Last updated on August 26, 2019
Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, is famous for its blissfully sunny climate, fragrant orange trees, soft-sand beaches, culture-packed old town and, of course, for being the birthplace of paella!
It is without a shadow of a doubt one of my favourite cities in Europe and a must for all hispanophiles. Here’s how to experience the best of this idyllic city in just 2 or 3 days!
I’ve created this 3-day itinerary for Valencia to help ensure you see, do and eat all of the best things even if you don’t have a lot of time to play with. But please don’t feel you need to follow this too religiously – you could probably squeeze all of these tips into 2 busy/manic days or even stretch it out for 4 or 5+ days.
As always, I encourage you to follow your senses, to wander and schmooze… to drift a little.
Why visit Valencia? Valencia boasts the best of Barcelona – the weather, the laid-back Mediterranean vibes, the beaches and vibrant colours – as well as Madrid’s sophistication and sense of historical importance.
And it continues to evolve, too. On my last visit I sensed a youthful undercurrent: trendy little shops and boutiques, bars and cafes, live music and beautiful street art. And because it’s so much smaller than Barcelona or Madrid, you can discover it all in less time (and with way less money!).
How much time do you need to see Valencia? I recommend spending a long weekend in Valencia (3 or 4 days), especially if you’re visiting the city as part of a bigger tour of Spain.
If you have more time to play with then you could easily enjoy a full week here, especially if you’re travelling as a family (Valencia is particularly family friendly).
Arriving from Barcelona? We took the train to Valencia from Barcelona (where we live) and it was a thoroughly enjoyable 3.5-hour journey along the coast. After flying around so much and enduring all that goes along with air travel, it made me think how much I’d like to start travelling more by rail.
From Valencia you can also take the train to Madrid in less than 2 hours. I’m often asked for advice from travellers flying into Barcelona who want to visit other cities during their time in Spain – I’d say Valencia is a good start!
Fancy a day-trip to Ibiza? It takes less than an hour to fly to Ibiza from Valencia!
Day 1: Old Town Vibes & Cultural Highlights
10am-ish: Start Your Day the Valencian Way
The almuerzo is a sort of second mid-morning breakfast and a rite of passage for the Spanish (especially in Valencia). Spanish people more or less skip breakfast (they may squeeze in a coffee and a small pastry but little else, so by about 10am or 11am they’ll pop our for their almuerzo – and the Valencians do it with serious gusto!
Do it like the locals with crusty bread rolls stuffed with jamón and cheese and a little glass of red vino (yes, really – “Spain is different!” as they say!). And to really start your day like a true Valenciano, treat yourself to a cremaet coffee – strong cafe pepped up with ‘burned’ alcohol and sugar.
Where: You’ll find almuerzos served at traditional Spanish bars and taverns all over Valencia, but I recommend Ricard Camarena’s ever popular bar in Valencia’s beautiful Central Market. Talking of which…
11am-ish: Feast Your Eyes on Valencia’s Central Market
Valencia’s Mercat Central is the largest covered market in Europe and undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful.
Its colourful Art Deco facade houses some 400 stalls that sell the freshest produce from land and sea: seasonal vegetables, mushrooms, cured meats, nuts, butter-soft Iberian ham, cheese, shellfish, sea urchins and wriggling little limpets that dance on ice.
I was here with two of Valencia’s most respected chefs one morning (it’s a long story) and both seemed to be infatuated with the place. Chef Steve Anderson (more about his restaurant later) explained that it was here that he first thought, “Yes, I could get used to living here and having a market like this” before moving to Valencia from the UK.
Michelin-starred chef Bernd H.Knöller (more about his amazing restaurant in Valencia below) told me that the market was a muse for his cooking. “I’m a romantic chef. I like to come here, to see the produce. It gives me inspiration and new ideas.”
Explore the stalls, grab a few bags of whatever tickles your fancy and stop off at Retrogusto Coffee Mates, a tiny little stall (Bernd even has his own special sugar here because he visits so often) specialising in cold brews, pour-overs and espresso-based classics — ethically sourced and beautifully roasted. You know the sort of place…
Midday-ish: Wander Valencia’s Ciutat Vella (Old Town)
You could spend a lifetime exploring the historic streets and orange-blossomed squares of Valencia’s medieval Ciutat Vella (old town), but you can see the highlights in a day or two.
The most famous part is El Carme, or Barrio del Carmen, where you’ll find bustling streets like Calle de Caballeros lined with sunny cafe terraces, tapas bars and cutesy boutiques.
