There’s a European city that basks in a golden sun on the Mediterranean Sea, where crystal blue waters lap sandy beaches and the streets are paved in marble.
On warm sunny days plazas ring with the buzz of locals cooling themselves with their very own version of iced-coffee, horchata (which is best experienced at Casa de L’Orxata in the Mercat de Colon).
This city is Valencia, the third largest in Spain and one that is often overlooked by tourists who head to the wonder of Barcelona or to dive into the heart of Spanish culture in Madrid.
But, if you scratch its surface, you’ll discover a city bursting with life and where the locals have a real zest for life.
The first stop for any tourist to Valencia will be the city centre where you’ll find its three main plazas: Plaza de Ayuntamiento, Plaza de la Reina and Plaza de la Virgen.
While in the centre, be sure to visit the newly renovated post office – Edifico de Correos where the stained glass ceiling is breathtaking and also the Catedral de Valencia, where for a couple of euros you can climb the bell tower for a bird’s eye view of the city below.
In the centre, you’ll also find El Carmen, Valencia’s old town where you can lose yourself forever in the maze of restaurants, boutique shops and small bodegas. For a truly Valencian experience, wander the small laneways, taking in the atmosphere and enjoying the graffiti that adds a mix of colour and modernism to Spain’s ancient past.
The Plaza del Ayuntamiento in the city centre of Valencia
Feeling hungry? El Carmen offers some of the best tapas Valencia has to offer, with Tasquita la Estrecha serving awesome food that comes on small plates.
Adjoining El Carmen is the Jardines del Turia – Valencia’s now waterless river, which doubles as one of the largest green urban parks in Europe. This recreational area is best explored on two wheels using the Valenbisi, Valencia’s very own bike hire and ride scheme.
At the end of Jardines del Turia sits Valencia’s tribute to modern day architecture – the City of Arts and Sciences precinct. This is home to the city’s Science Centre, Aquarium, Arts Centre and IMAX theatre and while a day could easily be lost exploring its inner cavities, simply spending an hour wandering around the precinct is equally impressive.
Any trip to Valencia would be incomplete without a visit to one of its many beaches and La Malvarrosa is Valencia’s main beach, which is easily accessed using the modern metro system. While at the beach, be sure to drop into the Marina Beach Club to experience Valencia’s gift to the world – paella, which any Spaniard will tell you should only ever be eaten at lunch.
The Jardines del Turia (Turia Gardens) is a beautiful green space in the heart of the city
As you watch the beautiful people submerge their bodies in the infinity pool, order Valencia’s own version of sangria, Agua de Valencia, a delicious but potent mix of gin, vodka, cava and orange juice.
As night descends on the city – head to the barrios of Ruzafa or Gran Via area where you can witness first-hand Valencia’s party reputation.
To ensure you have the stamina to sustain the long hours ahead – grab a good coffee (which is never easy to find in Spain) and something sweet at Valencia’s answer to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Dulce de Leche.
As ten o’clock ticks over, it’s dinner time in Spain and for a tasty cheap, eat head to Mare Meua – a little pinxos bar where you select bite-size morsels to enjoy with an icy vino or cerveza as you sit with the cool people on the terraza outside.
For those wanting something upmarket, head to one of Valencia’s Michelin starred restaurants Riff where head Chef Bernd H. Knoller will personally explain the explosion of flavour that will please your tastebuds. Alternatively, for those with an aversion to meat, Copenhagen offers some of the only (and best) vegan food in Spain.
The City of Arts and Sciences is an architectural marvel, and the aquarium marine park has everything from these flamingos to dolphins and whales
Finally, you cannot go to Spain without a night out on the town and Ruzafa will not disappoint with some of Valencia’s best bars and discotecas. For a mixed crowd that guarantees sore feet from carving up the dance floor, Picaddilly is the place to go.
But remember, nightclubs in Spain don’t open until 1, they won’t get busy until 4 and they stay open until 8… so you are in for a long night. After all, this is Spain where everything happens three hours later than everywhere else!
Have you ever been to Spain?