Located on Spain's Mediterranean coast, Valencia is a magical city with thousands of years of history, wonderful food, and enough attractions to keep visitors busy.
From the cathedral's Miguelete Tower (which was once part of the Moorish mosque) to the wildly imaginative design of the City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia presents a visual feast for history and architecture lovers.
It's a gastronomic center where you can savor the smell and taste of authentic paella. It's part of a great winemaking region too, and you can tour the best vineyards while based in the city. And it's also on the coast. With beautiful, clean city beaches, Valencia allows you to blend a cultural and beach holiday with ease.
Valencia isn't huge, but it has the museums and galleries of a far larger city. Easily the most impressive is the City of Arts and Sciences, a stunning postmodern building designed by superstar architect Santiago Calatrava, where you'll find Europe's largest aquarium and the Principe Felipe Science Museum.
Starting life as a Roman city, Valencia went through centuries of Muslim rule, before becoming part of Spain, and you can tour sites from every era. Climb the Moorish minaret in what is now the cathedral, walk the medieval walls, and get a sense of the bigger picture at the Valencian History Museum.
Valencia is famous in Spain for its gastronomic culture, mainly due to the city's association with paella, a Spanish national dish. But there's more than just paella to try. From bunyols (doughnuts) to rice colored with squid ink, there's a huge range of foods to try.
Valencia is more than a city: it's also a lively beach resort. Beaches like Las Arenas and El Cabañal have won awards for their cleanliness and are just 15 minutes from downtown Valencia, while you can get away from it all at the much wilder Albufera Natural Park, around 30 minutes away by car.
You can easily get to fascinating medieval towns like Sagunto, the orange groves of the Huerta, and the hiking trails of the Sierra Calderona Natural Park, while the weekly Winebus from Calle Xàtiva will show you all the best local vineyards.
This 15th-century building is a masterpiece of gothic architecture, incredibly well preserved and the highlight of the city. Valencia was once an essential port on the Mediterranean, and the silk trade at Lonja de la Seda led the city into its golden age. Imagine the lively scene behind the fortress-like walls, and let the iconic spiral columns and carves details of the halls wash over you. Mercat Central stands across the way for more present shopping opportunities.
Many great feats of architecture comprise this entertainment complex, built on the River Turia as a haven of arts, sciences, and culture. L'Hemisfèric is a planetarium and IMAX theater shaped like an eye, while the Science Museum is an interactive wonderland for hands-on education. L'Umbracle envelops a diverse-nature walk, while Reina Sofia and Agora are two performance venues. The lotus shaped Oceanogràfic is a special highlight, home to over 500 species.
This time-worn palace has changed through the ages but remains fit for royalty. A baroque facade contrasts the rococo interior, and while the details of the building are enough to amaze any visitor, a treat of historic ceramics awaits inside. Some of the most detailed craftsmanship is exhibited through the traditional pottery on display, and the museum gives a platform to the under-appreciated art form in surprising ways. Also, the Valencia Cathedral is just around the corner.
At the corner where two vast parks, Jardín del Turia and Jardines del Real, meet, this local Museum makes a grand mark on the city. The collection focuses on European art from the 14th up to the 17th centuries, with highlights from Diego Velazquez and El Greco. The building itself is a masterpiece; it can be appreciated from a bird's-eye view from the Torres de Serranos, a nearby a 14th-century fortress.
Spain is full of art and culture, but its coastal cities are also beloved for the simple life by the waterside. This beach is the best one in Valencia, extending north from the marina along the beautiful Balearic Sea. Relax, play some pick-up sports, enjoy the sun, go for a dip - it's all possible here with lovely temperatures year-round. And once the sun sets, the area remains lively, boasting the best nightlife on this part of the coast.
Valencia is a wonderful destination to visit in the fall and spring. Between March and May, and September and early November, the weather is warm or mild, but not too hot. Summertime brings big crowds to attractions in town, and the beaches will be extra packed, so the shoulder seasons are definitely the most enjoyable time to go.
