The sunny Mediterranean climate, brilliant beaches, nature, culture, and delicious food make Valencia an ideal vacation hotspot. The sea breeze gives a unique touch to this coastal town that presents itself to the world as a lively and modern destination with unlimited opportunities to not get bored. The sandy beaches, authentic paella, and the avantgarde architectural mecca that is the City of Arts and Sciences make this, the third-biggest Spanish city, a great weekend getaway. Here we’ve collected a list of experiences worth including in your travel plans.
History and modernity
Considered one of the most ancient cities in Spain, Valentia – meaning ‘land of the brave’ – was founded by the Romans in 138 BCE. One of the first areas they built was Plaza de la Almoina, which is where the Roman forum was located. Nowadays, the square hosts an archaeological museum with the remnants of Roman buildings and other elements, such as the thermal baths. More relics can be found throughout the city, including the former Roman circus, the best-preserved part of which has now been incorporated into a hotel.
After the Romans, the city was ruled by the Moors and then the Christians. All of these different influences have had an impact on today’s cityscape. Ruzafa, one of Valencia’s most creative and trendy neighbourhoods, has its origins in the construction of the Al-Rusafa garden by Abd al Rahman I. Nowadays it’s one of the barrios not to be missed, thanks to the many art galleries, design studios, coffee shops, and restaurants run by young local chefs.
Valencia is also considered an architectural marvel in southern Europe thanks to the work of local architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava. He’s the mastermind behind the imposing City of Arts and Sciences, a stunning architectural complex and recent hotspot of local cultural life. This modern and futuristic district, which features a group of variously shaped buildings surrounded by water, has put Valencia on the international scene.
From crowded beaches to green lungs
Situated on the Mediterranean Sea, Valencia offers endless possibilities for those wanting to relax, sunbathe, or take a dip along its 20 kilometres of coastline.
One of the most famous and lively beaches in town is Malvarrosa, conveniently located just a short walk from the historical centre. It also has a broad promenade with shops, restaurants, and bars to enjoy after a sunny day of lying on the sand. If you prefer something less crowded, head to the wilder beach at El Saler. Surrounded by dunes and a small forest, it’s considered one of the best in the area and is also the preferred location for windsurfers due to the big waves. Go to Perellonet-Recati in the southern part of the city if you’re into water sports: surfing, paddling, windsurfing, even canoeing in the crystal-clear waters. Many locals also visit this beach to get away from the more crowded and touristy hotspots.
Another place worth checking out is the Botanical Garden, which has thousands of species of trees and plants from all around the world as well as one of the largest collections of palm trees in Europe. It’s also a centre for the scientific study of the local flora that’s hosted by the University of Valencia. The school established the garden back in the 16th century to grow medicinal herbs and teach botanical studies. The site then stood abandoned for a time in the 20th century, until restoration work began in 1987.
Perhaps one of the least known places in the city, even by locals, is the Monforte Garden at Plaza de la Legión Española. A highlight of 19th-century urban planning, it’s not only a green oasis within the busy city but also an architectural gem. Here you can find trees and flower beds as well as Italian sculptures and decorative vases. If you’re looking for a moment of inner peace and relaxation on your city trip, this is the place to go.
The whole Mediterranean diet in a single city
Be aware that Valencia is a true paradise of the Mediterranean diet. The region is known for growing rice according to the traditional method of flooding the paddies before the harvest, which takes place every year at the end of the summer holidays. Rice is, of course, the main ingredient in the most famous Spanish dish worldwide: paella. It’s believed that paella was invented right here in the 10th century and that only in Valencia can one find the authentic recipe.
For truly traditional paella, try paella valenciana. It’s made with round short-grain rice, a local variety of green beans, artichokes, and meat – rabbit, chicken, or even duck. If you’re into seafood, go for paella de marisco, and certainly order paella del señorito (‘gentleman’ in Spanish) if you want something easy to eat, because all the seafood comes peeled and ready to eat.
Several restaurants feature this delicacy on their menus, and a popular place to enjoy it is on the boulevard next to the sea. La Alegría de la Huerta on Malvarrosa Beach offers a good range of paellas. It does get busy, however, especially on weekends, so booking a few days in advance is highly recommended.
The old fishing quarter of El Cabañal is also an excellent place to enjoy the local gastronomy. La Sastrería, located in a former tailor’s shop, presents an interesting concept of fine-dining seafood tapas. Although the main dishes are certainly tasty, don’t skip the starters. The foie and parmentier grilled taco and the red-prawn croquette are simply mouth-watering.
Markets play a crucial role in the social life of Valencia. The Central Market, located in the heart of the Old Town, has hundreds of stands selling fresh fruit, fish, and all kinds of seafood. Here you’ll find some of the best Valencian oranges and local oysters known as Les Perles (The Pearls).
Just a stone`s throw away
Valencia offers endless options to discover the city, but it’s not a bad idea to consider a day trip to some nearby destinations as well.
About ten kilometres from the city centre lies the Albufera, a natural saltwater lagoon located on the Gulf of Valencia. It’s part of a protected natural park and is separated from the sea by a thin, sandy strip of land and dunes. This is an important area for natural biodiversity. It’s also home to sea bass, eels, and prawns, so expect to see fishermen working with the catch of the day in the early morning or late evening. And if that’s not enough, the Albufera is known for flamingos and migratory birds that stop here in autumn and winter on their way from Europe to Africa.
The Albufera is easily reachable by bus from the city centre in less than an hour. Or arrive by bicycle along the scenic way bordering the Valencian coast. The village of El Palmar is certainly the liveliest part of the park and a good place to unwind and enjoy some good food surrounded by rice paddies. From there you can explore a variety of hiking trails in the park or rent a small boat to explore the canals. If you’re looking for a stunning sunset, you’re also in the right place.
Valencia is also becoming known as a wine region. Although still young, the Utiel-Requena area has more than a hundred producers. Follow the Utiel-Requena Wine Route to visit some wineries, participate in tastings, and learn more about local grape varieties, such as Bobal. This variety was documented as early as the 15th century and now represents approximately 70% of the vines in the area.
And last but not least, in the neighbouring province of Castellón, the town of Peñíscola and its famous castle on the rock overlooking the sea is a must-visit. The fortress, built between the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE, served as a centre of power. Nowadays, you can visit it with a free audio guide on your smartphone. Enjoy breathtaking views of the sea from the elevated Old Town, or head to the lighthouse, built in 1892, for another rewarding, picture-perfect view.
Read more about Valencia in Baltic Outlook.