The writer Edmondo De Amicis said well. If you’re in Spain, you’ll be forever young. You’ll only think about enjoying the beautiful sky and landscapes. So, no one can be disappointed. And only few days are enough to be dazzled by the Valencian atmosphere; a truly “Great beauty”.
Valencia. A postcard to carry on the bottom of the soul.
The city that wants to look to the future.
Rich in art and traditions that drag the viewer into a whirlwind of emotions.
Everyone arriving in Valencia gets pleasantly struck: totally friendly, affordable, with many “faces”. Valencia represents that little heavenly feeling that everyone is looking for, where the fun and the cultural aspect will never cease to amaze.
This is the third largest city in Spain in terms of population, after Madrid and Barcelona. The city was founded by Romans in 138 BC, along the right bank of the Turia river, and experienced alternating phases of splendor under the Italian rule. Valencia truly boasts a long and interesting history: its influences derive from a variety of sources including Moors, Christians, and Romans, all of them reflected in its architecture and atmosphere. As soon as you arrive, you’ll feel driven by a strange curiosity.
What To Do In Valencia? A Weekend in the Valencian Atmosphere
Valencia’s airport, Manises, is relatively small, but well stocked and well served by an excellent subway, which will quickly take you to the city center.
Simply getting on public transportation can make you discover the cheerful and helpful character of the Valencian: it won’t be difficult to find someone prodigal in giving you information or who simply wants to have a chat. Opening up a beautiful smile and speaking a somewhat stunted “Valencian” language will be a unique and fun experience. Because yeah, you’ll gonna speak in Valenciano, a variant of the “Catalan” that represents a very strong tradition for the citizens, who are keen to keep their language alive in every way.
An Ever-Bustling City
Arriving at the Xativa metro station, you’ll be at “the center of the world”. Well, not really of the world, but certainly at the center of Valencia, where it will be possible to find numerous hotels, from the most luxurious to the most economical yet still welcoming. Leaving the subway, you’ll be hit by the city in continuous ferment, a place that never takes a break. And it’ll be good to get used to this lifestyle.
It’ll never be too late to go for a walk, or enjoy an excellent dinner – from the most luxurious restaurants to take away diners – or even go shopping until late in the evening. Although mostly widespread among young people, no self-respecting Valencian will give up his afternoon siesta, which could lead to a tasty evening aperitif and maybe dinner at a somewhat unlikely time, often finishing with the first lights of a new dawn. It’ll be like being the protagonists of “Il sabato del villaggio”, on a Saturday that never ends, overwhelmed by a constant party atmosphere.
The Shopping Avenues and the Bulls’ Square
Visiting the city center will be simple and smart. Great palaces extend between the Carrer de Xativa and the Grande via del Marques de Sotelo; you’ll feel immensely small whle crossing them and observing their brightness, especially during sunset, when everything turns yellow and orange, in a splendid setting that only in recent years has known a great development due to the works of architect Santiango Calatrava. It’s almost impossible to take the eyes off the thousand colorful shop windows, especially if you’re a shopping lover.
And yet a first obligatory stop is the Plaça des Bous (Bulls square), where an imposing arena rises. Till now, although often considered a bloody spectacle and not shared by many persons, it’s possible to watch a corrida, which remains, despite everything, a faithful tradition.
The Dreamy Valencian Modernism
Valencia is one of the Spanish cities with a good number of modernist buildings. Just move your gaze from the arena, and witness the beauty and uniqueness of the Estacion del Nord, the train station that efficiently connects Valencia to other cities in Spain every day. You’ll be struck by its particular architectural style, invented by artists of the Gaudí era in the XX century, influenced by the forms of natural objects and embellished by Art Nouveau elements; nearby, a carousel that plays its lullaby and the festive voices of curious children make this place almost magical, as an entrance to who knows what enchanted place.
The liveliness of this delightful town does not seem to want to let you go: a few hundred meters from these site, and already kidnapped by the windows of the shops and the many cafes, you’ll be at the Plaça de l’Ajuntament, where the City Town Hall stands in all its majesty. A large fountain spurts out at the center of the large square, immersed in the eternal sensation of spring given by the well-kept flowerbeds that surround it.
The Fascination of the Old City and Its Barrios
Around the corner, there’s the true heart of Valencia: the Ciutat Vella district, the old city.
This a compact area contains many of the most famous places in Valencia, including the Cathedral and the Central Market. The neighborhood is composed of five small barrios connected by delightful lanes. The best known is certainly El Carmen, in the northeastern part of the district. Barrio del Carmen‘s beauty comes from Valencia’s long history. In the medieval period, the Arabs found refuge there, transforming the district into an aristocratic and rich area. In the following centuries, the other architectures that can be admired today were realized. So El Carmen is a real mix of old and new: the pretty cobbled streets and squares host many museums, as well as countless trendy cafés and vintage fashion boutiques, with street performers all around.
