Valencia is the third largest city in Spain with the largest port on the Mediterranean sea. It was founded as a Roman colony in 138BC, and its name is said to mean strength and valor in Latin– and that is apparent in its strong culture and constant innovation that blends its ancient buildings with the futuristic ones. Its delicious food deserves a mention too; Valencia is the home of the traditional rice dish, paella.
Valencia was the third stop on my Spanish holiday through the Eastern part of the country. I was with my sister, and we allocated two days to explore the city. We spent the first day admiring the modern part and beach area of Valencia; and the second day was dedicated to exploring and walking along the narrow streets of the old town. This was our 2-day itinerary.
We arrived at Valencia Airport in the late morning and made our way to Plaza del Ayuntamiento in the old town, where our hotel is located. We stayed at the 3-star Hotel Venecia— and for the affordable rate, it has a fantastic location. We were close to everything; the train station was a mere 200m walk, all the buses stop at the square in front of the hotel, and the old quarter was just a stroll away.
After dropping our luggage, we immediately headed out to explore the city. We hopped on one of the many buses that stopped at Plaza del Ayuntamiento and went to:-
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (The City of Art and Sciences)
This modern part of the city is an entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex. The complex, and the beautiful green park winding through it, is located on the former riverbed of the River Turia— the river was flood-prone, and was drained and rerouted. The futuristic buildings here are home to several museums– the Science Museum, the Planetarium, the Aquarium, the Arts Museum and the IMAX theatre.
We didn’t visit the museums, as the beautiful white and blue buildings, large pools of water, and gorgeous parks were enough to keep us occupied the entire afternoon.
From the City of Arts and Sciences, we took a walk towards the port and beachfront– passing by the Poblats Maritims (maritime villages) area of Valencia, the old maritime fishing neighborhood. We watched the local kids playing a game of basketball, and passed by old houses and buildings.
Las Arenas Beach
Not far away from the port is the city beach of Las Arenas. It is located south of the main beach of Playa de Malvarossa. The beach has a promenade and a row of traditional Spanish restaurants. We stopped by the beach to enjoy the summer sea breeze and people-watched. Towards the late afternoon, we took a stroll down the promenade to scour the place for somewhere to eat.
La Marcelina Restaurant
We had an early dinner at La Marcelina, a traditional Spanish restaurant along the Las Arenas promenade. They offer affordable set dinner meals, and we ordered the traditional Valencian rice dish, Paella. This dish is one of the identifying symbols of the city; and a portion is so big, 2 or 3 people can share it. Paella is cooked on a pan over an open fire and has many varieties. My sister and I shared the Fideuà— thin noodles like vermicelli are used instead of rice. It was delicious!
After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel. We called in early as we anticipated a long day the next day.
We were up early the next day, all ready to explore the Ciutat Vella of Valencia– the old center from which the city blossomed in the 15th century. This historic area is simply enchanting; retaining its star-shaped medieval layout with its maze of alleyways, ancient buildings and avant-garde elements.
Our hotel at Plaza del Ayuntamiento is located at the edge of the old city– so we walked right into the heart of the quarters and back in time.
The Central Market of Valencia is a modernist building that was designed in 1914, and opened in 1928. The entire building is covered with ceramic, stone, wood and colorful glass works. Visiting the market not only involved browsing through the many foodstuff and products displayed– but also admiring the gorgeous architecture. Look up at the ceiling, it’s beautiful.
Walking towards the east of the Mercat Central, we reached the Placa Redona, which literally translates to Round Square. This public space is surrounded by shops and a fountain in the middle– and was designed in 1937 in the Neoclassical style.
Iglesias de Santa Catalina
A short stroll away from the Placa Redona is the Santa Catalina Cathedral— said to be the oldest church in Valencia, dating back to the 14th century. The baroque bell tower was added in the 18th century, and is considered to be the most remarkable feature of the building. Climb up its spiral staircase with its white-washed interior for sweeping views of the old quarter.
Horchateria de Santa Catalina
Right in front of the bell tower of the Santa Catalina Cathedral is this popular cafe that serves a famous local delicacy– horchata. It is an opaque sugary drink made from pressed chufas (tiger nuts), into which you can dip large finger-shaped buns called fartons. I absolutely loved it, and for the rest of my journey through Spain… I couldn’t find another horchata as good as the one here.
Placa de la Reina
Walking north from the Santa Catalina area, we reached Queen Square, one of the busiest and most crowded places in Valencia. It is also the starting point of all the radial roads of Valencia– kilometer zero. The Valencia Cathedral overlooks this square.
The Valencia Cathedral is officially named the Metropolitan Cathedral-Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia. Most of this Gothic cathedral was built between the 13th and 15th century. It is absolutely grand and magnificent– and we took quite a while walking through its nave, admiring its architectural styles, paintings and carvings.
The cathedral is also famous for holding the Holy Chalice, dating back to the 1st century. It is believed to be the true holy grail; the authentic cup used at the Last Supper.
Placa de la Virgen
A narrow lane behind the Valencia Cathedral leads to Virgin Square, where three important buildings of the city stand– the other side of the Valencia Cathedral, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Homeless and the Palace of the Generalitat. It used to be the main square of the city during the ancient Roman times, and is still very much a public place; with events and performances taking place here.
Torres de Serranos
Walking to the edge of the old quarter, north of Virgin Square; we arrived at the imposing Serrano Towers. The towers are considered to be the largest Gothic city gateway in Europe, and was constructed at the end of the 14th century. It is one of the twelve gates that were found along the old medieval city walls. It is possible to visit the tower and climb the stairs to the top, it offers panoramic views of Ciutat Vella and beyond.
El Carmen Street Art
El Carmen is one of the neighbourhoods of the old city, located towards its north section. It is only a short stroll from the Serrano Towers, and is know as the city’s hip area. Young people hang out in lively bars housed in honey-colored ancient buildings. One of the most striking features in this part of town, though, is the amazing street art that line the walls. Check out the many masterpieces created with fine paint, spray paint and aerosol, amongst others.
We were looking for a place to have dinner and found out about this restaurant online. This pincho bar offers a huge variety of tapas in the best Basque tradition– served like bruschettas. All the tapas are placed on the counter, or brought around by the waiters; and we just had to pick and choose what we wanted. Each one costs around €2 (US$2), and they keep track of the amount we have taken from the toothpicks on the tapas.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento
This plaza is the most important and central square of the city, surrounded by several buildings of architectural importance, including the Town Hall of Valencia. This is where we ended our day’s exploration of Ciutat Vella… and Valencia.
The next day, we took the earliest train from the Valencia-Estacio del Nord Train Station to our next Spanish destination.