My recent travels through Spain brought me to Valencia for the first time, and I am already dying to go back. The coastal city is just a couple of hours west of Barcelona via train. My attention was drawn to the city when I was searching for the best paella restaurants in the country. Valencia is considered to be the birthplace of paella, so it’s no coincidence that the best paella would also dwell at some of their restaurants. After doing a little bit more research on the destination, I continued to find numerous reasons why I wanted to travel there. The city is full of history, culture, great shopping, stunning coastline, and of course, phenomenal food.
Having already been in Barcelona we took what should have been an easy train ride to Valencia. Just about two hours down the coast and we would be there. If we had boarded the correct train, that would have been the case. When looking at the departure platforms we were picked the wrong train. It did say Valencia on it, but it wasn’t headed there, at least not on the route we had planned. After boarding and setting on our way the on-train ticket taker came to look at our tickets, and quickly informed us that we had boarded the incorrect locomotive.
After he mad a few phone calls on our behalf he instructed us to get off at the next stop and head to customer service to get our issue resolved. We did as he said, and the staff at the station was very helpful in getting us on our way to Valencia for real this time. I’m not sure where the original train was headed, but I am very grateful for the assistance and great customer service that we received on the train and at the station. We were assisted and sent on our way to the proper destination, no additional charges or hassle. The train staff was really helpful. Moral of the story, don’t get on the wrong train!
After our unintended stopover we were on our way to Valencia. The train station in Valencia is conveniently located right in the middle of the city; we were able to easily walk to our hotel from the station, just a few blocks away. Valencia also has an airport that is serviced by several commercial airlines, and acts as a port of call for many cruise itineraries. There are many ways to get to the city.
We used Expedia to make our last minute room booking in Valencia. La Reina Victoria is located just a few blocks from the train station and is right in downtown Valencia. It was well reviewed on TripAdvisor, and came at a great price we thought for a four star hotel, just over €100 nightly. We originally booked two nights, and ended up adding one additional night to spend some more time in the city.
The hotel was perfect for our short time in Valencia. A massive spiraling staircase going up the entire building circles the small lobby area, and it felt very welcoming. The front desk staff was very helpful and spoke good English. We received a map of the area when we checked in and got some tips on dining and attractions in the area.
The room was spectacular, recently renovated and pretty large with a king size bed, nice wood floors, a huge bathroom with a really nice shower, and possibly best of all a small balcony overlooking the city. The room was really impressive for the relatively low price. The location was perfect for exploring the city.
Things to do in Valencia
Valencia has a lot of attractions for tourists. The city is a mix of historic and modern architecture. I loved the colors on all of the buildings. Everything is so bright and vibrant. You can get away from the heavily trafficked main streets and into some of the narrower brick lined streets, which are full of restaurants, cafes and artisan shops. The city used to have a wall around it many years ago, and there are still remnants of the wall and watchtowers in different sections of the city. There was once a river that ran around the outskirts of Valencia. It has recently been diverted, and turned into a large park. Miles of walking and bike paths now run through the former river bottom, and it is a great place to spend some time outside. Along the park you will find the aquarium, one of the largest in Europe, performing arts complex, museum, and the zoo. There are lots of things to do along the old river. Of course there is the coastline, which stretches for miles along the Mediterranean waters. A great place to get some sun and enjoy a drink on the sand.
Here were some of my favorite parts of the city and things that we did:
- Cathedral of Valencia and fountain
Seeing the cathedral in Valencia is a must. The gothic basilica dates back to xxxx and has some great features, including a bell tower that is one of the highest points in the city. The cathedral is located in one corner of a large square that is lined with several restaurants and cafes. The fountain in the center of the square is pretty cool as well. The square is busy night and day, and is a great place to have a seat and watch people and sip on some drinks. Everything in the square is well lit at night; it’s a wonderful place to sip Agua de Valencia (A great local beverage, you have to try it if you go!) on one of the many restaurant patios when the weather is good. It’s easy to walk to the cathedral from almost anywhere in the city, it seems like most of the roads lead right to it.