Things to See and Do in Valencia’s Old Town
– Plaza de la Virgen is the physical heart of Valencia. Take a seat at one of the bars overlooking the square and sip Valencian orange juice (or vino) while enjoying views of the Cathedral of Santa Maria, the Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados, and baroque Generalitat Palace.
The iconic Fuente del Turía (Turia Fountain) in the centre of the square depicts Neptune with eight women pouring water into a basin – each representing the important irrigation channels that feed Valencia.
– The Holy Grail, as in the chalice from which Jesus drank at the last supper, is said to be housed in Valencia’s cathedral. Of course, no one really knows if it’s the real deal or not, but it’s worth a quick visit.
Also, and I feel strange even writing about this, you’ll find the mummified hand of Vicente Martyr, patron saint of Valencia.
– The Torres de Quart and Torres de Serranos are the remains of the ramparts that once encircled the entire city. The walls were later demolished, but these two imposing entranceways were preserved and the views over the city from the top are spectacular.
You can also enjoy sweeping vistas over Valencia from the top of the cathedral’s iconic Miguelete bell tower.
– El Carme is crammed with world-class street art. You’ll find it no matter where you go, but be sure to wander the streets and alleyways around Plaça del Tossal and Carrer d’En Gordo to see the best.
– Plaza de la Reina (The Queen’s Square) is also one of my favourite spots in Valencia’s old town. It’s surrounded by elegant cafes (and a few McDonald’s type places), but I prefer to just sit in the flowery park in the centre and watch the birds flutter between the orange trees and palms.
1.30pm-ish: Tapas Touring in the Old Town
No Valencian lunch would be complete without touring a few of the best tapas bars in Barrio del Carmen. The idea is to visit as many places as possible, enjoying the house specials at each (just ask for recommendations or have a look at what everyone else is eating/drinking).
Explore the lively bars in Plaça de Lope de Vega – especially Tasquita La Estrechaget. Plaça del Tossal is another lively area with plenty of great options, including Café Sant Jaume, La Pilareta and Sidrería El Molinón.
3pm: Siesta Time
Head back to your hotel/apartment or find a bench to stretch out on and just relax for an hour or so while your body gets over the tapas/vino binge.
4.30pm-ish: Indulge in Valencia’s Famous Horchata and Fartons
Yes, really, ‘fartons’. They’re basically pastries sprinkled with dusting sugar. A very Valencian tradition. You wash them down with sweet horchata (or orxata), a sort of chalky milkshake made with ground chufas (tiger nuts – similar to almonds), water and sugar. Perfect on a hot day.
You dunk the fartons into your horchata and wolf them down – the powdery sugar sticks to the back of your throat and fills your airways as you breathe. Intoxicatingly delicious.
One of the oldest and most revered ‘horchaterias’ in Valencia is Horchatería Santa Catalina. It can be a bit rowdy and chaotic, with families scattering their baby pushchairs and bottles around, and the perpetual wailing of sugar-intoxicated children reverberating off the walls, but it’s worth it. They also do amazing churros con chocolate so be sure to make a second visit at some point.
5.30pm-ish: Stroll Through the Regal Ceramics Museum
Also in Ciutat Vella is the Museo Nacional de Cerámica (Ceramics Museum), which although, admittedly, sounds a little wearisome, is actually one of the most opulent and impressive museums I’ve visited in Spain.
The collection is housed in the 15th century Palace of the Marqués de Dos Aguas, which was pimped up with lashings of of alabaster in 1740 – even if you don’t have time to go inside, the outside of this decadent building is worth seeing.
Inside it’s all crimson carpets, silk wallpaper, French balconies, frescos and, of course, a priceless collection of Valencian ceramics.
6.30pm-ish: Celebrate Valencia’s Explosive Las Fallas Festival (at Anytime of Year)
Besides paella (don’t worry, we’ll get to that soon enough), Valencia is best known for its colourful Fallas festival, which takes over the city for much of March.
The streets are filled with beautiful papier-mâché statues called ‘ninots’ that stand as tall as buildings.
These statues take a whole year to make but are set on fire and burned to the ground as the city erupts in a blazing glory of fireworks and earth-shattering firecrackers. Avoid Plaça de l’Ajuntament at all costs if you have any sort of heart condition!
In all honesty, it’s pure carnage in Valencia at the height of the festival. I barely left with my nerves intact last time I went. I’ve often described it as what Disneyland would be like if it were run by pyromaniacs.
Found out much more about Valencia’s fiery Fallas festival in my post here (with video).
Don’t worry if you can’t make it to Valencia in March for the celebrations as you can still visit the Fallas Museum. Every year, one of the ninots is ‘pardoned’ and kept for preservation at the museum for one and all to enjoy throughout the year.
