Valencia is a very sunny city in Spain, good old Europe, and my most recently discovered passion.
This is a short travel guide to the City of Valencia, which lies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and is the departure place for those going to Spain’s famous Ibiza Island, by ferry.
I am sure that throughout this lens you will find some information that will fire your desire to at least get a weekend break to Valencia, if not end up doing like myself here, and I have been living in Valencia, Spain for a couple of months now.
1. Visit the Ciutat Vella – The Old City of Valencia
As most of the people from the 1600’s, I first entered the old city of Valencia through the sumptuous Serrano Gates, locally named Torres de Serrans, or Torres de Serano.
I most easily lost my way between the narrow streets of the old city of Valencia, where the Spanish people from the 17th century used to carry on with their daily life. The small buildings, built in a fascinating architecture, hide around their corners extremely beautiful and relaxing little islands of green and water coming from fountains, and places to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere.
Spread throughout the Ciudad Vieja, you can encounter in your walks sumptuous Cathedrals, Towers, Museums and other buildings of historical importance.
The center of the Ciutat Vella is very well conserved too. Again, amazing architectural shapes and lines revealed before my eyes, and I got thirsty for more information that was hidden in all that beauty. The place is called Placa de la Verge, or Plaza de la Virgen, and it is a pretty big square with a fountain in the middle, the Fountain of Turia. You will learn more about river Turia further on in this lens. Surrounding the ancient fountain, you can find nice places where you can enjoy a drink, or a local specialty, while admiring the square, with the Valencia Cathedral, the Miguelete Towerand the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados.
The whole name of the Valencia Cathedral is actually Basílica Metropolitana de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de Valencia, and it is popularly called “Seu” in Valenciano. The building is about 800 years old, but in its life it suffered many alterations, extensions, but also damage. Nowadays, it is a Roman Catholic Church, but it was built on the site of a former Visigoth cathedral, which used to be a mosque. Between its walls, it conserves and protects one of Christianity’s most important treasures, a chalice offered to the cathedral by King Alfonso V of Aragon in 1436, dating from the 1st century, which is supposed to be the chalice used in the Last Supper, the Holy Grail.
In the 14th century, The Miguelete Tower was added to the Cathedral by Jaime de Aragón. Locally named in Valencia El Micalete, it is probably one of Valencia’s most emblematic building, a symbol of the Valencia people’s emotions.
One of the main tourist attractions in Valencia is the World Heritage Site made by UNESCO in 1996, the Llotja de la Seda, in English: the Silk Market. It is considered of such great importance because of its classical, imposing, richly decorated gothic style, which lasted for centuries in fabulous conditions.
Its main purpose is suggested by its name. It was one of the biggest trading markets in the area, symbolizing prosperity, abundance and the commercial spirit of the period.
Other great places to visit in the Old City / Ciutat Vella are Museums, Cultural Centers, Churches and Cathedrals, like:
- Valencia Institute of Modern Arts, where you can admire some 10,000 Spanish works of art belonging to the 20th century;
- The Museu de Belles Arts de València is the house of works signed by Velázquez, El Greco, and Goya, and other artists from the 14th to 18th centuries.
- Casa de la Beneficencia Cultural Center hosts the Valencia Museum of Prehistory, the house of an impressive collection of archeological material dating from the Paleolithic to the Visigothic period;
- Our Lady of the Abandoned Basilica, English for the real name, Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados, was built between 1652 – 1666 and is combining multiple architecture styles, like late renaissance, barroc, neoclassic, making it fantastically rich in shapes and materials;
- the Ceramics Museum;
- Plaza de l’Ayuntamiento, where you can find administrative buildings, like the Ayuntamiento de Valencia, the Palacio de la Generalidad Valenciana, the Cortes Valencianas and others;
2. The City of Arts and Sciences
THE CITY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES IS A SEVEN BUILDING COMPLEX – This is by far the most modern tourist destination one can find in the City of Valencia.
It can take days in order to see, enjoy, and find out all there is to know about it, and inside its futuristic walls. Its construction began in 1996, under the complex designs of Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela. The first finished building, L’Hemisferic, was opened in 1998, and in 2005 El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia was inaugurated.
3. Las Fallas – Local Valencian Holyday
If you are planning a trip to Valencia, you should do your best to come here in the middle of March, to be sure you can participate to the processions of the Fallesfestival, and enjoy the wonderful street decorations, made especially for this occasion.
This year was my first encounter with this event that I didn’t know about. It surely took me by surprise, as great noise could be heard from everywhere outside, usually starting from 2pm.
What’s it all about? Well, the Falles is traditional celebration of Saint Joseph, held every year in Valencia. It also symbolizes the coming of spring, and the story says that around this time of year carpenters used to make big fires in the streets of Valencia, using old bits of wood and old furniture kept for the recently finished winter.
Today however, people organize in groups and build some type of huge monuments, with puppets / ninots, called falles or fallas, which they burn around 19th of March, at midnight.
