Valencia, a quick google and browse on Lonely Planet will inform you that it’s Spain’s third largest city. But beyond that, my various conversations with work colleagues past and present led me to the conclusion that Valencia is massively overlooked, quite simply living in the shadows of the marvellous and famous ‘sibling’ Barcelona (rather how Ryan Gosling’s sister feels I expect).
Believe me Valencia is a treat to explore, a feast for the senses with stunning traditional architecture blended with futuristic buildings and tantalising cuisine. So, if you loved Barcelona and you’re craving more sunshine, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that Valencia is worth a trip… but how should you make the most of your 72hrs here?
I stayed at Hotel Dimar, a stylish boutique 4* hotel right on the Gran Via del Marqués del Túria just a few steps away from the old town and the city of arts and sciences. But wherever you choose to stay you want to start your adventure right by resolving your rumbling tummy with some… yes you guessed it tasty food!! But first you really should see some of the old town.
So where do I recommend? Take a stroll past the Estaciòn del Norte station – it’s a pretty spectacular sight so get up close and you’ll notice that the facade is decorated with oranges…. still feeling hungry?
Wander past Plaza de Toros de Valencia (that’s a bullfighting ring) an imposing structure — – it’s very reminiscent of the colosseum in Rome, a visit inside however will inform you about the history of bullfighting. Not sure your thoughts on this?? But personally although I respect it as a cultural tradition, as an animal lover the thought of people baying for the blood of innocent creature as a form of sport isn’t really my idea of a fun night out – sorry I’m out (but each to their own). These days though the building is often used for Tennis tournaments and I was actually pretty gutted that we were there a week too early and missed out on watching some matches!
Now when in Spain… eat like the Spanish… late in the day. Before we get onto my suggested lunch stop, just a stones throw away from the bull-ring is the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, used as a TV film location and the site of many festivals and events throughout the year. With Las Fallas being the most famous, but if you miss out on that even seeing the cherry blossom in spring is enough reason to stop off at this Plaza, where the Town hall and Post office reside (very different from our bog standard ones in England).
Food?? Yeah why not, so I’d really recommend walking to Placa de la Reina and tucking into some cheesy nachos and stone baked pizza or a sirloin steak at Cappuccino Grand Cafe -. it’s not exactly traditional Spanish cuisine but its very tasty, the service is great and the views across to the Cathedral and Micalet belltower are wonderful. Plus how can you go wrong sitting in the sun with a beer?
Speaking of the Cathedral you’ll probably want to take a peep inside (just to note on Sundays between 14:00 – 17:00 the Cathedral is closed) see a chalice purported to be the actual Holy Grail and gaze upon the mix of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture. Or why not climb up the Micalet bell tower for panoramic views of the city, sea and Spanish countryside?
In the surrounding streets you’ll find time for some retail therapy, so skip those tacky tourists shops and take a look in Ale-Hop, Spain’s answer to Tiger – a quirky blend of unique gifts, accessories and stationary. There are plenty of them spread across the city so you have ample opportunities for a browse, this is in fact the only shop I actually bought anything from this holiday ( a striped beach bag and makeup bag – I plan to use both of these purely for my travels, a big place to keep my folders, documents and GoPro safe).
After the shopping buzz, stop for an ice cream or a coffee in Plaza de la Virgin and bask in the glorious sunshine. Gaze across at the 17th century, blue domed Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Desamparado. As the sun gives way to a starry sky, the buildings are illuminated and the street musicians perform their renditions of Despacito. Perhaps treat yourself to a pre dinner drink before the walk to dinner at Bar El Aldin.
Tuck into traditional tapas dishes, enjoy red wine and treat yourself to paella, the dish that put Valencia on the foodie map. Valencia paella containing meat can be tasted at this restaurant, however I just needed to get my seafood kick.
There are plenty of bars and restaurants to explore round here, so take your time before heading back to the hotel.
After a leisurely breakfast or lie in (your choice) it’s time for another day of sight seeing, today I recommend you head out from the hotel to explore the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences. But en route you really should take time to wander through Jardín del Turia I won’t bore you with too much of a Geography or History lesson, but back in 1957 Valencia’s river flooded the city and subsequently needed to be diverted. Plans were made to turn the river valley into a park, which today is full of play sculptures for children, orange trees and cycle paths.
As I walked through not only did orange trees and pretty fountains catch my eye, my favourite sight of spring…. cherry blossom trees swaying above beautiful rainbow benches. Now there’s a saying worldwide that Life mimics the cherry blossom as overwhelmingly beautiful yet tragically fragile and short, I couldn’t stop taking photographs of them!!
Now what a mesmerising sight – like stepping into a futuristic utopia…. the City of Arts and Sciences home to spectacular buildings with architecture making you wonder if you’ve just stepped into a sci-fi film. This was my first sight of Valencia from the plane and no visit to Valencia would be complete without exploring this district. First stop the El Palau de Les Arts Reina Sofia – the opera house and performing arts centre, maybe you’ll have time to catch a show during your stay? Straight in front of that is Hemisferic, a planetarium and IMAX cinema shaped like an eye (pictured below).
If you are a keen science or history fan stop off at Museo de Las Cinencias Principe Felipe and instead of boards of boring information you’ll be greeted by graphic displays designed to educate through experience as opposed to words. Under construction during my visit Agora is shaped like an eclipse and will hold various events from sports to music concerts.
But now marketed as the big star attraction of Valencia the open-air aquarium Oceanografic, now don’t get me wrong I think this is an awesome place for little kids to visit… I used to love aquariums when I was little. But now it all seems a little un natural, seeing the penguins squeezed into a tiny corner of the tank literally almost brought me to tears and the park, long queues to watch a dolphin ‘show’ hmmmmmmm……. Fun day out for families, but for the older ones maybe save the hefty entrance fee and splurge on a few more beers instead.
When you’ve finished exploring, take time to relax before strolling off for your evening meal. A tripadvisor search, led us to discover Gordon 10 – which you really do need to visit! Take a seat in the steak house and opt for the Gordon Menu which is amazingly good value for money
Alongside the succulent argentine steak, Gordon’s specialises in beers with over 125 (can this place get any better?!)
Phewwww, after all that exploring, you need to kick back and relax at the beach, La Malvarrosa in fact! Stroll along the promenade and take your pick from one of the many bars and restaurants. Then flick those shoes off and ease your weary feet in the soft golden sands.
For your last evening, I’d recommend heading back to the City of Arts and Sciences to see the stunning buildings illuminated at night.
How would you spend your 72hrs? Let me know in the comments. If you would like more tips about Valencia please do contact me via twitter @ellegoesglobal