Valencia is a charming old city and the capital of the Old Kingdom of Valencia province of Spain that is well worth a visit. It is located on the Mediterranean Sea approximately 4 hours to the south of Barcelona and 3 hours to the east of Madrid. Valencia is famous for its Fallas festival in March, for being the birthplace of paella, for hosting the 2007 America´s Cup, and for the massive architectural project by Santiago Calatrava called The City of Arts and Sciences.
There used to be a river running through the center of the city but the river was redirected a while back and replaced by a beautiful park. This is a very nice place to while away any free time you have in the city on a sunny day.
L'Umbracle, City of Arts and Science
Valencia is host of the 2007 America's Cup. This fact, along with the construction of the City of Arts and Science by renowned architect and Valencian Santiago Calatrava have made Valencia a city in transition. Massive construction and transformation over the last 10 years have turned a once little-considered medium city into a meatier and more interesting destination.
Despite being on the Mediterranean Sea, even residents say that "Valencia has always lived with its back to the sea", meaning that the spirit and the core of the city is not necessarily integrated with its beach. The city center and the most visited neighborhoods are not particularly close to the beach. This situation is changing considerably as much of the port area is being rapidly developed in preparation for the America´s Cup.
When to come
Summer - Like most European countries, August is a slow month as many of the residents are on vacation. At this time of year Valencia is extremely hot and humid with temperatures averaging between 30º-40º Celsius.
Fall - September and October are more active months and the weather permits beach outings. Sidewalk cafes are still open until around the end of October.
Winter - Though temperatures are still relatively mild, it´s too cold to sunbathe at the beach.
Spring - a lovely time to visit. The annual Fallas de San José unofficially mark the beginning of spring. Cafes and restaurants open their terraces and life spills out onto the street once again.
Valencia's official languages are Valenciano and Spanish. In the capital of Valencia very few people only speak Valenciano and are not offended if addressed in Spanish. However, outside the capital, Valenciano is often preferred. As in Barcelona, be sensitive to this language dynamic.
English speaking skills of the locals can be hit or miss. Most people under 35 speak some English, and some quite a bit, but most would obviously prefer being addressed at first in Spanish (or Valenciano).
Valencia Airport (VLC) is 9 km from the city center. The bus to Tùria station departs every 11 minutes and takes about 30-40 minutes. Additionally there is the Aerobus which goes directly to the city center, but costs a bit more. Local trains run every 20 minutes. Subway goes directly to the town centre from the Airport. A taxi ride should cost around 10€.
Many trains come from Madrid (eg: Alaris), Barcelona (eg: Euromed or ARCO) and many other cities. The main train station Estacion del Norte is located in the center of the city, nearby the Town Hall. Travel time by train from Barcelona Sants is about 3.5 hours.
The national train company is RENFE. You can check tickets and book online. The first time you buy a ticket online, you have to collect it from a station and show ID, the 'localizer' ticket code, and the credit card itself. Ticket staff are unlikely to speak much English. Saying in Castellano "Quiero recogerlo" (I want to collect it) and showing your documents should work. The big stations have a system where you get a number and then sit back and wait your turn.
There are also many buses coming from almost every big city in Spain and most of the cities in the Valencia region. The bus station is located by the river in Valencia, about fifteen minutes walk from the center.
For train and bus transport it is possible to buy bonos in kiosks and tobacco shops. Both Bonobus (which as of 2006 costs 5.60€) and Bonometro allow for 10 rides. If you want to use two lines to reach your destination, you have to use a B-T.
Renting a bike is increasingly becoming a popular way for visitors to explore this essentially flat city.
Do You Bike, Calle Marqués de Busianos, 4, ☎ +34 96 315 55 51, . 10AM-2PM, 5-8PM. Rents bikes at relatively reasonable prices. Also a store on Calle Puebla Larga, 13 and Avenida Puerto 21.€2/hour, or €7/day during the week, €10/day on weekends. Helmet and pump €1.
