There’s no denying it, Everyone has at least heard of Valencia, in it’s various forms, whether it be their football team, festivals or paella. But I would guarantee, that those same people would also know of Madrid, Barcelona and Malaga, and visited all those cities, but many would not have gone to Valencia. Strange that may be, it’s still very much a popular city to visit, and after spending my first day there, I totally understood why. Welcome to the 3rd largest city in the country.
Valencia is located practically in the middle part of the Spanish Mediterranean coast, in the centre of the Comunidad Valenciana autonomous region of which is the capital, and that makes it a very easily accessible city for most travelers. It is connected to Madrid via AVE, and via Barcelona via both Regional Exprés and Intercity services. Most other major cities such as Sevilla, Gijón and Valladolid may only have 1 or 2 direct connections to the city. To make things confusing, Valencia has 2 main stations, Nord ( Valenciano for North, but confusingly located in the southernmost part of the city centre) and Joaquín Sorolla, 800m to the south. Loosely connected to each other by metro stations Bailen and Jesús respectively, These stations share a lot of the same destinations, so it is paramount that you check your tickets.
What’s the main difference between the two? La estación de Joaquín Sorolla is the AVE station, whereas Nord is principally the local hub. The cercanías lines all terminate here (line 4 has no services as of 2020), and the Media Distancia / Regional services all stop/ terminate here. However, you can still travel to cities like Madrid, Sevilla and Barcelona via slower services. If that isn’t enough, Valencia also has a bust station which can connect you to almost every town in the comunidad, as well as around the whole country, either directly, or with a connection. Night services are more common, and I have frequented through Valencia in the early hours by bus to reach Catalonia or Andalusia on many occasions. Alsa is the main company that operates here, thought there are some important connections with Hife.
The airport is one of the weaker aspects of travel compared to other cities on the Mediterranean coast. The airports of Malaga, Alicante and Barcelona are notably bigger. However there are still regular connections with other parts of Spain, particularly the west and Baleares, and to the UK. British airways, Easy Jet, and Ryanair all fly to the UK with multiple flights daily. Ferries also operate to the Baleares daily to all 3 of the main islands, though it usually takes longer than if you were going via Barcelona.
Lastly, local transport is a little hit and miss. Valencia has a metro and 9 lines operate from it (a 10th is under construction as of 2021) 6 underground, and 3 trams. Most of the metro was formally part of the old FEVE rail network and subsequently more stops were added and lines created, but it misses a lot of key parts of the city, such as Plaza de Reina, the northern part of the old quarter, the Ciutat de les Ciencies i Artes, the Bioparc and the F1 track are all at least 10-15 minutes from the nearest Metro station, usually more.
The most useful stations are Turia, Xativa, Jesus, Bailen, Colon, Alameda, Marina Reial (tranvia) and Aeroport, and that is because they are either near the beach, nearest to the city centre, or a key station. The Metro also extends way out as far as towns like Torrent, Lliria, Rafelbunyol and Villanueva de Castellón, the latter of which is over 50km away! Local buses are so extensive that they will connect all the places the metro does not.
Accommodation is abundant across the whole city with the most expensive places usually being around the city centre and Ciutat de Artes y Ciencies, but you can get a bargain if you are looking for a cheap hostel with a shared room, you can find places for about 20-35€ a night, though the weekends are notably more. My experience of hostels of Valencia have been mostly positive, but one part where they let you down is the massive price hike during the Falles festival. Book well in advance if you happen to go in March and Easter weekend. You may get away with a good deal around Christmas time on the flip side, and I’ve managed to get deals worth 15€ a night in the centre for being on the site at the right time.
But the most important question still stands, what can you actually see there barring the obvious? Compared to other major cities of Spain like Barcelona or Sevilla, it is less, but you still a lot of wow factors that make this place unique. La Lonja/ Llotja de la Seda is one such place in the city centre that I found myself coming back to regularly. La Plaza de Reina with the Cathedral in the backdrop is also impressive, with the opportunity to actually climb to the top of the tower for uninterrupted Panoramic views of the city, better than anywhere else. It cost 2€ (back in 2015) to do that, and that was well and truly value for money.
