Valencia City Guide
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and the busiest container port in the Mediterranean sea. When it comes to sights and places to visit in Valencia, it has a breathtakingly beautiful old town area, a massive beach with soft sand, a fascinating modern architecture complex (the City of Arts and Sciences/Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias) and of course the fantastic and conceptual Oceanografic (aquarium) and Bioparc (zoo). Whether you are planning to spend 3 days in Valencia or a week or even longer, you will find plenty of things to do to keep you occupied. To help you plan your trip, look no further than this Valencia city guide with practical tips and a list of must-see places in this part of Spain.
Where to stay in Valencia
The best area to stay Valencia, in my opinion, is the old town (Ciutat Vella) and the nearby Russafa and L'Eixample. These are easy to get to from the airport, beautiful architecturally, and have a high concentration of shops, cafes and restaurants. You are also in the centre of the metro network, so it's easy to travel to other parts of the city.
Whilst it might be tempting to stay by the beach in Cabanyal/Malvarrosa, especially in the warm summer months, it's not the best area to hang out in after dark. The City of Arts and Sciences would make a lovely view out of the hotel window, but it's not the best for connections to the rest of the city as it's located a bit further away from the metro stations. There are buses of course, but I am always a bit hesitant to use buses in an unknown place as I am never sure where to get off and how to buy tickets.
To help with hotel selection, these are my impressions from the hotels I stayed at:
Transport from Valencia airport to city centre and getting around Valencia
If you are arriving in Valencia by plane, reaching the city centre is very cheap, easy and quick by metro. Valencia airport is served by two metro lines, 3 (Airport - Rafelbunyol) and 5 (Airport - Marítim-Serrería), both of which run through the central area. If your accommodation is in the old town, you could get off at Angel Guimera, Xativa or Colon stations and walk from there. The trip will take you under 25 minutes and a single ticket costs €3.90 (correct in January 2018). During our stay, we have found the public transport in Valencia reliable and have had no issues, whether it's getting from/to the airport or general travelling around the city, so felt no need to use taxis.
If you are planning to use the metro a lot during your stay, it's worth buying a Bonometro ticket - a travelcard for 10 rides that you tap in and tap out at the stations. It will save you both time and money - the price depends on the zones you would like the ticket to cover. In total, there are four metro zones in Valencia (ABCD), with the airport in zone D, while the vast majority of the main tourist attractions are in zone A. If you want the Bonometro to be valid across all four zones including the airport, it will cost you €20, compared to €7.20 for only one zone (a single ride within one zone without the Bonometro will be €1.50). The Bonometro card can be reloaded once you have used up your ten rides, so don't throw it away. Both Bonometro and single tickets can be bought at the automatic ticket machines at the stations, including the airport. Another option to save money is to get TuiN - a pay as you go card that you top up and that then gets charged according to the zones your trip covers (minimum topup is €10). For the latest information on ticket types and prices have a look at the Metrovalencia website.
Due to its good weather, Valencia is a city that encourages being outside (although it can get rather chilly in the winter months as I've learned the hard way), so you could also rely on a bicycle to explore the area - there are numerous Valenbisi bike stations everywhere or you could rent a bike from a rental shop, of which there are also many. You will definitely not be short of things to explore and the traffic organisation felt safe for cyclists overall.
Places to visit in Valencia
(click on the place name below to view if you don't want to scroll through all)
Valencia Old Town
Valencia is the kind of city where wandering the streets of the old town you want to take a photo of literally every house. It's the kind of city where you feel like Meg Ryan's character in French Kiss wanting to declare "Beautiful! Gorgeous! Wish you were here!" on every corner. It is the kind of city whose penchant for towers crowned by stunning tiled domes makes you almost expect to see Rapunzel peeking out from a window.
It is not just one central street where all life is focused - the old town of Valencia is one to explore, with small boutiques and restaurants dotted all over the place. But even plain residential streets and office buildings are charming, with intricate balconies, ornate details and lovely colours. Add to that blue skies and balmy temperatures for a large part of the year, and you are bound to enjoy Valencia.