8pm-ish: Get Buzzed on the City’s Famous ‘Agua de Valencia’
Valencia is famous for its sweet and juicy oranges and the ultimate way to enjoy them is squeezed into Agua de Valencia (Water of Valencia). Don’t let the name fool you – there’s not even a drop of H2O in this boozy concoction. It’s actually freshly squeezed Valencian oranges pepped up with cava, vodka and/or gin – punchy stuff.
Again, you’ll see it advertised at most bars in Valencia, but I highly recommend heading to the theatrical Café de Las Horas, where you can sip on it by the jugful and pretend you’re at the opera.
9pm-ish: Explore Contemporary Valencian Cuisine
Earlier I mentioned how I spent a wonderful morning at Valencia’s Central Market with chef Steve Anderson. Well his restaurant, Seu Xerea, is one of the most exciting places to eat in Valencia (located literally across the street from Café de Las Horas, which is useful after you’ve been on the “agua”).
Steve and his team serve creative Mediterranean-Asian fusion flavours like chicken and peanut samosas and mackerel namban with spicy yoghurt, and pork ribs with sweet potato, hoisin, pineapple and ginger. Be sure to ask for wine recommendations too. Honestly, I had one of the best meals of my life here.
Midnight: Follow the Crowds for a Few Nightcaps or Hit the Hay
Day 2: Cycling the Túria River & Paella at the Beach
9/10am: Breakfast – Azuca OD
You’ve probably heard of Spanish churros before. These doughy, deep-fried, sugar-dusted (I’m sensing a theme here) delights are served with a cup of treacle-thick hot chocolate. The Spanish often eat them after a long night out on the vino or first thing in the morning for breakfast – the two often have a way of overlapping in Spain.
Either head back to Horchatería Santa Catalina (above), or start your day in the beautiful Plaza de la Reina (Queen’s Square) and enjoy your churros at Chocolatería Valor with views of the cathedral’s iconic Miguelete bell tower.
11am-ish: Cruise Túria Park on a Bike
With some 80kms of dedicated cycle lanes, Valencia is perfect for exploring by bicycle.
One of the most spectacular sights is the verdant Túria Park, which wends its way from the city down to the beach.
As you may gather from the 18 bridges that arc their way over the park, Túria Park was once Túria River, but it was re-routed after it burst its banks in 1957, causing devastation throughout Valencia and killing 81 people in the process.
Today, Túria Park is one of the largest and most innovative urban green spaces in Europe, connecting the city to the beaches via a series of leafy footpaths, cycle tracks, children’s play zones, water features and picnic spots.
Midday-ish: Explore the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences)
The Túria gardens are home to Valencia’s most visited attraction: the iconic City of Arts and Sciences. With sweeping curves, gleaming glass and turquoise water pools, these extraterrestrial-looking venues were designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, who were inspired by the beauty of nature and the quest for knowledge.
The Hemesferic structure is the centrepiece and contains an IMAX Cinema and planetarium. Its design resembles a giant eye, hence its nickname: “The eye of knowledge”.
The equally impressive Prince Felipe Science Museum is designed to look like a huge whale skeleton.
The Oceanogràfic is the largest aquarium in Europe and resembles a blossoming waterlily. Though each of the venues are worth a visit, it was the Oceanogràfic that enthralled me the most.
With some 500 marine species, you can’t help but feel like a child again as you walk through the underwater tunnels with sharks gliding silently above.
You’ll also see dolphins, one-toothed walruses and grinning manatees, which you get so close to as they playfully splash about that you can actually smell them and hear them breathing.
My personal favourites were the brainless deep-sea jellyfish, which avoid being eaten by predators by flashing strobes of multicoloured light through their bodies like light-sabre warning signals.
1pm-ish: It’s Time for a Valencian Paella Lunch at the Beach
The moment you’ve been waiting for! Spain’s most famous dish, paella actually comes from Valencia and was originally a humble dish enjoyed by farmers and labourers who would huddle around a huge ‘paella’ pan to eat.
Traditional paella recipes include Valencian rice with green beans, saffron and a mixture of chicken, rabbit and/or snails — not seafood as we now consider to be “the norm”.
Where to eat the best paella in Valencia: You’ll find countless bars and restaurants serving paella and “arroz” (rice dishes) all over the city but the best paella in Valencia can be enjoyed at La Pepica, a traditional paella and seafood restaurant with a huge sun terrace located right on Valencia’s famous Malvarossa beach (just follow the cycle track and you’ll get there eventually).
Here, a band of barrel-bellied waiters with salt and pepper moustaches patrol the tables, delivering gargantuan paella pans and bottles of iced white wine to the luckiest diners in Spain.