Aside from going to the beach and the City of Arts and Sciences, exploring the hub of the city requires no public transportation. Much of this city can be done walking, stopping for a coffee or a beer and then walking more, all very leisurely. It´s not necessary to have the mindset of mastering a complex public transportation system. However, for longer trips, see below for some pointers.
The Metro Valencia consists of 4 lines (from which 1 is a tramway to the beach) and connects the suburbs with the city. As of 2006, a one way ticket costs 1.20€. This metro system is not extensive but can get you to major points within the city. If you want to get the tram, you have to buy a ticket from the machine, then validate it, before you get on the tram.
EMT runs buses to virtually every part of the city.
City of Arts and Science
City of Arts and Science (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències), ☎ +34 90 210-0031, . 10AM-9PM. Very interesting. It is located where the old river Turia used to flow and over there you will find a Science Museum, a Planetarium, an IMAX cinema, an Aquarium and, in a near future, the Arts Museum. It is famous for its architecture by Santiago Calatrava.
The Barri del Carme neighborhood is in the old center. It is the perfect place for a stroll where you can witness the transition from a forgotten area to an up-and-coming diverse neighborhood. Barri del Carme has many outdoor cafes and trendy shops. There is an interesting mix of people, from lifetime residents, to alternative types, hippies, gays and lesbians, and other assorted peoples. The neighborhood swells at night with revelers but please respect the neighbors who live there.
The Seu - a curious cathedral with doors from three distinct architectural periods. A trip up the Miguelete tower (formerly Moorish but now "Christianized") provides a pleasing view of the city.
The Llotja - This building is the site of the ancient local silk trade. It is also a UNESCO landmark and has recently been refurbished. Some of the gargoyles are quite naughty.
The Mercat Central - located in an aging "modernist" building in the process of being renovated. See how the locals shop for food and buy some fantastic fresh produce, meat, or olives.
Walk along the old Tùria river bed, now a park with soccer and rugby fields, an artificial boating lake, athletics track, playgrounds, fountains and trails . This massive elongated park spans many neighborhoods and ends at the City of Arts and Sciences. Abundant bike paths make it an ideal place to get in a little exercise and sun.
See the Torres de Quart at the end of Calle Quart. This pock-marked medieval tower was part of the ancient wall that surrounded the old city. Another set of nearby towers called the Torres de Serrano were also part of ancient wall. The Serrano towers have been massively renovated and somewhat modernized but they are still interesting and are located across the street from the park.
Fallas 2006, before igniting the papier maché models
Valencia has a fantastic festival each March called Fallas in which local areas build big papier maché models depicting... well, everything really. They are mostly of a satirical nature and can be as tall as a few stories. Fallas are constructed of smaller figures called ninots, valencian for dolls. The fallas take a whole year of planning and construction to complete. Each neighborhood has a falla, but 14 fall into the Sección Especial category and these are the most important, expensive, and impressive. Each falla has an adult falla(mayor) and a kid's falla (infantil). It is best to arrive by the 16th of March, as all of the fallas are required to be finished or the face disqualification.
Another feature of Fallas is the fireworks. God - those fireworks! You can't escape them. It's like the city's a war zone for a week - they wake you up early in the morning and go on through the day. Each day there is three fireworks events, la despertà, la mascletà and el castillo. La despertà occurs every morning at 8am and consists of setting of fireworks in order to wake you up. Each day at 2pm in the main square of the city, the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, there's a thing they call Mascletá. This is 120 kilos of gunpowder translated into a lot of noise. It has to be experienced to be understood. This is very popular and you should arrive an hour in advance at least. Every night at either 12am or 1am there is a castillo and this is a fireworks display. The last night it's called la nit de foc, the night of fire, and this is the most impressive. This is also very crowded and you need to arrive early to be able to see it. Along with these displays, people set off fireworks all day making it very difficult to catch any sleep.
