Having spent a year in Valencia, I can safely say that it is my favourite location in Spain. Not only is it a vibrant and convivial city, but it also perfectly merges beach relaxation with bustling city life. Plus, it’s bursting with culture and history to boot. Whether your ideal vacation involves relaxing on the sand and soaking up the sun, getting drunk and hitting the bars and clubs, or admiring stunning architectural feats, Valencia has got it all. Here are 7 reasons YOU NEED TO VISIT VALENCIA NOW:
1. LAS FALLAS:
Ever thought that bonfire night was the ultimate annual event for a pyromaniac in a celebratory mood? The best night of the year for setting things ablaze and reveling in it? Well, think again. Valencia’s ‘Las Fallas’ festival, held every year from March 14th to 19th, is like bonfire night on crack – and with hundreds of creepy, albeit impressive, satirical sculptures thrown into the mix. This annual celebration, organised in commemoration of Saint Joseph, sees the streets of Valencia filled with towering effigies, or ‘ninots’, constructed by the Valencians themselves, which they then set on fire in a symbolic gesture to welcome the arrival of spring.
Each neighbourhood in Valencia creates their own unique ninot, and competes with all of the other neighbourhoods in an attempt to be crowned the winner. To ensure that they come out on top, they usually begin creating their constructions months in advance; it is only on the evening of the 19th of March that every sculpture is set alight, and throngs of delighted onlookers can marvel at them as they go up in flames. If anything, each statue is a shining (or burning) emblem of the indomitable Valencian spirit, and their ability to come together and work collectively to celebrate art, satire, and tradition.
After the burning effigies have turned to ash, the streets come alive with rapturous cheering and drunken revelry, as los Valencianos continue their celebrations through the night at one of the many parties held in las calles. As cheerful and welcoming people, they are always happy for you to join in with the drinking and merrymaking, so feel free to do so.
If burning statues and late-night street parties aren’t your thing, not to worry, there’s plenty more to enjoy during the festive period. Indeed, throughout the month leading up to the festival, one can bear witness to lively street parades accompanied by marching bands, in which women walk together clad in traditional garments. If you venture into town, you may want to take a moment to stop off in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento to watch the deafening (to put it lightly) sound display, also known as ‘la mascletà’; it takes place every day at 2pm from the 1st until the 19th of March, and is essentially a load of gunpowder explosions set off in sequence.
For the foodies among you, food stands are set up throughout the city for the festival, selling tasty churros and buñuelos (Spanish donughts) coated in sugar and served with rich dipping chocolate; these are sure to whet your appetite. If you haven’t got a sweet tooth, just stop off at any local eatery for a legendary Valencian paella – they are seriously unbeatable (see no. 4).
Note: For those of you that like fireworks, there is a breathtaking firework extravaganza on the night of the 18th of March, called ‘La Nit del Foc’ (night of fire), which makes for fantastic viewing.
2. THE BEACH:
The beautiful coastal city boasts impressive sandy beaches, the most popular being La Malvarrosa beach. This golden wonder stretches for miles and is miraculously clean, unsullied by tourist waste and litter (thus far). One of the best things about this pristine beach, save its spaciousness and cleanliness, is the gorgeous promenade that runs parallel to it. At any time, day or night, the promenade is used by dog walkers, cyclists, and joggers alike, looking to get a bit of fresh air and take advantage of the beautiful weather. Better still, the promenade is lined with swaying palm trees and an array of local restaurants and bars serving delicious food and drink, and locally-sourced seafood.
Note: if you hang around at the beach until dusk, you can bask in the warm evening air and watch on as the bright blue sky transforms into a magnificent pink and orange hued sunset – an absolute must.
3. THE OLD TOWN:
A visit to Valencia’s historic quarter is the perfect way to satiate one’s desire for a good ol’ helping of culture and history. This architecturally-stunning district, located in the heart of the city, is filled with impressive landmarks, including the Serrano towers (Torres de Serranos), the Silk Exchange (Lonja de la Seda), and the Valencia Cathedral. To get to these historic landmarks, you’ll need to wander through the centre’s labyrinthine cobbled streets, lined with a multitude of beautiful boutiques, cycle shops and inviting bars.
