For those who are new to tourism in Spain, Valencia is a wonderful and majestic Mediterranean city located on the east coast of Spain. It is about 3 hours by fast train from Barcelona. And speaking about very well known cities like Barcelona, Valencia is a quite unknown cousin from it. There is a lot of things to do in Valencia, a bunch of places to just stare and be amazed but for some reason, everybody goes to Madrid and Barcelona. It is not typically a common stop on the usual tourism circuit in the country but it should. Valencia is by far one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. You certainly won’t be disappointed!
To have a pocket guide for your next trip, I’ll present you some gorgeous places to visit, loads of things to do, places to go out at night and unmissable restaurants. Make sure to save this post to have on the tip of your fingers a wide list of things to do in Valencia.
Have a coffee at the Plaza de La Virgen
The history and architectural beauty speaks for themselves in this place. Plaza de La Virgen is one of the nicest plazas in Valencia. You can easily kill a whole afternoon by visiting the Cathedral, admiring the colorful buildings around, having some drinks with friends or just enjoying the Spanish summer.
Plaza de la Virgen has three of Valencia’s most emblematic buildings – the Cathedral of Santa Maria, the Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados. The Cathedral in Valencia used to be a mosque, what makes it a must go place to see the encounter of the 2 styles.
Bike inside a river
Yes, you read it right. You can bike inside Valencia’s Turia river! And you’re probably asking yourself “How? Why? What? Huh?“. Let me explain to you:
After a devastating flood on October 1957, the river’s course was diverted south of the city. It was not the first and probably not the last time a flood happened. Turia’s L shape made it too easy for floods to happen. And after this diversion, a huge tract of land crossing the city from East to West was transformed into a huge park, the Turia Gardens.
The Turia Gardens is by far the largest urban park in the region. To make this park happen several landscapists and urban planners designed different parts of this park. They created a unique itinerary of palm trees, fountains, Valencia’s orange trees – the symbol of this city, aromatic plants, pine woods, ponds, sports facilities and rose beds. It is unbelievable the energy this park has.
Turia’s bridges still exists but now they are adapted for bikes, pedestrians and more. You can easily cross the city by bike visiting the most important historical sites, passing under river bridges and enjoying Valencia’s life style in its best.
Have a Paella where the Paella was born
Paella, probably the best well known Spanish dish, began in the Valencian region of Spain.
If you’re coming from another planet and it is trying to assimilate our culture and that’s why you don’t know what Paella is, let me explain. Paella is a delicious mixture of rice, meats, seafood, and vegetables. It is the flavor that some might say is the very essence of Spain! I agree.
The Paella can have various flavors, from only seafood to chicken, rabbit meat and more. The traditional Valencian Paella (Paella Valenciana in Spanish) is believed to be the original recipe. Consists of white rice, snails, rabbit and chicken meat, green beans, white beans and seasoning such as rosemary and saffron. I have to say that I’m not a big fan of chicken or rabbit so I got the seafood version.
The most famous restaurant for Paella is by far La Pepica but some locals told me that the quality is not what it used to be. They guided me to the restaurant next door: La Marcelina. And since my name is Marcela, of course I said yes. All the photos you see here are from the paellas from La Marcelina.
El Mercat de Colon, where food meets architecture
Colon Market is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful food dedicated space in the city. It was renovated and now it is equipped with food shops, bars, restaurants and more.
I had the amazing opportunity to try the food at Colon’s best restaurant Mi Cub. A must go place for sure. If not for the dinner, go for drinks. And if you go for drinks, make sure to visit the store they have one floor down with beers from every place you can think of. All that and some original production of craft beer that is just delicious.
I tried everything over there so I can assure you that this restaurant can do burgers and seafood with mastery. And it is not every place that can do both so good, right? Usually the burger is better and the rest not-so-much or the seafood is fantastic so why you even consider ordering a burger with fries.
It’s important to mention also that Mercat de Colon is one hell of a place for photographers. If you like straight parallel and perpendicular lines, metal structures, incredible light and great long exposure photo opportunities, pay a visit with your camera and tripod. You won’t regret.
All the things to do in Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences
On every trip to Valencia, a visit to the City of Arts and Sciences is a must. The complex is one of the most noted works of Santiago Calatrava, a Valencian architect that is responsible for several icons in the city. This item on my list of “Things to do in Valencia” is actually a few items in one. The whole thing is a scientific and cultural complex that is perfect for a great time alone, with family or friends. If you time is tight, include a visit right after the Turia gardens, that I mentioned early. It is on one of the ends of the park.
Some of the main buildings demand a ticket for you to enter and unfortunately everything is paid. You can get them all combined or separately, giving you the freedom to visit the ones you like the best.
I paid a visit to the Oceanogràfic as some friends recommended but to be honest, I would skip this one if you are like me and hate zoos. The whole thing is gorgeous and blablabla but some of the animals display clear signs of stress, there’s some animal shows (or animal cruelty if you want the right term) and the are animals so large that they are not supposed to be there. I truly believe that if you want to give animals a decent life, giving them limited space the the stress of having human contact every day is not the best. I support sanctuaries and not zoos.
The other buildings are The Hemisfèric, Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, The Umbracle, The Ágora and finally the Assut D’or Bridge. See, plenty to see other than stressed animals.
