Basking in sunshine pretty much year-round but surprisingly untroubled by tourist crowds – they’re queuing for the Prado in Madrid, or lining the beaches of the nearby Costa Blanca – Valencia is the perfect city for a laidback weekend break. It’s tempting to spend most of your time guzzling tapas but there’s plenty more to this fast-regenerating city. We've picked the top activities for your Valencia city break.
Paella por favor
The city’s biggest claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of paella, and a plateful of sticky, saffron-tinged rice with meat or seafood (Valencian tradition vetoes mixing the two) is a must-try while you’re in town.
The traditional day to eat paella is Sunday when locals flock to the beachside restaurants for their weekly fix. The vast dining room of La Pepica resounds with the chatter of locals putting the world to rights over sizzling pans of fragrant rice.
The authentic local version comes with rabbit, chicken and snails (not a fan of molluscs? Ask for it sincaracoles). You could also try fideuà (with noodles and seafood) or the dense, inky arroz negro (with cuttlefish). Afterwards, snooze the day away on Malvarrosa Beach, a dreamy stretch of golden sand.
Spend this wonderful 12-day tailor-made trip to the Iconic Cities of Spain exploring the best that Spain has to offer including city tours of historical Madrid, Granada, Seville, Valencia, and Barcelona. Enjoy palatial-style boutique accommodation throughout the holiday, and savour delicious cuisine and regional wine.
Discover Valencia's old town
Work off the paella with a stroll, starting in the Barrio del Carmen, a labyrinthine network of streets that holds the Baroque-Gothic cathedral, said to house the Holy Grail. Climbing the bell tower’s 207 steps for dizzying views is one of the essential things to do on your Valencia city break. Nearby La Lonja, the old silk exchange building, is a UNESCO-protected Gothic masterpiece.
The café-rich Plaza. de la Reina is overlooked by the florid spire of the church of Santa Catalina and the octagonal tower of Valencia’s Catedral. Founded in the thirteenth century, the Catedral embraces an eclectic combination of architectural styles (apparently including, interestingly, Jewish iconography), with the lavishly ornate Baroque main entrance leading to a largely Gothic-built interior.
The famous meeting point of the Tribunal de las Aguas is in the Plaza de la Virgen, just behind the Catedral. Here, the black-clad regulatory body of Valencia’s water users meets at noon every Thursday to judge grievances about the irrigation system of the huertas.
Shop for foodie souvenirs
Valencia holds Europe’s biggest covered market, a gorgeous Modernista affair with a stained-glass facade and a tiled cupola embellished with bright Valencian oranges. The thousand-plus stalls are piled high with seasonal produce, selling a tempting array of goodies, from Iberico ham to turrón (nougat).
Central Bar, owned by Valencia-born superchef Ricard Camarena – best known for his eponymous Michelin-star restaurant in the same city – serves up simple meals amid the bustle of the market and is also a good spot to sample the celebrated local cava, from the nearby Requena region.
This tailor-made Valencia city break offers a beautiful old city quarter, plentiful history and a vibrant culture to be discovered. Palaces, museums and rich cuisine make Valencia an attractive weekend getaway destination, as does the nearby wine region of Requena.
Visit the City of Arts and Sciences
Wind your way north through the backstreets towards the lovely Jardínes del Turia. This is a scenic sunken park that takes the route of the old river Turia, which was diverted following flooding in 1956. Wander through the park and you’ll arrive at the focus of Valencia’s recent regeneration: the City of Arts and Sciences.
Mostly designed by local-born architect Santiago Calatrava, this futuristic ensemble of bleached-white buildings is surrounded by turquoise pools. It includes the curvy Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium, and the astonishing eye-shaped Hemisfèric, used as an IMAX cinema. From here it’s a short hop to the redeveloped port area, which boasts the sleek Veles e Vents marina building, headquarters for America's Cup.
Head to one of Valencia's sandy beaches
Further along, the waterfront is a stretch of fine-sand beach backed by a promenade of breezy paella restaurants. Ernest Hemingway famously tried his first paella here, and it soon became a favourite haunt. In fact, he was so taken with the town that he chose it as the perfect location to begin his first novel The Sun Also Rises; take a beachside seat in the sunshine, order a plateful and you’ll soon see why.
As for beaches, you can catch some rays on the soft sand of the broad and breezy playas Malvarrosa and Cabañal, which are backed by the Paseo Marítimo and extend along the waterfront. The outdoor cafés, bars and clubs here are particularly popular in the summer months.
Playa de las Arenas offers plenty of space to sunbathe, swim and play during Valencia city break. One of the main attractions here is Paseo Marítimo, a beautiful promenade running parallel to the beach. The promenade is lined with palm trees and has spectacular views over the Mediterranean Sea, as well as lots of cafes and restaurants for you to chill out and indulge in a meal or a beverage.
Tucking into tapas - one of the best things to do on your Valencia city break
There are scores of bars where you can gorge on tapas or grab a quick pintxo (like tapas but often more elaborate, skewered with a cocktail stick and eaten at the bar), especially in the winding lanes of the Barrio del Carmen.
The best place for a tapas blow-out, though, is the atmospheric Casa Montaña in the Cabañal fishermen’s quarter. Duck under the wooden bar-top to the back room, with its vast barrels and wine-making apparatus, and feast on clóchinas (Valencia’s tasty small mussels, in season May to August), chorizo in cider, morcilla (black pudding), broad bean stew and more.
Other tapas highlights include mussels in spicy broth at spit-and-sawdust Bar Pilar (Calle del Moro Zeit 13), where waiters holler your order to the kitchen; Tasca Angel (Carrer de la Puríssima 1) for stellar grilled sardines; and buzzy Las Cuevas (Carrer del Comte d'Almodóvar 8), which has a huge variety of dishes.
Drink and be merry
The historic Barrio del Carmen and hip Russafa districts are perfect for bar-hopping while Valencia city breaks. Do as the Valencianos do and order a pitcher of agua de Valencia – a refreshing but lethal mix of cava, orange juice, vodka and gin. The top bars to try are Sant Jaume (Calle Caballeros 51), an atmospheric old pharmacy with wood-panelled walls, and Café de las Horas, with a star-spangled ceiling and a theatrical vibe.
If it’s daytime refreshment you’re after, try horchata – a sweet and creamy local speciality made from tiger nuts and served with long slivers of cake called fartons; horchatería El Siglo (Plaza Santa Catalina), founded in 1836, serves the best in town, and has a marvellously retro interior.
Valencia boasts five Michelin-star restaurants but the place currently creating a buzz is as-yet-unstarred La Salita. The food is nouvelle but satisfying, and the whimsical creations of chef Begoña Rodrigo (winner of Spain’s version of Masterchef), such as a starter of little shrimps caught in a seaweed fishing net, or a “washing line” of petits fours, make this a great place for a special occasion.
Have a blast at Las Fallas
Valencia’s biggest fiesta, Las Fallas, in honour of St Joseph, takes place every year in March. Each neighbourhood builds huge cartoonish figures – some as big as houses – which are spectacularly set ablaze on the night of March 19.
In the preceding days, there are paella contests, parties and bullfights, and every day at 2 pm the central Plaza del Ayuntamiento is filled with ear-splitting displays of pyrotechnics set off by rival neighbourhoods.
- For price and quality: Hotel Boutique Balandret
- For boutique stays: Vincci Lys
- For Old Town: Melia Plaza Valencia
- For couples: Mythic Valencia
Where to stay in Valencia
Find more accommodation options to stay in Valencia, or if you are planning to travel further in Spain take a look at our guide to the best hotels in Spain: pick of the paradores.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Spain without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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