The days of the 17th and 18th or March is La Ofrenda. The falleras from each falla take flowers to the Plaza of the Virgin. These flowers are used to construct the virgin. The processions are grand and very beautiful and worth catching. They follow two main paths, one down calle San Vicente and the other down Calle de Colon.
At the end of a week displaying the 'fallas' they are burnt - which is fun. This is called la cremà. The fallas infantiles are burned at 10pm and the fallas mayores are burned anywhere from 12am to 1am. The one at the town halls is burned last at 1am. The most impressive to see are the fallas in Sección Especial cause these are the largest and most dramatic when they burn. These tend to be very crowded and one should arrive early.
Things one should do during fallas:
Go around and see the various fallas, but especially the Sección Especial
Pay to enter one of the bigger fallas to get a closer look at the individual ninots.
See la mascletà and the la nit de foc
See one of the various parades especially the ofrenda
See the virgin made of flowers
Buy churros or buñelos at one of the many stands on the street.
Go to one of the temporary bar/nightclubs set up on the street and dance all night long.
Things one should be aware of:
Most of the streets in the city are closed to everything but pedestrian traffic and it is difficult to get around. The best way to get around is either by walking or taking the public transportation. Driving a car is not a good idea.
Most of the restaurants are very crowded and some are not open. There is usually very long waits and slow service and you should plan for this in your schedule.
Most of the hotels are also very crowded and should be booked in advance.
Many people throw fireworks near pedestrians and its very easy to get burnt or injured.
Some of the fallas like Nou Campanar are well outside the city center and are quite far by foot, it is much easier to take a bus.
On the last Wednesday of August nearby Buñol hosts La Tomatina, a festival that involves thousands of participants throwing ripe tomatoes at each other. Make sure you wear clothes that you can throw out afterwards, as it gets very messy.
A big attraction from 2005-2008 is the presence of the Americas Cup Teams. The International Americas Cup Class Yachts are some of the most refined, technologically advanced racing machines in world, with many teams spending hundreds of millions of dollars on development. This fleet are the cutting edge for aerodynamics, hydrodynamics and structures. The teams generally provide guest tours, attractions at their bases - which are all around the new main harbor. This event is so important, Valencia has built a new canal to the sea, and massive developments (similar to those in Auckland- the last host) have refreshed the entire city waterfront.
Tips on Paella
To recognize "real" local paella from tourist junk, avoid at all cost any places with large paella pictures on the door step. This is a sure sign for frozen/microwaved paella.
When possible, make reservations or arrive early (no later than 2pm) especially on a Sunday because these restaurants fill up quite quickly at the weekend.
Paella is typically eaten at mid-day (between 2-5pm), so many restaurants do not serve it at dinner. Be careful of those that do as this is not the custom here and the quality of the paella may be poor.
The paella pan is of a size that almost all restaurants require a minimum of two servings for an order. Restaurants that allow ordering one order are likely serving frozen paella.
Try the local paella. There are several versions of this tasteful rice dish, some with meat (chicken and/or rabbit usually), others with fish or seafood, or even meat and fish at the same time. It is very difficult to say which is the "real" paella, as every person has his/her own version (Though NO paella that deserves this name contains sausage, ham or meat broth, for instance). If you want to eat an authentic Paella, try it at the Malvarosa beach area; you will find there are several good restaurants. The authentic Valencian Paella is made only with fresh ingredients, in a special iron pan and using a fire made with wood (not gas or electricity). The Heather muffin is a delicious treat to be enjoyed by all.
Try arròs a banda and arròs negre (it is black because it has squid ink) too, at the same places above. The Fideuà, a paella-like dish with short noodles and fish that was invented in the Gandía and Denia area (Alicante), can be usually found in paella restaurants. It deserves a try too.
