Valencia is a city located to the east of Spain, in the Mediterranean coast. It is a medium-sized city, but it does not exceed one million inhabitants (no, Valencians, we are about 790,000 in the city I’m afraid) without the help of its metropolitan area, which reaches almost two million inhabitants.
Tired of looking for articles about Valencia that do not include stereotypes about Spaniards or misrepresentations about paella, I decided to make my own guide of the city. I’m hoping that having spent most of my life in it will give it some credibility. I will do it both in English and Spanish and it will be divided two parts: one dedicated to the different districts and zones of Valencia and a second part focused on things to do, where to eat and sleep, museums…
QUICK GUIDE TO VALENCIA.
The old town: La Seu and the neighborhood of El Carmen.
The old town of Valencia is popularly known as Barrio del Carmen, but the truth is this area is formed of several small neighborhoods, one of which is El Carmen, and the oldest of them being La Seu, which encompasses the famous Cathedral of Valencia (with its Miguelete) and the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados.
In this area of the city is where every visit to the city of flowers should start. Its streets are the oldest in Valencia and you can go from morning to night visiting churches, strolling and photographing buildings, and trying out bars and restaurants. I would start my tour walking up the street of La Paz until getting to Plaza de la Reina (La Reina square, as plaza means square in Spanish), where we find the bell tower of El Miguelete (the most fit can climb their 207 steps to get a good aerial view of the city) and from where we can access La Almoina, an archaeological center located between the cathedral and the Almudín (nowadays museum, it was built in the 14th century on top of the old Muslim castle to serve as a wheat storage place), where we can learn more about the Roman, Visigoth and Arab history of Valencia.
We can then head to the Plaza de la Virgen, from where we can admire the cathedral and the basilica and enter them. Then we can start walking up the Caballeros street, where we will find the Palace of the Generalitat in the Manises square, which connects through the Serranos street with the Serranos towers; although it is advisable to continue along Caballeros street towards the Tossal square, as in this street there are loads of historical buildings. I would highlight the Church of San Nicolás de Bari and San Pedro Mártir, recently restored by the Hortensia Herrero Foundation and popularly known as the Church of San Nicolás. Essential visit.
At the end of Calle Caballeros (calle means street in Spanish), you can choose between calle Alta or calle Baja. Asking to the passers-by to avoid getting lost, they will both take you to the Plaza del Carmen, where you can’t miss the little Casa de los Gatos, literally a house for the neighborhood cats. Once in the Plaza del Carmen you can continue along Roteros street until you reach the Torres de Serranos, one of the twelve towers that guarded the walls of Valencia in the late Middle Ages, and one of only two that are preserved nowadays together with the Torres de Quart.
By the way, all along this route there are many places to eat, so feel free to explore and enjoy along the way one of the best things in Spain: the food.
In the afternoon we can walk through the neighborhood until you get to Torres de Quart, from where you can either head to the river along Guillem de Castro street and maybe stop at the IVAM, a museum of modern art; continue straight on calle de Quart to visit the Botanical Garden; or walk in the other direction on Guillem de Castro until you reach the MUVIM, a museum dedicated to illustration, and the city center.
You will need another whole morning to visit three buildings full of history: the Mercado Central, the Lonja, and the College of the Greater Art of Silk, recently restored by the same foundation as in the case of the Church of San Nicolás. A good Valencian secret to know is, in the morning, buy seafood in the Mercado Central and take it to one of the restaurants on Calle Palafox, (my favorite is “El trocito del medio“), book a table for lunch (which in Spain is between 2pm and 3pm) and they will cook it and serve it for you.
We cannot forget Plaza Redonda, an interior square with four entrances, whose shape is given by the buildings on it. The lower floors have always been dedicated to commerce, nowadays mainly dedicated to souvenirs and haberdashery, but I remember when I was little, anything was sold the square, from pans to turtles (yes, the animal).
The city center, Grandes Vías and Ruzafa.