When wondering around the centre, be sure to stop off at Valencia’s two main squares: La Plaza de la Reina and La Plaza de la Virgin. Both are unbelievable, with La Plaza de la Virgen a personal favourite; this square is surrounded by historic treasures, including the Valencia Cathedral and the Basilica of the Virgin, all of which you can admire whilst you sit back and relax with a glass of Agua de Valencia and some tapas at one of the square’s restaurants. The best thing about the square, is its centrepiece; a stunning fountain depicting Neptune surrounded by eight women, which lights up at sundown.
4. THE FOOD
If you have ever heard chefs or food connoisseurs harping on about Valencian paella, it’s probably for a reason. If anyone knows how to make a paella that packs a punch, it’s the people of Valencia. Their delicious, aromatic rice masterpiece, combines juicy chicken and rabbit, with saffron and paprika, among other things, to create a truly mouthwatering dish. But, the most sought after part of the paella where the Valencians are concerned, is the crispy, caramelised crust on the bottom, known as the Socarrat. Whilst living in Valencia, I tried paella at both fancy restaurants and cheap takeaway joints, and it was always, without fail, delicious – no matter where I tried it.
If you’re like me, and when you go away you like to try delicious food, regardless of whether or not it originates from where you are vacationing, then try eating at the Mexican restaurant, Beers and Burros. Oh my, are their burritos damn good! Also, if you’re strapped for cash, go to 100 Montaditos, a low-key restaurant serving delectable little bocadillos ... Alright fine, it’s actually a large chain of restaurants that can be found in most Spanish cities, but I feel that not enough tourists know about it, and every Wednesday they serve everything on the menu for 1 euro each. I repeat: ONE EURO EACH!
5. THE NIGHTLIFE:
The nightlife in Valencia is pretty laid back, and there is no shortage of warm and welcoming bars scattered throughout the city. One of the more popular hot spots is Radio City, a quaint bar whose eclectic clientele is both enticing and a little unnerving. You’ll find anyone in there, from students making a pit stop on their boozed-up bar crawls, to hippy fourty-somethings tripping on ecstasy; whatever your type, there’s probably someone in there for you.
If you’re a bit of a party animal, and would prefer to go out on the lash and pull some shapes at a ‘real’ club, then head on down to L’Umbracle and its sister club, Mya. L’umbracle is situated directly above Mya, and is a spacious terrace surrounded by palm trees. Mya, underneath, is much more nightclubesque, with louder music and graffitied walls. Either are a great way to dance the night away.
6. LA TURIA:
La Turia is a magnificent grassy strip that runs directly through Valencia, stretching an impressive 9 km. Interestingly, this gorgeous park abundant in stunning trees and flowers was formerly a river bed, until the path of the river was altered to prevent it from flooding the city. Running along both sides of the park, is a path for pedestrians and cyclists, and it is a popular place for people to walk their dogs as well.
The most spectacular part of the park, has to be the phenomenal Ciudad de las Artes y los Ciencias, an architectural complex designed by Santiago Calatrava. If there is one thing you stop off and see in Valencia, it has got to be this! It looks like some sort of otherworldly, futuristic space station, surrounded by mesmerising bright blue pools of water. Whilst its buildings are pretty to look at, they’re also functional, one being the Hemisfèric, one the Science Museum, and another the Oceanogràfic – Europe’s largest aquarium.
7. DAY TRIPS:
A really great aspect of Valencia, is that it is in close proximity to a whole host of beautiful and historic neighbouring towns. Among the most notable is Cuenca, a town renowned for its casas colgadas (hanging houses). Albarracín is another, its medieval architecture and hilltop castle earning it the prestigious honour of being deemed a UNESCO world heritage sight and a first-place ranking as Spain’s most beautiful town. Finally, Teruel, whose charming main square is surrounded by stunning colourful buildings.
Within Valencia, there is a wonderful natural park only a short bus ride from the city, called La Albufera. The park is home to the largest lake in Spain, the inhabitants of which include endangered species and a variety of interesting wildlife. For only 5 euros a pop, you can hop inside a fisherman’s boat and take a tour around the lake. The fishermen are most obliging, and they provide lots of interesting and insightful information, but… the information is all in Spanish. Great if you speak it, not so much if you don’t. Well, whether you speak Spanish or not, it’s a very enjoyable, and relaxing ride nonetheless.