The Hemisfèric is a digital 3D cinema, with a huge 900 meters concave screen, which almost envelops spectators. The Príncipe Felipe Science Museum offers unique and interactive exhibitions about science and technology. The Palau de les Arts is a place for music lovers with operas, ballets and more. The Umbracle is a huge – emphasis on the huge, ok?- free entrance garden that has more than 17,000 m2 for you to walk or ride your bike while you see Mediterranean plants and contemporary sculptures along the way. The Ágora is the newest member of the family and unfortunately is rarely open to the public and the last one if the incredible bridge you can see from almost anywhere there.
Party like a local at Russafa
Russafa was definitely one of the high points of my trip to Valencia. Colorful, full of life, less tourists than the old town and walking distance from Valencias’s iconic sight-seeings like Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Mercat de Colon and others.
There are cafes, bars, boutiques and contemporary restaurants on every corner. Russafa is also where you can find another great food market that is less crowded than the 2 main ones: Colon and Central Market.
If you’re looking for a dinner and to extend your night with drinks, Russafa is your destination. Think of Russafa as Valencia’s Neukölln if you must. A Neukölln with Valenciana style, of course.
Here are some names of places you can go for dinner or drinks that you won’t be disappointed: El Rodamón de Russafa, El Rus, El Huerto Restaurant, Ubik Cafe, Black Turtle and El Camerino Taberna.
Go to the beach
The map of Valencia for me was super curious. If you pay a close attention, you’ll see the Old Town super far from the sea. Weird, right? Usually people built cities close to the sea for an easy source of food and sometimes, strategic geography for defense. Barcelona is by the sea, Lisbon is by the Ocean and so it’s Helsinki. Too many examples.
So I arrived in Valencia intrigued by the reason why the Old Town was in one place and the Beach on the other. To be 100% honest I still haven’t figured out, I asked around, talked to people and the best answer I could get – the one with more logic – was that: Who needs the sea if you have Turia? Fair enough.
It is quite a ride with public transportation from our lovely Hotel to the beach. I think we took something between 45 to 60 minutes by bus. But it was completely worth it.
By the way, if you are looking for an amazing hotel to stay in Valencia with great connections and lovely decor, check Casual Hotel Vintage. I 100% approve!
Valencia has 2 main beaches that one is basically an extension of the other. Patacona and Malvarrosa, the last one being my favorite. Patacona still is developing so there’s a lot of constructions and not enough business. It will be fantastic in a few months or years and it is on my top list for a second trip. Malvarrosa is just wonderful.
The Paella restaurant I told you about is located in Malvarrosa. Besides the wonderful places for unforgettable paellas, you can spend some time at the Marina Beach Club if you like to party in the posh-side of life. Or you can just enjoy the nature, the sand, the sun and the blue water by yourself. Malvarrosa is filled with groups of boys and girls bringing party and music and asking for money for weddings. It is a tradition that bachelors (and bachelorettes, of course) go along with their friends asking people for some money for the wedding. They usually do that wearing silly clothes. If you give some, usually you’ll get rewarded with a alcoholic shot, a dance or some silly plastic goodies.
In other words, even tho the map can be confusing on a first look, Valencia has a beach and it is super worth a day trip there.
Enjoy the Old Town
This is a more general item since a lot of the places I mentioned in this post are located inside the Old Town of Valencia. However, it is quite pleasant to just get lost between the narrow streets, discover plazas and just be dumbfounded by the beauty of this amazing place.
Take a look yourself and see if the Old Town is not worth it of a whole afternoon, ok?
While there, look for Quart and Serrano Towers, La Lonja, González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts, the City Hall, the Norte Railstation and La Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Those are the highlights for me, but please do not forget to get lost and discover your own favorites too!
Try one of the best Chefs in town
Lienzo was our first meal on our first day in Valencia. I was doing this trip with my Mom and so I wanted a nice place for us to eat. Lienzo was our choice for the night. We chose the menu of main course, four tapas and dessert. I thought that because we were super hungry, a fancy place like Lienzo would not kill our lion’s hunger but I was wrong. If you’re like me, love good food and respected restaurants but sometimes gets disappointed with the portion’s sizes, you won’t have this problem here.
I must say that chef has a great talent for combining the flavors because we appreciate fresh & tasty food. From the first tapa to the dessert, I was served with one delicious and well though dish after the other. Even ingredients that I’m not a big fan of, were so well prepared that I found delicious. And the for the quality you get, the price it’s quite a bargain really. I was honestly impressed with it. Definitely a place to eat in Valencia.
After our meal, the Chef went to our table to ask if everything was ok and the Chef was a woman and not a man. How cool is that? In a industry that usually is dominated by men, the talented Chef responsible for one of the best meals of my life ended up being a girl. Extra points for that.
If you want to know more about Valencia or have any question regarding the places I mention here, write a comment here or talk to me on our Facebook group. The group is for everyone and I just kindly ask you to introduce yourself once you’re in. That’s all! It is for sure one of the best and safe places for questions about travels, photography and so much more
And please, feel free to tell me something that it is a must do or see in Valencia and it is missing in this list of Things to do in Valencia, ok?