It’s an impressive show to participate to! Children and grownups are lighting firecrackers and noisemakers in the streets and parks, all day long, sometimes during the night too, for about a week. This procession is called La Mascletà. At the end of this fireworks and firecrackers week, when religious, historical, and cultural actions also take place in the streets and cultural centers, everybody participates to the final show, the final La Mascletà.
La Cremà is the last part of the Falles, when, in a traditional way, the children’s falla (falla infantil) is lit up at 10 pm, and the main ones around midnight. This unique show will leave you breathless! It’s an exhilarating fire, smoke, fireworks, firecrackers and noisemakers display, without a match in the world, heavily visited by international tourists.
4. A Walk in the Turia Gardens
The Gardens of Turia are situated in the old, sunken riverbed of the River Turia, which used to find its way to the sea right through the center of the city ofValencia, until the 1960’s. After a severe flood, when many people were killed, the officials decided it was best to divert the river to the south of the city, in order to prevent future disasters.
Now, in the Gardens of Turia you can find sport fields, children’s playground, and a great way to cross the city by foot or bike, without being troubled by any type of traffic, traffic signs or crossroads. At its western extremity you can find the City of Arts and Sciences, and at the other end, it almost reaches the Mediterranean Sea.
5. Try Some Local Kitchen Specialities
Paella first appeared as a dish with the nameValencian Rice, in the centuries following the appearance and establishment of rice in the area.
It used to be prepared for meals from the countryside, to the high, rich tables, with some differences, of course. In the paella pan, together with the rice, the countrymen put vegetables like onions, tomatoes, beans, and snails, which were available to them. Richer paella consisted of rabbit or duck meat too, and the best one was cooked with chicken meat. So, you can say that back in the old days, one could tell your status by the type of paella you usually ate around here.
I found really tasty paella in almost all the restaurants, big or small, and almost all of them had the paella pan, with the tasty stuff inside, exhibited in their windows, for advertising.
6. A Walk on the Paseo Maritimo
The City of Valencia’s Eastern boarder is theMediterranean Sea, which has added an extra touch to the all beauty existent. The Playa Malvarrosa is the main beach, and it is busy almost all year long, except for January and February, which are the coldest months of the year.
People come here to get a sun tan, to play beach sports, or just to walk their kids or pets. You can also enjoy local delicacies at the multiple restaurants, bars and other places that you can find all along the beaches.
In addition to the great landscape and the relaxation, theMediterranean Sea also offers Valencia its largest port, and the 5th busiest container port in the entire Europe, Port of Valencia.
7. See a Show on the Valencia Street Circuit
On 24th August 2008 Valencia hosted for the first time the European Formula One Grand Prix, on its famous and unique Valencia Street Circuit, and it will continue to do so at least until 2014, so hurry up and savor the experience!
On the same Street Circuit also takes place the Gran Premi de la Comunitat Valenciana de Motociclisme, part of the Circuit de Valencia.
I must admit I am not a big fan of racing, but seeing a live show is really spectacular, and I really recommend it even to the non-connoisseurs of the sport.
8. Local Traditions – Go to a Corrida !
In Spain you have the opportunity to go to classicalcorridas, at the end of which the bull is killed, and to therecortes, a more non-professional style ofbullfighting, in which the bull is not injured at all, and the matador only tries to artistically escape the bull, without the cape, and without the special matador costume.
If you want to see en exciting show, like the classic styleSpanish bullfighting, in Comunidad Valenciana (the Valencian Community), you have to go to Plaza de Toros, near the Valencia Train Station, and check out the schedule.
If you are an animal lover, you probably won’t enjoy seeing the toreros (bullfighters), the picadoresand the banderilleros, hurting the bull with their swords in order to excite and tire it before the last part of the corrida, when the matador de toros attracts the bull’s attention with a muleta (a small red cape) and then kills it with an estoque (sword).
9. Check Out La Tomatina Festival
If you happen to be in Valencia in August, I strongly recommend visiting the nearby city of Buñol, in the last Wednesday of the month.
Since 1945, the people from Buñol gather in their Plaza de Pueblo, and fight with tomatoes. In time, this has become La Tomatina Festival, with rules and regulations which have the purpose to make it safe and fun for the participants.
For an hour, low quality, ripe tomatoes, grown especially for the occasion, are thrown in all directions. The basic rule is to squash the tomato before throwing, it, to reduce the damage. In addition to that, you are not allowed to throw anything else or to become violent in any way. Everybody has to make way for the trucks carrying water or more tomatoes to thePlaza de Pueblo, and no tomato must be thrown after the shot that signals the end of the fight.
After the “massacre”, there are rivers of tomato juice flowing in the streets, and people use hoses to clean themselves, or go to the pool of “los peñones” to wash.
10. Admire the Wonderful Street Art
Walking through the narrow streets of the Ciutat Vella, beautiful street art is revealed to your eyes. Almost no wall is left lifeless, especially if it is an old, not preserved one, or a closed entrance to a commercial place, like a bar or a shop.
I was amazed to see great talent exposed right there as I passed by it, without me having to buy a ticket to a museum.