Having spent his Erasmus year in the Spanish city, Alexander Glover outlines why you should discover the forgotten gem that is Valencia.
WHEN tourists think of Spain they either think of holiday hotspots such as Marbella and Ibiza or citybreaks in Madrid and Barcelona. But what if you want both? Spain’s third largest and oft-forgotten city, Valencia, is a hybrid of the two.
Valencia lies on the east coast, south of Barcelona, north of Alicante and between Madrid and the Balearic Islands. This means sunshine all year long and ample opportunities to hit the Mediterranean Sea.
Having spent a year of my life in Valencia, I now consider it to be my second home and I can’t wait to get back to it. A year gave me plenty of time to discover many hidden gems, but for potential holidaymakers I have picked some of my favourite things the city has to offer. (Tip: when you first arrive pick up a copy of Hello Valencia from any good café for a detailed up-to-date guide.)
First things first, the best way to get around the city is by bike. The flat landscape of Valencia makes it a joy to cycle around and the excellent Valenbisi service has 275 stations in convenient locations. A seven-day subscription costs just €13.30.
If you don’t have a lot of time to see the city, there is also a hop-on-hop-off bus tour. The tour has two routes: Historical Valencia and Maritime Valencia, and your ticket is valid on both routes.
The Turia River flowed through the city up until the 1950s when a diversion project was carried out following the great flood of 1957. Now the old riverbed has been transformed into a nine kilometre urban greenspace known locally as Jardí del Túria which is extremely popular amongst Valencianos.
The park passes by the city’s main museums and monuments on either bank and is crossed by 18 beautiful and unique bridges. On a sunny day (of which there are many), the park is packed with locals, tourists, and students and every activity imaginable can be witnessed (from parkour to baseball).
The biggest tourist attraction is the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) with its futuristic architecture. The attraction is one of the 12 Treasures of Spain and even featured in Disney’s Tomorrowland. The venue hosts many different events all year long and the permanent attractions include: Oceanogràfic (Europe’s biggest aquarium), the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, and the Palau de les Arts (opera house).
At the other end of the Turia is the Bioparc. This conservationist zoo is designed following the zoo-immersion concept, with barriers invisible to the eye of the visitor. It allows visitors the opportunity to see beautifully recreated models of four African ecosystems and get up close to the animals. The birds and mammal show is particularly interesting.
Valencia’s city centre is split into three main zones: Centro, Ciutat Vella, and Ruzafa.
A stroll around the Centro zone will lead to the discovery of Plaza de Toros (bull ring), Plaza del Ayuntamiento, and Mercado de Colon. This zone is perfect for shopping if you want to find Spanish brands such as Zara and Bershka at their lower Spanish prices or explore the famous El Corte Ingles. The zone is also rich with restaurants offering a wide range of cuisines; a couple of favourites being La Tagliatella and Lemongrass.
Ciutat Vella or the ‘Old City’ makes for a very picturesque walk amongst the flurry of incredible Spanish buildings. One of the most popular attractions here is the Mercado Central which houses 1,300 market stalls selling fresh Valencian and Spanish produce.
While in this area check out La Lonja de Seda which is across the plaza. This is the site of the old silk exchange and as an excellent example of Gothic architecture is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gorgeous Plaza de la Reina and Plaza de la Virgen are great spots to enjoy an ice-cream in the heart of the city.
In la Reina, you will find the Catedral de Valencia which hosts what is said to be The Holy Grail. The cathedral also has its emblematic Miguelete Tower which soars above the city. After scaling the 207 steps your reward is unrivalled panoramic views of Valencia.
Ruzafa along with El Carmen which is a part of Ciutat Vella are the trendiest parts of the city. Both areas offer fantastic restaurants and bars as well as vintage shops and independent galleries. Two of my favourite restaurants were Paprika and The Black Turtle.
Beaches: The Malvarrosa beach is beautiful and is populated most of the year. If you are looking for a quieter time on the beach minus volleyball and reggaetón then take the short bus ride from the city to El Saler. Here you will find miles of unspoilt white sand beaches.
Best museums: IVAM; Museo de Belles Artes; and the Fallero Museum which runs through the history of the city’s weirdly wonderful annual Fallas festival which takes place in March.
Shopping centres: Aqua, which is beside the City of Arts and Sciences ,and Bonaire. The latter requires a 40-minute bus journey, but is worth it if you are looking for a shopping mecca with huge stores and outlets.
Nightlife: The city is full of late bars and nightclubs all catering for different tastes. For a cheaper night-out the area surrounding the university is a must. To find out when and where it is all happening download the Xceed app.
Transport: In addition to the bike scheme, the metro and the EMT buses get you everywhere you need to go in the city.