- Day at the beach
Valencia has a long coastline with sandy beaches. There are several hotels in the area right near the beach, and many restaurants, including La Pepica, lining the long sidewalk just off of the sand. Check out one of the small drink shacks located right on the beach that serves great sangria and an assortment of other cold beverages perfect for the beach. I was impressed by some of the professional sand castle builders who were out building amazing works of art. I’ve never seen such extravagant sand structures. Our hotel concierge informed us of the bus that we would need to take to the beach from the hotel. We were picked up about a block from the Queen Vic and dropped off right near the shore.
- Renting bikes and riding around the city
There was a bike rental shop located right across the street from our hotel. Daily rental rates for a bike were very reasonable, so we grabbed a couple and headed out for a ride around town. The best place to ride is through the Turia Gardens and the adjoined parks circling the city. This section of the city used to be a river. There river was diverted after a large flood in the 1950s and now the whole river area is a large park. There are miles of bike trails, and no cars to deal with once you get there. The park is a great recreational area, with grassy areas, flower gardens, and sports fields. The ride is very scenic as you roll through the city. I loved the old stone bridges that we passed under throughout the ride. My favorite part of the park was the playground that looks like Gulliver from Gulliver’s travels. All of the features of the playground are part of a massive Gulliver, laid out and tied to the ground, just like in the story. It is a unique playground, and I really enjoyed climbing the ropes and ladders, and going down the numerous slides. All of the features are a part of the gigantic mold of Gulliver, so creative, fun and amazing for a playground. Yes, it’s meant for kids, but I had to get in there and play around. I couldn’t help myself. Lots of fun.
- Torres De Quart
Located right in the middle of the city, these ancient towers once formed a gate to the city. Constructed in the 1400s, they are still some of the tallest structures in the city. For a couple of euro you can climb the stairs to the top of the towers and catch a great view of the city. There is also another set of towers just outside of the main city section call Torres de Serranos if you really like ancient architecture. These towers are on the northeast entry to the city and are a little older and more prominent.
Yes, you will find some tacky souvenirs in Valencia, just like most other cities around the world, but we were happy with some of the small shops selling one of a kind items. If you are looking for clothing, jewelry, or art, Valencia is a great spot to get these items. My girlfriend was very happy with some jewelry that she found in the city. The artist who handmade the items that she bought was also the owner of the small store where they were being sold. It’s always nice to buy things direct from the creators.
- Sidewalk Cafes
These are located all over the city. Any time is a good time to stop for some café con leche and a pastry. Sit at one of the sidewalk tables and enjoy the day. It’s a very Spanish thing to do, and very relaxing.
I’ve listed the food last, but it was definitely my favorite thing on the trip. We went to Valencia in search of good paella, and we found it. We also had some other great food experiences in Valencia. Almost every meal we had was exceptional. Even a small café along the bike path was an incredible dining experience. I could tell that all of the restaurants that we went to really took pride in their cuisine, and the service we received at restaurants was exceptional. Ill do a separate write-up on the meals that we enjoyed in Valencia. Here are a few of the restaurants that we really enjoyed:
- La Pepica, Located right on the beach and famous for their paella. A wonderful dining setting. Make Reservations!
- Taberna Jamon Jamon, located right in the middle of the city. This small restaurant had a great prix fixe menu that included several Spanish delicacies. Our service here was incredible. A fantastic meal.
- Gaspar, also located in the heart of Valencia, served modern Mediterranean cuisine in a hip atmosphere. Great value restaurant.
- La Peluda, We ran into this place on our bike ride through the park. It is a standalone café that serves coffee, drinks, and food. We ordered sandwiches and salads from here and were really impressed. Fresh ingredients and beautiful presentation of the food. It far exceeded our expectations, a great place to stop for lunch.
Whatever you are looking to do in Valencia, you will probably find it. I loved spending time in the city, and will definitely go back. It is very easy to walk around and use the public transportation system if necessary. The weather was perfect for the entire time that we were there, allowing us to spend a lot of time outside walking around and exploring the city. The city feels very laid back, and is a great place to enjoy some scenery, history, and fantastic cuisine without battling big crowds that you may encounter in some other destination cities. If you are considering travel in Spain then I would definitely recommend spending some time in Valencia.
Ready to go to Valencia, or have some tips for me when I return? I would love to hear them! You can reach me in the comments section below or get in touch via email. I would love to hear from you!