8 REASONS TO VISIT VALENCIA
When people travel to Spain, they tend to hit up the two biggest cities-Madrid and Barcelona-and sometimes they venture to the Andalusia region. Valencia, Spain’s third largest city which is located in the southeastern part of the country, is often overlooked. Although Valencia does not have all the world-class museums like Madrid or the Gaudí art nouveau architecture like Barcelona, it does have other spectacular attractions and qualities that make it worth a visit.
1) Valencia’s Old City
Valencia’s Ciutat Vella, or old city, is small enough to explore on foot but big enough to keep you on your toes. Inhabited by Iberians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Muslims, this part of the city reflects Valencia’s rich cultural history.
Stroll through the narrow streets and you will come across beautiful fountains, impressive cathedrals, remnants of the old city wall and even excavation sites.
For a small price (around 2,00 €), you can climb to the top of the Cathedral´s Torre del Micalet, or the freestanding towers (Torres de Quart and Torres de Serranos) that were once part of the old city wall and take in the views of Valencia and its Ciutat Vella.
Although you can find this rice-based dish anywhere in Spain, paella is originally from Valencia. It is served hot and comes in many varieties: Valencian paella (land animals, beans), seafood paella, mixed, etc. Vegetarians can also find “veggie paella,” which is really “arroz con verduras,” but is the closest thing to paella that vegetarians can eat so I’d say it counts. Come to Valencia and you are guaranteed to try the best paella or “arroz con verduras” of your life.
3) La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
Venture down to the former riverbed of the Turia River and you are going to wonder if you’ve entered the set of the new Star Wars movie. Nope, you are at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Arguably one of Valencia’s biggest tourist attractions, this “City of Arts and Sciences” contains an art museum, a science museum, a planetarium, an aquarium, a futuristic bridge, outdoor concert spaces and other attractions for locals and tourists alike.
During my last visit to Valencia, I went to L’Oceanogràfic, the Aquarium in the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. They have an extensive collection of sea animals ranging from walruses to beluga whales. They also feature dolphin shows and one of my favorite attractions: a shark tunnel!
Ah horchata! How can we talk about Valencia without it? Unlike horchata from Latin America which may contain rice, sesame, barley or almonds, Valencian horchata is made from crushed chufas, or tiger nuts. Although it is typically seen as a summer drink, this delicious and refreshing beverage can be enjoyed at any time of year thanks to the abundance of horchaterías around Spain and store-brand horchatas, like Chufi. It is very common to eat a fartón, a spongy sweet pastry topped with glazed sugar, and dunk it in your horchata to combine with the nutty, milky flavor of the drink. It’s like the Valencian version of milk and cookies-only much healthier!
5) The Mediterranean
Valencia has the best of both worlds: a vibrant city and beautiful beaches. A quick 15 minute drive from Valencia’s city center and you will find yourself on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Venture a few hours away from the city and you will discover some of Spain’s most beautiful beach towns, such as Alicante and Benidorm.
6) Street Art
Although Valencia is certainly no Berlin when it comes to street art, there are some really interesting pieces to be found throughout the city.
During a walk through the city center, you are bound to come across art on the walls of buildings and even on shop doors. A city’s street art says a lot about the people who live there and gives you a lot of insight into their culture, politics and lifestyle.
With over 45 museums in Valencia who says you only have to go to Madrid or Barcelona for art and culture? Valencia has museums of everything from fine arts to science and architecture. Many of them are reasonably priced and have free entry on certain days of the week. During my last visit to Valencia, I stopped by IVAM (Institut Valencià d´Art Modern) and was impressed by the collection of local modern art. One of the artists, Lidó Rico, had a series of prints that he made with ink and fingerprints. Very impressive!
One museum I still haven´t been to but would love to visit is the Museu Faller. Located outside Valencia´s capital city in Gandía, another city in the Valencia province, this museum displays the winning ninots (giant caricature dolls that are made during Valencia’s Las Fallas festival) of Las Fallas.
8) Las Fallas
Las Fallas. This deserves a blog post of its own!
Las Fallas is a big celebration that takes place every year from March 15th-March 19th in Valencia and the Comunidad de Valencia. It honors St. Joseph, the Saint of Carpenters, and it is seen as a sort of “purging” of the bad things from the previous year and the start of spring. This purging is caused by fire and lots of it!
Throughout the year, the fallas, similar to neighborhood clubs/guilds, get together to work on a ninot (the caricatures shown in the pictures) for Las Fallas. The ninots typically take on satirical themes and poke fun at current events and politics. Once the fallas have raised funds and come up with an idea for their ninot, they hire an artista fallero, a special artist whose sole responsibility is to create ninots for Las Fallas.
There are two categories of fallas, depending on how much money the falla has to invest in its ninot: fallas mayores and fallas infantiles. The fallas mayores are the ones that are usually the biggest and most detailed fallas and the fallas infantiles are much smaller.
Every year, a falla mayor and a falla infantil are saved. The decision is made by a vote. Locals and visitors are encouraged to enter a temporary exhibition in Valencia and choose one falla mayor and one falla menor to be spared. The winners are then put on a permanent display at the Fallas Museum in Gandía. This year, I was able to participate in the voting. Unfortunately, the two I voted for did not win.
On the last night of Las Fallas, everyone takes to the streets to watch the Cremà, the burning of the ninots. The scene is one of chaos: people drinking in the streets, children throwing fire crackers and everyone staring in awe as these 10-20 ft. structures burn to the ground. That being said, if you ever have the chance to be in Valencia during Las Fallas, have the time of your life!
Valencia is a beautiful city near the shores of the Mediterranean Sea that should not be missed. Its collection of museums, delicious food, and outdoor entertainment make it a wonderful vacation spot. Additionally,the Valencianos are very friendly and welcoming and you may find that you won’t want to leave.