Redonda)
The Round Square… I know, a complete oxymoron. But bear with me… This unique space is one of Valencia’s most charming spots. Or at least, it used to be. It has recently been restored and the old fashioned haberdashery, lace and embroidery stalls that edged around the square have been replaced by, in my opinion, characterless modern stalls that now sell souvenirs. That old town feel has disappeared, but I think it’s still worth a visit for its unique design. It is located in the centre of the old town, which can be a bit of a maze of narrow streets, so you may have to hunt around a bit to find it.
Top tip: Although it’s open most days, the best time to visit is on a Sunday morning. The stalls close at 2 pm but there are a few tapas bar in the square and the surrounding area. Perfect for a Sunday aperitivo.
For History Buffs
Valencia Cathedral and The Miguelete
There was once a Roman Temple here, which later became a mosque. But on the 13th century construction of The Cathedral began and it went through a number of architectural styles until it became what it is now. It’s worth stepping inside just to admire the intricately painted dome, and the Holy Grail used by Christ at the Last Supper is (allegedly) kept in there too.
You can climb the Miguelete (which means Little Michael) belfry tower for a fabulous view of Valencia’s old town.
Top tip: Entrance fee is €7, which includes an audio guide. But if you don’t want to buy a ticket, you can just pop in through the entrance in the Plaza de la Virgen during the service to check out the beautiful dome.
The Silk Exchange (La Lonja)
La Lonja is one of the most famous civil gothic monuments in Europe and it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the 15th century, Valencia’s golden age, and it was used for silk merchants to negotiate and work out contracts. There is also a prison within the building for merchants who did not pay their debts.
Entry fee is only 2 Euros Monday to Friday and free at weekends. So there’s no excuse not to visit really.
Top Tip: If you’d like to take photos of the spectacular Hall of Columns while it’s empty, be the first one to visit in the day when it opens at 10 am.
Palace of the Marqués de Dos Aguas
Now housing the González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts, this fabulously ornate palace will blow you away with the Rococo designs on its façade. There is so much going on around the main entrance that you will struggle to process the details and make sense of it. But that’s the beauty of it… you can stare at it for hours and find something new you hadn’t seen before. Admittedly, I didn’t go inside, but it is said that the interior is just as opulent as the exterior.
Top tip: Entrance to the museum is €2.40 during the week and free at weekends, but it’s definitely worth paying the €2.40 to get the place for yourself.
Serranos and Quart Towers
Built in the 14th century, both the Serranos Towers and Quart Towers are all that remains of the old town defence walls. There was a time when Serranos was used as a prison for nobility and Quart as a prison for women. Entry fee is €2 each during the week and free at weekends.
Top Tip: Climb the stone staircases of Serranos Towers for the best view of the city of Valencia.
Spain City Break Inspiration
Photographic Journey through Alicante’s Old Town
Treats and Tastes Tour with Valencia Urban Adventures
One of the most exciting things that you can do in Valencia is taking a foodie tour. Everyone knows that Spanish cuisine is one of the most varied and delicious in Europe. Ok, being Spanish myself, I am a little bit biased. But I do believe this to be true. And there is no better to discover the regional delicacies of Valencia than by taking a tour with Valencia Urban Adventures. Lenny, the VUA host knows the city inside out and all the secret places that only locals know where you can taste one of the best Ibérico jamón (Spanish cured ham), Valencian olive oils, the best quality Spanish saffron and let’s not forget the best version of the famous Valencian horchata de chufa (tiger nut milk).
Lenny’s markets walking tour will not only take you to these local gems to sample these beautiful morsels, but you will also learn about the differences between jamón serrano and jamón ibérico, the different types of olive oil, how to differentiate 1st and 2nd quality Spanish saffron and where in the world some of the now typically Spanish ingredients came from. Oh, and let’s not forget tapas and wines too! As Valencia Urban Adventures tag line goes… Best. Day. Ever.
Top tip: Book your Valencian Treats and Tastes Tour with Lenny and receive a 15% discount by quoting my special code ‘15BROGAN’.
Central Market (Mercado Central)
Valencia’s Central Market is not just a foodie’s paradise, but it’s said to be one of the most beautiful market halls in Europe, housed within a modernist building built in the 1920s. It is a must-see attraction for anyone visiting Valencia, but in particular, if food is your main driver to choosing a destination. Despite its popularity, it is still a neighbourhood market, where you can observe every day local life, and sample the best produce that the Valencian region can offer.
