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Valencia, on Spain’s east coast, is a city like no other. It has proud traditions, plenty of quirks and special features that just make us love the place even more. Here’s our guide to what to expect when you arrive.
If you arrive in Valencia hoping to learn Spanish, you’re in for a shock. Most of the time you’ll hear people speaking something that sounds more like Portuguese mixed with a bit of French. This is the Valencian language, and most people born here speak it. Spanish (Castellano) is widely spoken and understood too, but the two languages can cause confusion – for example, streets and squares can have very different names in Valencian and Spanish. The further out of the city centre you go, the more Valencian you’ll hear.
If you see Valencian women walking around the streets in big, colourful, full-skirted silk dresses, with their hair arranged artfully in a complicated plait held together with elaborate gold pins, don’t be surprised. Likewise, the men often wander about dressed remarkably like pirates in brightly-coloured silk waistcoasts. This is the local traditional dress and is brought out for all the main festivals and other special events, and you’ll often see people walking around in these outfits on their way to one event or another.
As every Valencian you meet will proudly tell you, paella originally comes from Valencia and nowhere else. This is a very big deal for Valencians and they’ll be only too happy to tell you how everyone else is doing paella wrong. As far as they’re concerned, that stuff you think is paella is just arroz con cosas (rice with things in it). On the plus side, this means the city has no shortage of amazing paella restaurants where you can get acquainted with the real deal.
It’s not just paella. Valencia, sitting on the Mediterranean coast and surrounded by lush market gardens, is filled with great quality fresh ingredients and the restaurants here know how to use them. Make sure you don’t miss these local foodie experiences on your trip.
Valencians really, really love fire. And fireworks. The city’s famous Las Fallas is a festival of fire, filled with firework displays called mascletàs and culminating in la cremà, the night when the city is filled with bonfires. Around Las Fallas the streets sound like a war zone, as Valencians young and old throw endless firecrackers. There are also mascletàs held year round for all sorts of other events including state holidays, weddings, and seemingly random Tuesdays.
It’s not just Las Fallas. From running with bulls to throwing fireworks at each other, health and safety is not a concern at Valencian festivals. The famously crazy tomato-throwing festival La Tomatina is one of the quieter ones. Check out this guide to the craziest festivals in the city if you don’t believe us.
Everyone knows Valencia has beaches, but you might not realise how incredible they are. Just a few kilometres from the city centre, even in summer, you can find vast stretches of beautiful sandy beach with few people around. It’s a world away from the crowded beaches of nearby Alicante and Benidorm. If you’re willing to venture a little further out you can find even more beautiful, unspoilt beaches near Valencia.
Valencia famously has 300 days of sunshine a year. Not all of them are hot, but you’re pretty much guaranteed blue skies on your trip. It does rain in winter but wet weather is so uncommon that, to the great amusement of people from colder climates, the merest hint of rain sends Valencians into a panic. Cars screech to a halt, everyone stays at home, and the metro becomes an underground river.
You probably know that Valencia has a beautiful Old Town full of amazing architecture and pretty cafes. But did you know that the historic centre is also full of colourful street art? Valencia is an extremely creative city filled with art and music, and these street murals are just one of the ways Valencians show this creative side.
Apparently. It might sound like a hoax, but Valencia’s Cathedral has formally claimed to house the famous chalice. Inside the cathedral you can see it on display in a small chapel. On the Cathedral’s website they make a long argument for its authenticity, but you’ll just have to take a look and decide for yourself.
Valencia has a good sized airport just 8 kilometres from the city centre, and when you arrive you can hop straight on the metro to the city centre. It takes less than 20 minutes and costs about four euros, so there’s no need to worry about booking a taxi. There’s even a friendly metro information office inside the airport, where they’ll explain the ticket types and tell you which one you’ll need. So you really have no excuse not to visit.