The many murals make the neighborhood a pleasant outdoor art gallery, and you may spend time among the cafes and typical restaurants, or simply admire the soap bubbles created by the artists. You never know beauty lays just around the corner.
You’ll may end your walk at the Torres des Quart, one of the ancient city gates. These, as well as the Torres Serrano, are among the most famous attractions in the city.
Getting Lost in El Mercat
And then here it is, proud in its colors and Arab-style structure, in a setting of majestic trees: El Mercat. This building dates back to the beginning of the last century, and it hosts the Central Market. Once inside, 8,000 square meters and about 1,500 food stalls – a lesser extent than the Mercat de Colon – will invest you with inviting smells, flavors, and typical dazzling warm colors that only Spain can create. Walking around the stalls, having fun reading the signs of the many counters, perhaps savoring a fragrant bocadillo with Serrano ham, is must-do experience.
Fun fact: once outside, you may see a parrot, part of the impressive weather vane, located above the market roof. Legend says that the parrot and the sparrow, situated on the dome top, observe their fellow citizens every day, gossiping about what’s happening in the city. And like two wise old men, they stand as guardians of the secrets of the Valencians.
The Sublime Eclecticism of Valencia’s Cathedral
A really different atmosphere can be perceived when visiting the Catedral de Valencia, just a few meters from the market. Built in the 13th century, it stands on a site previously occupied by a Roman temple and then by a mosque. Probably this is the reason why the Cathedral doesn’t have a unique style: Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque are intertwined; this feature is evident above all in the three portals, with the Torre del Miguelete that overlooks the entire building in all its splendor.
The bell tower, in Gothic style, to its blessing day: the day of San Miguel, on September 29th 1418. Even when it comes to Miguelete, there are many popular traditions related to it, one of the most amazing being a story dated 1459, when a small group of friends climbed to the highest point of the tower with a donkey; the guards then had to help the poor animal to descend. This joke and the constant braying of the poor animal turned the story into controversies and popular rumors, which associated the silly event with demonic presences.
The main portal called “de los Hierros“, is instead in Baroque style. Stopping to look at the door, it’s possible to see naked female figures, a very unusual fact for a really important Christian cathedral. The whole facade is a riot of angels and saints, even if the true protagonist is the Virgin Mary, to whom the entire church is dedicated.
A Legendary Artifact
The most important element of the whole Cathedral, which attracts faithful and curious people from all over the world, is the Holy Grail. It’s believed, in fact, that the one kept in this chapel is the Holy Chalice that Jesus Christ used during the Last Supper. Obviously, it’s not certain if this is the real Grail; the fact is that, over the centuries, popes, kings and ordinary people have kept on coming to this place with their prayers. Going beyond religious expectations, and combining the sacred with the profane, who wouldn’t want to feel, at least for a moment, like a little Indiana Jones with his or her Holy Grail?
Recharge on the Beach of La Malvarrosa
Valencia truly is a small town with a thousand faces. For sea lovers, a must-do is the beautiful beach in the La Malvarrosa district, easily accessible by subway. Its urban development has followed a particular course, linked to the growing interest of the inhabitants in buying the old fishermen settlements; at the same time, the Valencian bourgeois elite appreciates the climatic characteristics of the coast, and started building large and luxurious summer residences here. So, during summer, its golden sand attracts a multitude of Valencians and tourists, but even when it isn’t yet the time to take the “tan”, you can walk along the long boulevard that runs along the beach in total relaxation, enjoying the scent of the sea and stopping at one of the many coffee shops scattered along the way.
Special attention should be paid to the port of Valencia, not far away, where it’s possible to visit the famous structure set up for the America’s Cup of sailing.
The Overflowing Nature of the Jardín del Turia
Walking in the woods has always been relaxing and healthy. The Jardín del Turia is one of the largest urban natural park in Spain, a green space of over 9 kilometers that passes through the city, with recreational and sports areas, as well as romantic corners where couples love to get lost. After the umpteenth great flood of October 14, 1957 devastated the city, the Turia river bed, in the south of Valencia, was diverted, leaving an important strip of land that runs through the city from west to east and surrounding the historic center. Then the park was inaugurated in 1986.
Several urban planners and landscapers designed the various sections of the bed, re-proposing the ancient riverbed and creating a path populated by palm and orange trees, fountains and pines, aromatic plants and ponds, sports routes and rose gardens. Walking on a riverbed really gets your heart pumping, but it won’t be long before you are overwhelmed by the beauty of the park and forget everything else; this long tree-lined avenue makes Valencia one of the greenest cities in Europe today.
