Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, sits on the East coast of the Iberian Peninsula along the Mediterranean. While the larger Spanish cities have a distinctly urban, high-energy feel, this port city has a more laid-back atmosphere and a commitment to celebrating its natural attractions. Old meets new here, as you can find remnants of a 100BC Roman colony and ultra-modern architecture.
Every March, Valencia hosts the Fallas Festival where each neighborhood displays papier-mâché figures of all sizes and colors for a whole week. At the end of the week, the “fallas” are ceremoniously burned, and the communities party into the night. However, March isn’t the only time to party in Valencia. Every night, the city vibrates with lively bars and nightclubs in every neighborhood. Additionally, it is home of the famed Spanish paella, intricate ceramics and several world-renowned music schools. Here is a look at some of the must-see attractions in Valencia:
Created in 2008, the Bioparc is owned by the city of Valencia, but managed by a for-profit zoological company. It lies along the Turia gardens, and has a modern concept of having designated habitats for animals that are visited by people, instead of the other way around. Instead of separating animals from people by railings and cages, they use natural landforms like large rocks, ditches, and rivers to keep them separate. The African animals are the highlight of the zoo, though there are a number of examples of other world ecosystems as well.
The National Ceramic Museum (Museo Nacional de Ceramica Gonzalez Marti) is housed in a 15th century palace that was refurnished in the rococo architectural style. The front entrance is crowned by a statue of the Virgin Mary, pouring twin fountains from her hands. Named after the collector who set it up, the museum houses ceramic pieces from several different locations, including Greek, Roman, Arab, and prehistoric times. Traditional Spanish pieces from regions like Manises, Paterna and Alcora are on display, as well as a number of contemporary pieces. These include some works by Picasso.
Valencia’s main city beach, Malvarrosa is a wide and open beach with fine sand along the Mediterranean waters. Next to the beach is the Paseo Marítimo, a magnificent sea-front promenade, where visitors can enjoy walking, roller skating, jogging, or stop at a restaurant for a delicious paella and a glass of wine. The house of the famous Valencian writer Vicente Blasco-Ibáñez is located at Malvarrosa Beach and has been converted into a museum with an exhibition of his personal belongings and literary works.
These gardens, the largest urban gardens in all of Spain, were created when the flood-prone Turia river was rerouted around the city. The old riverbed that remained was formed into the Turia garden, and includes a bike path across the city, along with several attractions. The gardens are not only well landscaped, they have a number of fun attractions for others, including sports courts and fields, giant chess boards, skateboard parks, fountains, and much more. It is a great way to walk to the city of arts and sciences, the Serranos towers, Bioparc, and much more.
The city’s central urban square (actually a triangle) is flanked by many of the city’s important buildings. These include City Hall and the main post office, the Cinemographic Institute and the Teatro Rialto. Decorating the plaza are a circular fountain, a wall of flower stands and a statue of the hero of Valencia, Francesc de Vinatea. The Falles festival has several main events that happen in the plaza, which make it the must-see location in the Spring. Tours of the many historical events here are available, and include tours of several of the main buildings.
This ornate, hexagonal cathedral is the largest Church in the city, and dates back to the thirteenth century, though it took almost two centuries to complete. It is a combination of several architectural styles, and the inside is decorated with many fifteenth-century paintings. Of special note is a chalice in the collection of this cathedral, which has been defended by many as the genuine holy grail. Whether true or not, the chalice has made a name for itself as the official papal chalice, most recently by pope Benedict. The first century goblet was a gift from the Spanish king in 1438.
This highlight of the city of arts and sciences is a tribute to the spectacular Mediterranean ocean life off the coast of Valencia. It is the largest of its kind in Europe, with over 11 million gallons of water, and 45 thousand individuals of 500 different species. This includes a massive dolphin area, shark and ray tank, and much more in nine huge underwater towers. The aquarium is divided by geographic region into ten sections, covering everything from arctic to equator, with special note played to the local Mediterranean sea life.
Built between 1482 and 1533, La Lonja de la Seda was once used for trading in silk (hence its name, the Silk Exchange). The three-part Gothic building and attached orange garden remains a major tourist attraction in Valencia today. The center building, Sala de Contratacion, was used for signing contracts and has rich decorations with spiral columns. One side-wing hosted the merchant tribunal, and features a ceiling mural that was a tourist attraction for royals. The second side-wing contains the holding cells for debtors that were sentenced by the tribunal.
This public market is considered one of the oldest European markets still running. It is open six days a week, and closed on Sundays. The modernist roofed building that houses the market was built in 1914, and contains a number of beautiful stained-glass windows and room for over 400 merchants. Shoppers here can find gifts, souvenirs, and food items. Of special note are the fish and offal annexes. For those who just want to soak up the ambiance, a large tapas bar sits in the center of the market in full view of many of the shops.
This modern architectural wonder sits at the end of the rerouted Turia river. Along the water sit a number of futuristic and unique buildings, including the well-known Oceanografic Aquarium. They also include L’hemisferic, which resembles a giant eye that can open and close, and contains a planetarium and IMAX theater. The museum of principal sciences is a natural history museum designed to look like a whale’s skeleton. The Agora is a tall covered sports arena, and the Palau Opera house has four theaters, an opening roof, and moving platforms to connect between floors. The city is connected by a landscaped walk featuring Valencia’s native vegetation, and a beautiful suspension bridge.