If you’re paying a visit to the beautiful Spanish city of Valencia, you have a treat in store. Spain’s third-largest city has so much to offer, from world-class restaurants to stunning beaches, and from museums to buzzing nightlife; not to mention some unforgettable cultural experiences that are all Valencia’s own. Here’s our guide to the attractions you just can’t miss.
Where Valencia’s Old City gives way to the Turia Gardens, that’s where you’ll find the impressive Torres de Serranos. A former gateway through the long-demolished ancient city wall, la Muralla Cristiana (‘the Christian wall’), these historic towers can be explored and make a great vantage point for photos. They also play an important role in the city’s main festival, Las Fallas, as the spectacular opening ceremony takes place right outside.
Valencia’s medieval silk market was built to show off Valencia’s wealth at the time of the booming silk trade. Today it’s one of the city’s main historical attractions, and is famously one of very few non-religious examples of Gothic architecture in Europe. You can explore the lavishly decorated rooms, including the main hall, with its soaring columns representing palms reaching for the sky in paradise. This is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another of the city’s most famous sights, the Catedral de Santa Maria de Valencia tops the list for most visitors, along with the pretty Plaza de la Virgen square outside. Check out the incredible Gothic architecture inside and out, and don’t forget to go hunting for the Holy Grail, rumoured by some to be located here.
The cathedral’s unusual octagonal bell tower stands guard over the Old City district, and you’ll be rewarded for climbing the 206 steps with a great view over the whole city and beyond, out towards the mountains and the sea. It was originally built as a separate monument from the cathedral, and was never completed. Today, the tower’s distinctive shape has become a symbol of the city of Valencia.
Flanked on one side by the Cathedral, with El Miguelete rising up over the square, the busy Plaza de la Reina is one of the liveliest spots in the city and the main hub for tourist activity in Valencia. You can admire the architecture while sipping a cafe con leche on the terrace of one of the much-loved cafés and bars on the square.
A trip to the huge 1920s Central Market is one of the top food experiences in Valencia. Said to be one of Europe’s oldest markets, this is a great place to let yourself wander and get lost among the countless stalls piled high with fresh fruit, cheese, jamón and seafood under an impressive domed roof. It’s packed each day with local shoppers picking up their fresh produce, and gives a perfect glimpse into local life.
This modernist National Monument just to the south of the Old Town was once a fresh market much like the lively Central Market. Today it’s a chic, renovated space packed with cute cafes, flower shops, craft markets, and a space for temporary photo exhibitions and other events. The outside of the market building is decorated with traditional, colourful Valencian tiles.
One of the city’s most important buildings and landmarks for both visitors and locals is the ayuntamiento de Valencia, or Valencia town hall, sitting on a square of the same name close to the train station. The mostly 18th-century building has an impressive clock tower, and inside you’ll find an elegant marble staircase and a ballroom as well as the areas that are used for official city business. Looking over the square is a huge balcony, the much-coveted front-row spot for watching the fireworks during Las Fallas. The City History Museum is also housed here.
If modern architecture is more your thing, Valencia is also home to this famous complex of futuristic buildings, mostly the work of architect Santiago Calatrava. The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is a must-see during any visit to Valencia. Relax in the green gardens and serene outdoor spaces of the complex, take some photos and choose your favourite of the buildings; if you have time to explore, you’ll find everything from interactive science exhibits to a world-class classical concert venue.
Valencia’s Turia Gardens, or Jardines del Turia, are not your usual city park, but rather a former riverbed converted into green spaces, dotted with playgrounds and sports facilities. It snakes its way through the city centre, winding all the way from the Bioparc to the City of Arts and Sciences and on towards the sea. The long ribbon of greenery is popular with everyone from runners and cyclists to families and nature lovers, and lots of people come here to work out, picnic or party during the summer months.
Find a little slice of Africa in Valencia, where leopards, lions, lemurs and many other exotic creatures roam in an innovative space. The large Bioparc is designed to make barriers almost invisible, aiming to immerse visitors in this zoological world and promote respect for wildlife. You’ll find it in the Parque de Cabecera at the northern end of the Turia Gardens.
If you loved the tale of Gulliver’s Travels as a kid then this attraction will be a must. In the story, the giant Gulliver is tied down by the people of Lilliput, who climb all over him. Valencia’s huge Gulliver Park playground lets you recreate the tale with a giant model of a sleeping Gulliver, featuring ramps, slides and hidden passageways. It’s a great day out for families, and you’ll be pleased to know adults are allowed to join in.
Another of Valencia’s 15th-century treasures (although it was renovated in the 18th century), this lavish palace was originally home to a local aristocratic family. Today it houses the National Museum of Ceramics, with its incredible artefacts telling the story of Valencia’s history and customs. The exterior of the building itself is worth a look, as it’s decorated with incredible marble textures and pastel colours.
Not far from the cathedral you’ll spy the tower of the church of Santa Catalina (Saint Katherine), sitting in Plaça de Santa Catalina. Its tower blends a Valencian Gothic base with a Baroque façade. Interestingly, traditional Valencian folklore depicts El Miguelete and the Tower of Santa Catalina as husband and wife.
This palace, located right in the heart of the Old City, is another gem built during the 15th century. Currently housing the offices of the local government, it’s an esteemed piece of architecture as well as an important government building. The building itself features a mix of Valencian Gothic, Herrerian and Renaissance styles, with a tranquil back courtyard full of the oranges trees that are typical of the area.
Plenty of the world’s cities claim to be home to the narrowest house in the country or continent. Valencia claims to have the narrowest building in Spain, and one of the narrowest in the world. The façade of the building is only a little bit wider than its front door; however, although the façade is tiny, inside the house the upper floors have been connected to the buildings next door to make flats of a size that people can actually live in. The entrance is now part of the tapas bar La Estrecha, which has a collection of historic photos of the building on the walls.
The city’s famous round ‘square’ is tucked away behind Plaza de la Reina in the centre of Valencia’s Old Town district. It features craft stalls and bars and restaurants set in the circular courtyard of a pretty building. Some of these restaurants have a bad reputation for overcharging tourists, so you might not want to linger, but the courtyard itself has a great atmosphere and is an unusual spot to check out.
In the quirky El Carmen neighbourhood, at the northern end of the Old City, you’ll find all kinds of unusual street art, but this has to be one of the most surprising. Walking along Carrer del Museu, look down and you’ll spot the façade of a tiny house seemingly embedded in the bright blue wall. Just a couple of feet high, it’s a tiny version of a classically Valencian house, complete with red tiled roof, tiny fountain and a potted plant representing the garden. No one really knows how it got there, but locally it’s called the casa del los gatos (‘house of cats’) and people say it was built for the area’s many stray cats by a woman who used to live in the building.
This is the perfect starting point for any art lover visiting Valencia. Here you’ll find the works of local and national artists, including the pioneer of the Spanish Renaissance El Greco, who is well represented here. Other masterpieces on display include portraits by the acclaimed Alonso Sanchez Coello, one of the pioneers of the tradition of Spanish portrait painting. There’s also a particularly good example of religious Renaissance painting titled the Virgin del Venerable Agnesio by Joan de Joanes (Valencia, 1505–1579).
When the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, also known as the IVAM, opened its doors in 1989, it was Spain’s very first modern-art museum. The permanent collection here focuses on Catalan sculptor Julio González, gathering almost 400 of his wrought-iron works. The local impressionist painter Ignacio Pinazo is also well represented. The IVAM also boasts hundreds of other works from world-famous 20th-century artists, in various media, and several changing exhibitions of reliably high quality.