The biggest attraction by a country mile is the Ciutat de las Ciencies i Artes, a series of white and blue futuristic buildings finished in the late- 2000’s at the cost of an eye watering 150 billion pesetas or 900,000,000€. Home to an opera house, events centre, I MAX, planetarium, garden, and L’Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe. Just visiting the buildings themselves from the outside is something surreal, and a complete contrast to what it’s like in the city centre. While it is a bit of a faff getting there, it is worth it. The Platja de la Malvarrosa, the main beach of Valencia, is about 40 minutes walking via this location, and is a change of pace compared to further inland, and not particularly full of tourists either, which makes a change.
I also must tell you about Valencia’s rich culture, and there’s nothing better to showcase that, than Falles. Though I will write a full blog about it another time, It’s important to know just how different the city is when this festival is on, and it is one of the best ‘fiesta mayores’ I have been to. In fact I went 3 times, and it didn’t get old at all, and you end up in other neighbourhoods, that you otherwise wouldn’t have visited.
You find sculptures on every crossroad and plaza imaginable, all with various designs not always suitable for youngsters. But kids have a lot of fun throwing petardos (bangers) everywhere for the main week. The ‘Mascleta’ occurs earlier at 2pm every day. The most impressive thing would be the final day when all the sculptures are burned and a final Mascleta occurs in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This paragraph does not do this festival enough justice. The 19th of March is the big day for this. Other notable festivals you should consider are the Fiestas de San Vicente Ferrer, an extension to the traditional Easter celebrations, La Geperudeta in May, Corpus Cristi among others.
The final cultural aspect that cannot be ignored, is the Valenciano’s adoration for it’s local gastronomy, and yes I have to mention Paella! For you brits, this may be one of the only places where it is acceptable to eat it everyday while on holiday, and it will be the real deal here. remember that it typically takes about 20 minutes for them to make an authentic paella by scratch, and it’s rare to find a bad place.
Arroz del horno/ arròs del forn, Almejas, Fideua, figatells and all-i-pebre among other things here. Churros/xurros, Buñuelos/bunyols (churro batter donut) and fartons (between a croissant and an ensaimada) are very commonplace here, and what better to wash it down with than Horchata/orxata a cold drink mistaken for milk, but is actually made with chufa or tiger nuts. Aigua de Valencia is a common deceptively strong cocktail found widely around here.
Lastly, the language here occasionally brings debate regarding it’s status, Valenciano. The Apitxat variant of it is principally spoken in the city, though it is known as a occidental Catalan dialect. I can speak Catalan and could communicate with locals pretty effectively barring the very occasional word that is typically from the region. But in the city centre I didn’t hear much of it spoken, nor it plastered on all the shop windows like you see in Neighbouring Catalan cities. Castilian Spanish is more than ok for everybody here to speak with you while visiting, and English can be understood in many establishments in the city centre too, but don’t expect it, and try and make an effort.
Being a big city, Valencia has that vibe of minding their own business for the most part, but go to the right places and the friendliness will emerge in a similar way to Barcelona and Madrid. Again, if you are not in a touristic bar, You probably won’t meet many locals, but people are friendlier if you respect them and make the effort to try a more local popular spot. Renowned areas for going out are around La Ruzafa area as well as the part of the Ciutat Vella north of La Lonja and east of the Torres de Quart, but there are a number of other spots in other neighbourhoods that have some highly rated clubs, I’m just going by my local friends and where they took me.
So that pretty much covers it, a brief, but useful guide of a huge, underrated city. Valencia retains most of it’s heritage, takes a lot of pride in the things they are good at, and offers something for everyone almost all year round. I have been there several times, and would definitely visit again, and recommend you spend a long weekend there at the very least, and why not get carried away with one of their festivals? Decide what experience you’re looking for and plan accordingly. Bon viatge!