To say that the old town is pretty would therefore be the understatement of the year. I was in love with Barcelona before, but now Valencia has firmly occupied the number one spot in my heart.
Tip - there is a viewing platform on top of the Ateneo Mercantil building on Plaza del Ayntamiento called Mirador del Ateneo, where for only €3 you can take in the view in all directions. There is a bar on the viewing platform as well, where you get a discount on drinks with your entry ticket, but unfortunately it was unmanned when we were there. Hope you have more luck!
The City of Arts and Sciences
Strikingly different from the old-world charm of the old town of Valencia, the City of Arts and Sciences is a masterpiece of modern architecture. Designed by two Spanish architects, Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela, the complex consists of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Hemisferic, Museo de las Sciencias Principe Felipe, Oceanografic, Umbracle and Agora, with each building having its own distinct purpose.
Hemisferic, for example, is an IMAX cinema, laserium and planetarium, while Agora is a space for various events. You can choose to visit one or more of the buildings in the complex or to simply enjoy the walk around the pools and admire the architecture from the outside. The Science Museum and Hemisferic are the more affordable options for visiting, while Oceanografic is on the expensive side. Combi ticket options are also available.
If you would like to visit one of the attractions in the City of Arts and Sciences, do bear in mind that walking from the old town through the Turia Gardens will take you around 40 minutes and the opening times change depending on the season, so plan your day accordingly. In fact, if you want to visit everything, you might even want to break it up into several days.
Tip - the buildings are lit in the dark, so visiting at sunset is great for some scenic lights and reflection photography.
Oceanografic Valencia is the biggest aquarium in Europe, located in the City of Arts and Sciences complex in Valencia. It has a massive range of exhibits, with jellyfish, crocodiles, birds, fish, penguins, walruses and, the piece de resistance, beluga whales. It is a large space with lots to see - you can check out the map here to plan your visit in advance. You will need at least a good few hours to see everything if not the whole day (if you want to take it in slowly). Most of the animals can be seen at any time, but for dolphins there are shows at specific times - check the schedule on arrival. My favourite parts of the park were the tunnel fishtanks and the beluga whales.
There is a range of options for eating on the grounds, but, as we have learned the hard way, if you are visiting in low season (in our case end of November), some of them might be closed. Learn from my mistakes and check what's open before you get to the stage where you are hangry and running around like a headless chicken trying to find somewhere to eat urgently. Apart from the usual snack bars, there is a fine dining restaurant called Submarino, where you can have a set menu for lunch (prices start at €35 per person). You could also visit in the evening for an a la carte dinner. While the prices aren't cheap, it does offer a unique atmosphere as you will be eating in a room surrounded by a giant fish tank.
Oceanografic Valencia tickets cost around €30 per person (adult) and can be bought online in advance if you are worried about queues. We bought the tickets at the ticket office on arrival and there were no queues at all, but then again that was November, so might be different if you are going in peak season. If you are planning to return to Oceanografic several times during one calendar year, it might be worth looking into their Club ticket, which allows you to visit as many times as you wish until the end of the calendar year.
Valencia Zoo (Bioparc)
Valencia Bioparc is a zoo with an innovative concept - rather than being stuck in cages behind bars, the animals are in spacious and open landscaped enclosures, some of which you can even walk through, bringing you as close as it gets to the nature. Just imagine how awesome it is to walk through a garden, lift up your head and see a lemur sleeping in the branches of the tree just above you! Another difference to a normal zoo is the fact that animals are mixed rather than having just one type per enclosure.
To get to Bioparc from the old town area, you can either walk along Turia Gardens or take the metro (lines 3, 5, and 9) to Nou d'Octubre station and walk from there. We took the metro there and walked back.
