The streets of Valencia pulse with color, whether you're passing a row of rainbow-painted houses or one of the many graffiti masterpieces that checker the city. The historic city center of Spain's third-largest metropolitan area is deceptively expansive, so while you may find yourself wandering past the Central Market or crossing the Plaza de la Reina for the umpteenth time, after three days you'll still be discovering new places to eat and visit.

Valencia Basics:

Stay: 3-4 days

Region: Valencian Community

Fast Fact: Valencia is the third-largest city in Spain. Its official name is València.

Nearby Destinations: Barcelona, Zaragoza, Murcia, Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca

On the map, Valencia looks like a beach town, but when you’re submerged in the historic city center, you can forget about the sand and sea almost entirely, except for the fact that in the summer months, the cheerful sun never ceases. Valencia was founded by the Romans in 138 BC, making it one of Spain's oldest cities. It was also a popular retirement destination for the Romans. At the time, the Turia river surrounded the city, so that it was basically an island and therefore easy to defend. Valencia has a long history as a trade center, hence its only UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Lonja de la Seda (Silk Market).

Today, Valencia and its surrounding area is known as the home of paella, though not the kind you may be used to seeing on those mass-produced cardboard menus visible in any given Spanish plaza. Traditional Valencian paella has chicken or meat, not seafood. (For paella that’s hands-down fantastic along with an innovative menu del dia, don’t miss Namua.) There’s also no shortage of ways to party in Valencia, especially if you stay at Home Youth Hostel or hook up with Tour Me Out’s many offerings.

Top Things to Do

Valencia's Ciutat Vella (Old City)

The sunny streets of Valencia’s old town feel a little less, well, old than other historic city centers in Spain. The slick tile that covers many of the streets feel more modern, and it’s hard to tell whether they’re more or less safe for those walking in slick soles. Get lost, wander, and admire the city’s wealth of graffiti, and don’t miss the central market (learn more about the market below).

City Of Arts And Sciences

City of Arts and Sciences, Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia, Reina Sofia Palace of Arts
City of Arts and Sciences, Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, girl in a bubble
L'Àgora, City of Arts and Sciences, Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
City of Arts and Sciences, paddle boarding, Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, City of Arts and Sciences
L'Oceanogràfic, Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, aquarium
L'Hemisfèric, Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, City of Arts and Sciences
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, City of Arts and Sciences
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Valencia is probably most famous for its City of Arts and Sciences, a district of slick, white buildings — not a right angle among them — that feel transported straight out of the Jetsons. The complex is a must-see, at least from the outside; for those of us who’ll never live on the Mars Colony, this is the closest we’ll probably get. Although there are no trees, there’s tons of shade, and even on the hottest of days a breeze cooled by the glittering blue pools that surround the art and science museums, the IMAX theater, and the aquarium will provide relief. Make sure to stop by at night, when the water becomes a stunning reflective pool.

Mercat Central (Central Market)

Valencia boasts Europe’s second-largest central market, and this 8,000-square-foot building truly has something for everyone. Buy seasonal fruit for a bargain, pick up some seafood and get it cooked right across the street for 4 Euro, grab an empanada for breakfast at Pai i Dolc Elenita, or pick up a 2-Euro sandwich with pata negra (the highest-quality type of jamón) at Supergourmet. It's a great place to grab a snack that will tide you over for a trip to Albufera Natural Park or a day at the beach. 

Jardines Del Turia

The city’s best-kept secret are the Jardines del Turia (Turia Gardens), a nine-kilometer-long park that occupies the now-dry Turia riverbed and stretches all the way from the west to the east, right across the city.

This has got to be one of the world’s greatest city parks. In any case, it's certainly one of the largest urban parks in Spain at about 300 acres. And they're not only long, but wide: so wide, in fact, that in any one place there could be six different paths — some for bikers, others for runners — when there aren't sports facilities, stellar playgrounds, and even a small fair, complete with a Ferris wheel. Pet owners let their dogs run off-leash without bothering the Tai Chi group in the grove of bulbous silk floss tress, or the guy practicing bagpipe. 