Order the classic Valencian paella with chicken, rabbit and green beans for an authentic taste of paella the way it was originally made, or try the house special ‘Pepica’s seafood paella’, which comes with ready-peeled shellfish – apparently is was created for the famous Valencian painter Joaquin Sorolla (I highly recommend seeing his work at the Bellas Artes Museum).
Top paella tip: The Spanish only eat paella for lunch, so anywhere advertising paella at dinner time is doing so for tourists (i.e. it’s not going to be the best). And be sure to drink white wine with your paella, preferably ‘vino aguja’ (slightly sparkling).
3pm-ish: Siesta at Malvarrosa Beach
Paseo Maritimo is a palm-fringed promenade that hugs Valencia’s Malvarrosa beach for many bike-friendly miles. There are countless chiringuitos (beach bars) along the way, so either find a table in the sun for another drink or find a strip of sand to stretch out on and take a quick siesta before cycling back into the city.
7pm-ish: Kick Back with a Few Drinks in Trendy Ruzafa
Not so very long ago, Ruzafa had something of a seedy reputation. It was an area the locals would have told you to avoid. Today, however, it has been fully hipsterfied and is now one of the most exciting neighbourhoods in Valencia.
It’s incredibly beautiful too, with elegant facades and leafy little corners that remind me of Barcelona’s Eixample barrio. The colourful Mercat de Russafa (Russafa is the Valencian spelling of Ruzafa) is paradise for foodie types.
Stop off for a drink or two in trendy places like La Cantina, Jardin Urbano and Cafe Berlin. I was also here with chef Bernd when he started gushing with enthusiasm about an Italian couple who had set up a bar called Ruzanuvol, specialising in unpasteurised Italian brews.
“It’s so good that’s it’s almost not beer,” Bernd explained. “It’s pushing the limits. It’s incredible. I like these people who are fighting. They could make much more money with any other beer, but they choose to fight.”
9pm-ish: Indulge in a Michelin-Starred Dinner
OK, I’ve banged on about chef Bernd for long enough. Now it’s time to talk about his incredible Michelin-starred restaurant, Riff.
As he explained himself, his dishes change “too frequently,” depending on what he finds freshest on the day. Stand out flavours included rice with gently grilled octopus, hake with white beans and chorizo and langoustines with organic tomatoes and dill. This is truly spectacular Mediterranean dining experience, a proper treat to celebrate your time in Valencia.
If you see Bernd wandering around the dining room in his whites, don’t be afraid to say hello. He’s not the aggressive, unapproachable chef you imagine when you think of a ‘gastronomic genius’. He even invited me into the kitchen to say hello to his team, who were happily and, to my surprise, calmly working away. There was no shouting or tension, no clanging pots and pans being thrown around. It was just… zen.
“There is a difference between ‘foodies’ and ‘gourmets’. The foodie is happy if the food looks pretty, but for the gourmet, it’s all about the flavour, how the taste makes you feel,” Bernd explained when I asked him about his approach to food. “I am a 50% chef, but also 50% gourmet.”
I wonder how many of us “foodies” are true gourmets…
Day 3: Lazy Day / Shopping
I suggest using your third/final day to simply take it easy, schmooze around your favourite spots, go shopping and visit the places (above) that you didn’t have time for. Sip another jug of agua de Valencia and let the unfold.
Visit the La Lonja de la Seda
Housed in a fairy-tale 15th-century building, La Lonja de la Seda (The Silk Exchange) is a shrine to the days when Valencia was one of Europe’s most important hubs for trade and culture.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site houses huge trading spaces with vaulted ceilings supported by beautiful spiral columns. Really quite spectacular.
Shop for Turrón
Turrón is Valencia’s famous nougat made with honey and almonds. It’s enjoyed across Spain (especially during the Christmas season), but its roots can be traced back to the little Valencian town of Jijona.
Grab a few slabs to take home as gifts (or to nibble on and dream of your time in Valencia.
Drink & Eat More
More horchata and fartons, more agua de Valencia, more tapas, more paella… don’t hold back!
Where to Stay in Valencia
Recommended: On my last visit to Valencia I stayed at the 4* Valencia Medium Hotel, which offered outstanding value for money – the rooms are bright and huge (we had two full-sized bathrooms!), breakfast is spot on and there’s a gorgeous palm-shaded swimming pool. Great for couples and families alike. See my full review here.
I can also recommend the 4-star Vincci Mercat, which is modern, chic and situated right in the heart of the city. Prices (around €80 a night).
Trains and Buses to Valencia: Omio.com
Rent a Car in Valencia: Discovercarhire.com