The history of Valencia has shaped this city and its habitants in wonderful ways, where atmospheric music bars and inventive restaurants are now springing up. Valencians are proud of their paella and amazing weather and friendly citizens, a fervor that ignites the city during Las Fallas festival in spring. But Valencia is far more than just a pitstop for partygoers – it packs a cultural punch too. Therefore we have done this list of the top 10 things to do in Valencia.
Futuristic and otherworldly, this cultural complex designed by renowned local architect Santiago Calatrava underpins Valencia’s reputation for innovative design. Begin with a guided tour of the Palau de les Arts, the towering white opera house that cantilevers over an azure pool, then track down the answers to any burning questions about the world in the science museum. Its "Chromosome forest" does a great job of explaining how genes work.
Flying along the extensive network of cycle lanes is the most practical – and enjoyable – way to get to grips with Spain’s third-largest city. Navigating is easy; much of Valencia is organized around a grid system and the wide boulevards are mercifully flat and the Jardines del Turia, a 5.6-mile (9km) stretch of greenery that curves around the eastern flank of the city.
When a flood devastated Valencia in 1957, urbanists decided to reroute the river away from the low-lying city center and transform the riverbed into a garden. The Jardines del Turia links the Bioparc – a zoo full of African wildlife – with the Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias. In the afternoon, the park is an ideal spot to esmorzar (to lunch in Valencian) beneath the palm trees or return on rollerblades at sunset to cut shapes with the young crowd who skate to reggaeton.
With nearly 12.5 miles (20km) of long, sandy beaches to choose from, it is no wonder that the city decamps to the coast at the weekend. Busy Playa de las Arenas, a delightful freeway of soft, muscovado-colored sand just north of the port, is the city’s most accessible stretch of shoreline.
This is where friends gather around a cool box of cervezas and where grandparents on deckchairs keep a watchful eye on children happily building sandcastles. So grab a cocktail from a beach bar and lie back on your deckchair. Further north, Platja de la Patacona is more low-key. Only the seagulls will disturb you here – and the occasional cheer from the beach volleyball courts.
Valencia is the home of paella and feasting on the saffron rice dish at lunchtime is a Sunday ritual. It was these floodplains where the Moors grew rice in the 8th century, paving the way towards the creation of Spain’s most famous dish. Traditionally, ingredients in a paella are sourced from the land, so be prepared to swap the seafood for rabbit and snail.
The Ciutat Vella ("Old City") is Valencia’s soul. Wind through tranquil plazas towards the cathedral, a 13th-century masterpiece that was once a mosque and before that, a Roman temple. Inside, great stone archways draw the eye upwards to a glorious fresco that depicts frolicking cherubs in gold leaf. After the baking heat of the city, the cathedral’s sacrosanct depths are something of a balm, for mind and body. Climb up the El Miguelete bell tower for one of the best views in Valencia.
The arrival of spring brings Valencia’s biggest, boldest fiesta. Las Fallas is an unbridled display of creativity, color, and endless fireworks, with a political twist. The fiery frenzy lasts for 19 days and finishes with the Cremà; when figurines of political figures called ninots (Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un have featured in the past) are set ablaze.
Valencia lights up again in June during the Festival de les Arts, an epic weekend of bands and electronic music held in the Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias.
With its picturesque townhouses and new-wave coffee shops, this barrio is popular with Valencia's growing expat community. The former working-class district now buzzes with young people who are drawn to its fusion restaurants, wine bars, and late-night spots.
Hints of Ruzafa’s roots remain in the market, housed in a squat building in the central square. The neighborhood is sleepy during the day, then livelier come nightfall. If you are looking to meet people, this is the place to visit.
Culture vultures should not miss the Museo de Bellas Artes, the second largest art gallery in Spain and easily recognizable by its splendid cerulean dome. Mull over artworks by Joaquín Sorolla, Francisco Goya, and El Greco, plus one of only two self-portraits that Diego Velázquez ever painted.
To the southeast of the city center, the Oceanogràfic rises from the former Turia River bed like a monster from the deep. This curved, hyperbolic shell-like museum was once Europe's largest aquarium until Nausicaá, on the Boulogne-sur-Mer seafront in France, was expanded.
Home to dolphins and sharks as well as the continent’s only pod of beluga whales, it's easy to lose an afternoon here.