#Valencia's Mercado Central is a real feast to the senses. I'm so happy I got to explore and taste a few goodies with Lenny from @valenciaurbanadventures this morning. Thank you so much for your hospitality and all the deliciousness in this #foodie city! ❤️ #localsknow #urbanadventures #valenciaurbanadventures #broganinspain 🇪🇸
This small square in #Valencia is one of its most atmospheric whichever time of the day you go. ⠀ ⠀ It's right next to the Central Market, where you can buy fresh fish and seafood, and take it over to one of these little restaurants to have it cooked for a small fee. Can you get any fresher than that? 🐟🦐🐠🦀⠀ ⠀ #broganinspain 🇪🇸⠀ #spain #visitspain #spaincities
Top tip: Look out for the stalls with a ‘La Cocina del Mercado’ poster, buy some fresh fish or shellfish and take it to one of the little restaurants just outside to get it cooked for a small fee.
The Russafa area of Valencia has gone through a bit of a process of gentrification, however, it remains a typical Valencian neighbourhood, with its own neighbourhood market. Markets are central to the local community in Spain, and Russafa market is a great place to observe everyday life and interact with locals. You can see, however, how it is all gradually changing, with the market catering to new demand. Typical fresh food market stalls are slowly being replaced by specialist shops focusing on one type of product such as olive oil, honey, etc. Despite this, it is still one of my favourite spots in Valencia.
Top tip: Combine your visit to Russafa Market with breakfast in the Churrería in nearby Calle San Valero. Churros are a delicious typical Spanish breakfast.
Love Spain? – Take a day trip to Alicante’s Old Town
For Trend Setters
Street Art Tour with Valencia Urban Adventures
Say ‘street art tour’ and most people will think of cities like London and Berlin. But you probably didn’t know that Valencia is a street art lover’s paradise. I was very kindly invited to explore the El Carmen neighbourhood by Lenny from Valencia Urban Adventures, on her Street Art in Old Valencia tour. We hunted for the best pieces of graffiti and urban art in the area, and I was blown away by the quality and creativity of local artists such as Deih, La Nena Wapa Wapa and Escif, and the cheekiness of David de Limón, who springs up on you where you least expect him. We also found lots of cool murals by international artists such as Disneylexya, Fasim and Atila_the1.
When you think of street art, cities like London and Berlin come to mind. But yesterday I discovered that #Valencia also has an awesome street art scene. Thank you to Lenny from @valenciaurbanadventures for helping me discover so many new talented street artists and their incredible work. ⠀ ⠀ If you are into street art and find yourself in Valencia, contact Lenny. Her passion and knowledge are contagious and she will show you around the best and lesser known pieces of street art in this fabulous city. ⠀ ⠀ #localsknow #urbanadventures #valenciaurbanadventures #broganinspain 🇪🇸
But what is most special about this tour, is Lenny’s in-depth knowledge about each of the pieces. She knows a lot of the local artists, so she has a very good understanding of the meanings and political messages that they are conveying.
Top tip: A visit to Valencia would definitely not be complete without joining Lenny’s Old Valencia Street Art tour, so make the most it by booking your place and taking advantage of a 15% discount by quoting my special code ‘15BROGAN’.
Russafa – Valencia’s hippest area
Formerly a working-class neighbourhood, as I mentioned earlier, Russafa has been going through a process of gentrification for a number of years now, with all the controversy that comes with it. Russafa is now the ‘hipster’ quarter of Valencia, and home to some of the best tapas restaurants, cafes and art galleries in the city. From bookshop-come-cafes to small breweries and vintage boutiques, Russafa has everything for those looking for the latest trends.
Top tip: Visit Dulce de Leche Boutique Café and try their Cold Brew coffee. The perfect pick-me-up in the Valencian scorching weather.
Located in the heart of one of Valencia’s most important commercial areas, the Mercado Colón is one of the most emblematic Modernist buildings in the city. His architect visited Antonio Gaudí’s workshop, and you can clearly see his influence. No longer a market, it was recently refurbished and it now houses a number of upmarket shops, bars and cafes, including one of the best Horchaterías (horchata bar) in Valencia.
