Things to Do in Valencia
The twin stone Serranos Towers (Torres de Serranos), built in the 14th century as Valencia’s main exit toward Barcelona and Northern Spain, are one of only two remaining portions of the original city walls. What once served as prison cells and a triumphal arch are now thought to be the largest Gothic city gateway in Europe.
Situated along Valencia’s old Turia riverbed, the visually striking City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias) was the work of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The spectacular architecture is just part of the appeal of this futuristic complex though, which is also home to a science museum, planetarium, and more—all popular with families.
Albufera, south of Valencia, is home to Spain’s largest lake and some of the country’s most scenic wetlands and lagoons. The park’s natural biodiversity features hundreds of native plants and 340 bird species, including rare and endangered ones. Locally grown rice is featured in many regional dishes, such as paella.
Just beyond the borders of Valencia’s old town, bridges cross over a river’s canal. But you won’t find water flowing below those bridges – not anymore, that is -- and instead the Turia Riverbed Gardens (Jardí del Túria).
Indeed, until 1957, the River Turia gushed through Valencia. But then a devastating flood prompted citizens to shift the river’s course, diverting the waterway just west of the city. Though this several-kilometer long swath of land was at one time destined for use as a motorway, it was ultimately turned into a garden, making it Spain’s largest urban getaway, and Valencia’s beloved green haven.
Along its meandering course, you’ll find all sorts of park paradise. There are fountains and ponds, cafes and climbing walls, and loads of paths for walkers, runners and bikers. Kids will find their bliss at Gulliver Park, a giant playground inspired by its namesake children’s tale. Along the way, centuries-old bridges cross over the slithering greenery, just as they did when this channel filled with water.
Perhaps the most famous of the Turia Riverbed Gardens’ sites is the City of Arts and Sciences, which sits at the eastern end of the park, near where the original river arrived at the Mediterranean Sea. Here’s where you’ll come upon a complex featuring a collection of buildings with futuristic architecture, and serving both educational and entertainment purposes. Among them are Europe’s largest Aquarium, and L'Hemisfèric, home to a planetarium, laserium and IMAX theater.
A highlight of Valencia’s Old Town, the Valencia Central Market (Mercado Central, or Mercat Central in Valencian) is also one of the city’s quintessential culinary destinations. Built in 1928 and celebrated for its Art Nouveau architecture, the covered market is one of the largest in Europe, housing hundreds of fragrant food stalls.
Known for its jumble of architectural styles, Valencia Cathedral (also known as the "Seu") is also famous worldwide as the home of the Holy Chalice. While the cathedral’s dome and tower are Gothic, the main entrance is Baroque and some of the chapels date from the Renaissance.
Take a tour to learn more about the cathedral’s architectural history and treasures, or just pop in to pay your respects to the Holy Grail in the flamboyant Capilla del Santo Caliz near the main entrance. It’s claimed to be the chalice from the Last Supper.
The de Borja chapel boasts some lovely frescoes by Goya and the museum reveals a rich collection of vestments and statues.
One of Valencia’s best-known landmarks, the Silk Exchange (La Lonja de la Seda) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of the city. Built in the 15th and 16th centuries as a hub for the city’s silk and commodities traders, the exchange is a marvel of Gothic architecture.
Situated in the ciutat vella, or old town, Valencia’s Barrio del Carmen is in many ways where you’ll encounter the soul of the Spanish coastal city. Once sandwiched between the 11th-century Muslim wall and the 14th-century Christian one, it’s a neighborhood packed with history, dating back over 1,000 years.
You can still see remnants of its distant past among El Carmen’s streets. The most impressive of these sights certainly includes the medieval towers, Torres de Quart and Torres de Serrano, both of which once belonged to the now-destroyed Christian wall. Then there’s the Portal de Valldigna (located on the street of the same name) that once served as the gate through the former Muslim wall to the Moorish and Jewish quarter. And the past also lives on in the district’s name, derived from the 13th-century Convent of Carmen, which is now a museum dedicated to the 19th century.
These days, El Carmen is hardly just about the past, though, as this barrio makes up arguably the most hip, trendy and bohemian in town. It’s home to a diverse population of people, and of course the mix of establishments that they frequent. As such, expect to find a healthy concentration of eclectic restaurants, shops, and especially bars since El Carmen is quite noted for its nightlife. The neighborhood is also blanketed by street art, ranging from colorful graffiti to wood installations, and message-filled murals that cover the sides of entire buildings.
Plaza de la Reina isn’t particularly old: it dates back to only 1878, when a triangular block of buildings was destroyed to make room for a large main square. Now the plaza – considered the city’s Kilometer 0 -- fills with cars, flower beds and pedestrians, and is lined by a host of cafes and outdoor terrazas (seating areas). In fact, this is where you’ll find one of the city’s oldest restaurants, Horchatería Santa Catalina, the ideal place to try Valencia’s signature beverage, the nutty-flavored and refreshing horchata.