When we talk about “El Centro” in Valencia, we are talking about the space between the beginning of the calle Colon to the City council. The Correos building and the Estación del Norte (a beautiful train station) are also located in this area. Colón street or Calle Colón is the main commercial street in Valencia. The Gran Vía Marqués del Turia is an avenue parallel to Colón Street, and the streets that connect them are full of smaller beautiful shops dedicated mainly to fashion and home stuff. One of them, Jorge Juan Street, connects Colón Street with the Mercado de Colón, renovated in 2003 and full of bars, restaurants, and also quite often, street markets for clothing, crafts, jewelry…
The Gran Vía marks the center of the Eixample district in Valencia. It was an extension of the city that began in the late 1800s, and is characterized by its distribution in square blocks (as in the Eixample of Barcelona) and its modernist buildings, which sought to merge with nature (hence the typical ornamentation). It’s always a good idea to walk through these streets and admire the buildings, thinking about on which of them you would like to live in (because by now you’ll be wanting to stay forever in Valencia), and stop to have a beer on any of the many bars in the neighborhood. The Gran Vía Marqués del Turia becomes Gran Vía de las Germanias when intersecting with the Antiguo Reino avenue, and this junction marks the beginning of the Ruzafa neighborhood, which in the last decade has gained great importance in the Valencian nightlife and in the city’s gastronomic scene.
The vast majority of restaurants in the city are concentrated in this area, as well as several pubs and nightclubs.
The Gran Vía continues below the tracks of the Estación del Norte and becomes Gran Vía Ramón y Cajal, followed by Gran Vía Fernando el Católico, a more residential area, and ends in the River Turia.
The river without water.
That’s right: the river Turia, as it passes through Valencia, does not carry water, as, in 1957, there was a very serious flood in the city due to the overflow of the river (caused by super heavy rain), and the government decided to divert its course outside the city. Initially the area then occupied by the water was going to become a road that would communicate the port with the airport and ease the traffic of the city, but thanks to the citizen movement “the riu is nostre i the volem verd” (Valencian for “the river is ours and we want it green”) in the 70s, it was decided to turn it into what we now as the Jardín del Turia (Turia Garden), the largest urban garden in Spain, inaugurated in 1986. With about 9km in length, it goes from the Bioparc (a zoo) to the City of Arts and Sciences, passing through the Palau de la Música and Gulliver‘s Garden, and it’s crossed by several bridges, each with its own history, the oldest being the Puente de la Trinidad (Trinity bridge), dating back to earlies 1400.
The City of Arts and Sciences is a great tourist attraction due to the 6 large buildings that comprise it: the Hemisféric, an IMAX and 3D cinema; the Science Museum, dedicated to a younger audience; the Oceanográfico, a huge aquarium; the Palace of the Arts, dedicated mainly to music; the Umbracle, a promenade where there is also a nightclub; and the Ágora, where events such as the Fashion Week or the Tennis Open are held.
Within the city of Valencia there are the beaches of Las Arenas, Malvarrosa and El Cabañal, to which you can go by tram or bus. A little further north from the Malvarrosa is the beach of La Patacona, which belongs to Alboraya. To the south and outside the city there are the beaches of Pinedo, L’arbre del Gos and El Saler, which are characterized by their dunes. The ones in the city are good for sunbathing and having a standard day at the beach kind of thing, but the ones in the south are nicer and quieter, although you need a car to get to them. Anyway, if you are looking for beautiful bays and beaches, the more you descend in the Valencian Community the better, being those on the province of Alicante the most beautiful and relaxing.
On the other hand, the area of the Port of Valencia went through a deep remodeling as a result of the city hosting the America’s Cup in 2007 (and again in 2010), and has become a lively area of the city, especially during the summer, with several restaurants, pubs and nightclubs. I would highlight Marina Beach Club, which covers a bit of all these three things, and where you can spendall day as soon as the weather starts getting warmer.
The neighborhood of Cabañal is the neighborhood along the beach in Valencia, for which there is a development and remodeling plan, as some of the buildings here are very old and abandoned. During the last year, this plan has achieved a greater importance, giving rise to new spaces such as The Ice Factory.