Food in Valencia is cheap and delicious and there’s no excuse not try all the tapas. If you’re feeling brave, broaden your horizons beyond the good old patatas bravas and chorizo and have a go at some of the more unusual offerings on the menu (snails, anyone?). As a bonus, the house wine is almost never bad, despite costing so little.
The best way to explore Valencia’s atmospheric Old Town, with its street art, cafes and amazing architecture, is just to ditch Google Maps and start walking in whatever direction you fancy. Duck down small alleys and take the backstreets instead of the main tourist drags, and you’ll be rewarded by the discovery of lesser-known sights and quirky little shops and cafes. The streets are maze-like and you will get lost, but that’s part of the fun. The Old Town is not particularly big and you’ll eventually find your way, or something more interesting. It’s completely safe to walk around, and especially atmospheric in the early morning (which is before about 10am here) before everyone is up and about.
Valencia is easy to explore on two wheels, as it’s flat and full of bike lanes and green spaces. Bike all the way from the Old Town to the port through the green Turia Gardens, or try one of the many other routes in the city.
Who doesn’t love street art? Valencia’s Old Town is the open-air canvas for many a local and international artist. The combination of giant, colourful murals, cobbled streets and crumbling old buildings (much of the Old Town still hasn’t been done up for tourists) gives Valencia an edge that you might not have expected. These colourful and vibrant works are no quick aerosol can job, but take hours of painstaking work. The murals are ever-changing, but some of the more famous and longer-term installations can be seen around central Plaça del Tossal and on abandoned buildings around Carrer d’En Gordo.
We’re not suggesting you climb onto the roof of your apartment building (although you might be able to do that); Valencia has some amazing rooftop terrace bars with a different perspective over the city. Go classy with cocktails or have a beer: either way it’s only a bit more expensive than the usual bars and won’t take a big chunk out of your budget.
Though the local language is Valenciano, most people are happy to speak Spanish, and if you’re hoping to improve your language skills here, there are plenty of opportunities. As well as numerous language schools offering courses, there are informal language exchanges held at cafes and bars around the city most nights of the week, so you’ve got plenty of chances to hablar español.
It’s not all about the beach in Valencia. The city is bisected by a long ribbon of green space: a former riverbed known as the Turia Gardens and now filled with shady spots for sunbathing and picnics under the palm trees, as well as endless sports areas. This is the most famous park, but there are plenty of parks in Valencia to enjoy.
Valencia used to have a reputation as a kind of Spanish sin city. These days, the clubbing scene has been cleaned up, but there are still a few old-school venues to check out, as well as the prettier modern nightclubs. The music is hardly cutting edge, but for scenery and atmosphere, L’Umbracle is an incredible choice on a summer night.
Summer officially starts with the festival of San Juan at the end of June, when Valencianos take a boozy picnic to the beach and light up a bonfire at around sunset. Tradition says if you can jump over the fire three times, you’ll have good luck for the rest of the year. It can be a lot of fun, just get your jump out of the way first before you open those bottles of vino tinto you brought with you.
Valencia is one part of Spain where almuerzo is a way of life. This mid-morning snack can involve a huge wedge of tortilla and coffee, or a giant baguette filled with ham and cheese. At around 10.30 or 11 each morning, Valencianos dash out of their offices to the local café-bar for almuerzo, and we highly recommend you join them.
It’s easy to update your look and find something unique in Valencia. The city is great for low-price vintage shopping, especially the bohemian neighbourhoods of El Carmen and Ruzafa, where you can find all kinds of treasures.
No Valencian weekend is complete without sitting on a terrace sipping Agua de Valencia, the favourite local cocktail made with cava, orange juice and other special ingredients that depend on the bar you’re drinking in. Be warned that not every jug of Agua de Valencia is created equal, or equally strong, and it’s extremely easy to drink.
Step away from the microwave. You might notice a scarcity of ready meals and greasy takeaways in Valencia, and that’s because fresh, home-cooked food is a big deal here. Even 20-somethings usually know a few good recipes by heart. Valencia is the perfect place to take a cooking class, and whether you’re a total beginner or a food fanatic, you’re sure to learn something new. There are loads of classes around the city – some tourist-oriented, some popular with locals – and many include a shopping trip to one of the city’s fantastic food markets.
Yoga is as popular here as in every other European city and you’ll find no shortage of yoga studios in Valencia, some of them also offering meditation workshops. In summer, join an outdoor class at the park or beach such as this one, organised by an American expat, or one of many others organised through sites like Couchsurfing or Meetup.com.
Once a no-go zone and now the city’s trendiest district, Ruzafa is a multicultural neighbourhood full of increasingly hip cafés, shops and bars. The areas’s bohemian vibe is still going strong and it’s a great place to wander, browse bookshops and vintage stores and people-watch over coffee. At night it comes to life with a large number of bars, clubs and other venues putting on everything from live music to pop-up theatre.
Everyone in Valencia seems to be learning this bouncy, happy jazz-swing dance, and on summer evenings dance groups take to the city’s parks and squares to practice, and flash mobs surprise the public with stunning performances in the city centre. You can find dance schools all over Valencia teaching Lindy Hop, west coast swing and other increasingly popular dances, and though many of them are taught in Spanish, some instructors do speak English too.
Valencia is blessed with some good-quality budget accommodation, and if you’re visiting on a shoestring or just want to meet a new group to hang out with on your trip, your best choice is to stay at a hostel in the city centre. There are lots of good choices around the historic Old Town. One popular choice is the friendly Home Youth Hostel, located right by some of Valencia’s main sights, or the stylish 7 Moons, next to the Turia Gardens.
On summer evenings, head for the beach or nearby Albufera lake and enjoy the most spectacular show in town as the sun goes down over the Mediterranean in a blaze of colour. It doesn’t get much more romantic than that, and best of all, it’s free.
Music lovers will want to get tickets for one of Valencia’s festivals ASAP. The world-famous Benicassim is held just a short distance up the Valencian coast, and there’s also the smaller indie-rock-focussed Festival De Les Artes right in Valencia’s city centre at the City of Arts and Sciences. It brings together a mix of local and international names playing in a pretty unbeatable location.
Most of Valencia’s visitors come in March for the main festival, Las Fallas. Things can get crazy as the whole city is transformed into a 24-hour outdoor art gallery, firework display and party zone for a couple of weeks. The final night of the festival is the most surreal, as every one of the 350 giant paper-mache sculptures in the city streets is set ablaze at midnight, filling the city with smoke and light. There’s a reason the festival’s slogan is ‘feel the Fallas’; it just has to be seen, and felt, to be believed.