Spain’s third-largest city is a magnificent place, content for Madrid and Barcelona to grab the headlines while it gets on with being a wonderfully liveable city with thriving cultural, eating and nightlife scenes. Never afraid to innovate, Valencia diverted its flood-prone river to the outskirts of town and converted the former riverbed into a superb green ribbon of park winding right through the city. On it are the strikingly futuristic buildings of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, designed by local boy Santiago Calatrava. Other brilliant contemporary buildings grace the city, which also has a fistful of fabulous Modernista architecture, great museums and a large, characterful old quarter. Valencia, surrounded by its huerta, a fertile fruit-and- veg farmland, is famous as the home of rice dishes like paella but its buzzy dining scene offers plenty more besides.
Here are our top 10 spectacular must-sees that you won’t want to miss…
The City of Arts and Sciences
The work of Valencia’s own Santiago Calatrava, this is an example of architecture at its most futuristic. The colossal structure houses an IMAX cinema (situated in the Hemisfèric), as well as Europe’s largest aquarium – the Oceanogràfic, interactive educational exhibits in the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum and the avant-garde opera house - Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. Furthermore, the impressive l’Assut de l’Or bridge and the Agora are all a delight for the senses.
Plaza de la Virgen and the cathedral quarter
Twenty-one centuries of history right at the heart of the city, where you’ll find such historical treasures as Valencia Cathedral, the Micalet, the Basilica of the Virgin and the Almoina. Don’t miss the Tribunal de las Aguas (Water Court), a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (noon on Thursdays).
Plaza del mercado y Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange)
Immerse yourself in one of Europe’s biggest markets, the Mercado Central, situated inside a jewel of pre-modernista architecture, and enter into one of the most iconic examples of Gothic architecture in Europe, the Lonja de la Seda, declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. As well as these, make sure you squeeze in the Santos Juanes Church.
34 museums to choose from, offering art, history, architecture… Soak up 18th century Valencia at the Museo Nacional de Cerámica (National Ceramics Museum), situated in the Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas. Muse over pieces by Sorolla, Goya or Zuloaga in the Museo de Bellas Artes San Pío V, get familiar with the Fallas in the Museo Fallero or contemplate the contemporary art pieces on offer at the IVAM and the MUVIM.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
In a triangular layout, eclectic architecture, a central fountain and colourful flower stalls brighten the landscape. It’s surrounded by some of the city’s most iconic buildings, such as the Plaza de Toros, the Estación del Norte, the Ayuntamiento de Valencia (town hall), the Edificio de Correos (post office) and Plaza Redonda, to name but a few. It’s best known for playing host to the "mascletàs" celebrations, which take place during March, and during the Fallas.
The Royal Marina and Valencia's beaches
The Juan Carlos I Royal Marina is one of the city’s most important landmarks, not only due to the events that are held there, but also due to its unique buildings. It houses the 19th Century Harbour Sheds, the Edificio del Reloj and the Veles e Vents building, the emblem of the new Marina. There are also shops, terraces and restaurants with spectacular views, as well as a children’s park, the Superyachts Berthing with its amazing yachts, and the North and South Marinas, filled with numerous boats.
Just a few metres away are the beaches of El Cabanyal (Las Arenas) and La Malvarrosa, next to the attractive Paseo Marítimo promenade. We suggest you try a delicious paella in one of the seafront restaurants, or have a drink in one of the bars. For those who prefer a wilder kind of beach, we recommend El Saler, next to the Albufera Natural Park
The Albufera Nature Park
The Albufera Nature Park will transport you to a world of untouched, pure nature where the only sounds you’ll hear are the birds singing and the sound of the water. Unspoiled by and protected against man, the reserve is located just 10 km out of the city. A visit here will show you the Valencian passion for the environment and help you to discover the origins of our gastronomy.
The Turia Gardens
A garden covering 9 km and situated on the old bed of the River Turia. This is a true green area, stretching from the west of the city to the east, reaching as far as the City of Arts and Sciences. Explore by bicycle or train. Also absolutely worthwhile is a pit stop at the Palau de la Música, pausing to enjoy the unique bridges which cross it from north to south.
Bioparc and Oceanogràfic
From east to west, Valencia is brimming with activities – both leisure and educational – to familiarise you with the animal kingdom, with such activities as an African safari through the Bioparc or a tour of the underwater world in Oceanogràfic, where you’ll be able to see tropical fish from as far as the Arctic and the seas of Japan. Get the ‘nature pack’ for lots of great offers.