Valencia - great city break for a weekend getaway
Updated: May 6
I stumbled across the city of Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain, which lies on the Mediterranean Sea in the Spring and it took me by surprise. Beforehand, my impressions of the city was that the area was an urban sprawl which is the region’s industrial city and that no tourist would ever want to visit here and instead jump on a bus, train or drive a car to the nearby resorts like Benidorm or Calp. How wrong I was! I was lucky to have a few locals with me who showed some great eating places, how to get around the city quickly and what there is to see and do. I have to admit, I didn’t do any research on the city before I came here so I was very grateful to my friends for doing the hard work and now it is time to show you what I discovered and why this city makes a great destination for a weekend getaway.
Arriving - the city is very easy to get around and the main entry point is the airport on the western side of the city. I flew in with Easyjet from London Gatwick, which is one of a few destinations offered outside Spain (most flights here are internal which we noticed on the arrivals/departures screens inside the airport). Within thirty minutes I was in the arrivals hall and making my way into the Metro system. Buying a ticket is quick and simple from the machine on the platform and trains into the centre run roughly every five minutes (late at night then check the timetables). The journey into the centre takes about twenty minutes and is the quickest way to arrive in Valencia.
Facts I learned whilst here - Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and has 800,000 people living here (really, it seemed a lot quieter than when I was here!). The docks (port) here are the largest in the Mediterranean Sea and the fifth biggest in Europe. Also ferries depart from here and have services to the Balearic Islands which lie east from here. History wise, the city was founded by the Romans when they ruled the roost then the Moroccan and Arab Moors moved in (along with bringing their religion, customs and language) for about five centuries before the Christians reconquered the city. A few centuries later, Spain made Valencia the capital of the country in the eighteenth century but it didn’t last long before Madrid became capital. However, Valencia became capital for one year between 1936 and 1937 when Spain had a lot of internal problems.
Now I got that out of the way, here’s my favourite things to see and do in this small but amazing city. If you have seen a street map of Valencia or have visited the city and seen a long strip of land which goes through the heart of the city from the sea and is all green with trees and bushes, fantastic walking paths and grass, then I can tell you that this piece of land used to be a river which once flown through here. However the river didn’t disappear due to lack of rain, far from it, I was told it used to flood quite often causing problems with the surrounding streets. So the locals decided to reroute the river around the outskirts of the city and then turn this place into one long park. What a fantastic idea I thought and I had the pleasure to check some of it out by taking a stroll through it when the spring sun was out.
The top sight to see when walking through the park (at the southern end of the centre of the city) is the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias). I have to admit I didn’t go inside this museum but the architecture outside of the buildings is amazing and looks like something from the future just turned through a wormhole and dropped these buildings down to the ground. The most impressive building was one of the last ones to be built, the El palau de les Arts Reina Sofia which is an opera house and performing arts centre. Doesn’t it look like one of those helmets from Star Wars or a big glaring eye looking at you (see the photo). The whole area was wonderful to walk around and is probably the only place I have been to on my travels where it seemed I was walking in the future. Could this be a sign of things to come and all cities could look like this? Who knows?
I also managed to check out the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Llotja de la Seda (Silk exchange building) in the heart of the city. The Gothic looking building took sixty-six years to build but was finally completed in 1548. Walking into the complex was amazing compared to other buildings in the city. This character, this art, this had style. The first thing I saw was the walled courtyard which was full of orange trees dotted around the place. The main hall was next and this was a large decorated space with many twisted columns. It is here where the merchants of old would use to work out contracts. The artwork here was definitely worth checking out. Afterwards I went upstairs to see other parts of the building but for me, the view overlooking the courtyard was a pleasant one and a great place to stop and relax.
Valencia is full of churches and a cathedral but one really caught my eye and again, didn’t even know it existed until I was standing outside it. The Church of Saint Nicolas looks like any other church from the outside but after paying a small fee, I was treated to one of the most beautiful pieces of art to be found in any church in the world. It was on par with the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City or the Chapel of Holy Trinity in Poland. I spent quite a while taking in the artwork (as well as listening to the audio guide on the history of this beautiful Roman Catholic church). If anything this is the highlight of the trip for me regarding sightseeing.
On the northern side of town (and next to the river turned park) is the Torres de Serranos (The Serranos Tower) which is one of twelve gates that formed the city walls which once stood here and has stood proud and loud since the fourteenth century. Again with a Gothic style facade, visitors can climb the steps to the top and gain a view of the northern side of the city. For the best view to see the tower from the ground, it's best to stand on the bridge opposite (over the river/park) to capture the tower in all its glory.
The last place after walking all the way around the city, checking out many tapas bars, has to be the beach and enjoying gentle walks along the seafront. The beach here was wide, sandy and perfect for the summer months and hopefully the sea isn’t too rough in those months as it was in March (when I traveled). I also checked out a couple of the restaurants dotted along here, which were a bit more trendy, upmarket and a little bit more expensive than the eating places in town but still enjoyed myself, sitting outside, drinking a smoothie and watching the waves crash against the beach for a while.
Another fact I didn’t know about until I arrived is that the traditional Spanish dish Paella is from this region. It's so popular here (and all over Spain) that the dish was declared as a National Tourist of Interest to Spain in the 1960s and is also listed in the Cultural Heritage list by UNESCO. That’s how great the dish is in Spain but I didn’t know it came from this region.
So there you have it guys, this is the main reason why Valencia makes a great European city break. A few days is needed here but all the top sights can be done in a day or two. However, there are a lot of eating places to check out and the food here is fantastic. I found compared to the other big Spanish cities, there is more room to roam here, no hustle or bustle of the locals doing their everyday thing, life here is more relaxed. And being an easy place to get to with airlines and high-speed trains within the country, Valencia is fast proving to be the place to visit. I really did enjoy myself here and can’t wait to return to the region to explore.