Valencia's international airport (also called Manises Airport) is around six miles outside town. The cheapest route into town is via the Metrobus (EUR1.45), but a better option is to take the subway, which takes around 20 minutes (EUR3.90 plus a EUR1 charge for the rechargeable ticket). There are also car rental outlets like Hertz and Enterprise at the airport, as well as a well-signposted taxi rank. Expect a taxi to cost about EUR20.
Valencia's main station is the Estación del Norte, which is well connected to major Spanish cities like Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville (and via Barcelona to France as well). The station is centrally located and on the subway, so there shouldn't be a problem getting to your accommodation.
If you are driving from Madrid, the best route is to take the E-901 then the A3. The E-15 runs directly from Barcelona to Valencia and also from Seville in the south. Almost all drivers will need to look for the V-30, which is the fastest road into the center of the city.
Buses are an affordable alternative to trains or driving and Alsa runs plenty of daily services from almost all major Spanish cities. Buses terminate at the Estación de Autobuses on the north side of the Turia park. Just cross over one of the bridges and you'll immediately be in the Old Town.
Many of Valencia's best hotels are close to the City of Arts and Sciences, which is handy for families. Good options include Barceló Valencia and Confortel Aqua 4. If you want to be at the heart of the Old Town, the Hotel Vincci Mercat is a modern luxury hotel with a rooftop pool and there are plenty of smaller, family-run places like the Hostal Venecia. The Hotel Neptuno could be perfect for beach lovers, while Tryp Valencia is a handy option if you need to be close to the airport.
Ciutat Vella - Valencia's Old Town, Ciutat Vella is full of narrow streets, beautiful (and often very ancient) houses, and historical attractions like the cathedral as well as galleries like IVAM and the Ceramics Museum. Streets like Calle Pintor Sorolla are also the city's premier luxury shopping locations, while Ciutat Vella is also home to the city's finest restaurants.
Las Arenas - Las Arenas is Valencia's city beach, a clean, safe, and very conveniently located place to relax. You can take the subway straight into the city center and return in the evening for paella and cocktails by the Mediterranean sea.
The Turia - strictly speaking, Turia isn't a neighborhood, but a huge city park. Created when the city deliberately dried up its river, the park arcs around the center of Valencia, with cycling paths, orange tree-lined walkways, and easy access to attractions like the City of Arts and Sciences.
Valencia has an excellent Metro (subway) system for such a small city. The five Metro lines will take you to almost all of the main neighborhoods and attractions and is fairly cheap at EUR1.50 per journey. It's a good idea to get a contactless Bonometro ticket, which stores 10, 20, or 30 journeys and provides cut-price transportation.
Valencia's taxis are reliable and a good way to get around, but they may not be the cheapest option. Typical rates are a meter drop of EUR1.25, then around EUR1.20 per mile, with more expensive rates at weekends and in the evening.
One of the great attractions of Valencia is the countryside around the city and having your own car is the only way to properly explore. You can rent a vehicle at the airport or in town, and rates can be as low as EUR10 per day, so it's a cost-effective way to get around.
Valencia's Ciutat Vella is a shopper's dream, with an incredible collection of world-famous chains and local boutiques. Check out El Corte Inglés on Calle de Colon for general goods, wander down Calle de Sorni to boutiques like Valentina's or perfumers like Paco Perfumerías, and certainly find time to duck into the Mercat de Colón. Built in 1916, the market is a masterpiece of modern design and a great place to find jewelry, clothes, food, and artworks. Whatever you want to buy, Ciutat Vella won't disappoint.
There are plenty of supermarkets around Valencia, which should be handy for self-catering vacationers. Mercadona and Consum have outlets in most neighborhoods and there is a massive Carrefour on Av. Manuel de Falla. Prices are modest in most places. Expect to pay about EUR2.80 for a gallon of milk and EUR0.40 for a pound of potatoes.
Dining out is one of the biggest attractions in Valencia, and the choices on offer are impressive. If all you need is a huge bowl of authentically cooked paella, try Casa Carmela or El Canyar. For great seafood by the ocean try L'estimat, and for a true gourmet experience in the Old City, give La Pappardella a try. Expect to pay around EUR10-15 for a main course at most city center restaurants.