My trip to Valencia was a fairly spontaneous one as I made up my mind about visiting Spain’s third-largest city only few days before a long May bank holiday weekend. Luckily, this wonderful destination is only 3 hours away from Barcelona by train so once I booked my place at the Red Nest Hostel and packed my small backpack, I was ready to go!
First impressions? Classy, colourful and architecturally stylish, especially in terms of decorations, their detail and finesse. Although Valencia shares some resemblance to Barcelona, a mix of old and modern buildings together with a relaxed atmosphere gives this city a slightly different energy with a lot of flair.
Walking around the historic center of Valencia does not disappoint with a variety of sites and architectural works ranging from Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque to Art Nouveau and Beaux-Arts style.
La Catedral de Valencia, the city’s main cathedral was built over 500 years ago. It blends multiple styles and welcomes visitors through three main entrances, one Romanesque, one Gothic and one Baroque.
The Torres de Quart and the Torres de Serranos remind visitors of Valencia’s medieval past when the towers for centuries served as prisons and the gates of the city wall. You can enjoy splendid views of the city and the river Turia from their terraces.
La Lonja de la Seda, built between 1482 and 1533, was a heart of Valencian commerce at the time of strong mercantile links and influence across the Mediterranean. Back in the 16th century it was used mainly for trading silk. This group of buildings is an impressive example of secular Gothic architecture and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of my favourite spots around the historic center was Mercado Central. What I really liked about it was not only its beautiful modernist design but the fact that it is a place where people go about their shopping so it is possible to absorb the atmosphere of a local market. It is certainly worth exploring Mercado Central early in a morning to make the most of its lively buzz.
The City of Arts and Sciences
Modern architecture and futuristic designs can be admired at the City of Arts and Sciences, an entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, consisting of several buildings and a suspension bridge.
Within the complex I highly recommend visiting L’Oceanogràfic. The ticket was not the cheapest but in all fairness it is the largest aquarium in Europe and there is plenty to see including the Dolphinarium. The ocean tank with sand tiger sharks, rays and other fish was very impressive and the sea lions were without doubt a hit with the kids. I was glad that the exhibitions and shows did not lack environmental context, which I believe should be always an important part of any educational content in places like the Oceanografic.
The Príncipe Felipe Science Museum is situated in a building that resembles the skeleton of a whale. This interactive museum attracted millions of visitors since its inauguration in 2000. The enormous exhibition space can be overwhelming at first but luckily each floor has a different theme, which helps with navigation. I really liked walking around the “Chromosome Forest” which shows the sequencing of human DNA.
Street art in Valencia
I did not expect that Valencia has such a vibrant street art scene. Striking murals, stencils, graffiti and colourful wheat paste art can be found across the city and El Carmen is the epicenter. This neighbourhood is fairly bohemian, round the corner from IVAM, Valencia’s Institute of Modern Art and home to squatters, who bring a creative vibe into the area. It reminded me a little bit of Raval in Barcelona.
It is possible to spot pieces by Deih, Quende, SAN and also recognise particular styles like the one represented by Julieta.XLF, which is Japanese-inspired, cute and kooky. Two murals that were standing out for me are by Escif and a famous artist called Blue. His style immediately brings to my mind a bloated corporate figure, a piece that he created in Lisbon and his iconic murals in Berlin that were sadly painted over.
My last tip would about visiting a neighbourhood called Ruzafa or Russafa as it is also known. It was recommended by my friend and I am very happy that I spend some time there over tapas and cold drinks. It is a great place and certainly less crowded than the historic center.
When you are in Valencia try horchata, the local drink made of tigernut milk, fartons, Valencian pastries and of course paella valenciana. What a shame that they do not serve it for one!