Valencia is home to a beautiful beach and an enormous university, but still manages to not be too “touristy” like some other major European cities.
If you are coming from any other city in Spain, hopping on a Renfe high speed train is your best option. Look up timetables online and book in advance if you can figure out the mess that is the Renfe online booking. If you get frustrated easily, STAY AWAY FROM THE RENFE WEBSITE and just go to your nearest train station and buy a ticket at the kiosk or with a customer service representative. Any way you do it, you will need to use that useless high school Spanish chapter about train travel in order to book tickets. (Not so useless anymore, is it? Yeah, you, kid in the back throwing spitballs!)
Tickets sell out pretty quickly in the summer, so buy them at least a day ahead.
What to do
Valencia is teeming with university students, clubs, and excitement. The old city is beautiful, you have to see:
- The Central Market offers everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to entire heads of pigs, and has places where you can order a quick empanada, or sit down and have some paella and a beer.
- The Old Town is a nice square with restaurants and fabulous Spanish architecture lining the streets. Grab some gelato at one of the stands and walk around the square.
- La Lonja is an UNESCO World Heritage site dating from 1469 (before the US was EVER explored!) This series of buildings was an essential marketplace for silk, oil, and maritime trading. Now it serves as an venue for exhibitions and other cultural activities. There is an orange orchard in the middle that is just really pretty!
- Arts and Sciences Museum is enormous. It is called “the City of Arts and Sciences” because all the museums could have their own zip code! The museums look like something from the future, with pools of shallow water stretching between large, white buildings. There are different parts of the museum, but all are interactive. There are some free exhibits, just walk in and see.
- Cabecera Park stretches from one end of the city to the other. It is a central gathering place for festivals and an incredibly lovely walk. In the middle, you can actually slide down a giant playground of Gulliver, from Gulliver’s Travels! You might have to shove some kids out of the way like I did, but it is a must do!
- The Beach is far from anything else in the city, so I suggest catching the above-ground tram all the way to the coast. The beach itself is completely natural, and the sand is soft and white–it really is a dream vacation spot! Along the boardwalk, there are seafood restaurants and ice cream stands. Spend an entire day there (and don’t feel guilty!)
- La Bolseria is a great nightclub, in the heart of the nightlife. Locals go there, so it is a great way to practice speaking drunk Spanish!
What to eat & drink
Right on the Mediterranean coast, Valencia bursts with fresh oranges and seafood. Make sure you try the essentials:
- Agua de Valencia is made from fresh squeezed Valencian oranges, gin, vodka, and champagne. There is no water, despite the name, and it tastes like the best fruit juice you have ever had. Most bars serve a large, bowl sized glass at $6 a pop (and trust me, a glass is all you really need!)
- Orxata (or Horchata) is not the same in Spain as we know it in America. In Latin America, Horchata is a creamy rice based drink. In the U.S.A., Horchata is that frozen drink at QuickTrip with vanilla and cinnamon. Both of these American versions are not at all similar to the original Spanish version! In Spain, the horchata is made of water, sugar, and tigernut, and has a caramel color. This drink is famous in Valencia and you can find it along the streets and in restaurants.
- Paella Valenciana, the original paella dish, boasts fresh mussels, shrimp, rabbit,
and veggies mixed with yellow rice. Paella originated in Valencia, making this a must-eat. The paella normally come in large pans and can be split with at least two people.