Visiting Valencia - What to See and Do
(Valencia Airport VLC, Spain)
It can be hard to pin down the merits and attractions of Valencia
. There are plenty of brilliant sparks peeking out of the drab monochrome of its landscape, but there is no denying this city's industrial port roots. The people make up for any shortcomings found in the city's urban scene, however. They are proud, strong and dish out a serious dose of their own unique Spanish culture.
One can see the Renaissance of Valencia taking shape in venues like the stunning City of Arts and Sciences. There is a discernable energy at work here, as old dishevelled neighbourhoods like the Barrio del Carmen are being transformed into slick centres of bohemian pavement cafés, art galleries and bars.
Historic landmarks are perhaps a little thin in the city, due to the series of wars and natural disasters that have plagued the former kingdom of Spain
over its centuries of existence. The Seu and the Lonja are two of the best, offering a taste of what Valencia might have looked like at the height of its power in the 15th century.
Ten things you must do in Valencia
- Hoping to rival Spain's other big cities like Barcelona, Valencia created the City of Arts and Sciences. It is a breathtaking piece of architecture that contains four separate educational buildings dedicated to science and discovery, the underwater world, the universe and three state-of-the-art auditoriums, where regular performances are held. Even if you don't take advantage of the fun learning on hand, the complex is a marvel to explore.
- Valencia's star cathedral, the Seu, has been around since 1262. It is a beautiful church and a major landmark of the historic downtown core that has survived the tests of time. Inside you can see the Holy Grail, a star attraction which the Seu has possessed for the past 500 years and contends to be the real deal. You can also admire the artwork of Goya and others in the church museum. Afterwards, scale the Miguelete Gothic tower for one of the city's best vantage points.
- The Plaza de Toros is one of Spain's largest and most important bullrings. This controversial sport is an entrenched part of Spanish culture, though nowadays the city only hosts bullfights during special events, such as the massive Fallas festival in March. However, you can still tour the bullring at any time of year for a sense of these kinds of historic arenas.
- The city's Botanical Gardens are an ideal respite from the heat and congestion of Valencia, if you don't feel like going down to the beach. They have been open since 1567 and are just as lovely today as they were when the University of Valencia constructed them all those centuries ago. With more than 45,000 international species of plant on display, there is a lot of flora to take in.
- The main art venue in the city is the small but slick Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM). There are actually two buildings to explore - a 13th-century convent and a state-of-the-art modern gallery. The Spanish artist Julio Gonzalez is the core of the museum's permanent collection, but there are plenty of other striking pieces of art to contemplate.
- Valencia has nearly 3 km / 2 miles of Mediterranean beaches right on its doorstep. The fantastic seafront promenade, the Paseo Maritimo, is one of the highlights of the city where people come to walk, jog and take in the air. Flanking the promenade are the Arenas and Malvarrosa beaches, both just minutes from the centre of the city. Head further south to El Saler and you will find the city's tidy blue flag beach.
- Valencia is well-known around Spain for its energetic nightlife. The hub of the action is downtown's Barrio del Carmen, especially when the weather turns cool. Start your evening adventures on the Calle Alta and work your way from tasca to tasca until you reach the Plaza de Ayuntamiento, at the historic heart of the city. There are hundreds of bars to choose from, from chilled local joints to pumping clubs.
- The grand opera house of Valencia is the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, a very futuristic attraction found within the City of Arts and Sciences. Some of the most prestigious opera companies in the world make time to perform here, because the acoustics are so revolutionary.
- The Mercado Central has been around since the 1920s and it still embodies that classic Spanish vibe. Like a grand old railway station, its vaulted stained-glass enclosure guards a hoard of fresh fruit, produce and other edible goodies. This is a real working food market, where the local women of Valencia buy their daily rations. The scene is simply magical, and best of all, the historic silk exchange La Lonja de la Seda is right next-door.
- A truly notable place to wander around is the modernist Mercado de Colon. Inspired by the genius of Gaudi, this open-air market is a montage of cafés, craft stalls, flower vendors and other appealing little businesses. The streets that surround the market are equally interesting, hiding local favourites like chocolatiers and other treats.