While on our Grand Tour of Spain, I visited the country’s big cities and small towns, and traveled through incredible landscapes in between them. One unexpected highlight? Sunny, seaside Valencia. Here's what to do in this charming coastal city.
The food, the culture, the people—everything and everyone in Spain is vibrant and colorful. On my recent tour, I was lucky enough to see the country from all sides, exploring major cities like Madrid and Barcelona and towns like Ronda and Peñíscola. Valencia was one place I’d heard of but knew little about before arriving there. When my group walked through the city together and got a feel for the local lifestyle, I instantly knew it was becoming one of my new favorite destinations. Here are my top picks for what to do in Valencia to make the most of your visit.
The Old Town is the best place to begin your exploration of Spain’s third-largest city. Here, crisscrossing streets give way to lovely, bustling squares like Plaza de la Virgen. After stepping inside the impressive Gothic Valencia Cathedral, take some time to shop in the surrounding boutiques or grab a bite at a restaurant. Many have outdoor seating, which makes for excellent people-watching in a city of about 800,000.
Valencia’s fascinating history stretches back all the way to 138 B.C. To get a sense of its Roman roots, head to L’Almoina, 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.
Outside of the Old Town, the city has been rapidly growing in recent years. The standout spot in the newer part of Valencia is the City of Arts & Sciences, a complex of architecturally-unique buildings designed by Santiago Calatrava. The striking dome-shaped buildings include an opera house, Science museum, aquarium, garden, and more.
Even if you don’t pay a visit to Valencia during the annual Las Fallas festival in March, you can learn all about it at the Las Fallas Museum, located near the City of Arts & Sciences. On display there are the winning ninots, or large paper-mâché figures, from each year of the festival.
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 Café de las Horas, a spot that locals say makes it best, and I can confirm is absolutely delicious.) Another must-try drink? Horchata, a sweet treat made from tiger nuts, water, and sugar.
Another way to make the most of your visit to Valencia requires that you come hungry. Oranges aside, there are many other mouthwatering specialties to order at local spots in Valencia. Flavorful paella is a dish traditionally made with rice, saffron, and meats like rabbit or chicken, but today you’ll find many variations with vegetables and seafood. Pintxos, a type of tapas secured with toothpicks, are another can’t-miss dish. 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!
If you’re ready to unwind after a busy day of sightseeing, the beach is only a few miles away and a perfect pick for spending 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 Mediterranean to cap off a day of exploration.
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