From the Parque de Cabecera to the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, the Jardín del Turia is an ideal route for running and cycling, for families and nature lovers. Unique in its own kind, crossed by 18 bridges with their centuries of history, it houses the main museums and monuments of the city on both banks. Being on the plain, you’ll be overwhelmed by a multitude of lovers of running, cyclists, Segways, and electric scooters. Suddenly, the green and the chirping of birds leaves room for the futuristic aspect of the city.
The Magnificence of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències
Getting to the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències really leaves you breathless, as if you were passing into a parallel reality. Already at a distance, you’ll remain fascinated by the glow of its gold and white colors, while the blue of the large pools that surround it give the feeling of not knowing where the earth ends and the sky begins. A truly ideal place for lovers of science and arts in all their forms: getting lost in the Ocèanographic Aquariums or being the protagonist of experiments at the Principe Felipe Museum are experiences not to be missed. The arch of the museum contains yet another bizarre, magic trick: thanks to the particular construction that overhangs it and propagates sound waves, it is possible to perfectly listen to a person at the opposite extreme.
During the hot summer months, you can escape the heat wave with a nice canoe ride around the pools; or maybe savor a salad or a bocadillo, witnessing a singular seagulls bath. And perhaps your curiosity will be attracted by the buildings surrounding the structure: their eccentric forms will make you doubt their comfort, but nothing has been done by chance, everything wants to recall a futuristic and modern aspect.
The Enchanted Oasis of the Albufera
An alternative destination for nature and rural landscapes lovers is the natural reserve of Albufera. Not far from the city, in a southerly direction, it’s possible to arrive here in a very short time, even with public transportation. Moving away from the urban routine and seeing the lagoon shortly afterwards, it’s impossible not to be overcome by a feeling of absolute serenity. You can decide to stop at El Palmer, the small village of fishermen located in a strip of land on the lake.
Stroll through the rice fields or the colorful houses overlooking the canals; to observe the serenity on the faces of its few inhabitants, to visit the typical white shacks of the place, to peek with curiosity among the numerous Embarcaderos, the collection of eels – a typical dish of the Albufera – will make your trip unique in its kind. For a few euros – no more than 5 euros per person – fishermen, improvised as tour guides, will take you on a boat ride through the reeds. It’s not uncommon to see herons flying or resting on the banks. And with the wind in your hair, in the bow of the small motor boat, the feeling of being free and alive will take you more than ever.
Taste the Paella Valenciana in Its Birthplace
The “tete à tete” appointment with the Paella a la Valenciana – a dish with humble origins that was born in the rural areas of the Albufera and is still a true sacredness for the Valencians – is inevitable. The farmers used to prepare an easy dish with the ingredients they had available. Its name derives from the “special pan” in which it is cooked, circular with two small handles at the edges, simply called “paella”. Cooking paella is a tradition of which the Valencian will never be tired. The day they meet around the fire and in the family is Sunday for lunch, the most festive day of the week. Today, it’s possible to enjoy the paella in one of the many characteristic little restaurants of the town, served in an array of good variations. A delicacy for the eyes and the palate.
Stopping then until sunset, and enjoying the sun that lays down on the lake, truly is a magical moment. It’ll almost seem like you can hear the sun sizzle between the waters and the reeds. The colors will spread like tongues of fire. The perfect place to end your day dreaming.
Dive into the Valencian Movida
And if you’re not tired yet, Valencia will always be there, ready for fun all night long.
Returning to the city center, it’ll be possible to have a great meal, often accompanied by Flamenco shows or entertained by guitarists of Spanish music – such as at the characteristic restaurant Tinto Fino Ultramarino, near the Cathedral – or just stop to eat a tapa in one of the many small and cheerful inns that surround the entire neighborhood.
And if you’d like to have another drink, the Barrio del Carmen will be the perfect place for you. Life in the Barrio changes according to the hours of the day: quiet in the morning and in the afternoon; wild at sunset. During the day, tourists enjoy looking at the shop windows and entering “alternative” stores in search of special clothing. When the sun goes down, the neighborhood becomes the temple of night time entertainment.
A special mention goes to L’Infanta – a unique brewery placed into an old cinema – located in Plaça del Barrio, and to Radio City, which offers different entertainment every night, from rock concerts to short films by Valencian artists.
The Last Anecdote from Valencia
And, before saying goodbye to the city, give a look at the moon. There’s one last anecdote from Valencia that is connected to Earth’s satellite. Maybe you have heard the saying “Estàs a la lluna de València”? That’s because in the past the city was surrounded by walls, and the doors had a precise closing time. If, by an unlucky event, someone arrived at the door late, all that remained to do was to stay out of the city all night long. Literally, “under the moon of Valencia”. Nowadays, this phrase is widely used for the naive and distracted, or when you want something without being able to get it.
And this is how the night will pass happily over this city where “life fades into a continuous smile”. Because what else can traveling be? To remove that opaque sensation from our eyes, always a little distracted, to make us better and better.