Perhaps more intriguing than the actual plaza itself are the sites that surround it, most notable of which is surely the Valencia Cathedral. Built on the site of a former mosque, the 13th-century church is a mixture of architectural styles, but predominantly Gothic. What makes the basilica particularly special, though, is that many believe it to be the most plausible home of the Holy Grail.
A few other sites also skirt Plaza de la Reina, including the neighboring Plaza de Santa Catalina and its small church of the same name. Then, just a few steps farther away, you’ll find the Plaza Redonda, a circular-shaped plaza that usually fills with kiosks, and even a Sunday market.
Contemporary international and Spanish art are showcased at Valencia’s renowned Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (IVAM).Educational courses, workshops and concerts accompany the gallery’s permanent collection, and temporary exhibits are also displayed here.
The Centre Julio Gonzalez houses the exhibitions, while the underground Sala de la Muralla hosts temporary shows and highlights the medieval ramparts unearthed during the building’s construction. Central to the collection is the gallery’s display of sculptures and drawings by Miguel Navarro.
More Things to Do in Valencia
The grand Plaza del Ayuntamiento is one of Valencia’s three main squares.
The stunning plaza has a fountain and patch of grass at its heart, and is flanked by some of Valencia’s most important buildings.
The bell tower of the neoclassical town hall chimes on the hour, and inside the opulent decor features marble and richly carved wood.
The post office is more like a theater than an administrative building, with a leaded-glass dome. The plaza is a popular meeting spot for local Valencians, and is the focus for fireworks displays during the annual Fallas Festival.
Once upon a time, Valencia had four gates that allowed for passage through its medieval wall. Come the 19th century, the city needed to grow, so that stony barrier was demolished, leaving only two gates behind, one to the north, and the other to the west, the 15th-century Quart Towers (Torres de Quart).
Acting as Valencia’s western gate, the Torres de Quart led to the pueblo Quart de Poblet, from which they got their name. Over the centuries, the towers have weathered their fair share of battles; in fact, reminders of Napoleon’s bombardment live on in the gate’s canon-ball-pocked outer walls (which now tend to fill with birds’ nests instead of weaponry). Though the Torres de Quart’s original purpose was as a passageway, for centuries they acted as a prison: first one for women, starting in the 1600s, and later as a military prison, from 1813 until 1932.
These days, you can explore the ancient gate by visiting and scaling its interior. Once inside, you can work your way up the tower’s steep spiral steps to reach the lookout point above, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city.
Shopping or browsing at the Valencia Central Market is an essential Valencia experience. On Plaza del Mercado in the center of town, the massive covered market extends over two floors.
The Modernista-designed market has a quirky angled roof and features stained glass and colored tiles. The market is closed on Sundays but on other days it’s a lively shopping hub with cafes and tapas bars, souvenirs and all manner of fresh produce.
Also on Plaze del Mercado is the 15th century Gothic Lonja, a World Heritage-listed commodity exchange celebrated for its colonnaded hall.
Located in the northwest of the city, Bioparc Valencia is an immersion zoo, where the barriers between animals and visitors are hidden or removed, and animals of different species reside safely side by side. This creates the sensation of observing animals in the wilds of the savanna, equatorial forest, African wetlands, and Madagascar.
One of several attractions within Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences, the Félix Candela–designed Oceanografic (L’Oceanogràfic) is not only architecturally impressive. It also ranks among the world’s best aquariums, with more than 45,000 animals representing over 500 species from the world’s main marine ecosystems.
Whether you’re a fan of bullfighting or not, a quick or not-so-quick visit to the Valencia Bullring is surely a worthwhile add to your sightseeing itinerary. The city’s neoclassical-style structure dates back to the mid 1800s, and features quintessential Spanish bullring characteristics, such as a multi-leveled exterior lined by bricked arches, and, on the interior, a circular, sand-filled arena.
That famous interior holds up to 10,500 people come the main bullfights,
which take place during the July Fair, and also in March in conjunction with the city’s Fallas celebrations. Whether you are able to (or wish to) attend a fight or not, you can learn more about the bullring’s history and even check it out during a visit to the Museo Taurino, or bullfighting museum, which is also located here. Quick and cheap to see, the museum is a great way to learn more about the bullfighting tradition without actually attending a fight.
In Valencia, there’s still more botanical wonderland to be discovered beyond just the Turia Riverbed Gardens: only steps away, you’ll also want to visit the Royal Gardens, or Jardines del Real. This flora-filled land dates back as far as the 1500s, when Felipe II ordered thousands of plants to decorate his palatial grounds in Aranjuez. Meanwhile, the name “Royal Gardens” comes from the royal palace that used to be situated here, but that, for strategic reasons, was demolished in the 1800s due to the impending War of Independence.
