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8 things to do in Valencia, Spain: a sunny, seaside paradise

Jan 30, 2018 by Courtney Keller

One unexpected highlight of our Spain tours is sunny, seaside Valencia. Think of this city like the next Barcelona. It boasts the same coastal charm and architectural cachet, but with far fewer crowds. Check out our top picks for what to do in Valencia so you can make the most of your visit.

1. Stroll past ancient icons in the Old Town

If you’re asking yourself “What is Spain known for,” one of the many answers is the architecture. All you have to do is explore Valencia’s Old Town to see what we’re talking about. On our Valencia tours, your guided exploration of the Old Town begins with a scenic drive through the El Carmen neighborhood. Start at the Torres de Serranos, the gates welcoming you into the city, before passing the national ceramics museum. The building is a beautiful example of Baroque architecture and inside hosts the largest collection of ceramics in Spain, including pieces by Pablo Picasso. Then, admire the UNESCO-listed Llotja de la Seda, a former hub for silk trading, as you walk to Plaza de la Virgen.

End at the impressive Gothic-style Valencia Cathedral. The religious site was a mosque and a Roman temple before becoming a cathedral and the layered history is present even if you just view it from the street corner. “Valencia’s cathedral is a can’t-miss,” said staffer Lindsay after seeing it on our Grand Tour of Spain. “Its Chapel of the Holy Chalice houses what many believe is the Holy Grail, or the sacred cup Jesus drank from during the Last Supper. Visitors can also view artworks by Goya and other greats inside the cathedral, as well as climb its Miguelete tower for some of the best views of the city.”

2. Snap photos of the Sci-Fi-inspired City of Arts & Sciences

Outside of the Old Town, the city has rapidly grown in recent years. The standout spot in the newer part of Valencia is the City of Arts & Sciences. You’ll pass by this symbol of Spain’s modernist architecture on our Grand Tour of Spain, which is one of the top-rated travel itineraries in Spain to add to your wish list.

“Valencia has such a fascinating mix of the past and present—and, thanks to the City of Arts and Sciences, the future, too,” said staffer Lindsay after seeing it on one of our Valencia tours. “Locally born ‘starchitect’ Santiago Calatrava designed the complex’s buildings, which look like something from Star Wars or a Sci-Fi movie set in space. Even if the buildings’ soaring arches, symmetrical cables, and spiny exoskeletons aren’t exactly your taste, you can’t help but appreciate how unique they are. Arriving here early in the morning was a real treat, allowing us to soak everything in without any other visitors around.”

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3. Dig into Roman history on a visit to La Almonia

Wondering which Iberian destination is right for you? Well, if you love big city energy and captivating museums, Spain may just be the spot to pick. Valencia is the country’s third-largest city and its fascinating history stretches all the way back to 138 B.C.

To get a sense of its Roman roots, head to La Almonia, a museum built over an archaeological site in the center of the city. The underground museum houses ruins from Roman buildings and streets, as well as artifacts from periods of Muslim and Christian rule. One of the best things about the museum is its glass ceiling, which lets in natural light—and gives people on the street above a glimpse of the historic site beneath their feet.

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4. Cool off with a refreshing glass of OJ or horchata

If there’s one thing this city is known for around the world, it’s naranjas, or oranges. These sweet fruits can be seen growing on trees throughout the entire city—and province—of Valencia. One cocktail made with this tasty citrus is Agua de Valencia, a mixture of fresh orange juice, Cava, sugar, gin, and vodka. (Order a pitcher at Cafe de las Horas, a spot that locals say makes it best.) “This drink is the perfect refresher on a hot summer day,” said staffer Nicole after trying it on a trip to Spain.

Another must-try drink? Horchata. It’s creamy and in Spain is typically made from a strained mixture of soaked and ground tiger nuts, water, and sugar. On our Valencia trips, you’ll stop to try this sweet drink during your guided tour of the city.

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5. Craft paella in its birthplace

If you take anything away from our ultimate food and wine guide to Spain it’s that in order to make the most of your visit to Valencia, you have to come hungry. That’s because you’ll want to fill up on authentic Spanish dishes like paella. This meal is typical in Valencia—it was invented here, after all—and since the region relies heavily on farming and is bound on three sides by mountains, the original paella Valenciana features meat and vegetables, instead of seafood.

On our Spain’s Balearic Islands: Menorca & Mallorca tour, add the Valencia Cooking Class & Dinner excursion to make this signature dish alongside a chef. Begin the night by sipping some sangria and munching on traditional Spanish appetizers. Then, work as a team to craft an authentic paella Valenciana. You’ll hear about the fresh ingredients and cooking techniques needed to make the dish. After, sit down to taste your team’s hard work, followed by a tasty dessert.

6. Pull up a stool at a pintxos bar

If it wasn’t already clear from the flavorful paella, Valencia is one of the top travel destinations for foodies, but don’t skimp on savoring pintxos, a type of tapa secured with toothpicks. These tiny bites are made from many combinations of fish, meat, cheese, and vegetables with bread, and can be picked right from the bar where they’re displayed. Your server will know how many you enjoyed just by counting the toothpicks!

Traveling solo? Take a tip from our ultimate solo traveler’s guide to Spain and go out to a pintxos bar with your fellow group members. Bonding over local cuisine is a great way to make connections and get to know one another. We recommend popping over to Pintxo i Trago in the Old Town. Each pintxo will only run you around two euro, meaning you can indulge in many different bites without breaking the bank.

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7. Feel the salty breeze blowing off the Balearic Sea

If you’re ready to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing, the beach is only a few miles away and is the perfect place to spend a free afternoon. A sandy stretch of coastline is a quick cab ride from the Old Town—just ask your driver to drop you off at Hotel Neptuno, which marks the beginning of the boardwalk area. Go for a walk, watch the sunset, or dip your toes in the Balearic Sea to cap off a day of exploration.

“Valencia is where Venice Beach Boardwalk meets storybook, medieval Europe,” said staffer Nicole after a trip to Spain. “Head toward the coast for a meal at one of the many restaurants on the beach and enjoy your meal with an ocean view. If you get distracted by the beautiful view and overeat, a beach stroll is just steps away.”

8. Relish in the revelry of the annual Las Fallas festival

If you’re planning to travel on our Grand Tour of Spain in March, you may happen to be in Valencia during the annual Las Fallas festival. Our guide to Las Fallas covers all of the ins and outs, but here’s what you need to know about the event: Marked by explosive fireworks, colorful parades, and musical performances, the party draws revelers into the streets from the early morning until late at night. The focus of Las Fallas is the display of ninots, large papier-mâché dolls. On midnight after the final day, all the ninots are set on fire in an event called La Crema.

“There was an almost electric energy of celebration everywhere,” said staffer Steph about attending Las Fallas on a trip to Spain. “The elaborate sculptural monuments around every corner made the whole city feel like an amusement park. You can feel the amount of time, energy, and creativity that goes into creating the sculptures, so we walked around for hours just to take in all the whimsical mastery. Ending the evening of celebrations by watching fireworks light up the city skyline was a surreal moment.” Traveling to Spain another time of year? You can learn all about the festival at Las Fallas Museum, where ninots are on display.

Join our Valencia tours to enjoy all of these activities and more.

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About the author | Courtney Keller
A lover of travel since studying in France, Courtney strives to inspire others to get out and see the world. When she’s not writing, she’s trying new restaurants, reading, doing yoga, baking, walking her rescue pup, or planning her next trip.

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