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.
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
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
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
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)
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
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 GastronomicSpecialties: Stellar Valencian paella and innovative cuisine Address: Plaça de Vicent Iborra, 9
Price Point: $$$$
This cozy little restaurant features modern décor, prompt service, and a staff that is truly passionate about what they're doing. And it's easy to see why: the food they create here is a blend of experimental and traditional, and happens to live in both worlds swimmingly. Namúa serves up the best paella I've ever eaten (though I must admit, I particularly partial to Valencian paella, which has chicken rather than the seafood that's found in other paellas around Spain).
But it will also surprise you: as the opener in a four-course menú del día (a great deal for the food and the quality at less than 20 Euros at lunchtime; I'd do it again in a second) I was served a salad ice cream. Yes, that's what I said. And it was so much better than you can even imagine. Long story short, don't leave Valencia without eating at Namúa. (Oh, and don't plan on eating or even moving for a few hours after that four-course lunch.)
Featured Place to Stay: Home Youth Hostel
Price Point: $$$
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: