Valencia boasts a number of gorgeous outdoor squares (called plazas) where you can enjoy a coffee, a beer, a book or the background noise of a bustling city. Since it’s sunny all the time, the stone buildings surrounding la Plaza de la Reina are illuminated beautifully. It’s situated in the heart of the old town, so consider going a few streets away from the square for lunch, to avoid being extorted like a tourist.
The cathedral of Valencia is not as grand and opulent as many in European capitals, but it is charming. It also claims to be the resting place of the sacred holy grail, the very cup from which Jesus drunk during the Last Supper. However, no one really knows whether that’s true or not… You can climb to the top for an enviable view of the city, and the cathedral is as breathtaking within as it is humble without.
Lots of food shopping is done at markets in Valencia, unlike most of the West which depends on chain supermarkets. The central market gives you a real insight into the daily lives of Valencianos, with punters haggling and shopping leisurely throughout the day. There are also plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby if you need a sit down, and the building itself is gorgeous and well-worth checking out.
Valencia has plenty of beaches. Situated right on the east coast of the country, it would be impressive not to have wide expanses of soft white sand. La Malvarrosa is one of its nicest beaches, and also the most popular, and it splits off into various smaller areas. It has perfect sand, blue water and enough space that it often doesn’t even seem too busy.
Most major cities evolved around a water source, usually a fast-flowing river, and Valencia is no exception. The Turia River once flowed straight through the heart of the city. In the 1950s however, it overran its banks and the resulting flood drowned parts of the city in as much as 2m of water. It was subsequently redirected around the city (an impressive feat!) and the dried riverbed turned into an expanse of grass, trees and open space - a gorgeous park, in other words!
The Fallas is quite hard to describe. For a few days in March, paper-mache statues are paraded around the city (usually of famous faces, politicians and the like) while everyone sets off firecrackers and fireworks at all hours of the day. There is music, laughter and an abundance of energy - it’s a true fiesta! At the end, the statues are ceremoniously burned, the party goes on until until the early hours and then it’s over, and people start planning the following year’s statues!
The city of Valencia was freed from oppressive rule in 1238 by King James I - to this day, that history-changing event is celebrated throughout the city. There are parades, there is dancing and everyone is off work since it’s a public holiday! It also happens to coincide with the Day of St Dionysus, effectively the cupid of the area. Women are showered in small, hand-wrapped bundles of marzipan sweets as signs of affection from their doting partners.
Held towards the end of June every year, the Valencian people gather together to, essentially, drink and have a great party! There are more traditional celebrations in the rest of Spain, but in Valencia it’s not about religion or ritual or parades - it’s about having fun with people you know, and those you don’t, and drinking and dancing until you don’t have any energy left!
This "week long" event (which usually lasts about 10 days) is basically a gastronomic celebration throughout Valencia. Dozens of restaurants throughout the city offer special three-course menus for the exact same fixed price! As the birthplace of paella, expect plenty of it on the menu. There are even Michelin Star chefs who get onboard, and though they will have to charge a bit more, the quality-to-value ratio will be highly in your favour.
While this isn’t held in the city centre itself, it’s too ridiculous and hilarious an event to miss! It takes place at Bunol, just to the west of the centre, and goes as follows: 20,000 people enter into the town and wait for one brave soul to climb a two-storey, greasy pole and secure the prized ham at its summit. Once this is done, they arm themselves with tens of thousands of overripe tomatoes and pelt them at one another, every man for themselves, for an hour. It’s absolutely mental, but incredible fun if you can snag one of the tickets!
The Taberna de Marisa is a classic Valencian restaurant, particularly well-known for its morcilla de Burgos - similar to rice pudding, nice and soft of the inside but crispy on the outside, and very heavy. It also serves savoury classics, like croquetas and salted anchovies, and the entire menu is inexpensive and delicious.
This is a club, for the students who aren’t ready for bed at 2am when most of the bars close. Radio City regularly hosts Flamenco and other themed nights, and it’s all about dancing to the early (or late?) hours of the morning, while keeping your energy levels up with cheap drinks! It’s pretty cool, and you’ll almost certainly end up there eventually.
One of the oldest restaurants in Valencia, it is also one of the best treats you can offer your taste buds. Honestly, it’s superb Valencian dining. You can either eat out front, in a bustling bar, or in the back, in a more quiet and spacious dining area. There are plenty of gorgeous Spanish wines available, and the food is all meat, cheese, fish and tasty fried veg. Sumptuous and well worth a visit.
When you drink gin in Spain, it is done properly: huge measures, proper balloon glasses (like bulbous wine glasses), heaps of ice and generous measures. Destino 56 stocks 15 (or more?) different craft gins, a bunch of tonics and is bright, spacious and cool. It’s a modern bar (and there are other drinks) and it’s a great place to relax, before heading somewhere more rowdy for afters.
Valencia is the home of paella, and Les Graelles offers one of the most traditional and delicious paella experiences in the world. There’s a communal serving pan and you help yourself. Of course there are plenty of matched red wines to choose from, so you won’t go thirsty. There’s no seafood, but rather an abundance of veg, rabbit and chicken. There’s saffron, a few snails and other bits and pieces, and the result is a sensation for the palate.