What remains are several blocks worth of plant-filled paradise laced by paths, fountains and sculptures. Different garden techniques can be found throughout the park, from the Romantic style represented in the south, to more natural landscapes located in the north. Perhaps the most picturesque of these settings is the walkway just beyond the southern entrance, which is lined by a row of towering palm trees. In the center of the park, there’s even an entire kid-oriented course of miniature city-like roads complete with crosswalks and street signals. And just off the southwestern corner sits the Museum of Fine Arts, in case you wish to do more sightseeing in this part of town.
Valencia’s fine arts museum, the Museo de Bellas Artes, is one of the finest in Spain. Lovers of Spanish art will swoon over the works by El Greco, Goya, Velazquez and Murillo displayed here.
Gothic art is also a highlight, including tempura paintings by early Spanish painters. Perhaps the gallery’s most famous artwork is the brooding self-portrait by Velazquez.
Get to know Valencia beyond just the modern-day city by heading to the Valencia History Museum (Museu d'Història de València). The museum takes visitors back over two centuries to explore the city’s deepest roots via exhibitions that range from pictures to documentaries, artifacts, and more. Perhaps the highlight is the museum’s time machine, which captures the evolution of Valencia as it grows and changes over time.
And the building is quite intriguing, too, as the museum is located in an old, essentially underground, water cistern. Constructed in 1850, the brick-and-column structure is emblematic of Valencian industrial architecture. While the space is lighter on artifacts than it is on videos and descriptions, those that are interested in Valencia’s history, and seeing this historic space, will find the visit to be a gratifying way to get better connected with the city and its past.
Home to Valencia Club de Fútbol, Mestalla Stadium (Estadio de Mestalla) is one of Spain’s oldest soccer stadiums. Book a guided tour to learn about the stadium’s past, visit areas that are not usually accessible to the public—including the changing rooms and the pitch—and scale the vertigo-inducing North Stand seating.
Enjoy dance, opera, and music—all in one performance space. Celebrated for its modern design and world-class arts, Opera House Valencia (Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia) also offers tours and educational programs.
Exciting big-screen movies are shown at the Hemisferic IMAX cinema at Valencia’s impressive City of Arts & Sciences.The impressive curved building was designed by the renowned local architect Santiago Calatrava in the shape of an eye.
At the Hemisferic Planetarium, the night sky comes alive with the assistance of digital technology and an astronomer. All movies and shows are accompanied by an English commentary.
Perhaps you may be familiar with Lladró and its porcelain figurines. The fragile pieces typically depict people, and especially women, who are often pensive or frozen in artistic motion. The internationally famous works of art originate from the Valencian suburb of Tavernes Blanques, and have been handmade there since the business got started by the Lladró family in 1953.
While their beauty alone might be enough to satisfy your curiosity, you can also learn more about their history at the Lladró Museum. There, you can explore many facets of the brand’s past as you view a chronological display of noteworthy pieces that are no longer being made. A portion of the museum also consists of a private collection of paintings that is considered one of the most notable in Spain. The pieces span different artistic eras, and are the work of a variety of artists, ranging from El Greco to Zurburán and Valencia-native Sorolla.
Probably the highlight of a trip to the Lladró Museum, however, is a visit to the factory, where you can gain new appreciation for the intricate handiwork that goes into each figurine. Observing the artisans work on real projects — whether creating molds, painting faces, or piecing everything together — will bring new meaning and value to the impressive finished product.
For one week in May every year, Valencia’s streets turn into a gallery of giant, often cartoon-like sculptures. Come the end of the week, these colorful behemoths are incinerated in building-high bonfires, illuminating the town and filling the city skies with smoke. Though your visit to Valencia may not coincide with this fire- and firework-filled event, you can still become acquainted with it by visiting the Museum of Las Fallas (Museo Fallero).
But first, to understand the museum, you must grasp what makes up this wild celebration, and specifically the fallas themselves. The fallas are essentially massive, usually paper-mache-made sculptures, typically infused with some sort of political or pop-culture reference. Hundreds of these creations are erected in city squares and street junctions around town, with each big falla having a miniature version next to it, which is called a ninot. Typically both are burned during La Cremà (which takes place the last day of Fallas), but each year one ninot is saved based on popular vote.
And that’s when the Museum of Las Fallas comes in, as it is where each of these small fallas (all the way back to 1934) are on display. Viewing each year’s salvaged piece will not only give visitors unique insight into the festival but also into the evolution of the artwork and, of course, citizens’ interests at the time. Posters and images of Fallas past are on display as well, providing guests with a well-rounded look at what one of Spain’s favorite festivals is all about.
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