If you get hungry during your visit (and you probably will as it's a large zoo), there is a cafe/snack bar in Bioparc with a great view over the area with the giraffes. It is a lovely place to sit down with a cafe Bombon, relax and observe the surroundings - we liked it so much that we did it twice (ok, and it was chilly, so cafe Bombon and a hot tea were necessary to warm up...).
Tickets to Bioparc cost ~€24 and can be bought online in advance or from the ticket office on the day. Just like Oceanografic, Bioparc also has annual tickets, so it's worth looking into that if you are planning to visit several times. Bioparc is open 365 days a year, but the opening times differ depending on the time of the year. To get the latest information as well as to read up on all the animals, visit the website of Bioparc Valencia.
Turia Gardens are located in the former riverbed of the river Turia, which was diverted elsewhere to prevent flooding. This has left a stretch of ~9 kilometres that was landscaped into a park with cycle- and footpaths, ponds, sporting facilities and beautiful vegetation crossed by 18 bridges from different periods and styles. The park was inaugurated in 1986 and is popular among both locals and visitors to Valencia. Being there is a great feeling - even though there are busy roads on both sides of Turia Gardens, you still feel like you are out in the nature.
Turia Gardens are a great connecting route between the old town and the City of Arts and Sciences or Bioparc if you would like to walk or cycle there.
Cabanyal/Arenas Beach - Valencia City Beach
Valencia is in the privileged position of being able to offer not just a city break with culture but also a massive blue flag beach to relax on. The beach starts by the harbour and goes on for ages - the part I visited was the one by the harbour which is called El Cabanyal/Las Arenas. To get there you can take the metro from central Valencia to Maritim-Serreria station and then either walk (~15-20 minutes) or change for the tram that will take you even closer to the beach. Or, of course, you could just cycle as many people seem to do.
Cabanyal/Arenas beach is very wide so there is enough room for games as well as just chilling and the sand is incredibly fine and soft. I have to say this is probably one of the best beaches I have ever been to if not the best. There are toilets on the beach, but during the time of my visit (September, evenings) they were all closed, so depending on when you visit, bear in mind you might need to rely on the local restaurants/bars to use the facilities. There are also showers, both for the whole body and just the feet.
Valencia Central Market
The Central Market of Valencia (Mercado Central) is located, as the name implies, slap bang in the middle of the old town. It is open from 7am to 3pm Monday to Saturday and is noteworthy from both an architectural and a products on offer point of view.
The beautiful building was designed in 1914 and is crowned by a dome that looks fantastic from both the outside and the inside. The large amount of glass incorporated into the structure lets in plenty of natural light.
When it comes to what's on offer - the short answer is everything. There are ~300 stalls selling all kinds of edible products from fish, meat and jamon to fruit, veg and juices to spices and pastries. It is frequented by both tourists and locals and what I feel it lacks from the tourist's point of view is more stalls where you can sit and taste some of the local produce. There was only one stall like that and all the seats were always full. Other than that, unless you fancy some fresh juice on the go, the market is really more of a place to stock up on some raw ingredients which you can then take home and cook.
Tip - if you want to visit a market for a sit-down meal, check out Colon market, located in L'Eixample area a short walk away from the Colon metro station. It is also a beautiful building and has 10 restaurants, 6 cafes and a pub. Note that since most of Colon market is classed as 'outside' even though it's under a roof, smoking is allowed.
Jardines del Real/Viveros
Jardines del Real, also known as Viveros, is a park to the North of the old town, which used to be the location of the royal palace. It is a pleasant area with plenty of trees and plants to provide shade for those hotter days and a cafe where you can relax with a book.
The park also has two surprises up its sleeve. First of all, the peacocks, of which I counted at least five, wander about freely. Secondly, as you walk further into the park you will come to find a large bird house/cage housing a multitude of parrots of different kinds. The birds are very chatty, curious and fly over to the bars to have a closer look at you.
I hope your trip to Valencia goes well and that you grow to love this city as much as I do!
Save this post for for future reference:
Follow Flight to Somewhere for updates and travel inspiration: