One of the coolest cities we visited on our road trip around Spain in June was Valencia. Outrageous architecture, a famously unique drink, golden beaches and (allegedly) the Holy Grail, Valencia is a brilliant place to stop for a couple of days.
We've made a list of 9 absolute must do activities for your Valencia city break:
1. Check out Estacion del Norte
Start your city break at Valencia's beautiful railway station, Estacion del Norte. Officially opened in 1917, the grand facade is decorated with Valencian oranges and topped by an enormous eagle symbolising speed.
Inside you'll find vintage wooden ticket booths and beautiful ceramic tiles and mosaics of fruit and flowers. The vaulted roof over the train platforms has a central gap running down it - this was designed to let out smoke when steam trains used to run here until 1975!
2. Eat Paella!
Paella, the world famous Spanish dish of yellow saffron rice, green beans and either chicken, rabbit, seafood or even snails, was born in Valencia! You'll easily find dozens of cafes and restaurants serving paella for lunch, just don't expect chorizo - definitely not part of the traditional Spanish recipe!
Did you know? The word Paella is Valencian for frying pan, which is where the dish gets its name!
3. Seek out the Holy Grail at Valencia Cathedral
Valencia's grand gothic cathedral is most famous for (allegedly) being home to the Holy Grail. Originally a Roman temple, a Visigoth cathedral and then a mosque all stood on this site, but the Cathedral you can see today was built between the 13th and 15th centuries.
To see the Holy Chalice, head to the chapterhouse to the right of the nave. While archaeologists have determined that the agate cup on view does date from the first century, and two Popes, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, have both held masses in Valencia using the chalice, it's up to you whether you believe if it is the exact cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. The Basilica of San Isidoro in Leon, Northern Spain also claims to have it...
The Cathedral has wonderful artworks, including the main altar's Renaissance frescoes of angels playing musical instruments, and a painting by Goya in the Saint Francis Borja Chapel.
For panoramic views over Valencia, climb the Miguelete Bell Tower. The winding spiral staircase leads to a generous terrace with the huge bell suspended above.
4. Try Xorchata
Another Valencian speciality, Horchata de chufa (Xorchata in Valencian spelling) is a cold, milky, refreshing drink made from Tiger nuts. It's really quite unique, and a bit of an acquired taste, but nice on a hot day. We'd say the closest thing we could compare it to taste-wise is almond milk.
5. Visit the beautiful Silk exchange
Also known as La Lonja de la Seda, this UNESCO listed building, famous for its magnificent hall of columns twisting up to the ceiling, dates from the15th century. You can easily imagine the silk merchants who brought such wealth of Medieval Valencia as you explore the grandiose rooms and elegant courtyard of orange trees.
6. Explore Jardin del Turia
This lovely park follows the line of the old Turia river bed and runs through the city for over 9 kms. Following a tragic flood in 1957, the river was diverted outside the city, and the dry river bed is now full of trees, cycle paths and a children's play area called Gulliver Park, with a giant Gulliver to climb on, tied to the ground like in Gullivers Travels. Hire a bike and explore the meandering park as it passes like a green ribbon under numerous bridges, all the way to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencas.
7. Grab lunch at the Central Market
You can't come to Valencia without visiting the Mercado Centro in its magnificent 1920s market building. Beneath a grand domed glass ceiling, stalls heave with fresh local produce. A great place to grab lunch, you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables, jamón Ibérico, olives, cheese, cakes and wine! If you liked the Central Market, you should also check out Mercat de Colon, another grand modernist building dating from 1916.
8. Hit the beach!
Valencia is a coastal city with some beautiful beaches. The closest are Malvarrosa Beach and Las Arenas Beach, about 15 minutes by bus from the city. Both beaches have golden sands and swimmable sea- in fact we found Spain's east coast beaches to have much warmer waters than the south coast, as this stretch of the Med is further away from the Atlantic coming in through the Straits of Gibraltar.
While both beaches have facilities like showers and toilets, a promenade with restaurants and sunbed hire, La Malvarossa is the more chilled of the two and Las Arenas is the nightlife destination with numerous bars and nightclubs.
9. Explore the City of Arts and Sciences complex
Exploring the enormous City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencas) is like taking a trip to the future: walk or cycle around the striking architecture like the space age looking Hemisferic cinema, the spiky Science Museum, the Palau de les Artes and the CaixaForum Valencia - Agora. You can also visit the Oceanografic, the largest aquarium in Europe.
How to get to Valencia
By plane: Valencia's airport, Manises Airport, is 8km west of the city. From there, Metro lines 3 and 5 and bus 150 run between the airport and Valencia city centre.
From the UK, it's about a 2hour 20 flight to Valencia and your cheapest option is most likely the Easyjet route from Gatwick.
By train: Renfe trains run between Valencia and numerous other Spanish cities like Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Malaga.
By Cruise ship: Valencia's Cruise Terminal is about 6km from the city Centre. Mediterranean cruise routes docking here usually operate a free shuttle bus for their passengers into the centre, otherwise your best option is a taxi into the centre. Your nearest tourist attractions are the City of Arts and Sciences and Malvarrosa Beach, both around 3km from the cruise port.
For hotels in Valencia, our favourite site is Booking.com.
Exploring more of Spain? You might also enjoy some of our other Spanish blogs:
Pin this blog for later!