Top tip: Visit at night when the market is all lit up. The building looks spectacular, but it’s the atmosphere here that makes this place special.
Water Tribunal (Tribunal de las Aguas)
And what on earth is a Water Tribunal? I hear you ask… Declared UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the Water Tribunal of the plain of Valencia dates back to Muslim Spain in the 10th century. Valencia is an arid area so this tribunal was set up to manage and protect the fair distribution of water amongst farmers and communities. Still going strong today, any irrigation disputes are brought to the Tribunal by a complainant, where the accused defends themselves and answers questions. Based on this, the Tribunal makes a decision on the offender’s penalty. The Water Tribunal takes place every Thursday at 12 pm outside the Cathedral gate on the Plaza de la Virgen.
Top tip: If you want to witness the Water Tribunal up close, get there for 11 am, as it can get very busy. But bear in mind that some weeks everyone gets along and there are no disputes, so the Tribunal itself will get dismantled within a few minutes.
Drinking horchata de chufa
Horchata is the typical Valencian drink par excellence. It is made from chufas (tiger nuts) which are grown only in a few regions of the world, one of which is Valencia. It is a refreshing creamy white drink comparable to almond milk, and it’s usually accompanied by a fartón – yes, I know, not the most appetising name, but trust me… this light and sweet pastry stick is delicious! Dip it into your horchata and I can guarantee you’ll love it!
Top tip: Horchatería de Santa Catalina is the oldest and most famous horchatería in town. It’s over 200 years old, and it oozes history and tradition.
Drinking Agua de Valencia
The other Valencian speciality when it comes to drinks is Agua de Valencia (Valencian Water). But don’t let the name fool you. Agua de Valencia is a refreshing cocktail that uses local ingredients such as cava and fresh orange juice, plus a bit of a gin and vodka kick. Dangerously good, it’s so easy to drink!
Top tip: Sant Jaume Bar (Carrer dels Cavallers, 51) used to be a pharmacy, but it is one of the best places to try Agua de Valencia. Go on, you will have earned it after all the exploring!
Discover the real Valencian Paella by cooking your own
If you think you’ve tried paella, but not in Valencia… think again. What most people know as paella outside of Spain, is what Valencians know as rice and […] (insert chicken, seafood, etc). And don’t even mention chorizo as an ingredient to a local! The real Valencian paella has chicken, rabbit, garrafón (large white beans), green beans and, sometimes, snails. And that’s pretty much it.
But it’s not really that simple. Learn the secrets of the real Valencian paella by making your own at the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana. Book with my special discount code ‘BROGANABROAD‘ and get 5% off. You can read a full account of my own paella cooking experience here.
Top Tip: Try and book a morning class, which includes a visit to the Mercado Central where you will buy the fresh ingredients for your own paella. Well worth getting up in the morning for!
Relax in Valencia’s fantastic beaches
Valencia just seems to have it all. Culture, food, nightlife… even excellent beaches! You can choose from a number of them too. Malvarrosa Beach is the most famous of all and the closest to the city. It can easily be reached by public transport. It is really popular with both locals and visitors and it has lots of restaurants and cafes nearby.
Top tip: For a more peaceful day at the beach but not too far from the city, try Las Arenas Beach or La Patacona Beach. Both easily reached by bus or metro.
Turia Gardens (Jardines del Turia)
The Jardines del Turia snake through the city, on what used to be the Turia riverbed before its course was diverted outside the city. In 1957 there was a devastating flood in Valencia which claimed many lives so to avoid another disaster, the river was drained, diverted and its course turned into a fabulous green open space. It now acts as the lungs of the city and it’s a great place to spend the day, whether going for a picnic, a walk or a long cycle. It is also where the City of Arts and Sciences can be found.
Top tip: Get away from the hustle and bustle and find the perfect picnic spot here in the middle of the city.
Need to book accommodation?
- Airbnb – Here’s £30 off your first booking with Airbnb.
- Check out Booking.com for the best hotel deals.
- Or how about house sitting as an alternative stay? Join TrustedHousesitters.com and get 20% off membership.
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Disclosure: A big thank you to Lenny from Valencia Urban Adventures, who hosted me on two tours during my time in Valencia. As always, all views are my own. This post also contains affiliate links.