It's a lot of walking, though, and you'll need to stay fueled and hydrated, so check out this map of eleven great eateries in the Turia Gardens, courtesy of Jill's Urban Food Crawls:

Lonja De La Seda (Silk Market)

Construction on this UNESCO World Heritage Site began in 1483. For your entry fee of 2 Euros (1 Euro for students) you’ll see a few architecturally stunning rooms surrounding an orange grove.

This cluster of buildings is a true masterpiece of late Gothic architecture, and from the inside, perhaps one of the most architecturally memorable structures you'll see in Spain. UNESCO chose to protect this set of buildings because it "dramatically illustrates the power and wealth of one of the great Mediterranean mercantile cities." A short informative video welcomes you to the space and offers a short history of the site. The Sala de Contratación — called the Columnario after its gorgeously spiraling columns — is a can't-miss. The same is true for the intricately painted ceilings in another part of the compound.

A trip here won't take long, so take a moment to relax and enjoy the orange grove — maybe with a snack from the Central Market, which is only a few blocks away. On your way out, look closely around the outside of the building for those gargoyles and carvings engaged in particularly sinful activities.

Torre del Micalet

Torre del Micalet Valencia Spain
Torre del Micalet
Also known as el Miguelete, this Gothic-style bell tower provides a stunning, 360-degree panorama of the city, from mountains to (almost) sea. The City of Arts and Sciences is clearly visible from the top, as is its sister tower, the Torre de Santa Catalina. Construction on the Torre del Micalet (its name in Valencian) began in 1381 and ended in 1429.

A few precautions: the tower is 166 feet (50.85 meters) tall, and the spiraling stair is unsettlingly narrow near the top, and worn smooth to the point of slippery, so tennis shoes are recommended. Also, you might want to avoid being at the top when the bell (itself called El Miguelete) is likely to ring: it's extremely loud. Entry is 2 Euros.


Namúa Gastronomic

Specialties: Stellar Valencian paella and innovative cuisine
Namua Valencia
Address: Plaça de Vicent Iborra, 9

Price Point: $$$$  

This cozy little restaurant features modern décor, prompt service, and a staff that is truly passionate about what they're doing. And it's easy to see why: the food they create here is a blend of experimental and traditional, and happens to live in both worlds swimmingly. Namúa serves up the best paella I've ever eaten (though I must admit, I particularly partial to Valencian paella, which has chicken rather than the seafood that's found in other paellas around Spain).

But it will also surprise you: as the opener in a four-course menú del día (a great deal for the food and the quality at less than 20 Euros at lunchtime; I'd do it again in a second) I was served a salad ice cream. Yes, that's what I said. And it was so much better than you can even imagine. Long story short, don't leave Valencia without eating at Namúa. (Oh, and don't plan on eating or even moving for a few hours after that four-course lunch.)


Featured Place to Stay: Home Youth Hostel

Valencia Old Town, parte vieja
Valencia's historic town center.
Address: Carrer de la Llotja, 4

Price Point: $$$

In Valencia, all roads lead to Home Youth Hostel — or at least it sure feels that way. You couldn’t stay in a better location: the door is only a few steps away from the Lonja de la Seda, Valencia’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a small city block from the Mercat Central, so you can have breakfast there every morning (and you’ll want to). Finally, this is the only hostel I’ve ever seen that offers free — yes, I said free — dinner to all its guests. This is a great way to meet people and, predictably, leads to lots of partying. But if you're looking for tours and things to do, this place is also sure to hook you up with Tour Me Out's free city walking tours, beach pub crawls, street art walking tours, and day trips, making this the ideal place to stay for solo (or simply social!) travelers. Book a stay at Home Youth Hostel

Looking for more great spots? Check out these last-minute deals from Let's Travel Spain's recommended site for Spain hotel bookings: Booking.com
Tags : architectureCity of Arts and SciencesCiudad Vieja / Old CityfeaturedFeatured CitiesFeatured ValenciaSpainTuria GardensValencia
Erin L. McCoy

The author Erin L. McCoy

Erin L. McCoy is an award-winning photojournalist who holds an MA in Hispanic studies from the University of Washington. She's traveled to 20+ countries, five continents, and 45 U.S. states, but she's starting to lose count of how many times she's visited Spain.

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