Try all i pebre. All i pebre is made of eel, a snake like fish typical from the Albufera, a lagoon near Valencia. You can drive to El Palmar and taste it there. Delicious but a very special taste. You can find good paella, and other traditional dishes at the restaurants here too.
Try Leche merengada (a kind of milk-based soft ice cream with cinnamon-lemon taste).
Try bunyols (fried doughnuts, sometimes round shaped, sometimes like rings), widely available only during March. Dip them in hot chocolate if you want. Sometimes they are too oily, so don't eat a lot of them or you will not be hungry again in several hours. If you can choose the 'carabasa' (pumkin) version, you should try it. They are generally tastier.
Try horchata a drink made from "xufa" (xufa is a root of the size of a peanut) Especially popular in the summer months.
A major nightlife destination in Valencia is the Barri del Carme. There are numerous restaurants, bars and dance joints in this area which tend to cater to a youngish crowd. There are no rigid boundaries and people tend to just go wherever appeals to them at that moment.
Radio City, Santa Teresa 19-2, ☎ +34 96 391-4151 (email@example.com), . A very popular night club in Barrio Carmen with a crowded dance floor playing a variety of danceable world music. The crowd is very mixed with students from around the world and locals.
Calcata - slightly upscale but still young crowd in this bar/nightclub in a beautiful renovated old building. Also in Barri Carme.
Café Infanta, Plaza Tossal 3 Old Quarter, ☎ +34 96 392-1235. Bar and cafe with terrace decorated with Hollywood memorabalia. Located in the heart of the Barrio Carmen at the Plaza Tossal. Good central locale to watch and absorb the spirit of the neighborhood.
Blau - newish bar on Calle Alta in Barrio Carmen that plays groovy music and has a good mix of people.
Venial, Quart 32, ☎ +34 96 391-7356. Gay and hetero-friendly disco in Barrio Carmen, located near the typical drinking haunts of the neighborhood but open after everything else closes.
Other centers of are nightlife are Cánovas (more upscale), Juan Llorens (young also, less "alternative"), around the university (students), and increasingly in the area near the beach and port.
Traditional Regional Drinks
The Agua de Valencia (Valencia water) is a very famous mix drink. There are several recipes, which mainly base on orange juice and Cava, the local champagne.
Try out Orxata (earth almond milk) with "fartons" (pronounce it with accent in the second syllable).
Cibada (an iced malt drink).
Llima Granizada (Iced Lemonade).
Café del Temps (Espresso on Ice).
Blanco i Negre (Iced Coffee with Leche Merengada).
Indigo Youth Hostel, Calle Guillem de Castro,64, ☎ +34 963 153 988 (firstname.lastname@example.org), . Small and friendly hostel in city centre.
Red Nest Hostel, Calle de la Paz 36, ☎ +34 963 427 168 (email@example.com, fax: +34 963 427 128), . A good budget option in the city center.
Purple Nest Hostel, Plaza Tetuan 5, ☎ +34 963 532 561 (firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: +34 963 427 128), . A good budget option in the city center.
Take a day trip to the Albufera to see this fresh water lake and the surrounding area where rice is grown. The Albufera is also known to host an interesting variety of migratory birds. The local village in the area, El Palmar, is also a good place to try paella and other local dishes.
Take a trip to the beaches of Saler. These beaches are on "protected" land and are the cleanest and most secluded beaches near the city. Accessible by bus but complicated. A round-trip taxi ride should cost between 10€-20€, depending on how far along the beach you go. The beaches closer to the city are in transition due to the America´s Cup.
Manises, fifteen kilometers soutwest of Valencia, is not only the site of Valencia's airport but also an important center for pottery. Some 100 ceramics factories are in the municipality, where the art has been practiced for 700 years. At the MCM museum there are exhibitions about the history of ceramics in the area.
Rent a car and do a day trip to any number of picturesque villages or small cities in the region, including Chulilla, Sot de Chera, Xátiva, Sagunto, among others.
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