Valencia is still one of the less-touristed cities in Spain, despite being stuffed with incredible sights, food and history. In the past the city wasn’t exactly famous for its charm, but things have changed dramatically. Today it’s a perfect destination for a weekend break thanks to its combination of sandy beaches, modern attractions and historic, cobbled streets where the scent of orange blossom lingers all year. In fact, you might be surprised at how much there is to pack into a short break in this little city. Here’s our guide to making the most of your weekend in Valencia.
Start your day like the locals do with a walk or bike ride through the green Turia River Bed Garden that wind its way through the heart of Valencia. Make your way down to the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences, a famously futuristic complex of buildings that gleam white under the (usually) blue skies. Inside you’ll find everything from an aquarium to a multiplex cinema, and you could easily spend the whole day here if you wanted.
Otherwise, hop in a taxi (they’re inexpensive here) to the oceanfront restaurant Casa Carmela for one of the city’s unmissable food experiences: a traditional Valencian paella lunch. You’ll need to book ahead as everything is made fresh on your arrival – and don’t forget to ask your waiter to include the snails. Afterwards, walk down to the city beach and soak up the afternoon sun.
While you’re here don’t miss the chance to explore the quirky old fishermen’s quarter of El Cabanyal, which sits behind the main beach. Rough around the edges but full of charm and atmosphere, the streets here are lined with colorfully tiled traditional houses. Stop for a glass of wine and a plate of seafood tapas at Casa Montaña before you head back into the city center.
Get ready for a serious day of sightseeing with a proper Spanish breakfast – grated tomato and ham atop a piece of toasted baguette, with coffee and freshly-squeezed orange juice – at one of the pavement cafés around the city’s Central Market. Peek inside at the hustle and bustle of shoppers picking up fresh produce beneath the ornate dome and tiled walls of this impressive 1920s’ building, then cross the road to check out Llotja de la Seda, It’s one of the city’s most important historical buildings and more interesting that you might expect. Inside, rows of soaring columns represent palms reaching towards heaven, while the exterior walls are crawling with stone gargoyles and other hellish-looking creatures that range from slightly creepy to nightmare-inducing. You might wonder what was going through the minds of the people that carved them back in the 15th century.
You might only have two days here, but you’ve still got time to get a little lost in the tangled maze of cobbled alleyways behind Llotja de la Seda. Wandering here is the most enchanting way to discover the Old Town. Follow your nose and take time to stop and admire the pretty squares and many different styles of architecture.
Head south and you’ll find the beautiful Plaza del Virgen and the city’s cathedral. There are lots of photo opportunities around here, but don’t forget to go inside the cathedral, where there are all kinds of priceless artworks and even a chalice that’s rumoured to be the actual Holy Grail. If you’re feeling energetic, climb the 207 steps of the cathedral’s 13th century bell tower for panoramic views over the whole city.
Next to the cathedral is the Almoina Archaeological Museum, a huge former archaeological dig now preserved under a glass roof, where you can see the many layers of Valencia’s past from its Roman founding to its Arab influences. Like most museums in the city, it’s free to visit on Sundays.
By now it must be time for a glass of wine and a tapas lunch, and you’ll find no end of charming little cafés along these streets. One recommended place is the cosy Sidrería El Molinón where you can enjoy some slightly more unusual dishes with northern Spanish flavors.
At night, head to the northern part of the Old City and explore the quirky El Carmen neighborhood where old and new converge and gentrification hasn’t completely taken hold. Its winding medieval streets are dotted with trendy boutiques, hipster cafés and enormous street art murals. Try the local cocktail, Agua de Valencia, at popular baroque-themed Café de las Horas before catching a Spanish jazz quartet playing live at Jimmy Glass or the Sunday night funk session (with happy hour drinks until 11PM) at Radio City. Whatever you decide to do, a night out in El Carmen is the perfect way to round off an unforgettable weekend in Valencia.