I was lucky enough to be shown around Valencia by two friends who were born and raised in this beautiful part of Spain. Neiser and Pau (pictured at the bottom of this post) shared their local knowledge of this ancient beach city, and made sure I didn’t stumble into any of the local tourist traps.
I promised I would pass on their local recommendations, so here is your inside guide to the best things to do in Valencia, from the best seafront paella restaurants to the best tapas bars and beaches! Vamos!
Me writing up my notes on the balcony of our picture-perfect Valencian piso (apartment) – located in Barrio del Carmen, Valencia. I would thoroughly recommend staying in this ancient part of the city.
1. Relax with breakfast & Valencian orange juice at Plaza de la Virgen
Acclimatise to the local pace of life, take your time and enjoy the historic sites of this ancient city.
Valencia is famous for its oranges and the streets are filled will beautiful orange trees, offering shade from the sun’s rays whilst you relax in street cafes and bars. Don’t eat them though, the oranges from these trees taste awful! Every morning Sylvie and I would walk to Plaza de la Virgen for breakfast.
This lively little square is sheltered by the 14th Century Miquel bell tower of the Catedral de Valencia, the beautiful domed Basilica de Virgen de Los Desamparados, and the 17th Century Palau de Generalitat. And of course, slap bang in the centre is the Turia fountain which represents the waterways that are so vital to this agricultural region of Spain.
Breakfast = ‘Desayuno’: The cafes and terraces of Plaza de la Virgen slowly come to life from around 9am, all offering idyllic views of the square and bargain “desayuno” deals. The typical Valencian breakfast includes a croissant with jam, cheese or ham, a glass of freshly squeezed Valencian orange juice and a cafe con leche (coffee with milk). And all of this will only cost about €3-4.
2. Go to Foodie Heaven at the Ancient Mercat Central de València (Valencia Central Market)
A snapshot of everyday life in Valencia.
This beautifully designed ancient market is typical of great Valencian architecture. Elegant and elaborate, yet somehow utilitarian at the same time. If you’ve explored Barcelona and Madrid before then imagine Mercado de San Miguel of Madrid, not La Boqueria of Barcelona. Sylvie and I wandered everywhere in Valencia trying to find a supermarket before realising that there weren’t any, because everyone comes here, to the Central Market. It’s not just for the tourists, it’s for the community.
Grab a few bags of fresh fruit and nuts to snack on for the rest of the day. Everything comes from the local farms and you’ll find the prices are just as tasty. If you’re feeling particularly cheeky then make sure to grab a glass of cava and a few gourmet tapas at Central Bar. Trendy waitresses with geek-chic glasses, tattoos and dark features serve up haute cuisine from the Michelin star chef and owner, Ricardo Camarena. This is one of those places that’s always buzzing with locals – and when you see the prices, you’ll understand why. More about Mercat Central Valencia
Valencian locals fighting for bargains at the butchers, in Valencia’s Central Market Pick up some farm-fresh fruit and vegetables to snack on for the day…. ……or treat yourself to some dried Great White shark. No? Come on! You’re on holiday!
3. Rent Bikes and Explore Valencia’s Beautiful Beaches (and the City of Sciences)
Forget the bus. Liberate yourself with a bike rental and see more of Valencia’s city beaches.
We took the bus to the beach on the first day and it was slow, stuffy and boring. So the next day we rented bikes and followed the stream of other cyclists down to the sea. It’s a really easy ride and emphatically more fun than sitting in traffic on a bus.
On your way you’ll find the leafy green track which runs along the old riverbed and guides you to the spaceship-style building which houses the City of Arts and Sciences and the mighty Oceanogràfic, which is Europe’s largest aquarium. Hang around for a while, eat some of your nuts (or dried shark) and take lots of photos of yourself looking sophisticated and cultured, before moving on to the beach.
Valencia’s Best & Cheapest Bike Rentals
I spent many pain-staking hours hunting out Valencia’s cheapest bike rentals and came to a hard and fast conclusion. The guys at DoYouBike were easily the cheapest bike rentals in Valencia (no, I’m not getting paid to write this) and, judging by the conversations going on in the workshop, they are capable of speaking most European languages, which makes life a lot easier. They also have more than one trading location, offering a professional service ideally situated to join the cycle track and hit the coast.
Valencia Bike Rental: Prices From €9 per day (low season) to €15 (high season)
5. Eat Valencia’s Famous Paella on the Beach
Valencia is, perhaps, best known for being the physical and spiritual home of Spain’s most famous dish: paella! Traditionally cooked on Sundays as a family meal, Valencian paella is a hearty feast of rice and vegetables with chicken, seafood, rabbit or snails. It’s not easy to find good paella in Valencia’s most touristic districts, but we did discover a rare gem near the sea.
Paella Top Tip: As my Spanish friends always tell me, don’t buy paella from the places that have tacky posters displaying pictures of their ‘fresh’ paella – it’s just frozen rubbish!
Best Place to Eat Paella on the Beach in Valencia
As you walk along the promenade, starting from Malva Rosa beach (Valencia’s famous beach strip), you’ll find restaurant after restaurant, and just as many waiters trying to coax you in for their menu del dias (daily set menus). Needless to say, most are over-priced and under whelming, but you can find a couple of real beauties! After quite a few hours of walking up and down the promenade, studying the menus (and prices), we decided to take a seat at Nautilus.
There was no-one on the door trying to convince us to enter, and the interior bar was a lively ruckus of 50-something-year-old Spanish men, drinking brandy and cervezas in between trips to the terrace to light up their foot-long cigars. It was clearly a hit with these lively locals and that was enough to tempt us in. We weren’t disappointed.
After a simple and delicate starter of sliced buffalo tomatoes with garlic and balsamic vinegar, we moved onto our main course. My lemon chicken and rabbit paella was worthy of a Michelin star or two, and Sylvie’s garlic pork cutlets were literally the juiciest, tastiest slithers of meat I have ever put in my mouth. Bread, wine, starters and dessert were all included in the €15 price tag (per person), which although not the cheapest on the strip, was absolutely, emphatically one of the best meals I’ve ever experienced in Spain, and worth every penny. I wholeheartedly recommend this seafront restaurant for ocean views and classic Valencian cuisine.
Address: Nautilus Restaurante, Paseo Maritimo 8, 46011 Valencia, Spain
4. Drink Valencia’s Most Famous Cocktail, Agua de Valencia
Agua de Valencia (Water of Valencia) is one of the city’s crown jewels – and certainly a lot tastier than water. A powerful but refreshing mix of Valencian orange juice, cava, gin and vodka, served in a huge sangria-style pitcher, Agua de Valencia is the perfect way to cool down on a hot day. This refreshing cocktail was invented at a lively bar called Café Madrid de Valencia, and it’s here that I recommend you to try your first taste – how could anywhere else possibly compete with the bar that invented it? Oh, and the music is great too!
Address: Café Madrid de Valencia, C/ Abadia San Martin, 10, Valencia
5. Sweeten Up & Cool Down with Horchata and Fartons
A very Valencian tradition, horchata (or orxata) is kind of like a milkshake but is made with ground chufas (tiger nuts – similar to almonds), water and sugar – it’s very sweet and is perfect on a hot day. The locals have it with a basket of fartons, which are long, thin powder-sugared pastries. When I lived in Barcelona, I’d buy 5 fartons for €1 from the little bakery next to where I worked. No wonder I put on so much weight!
Neiser and Pau took us to their pueblo (their home town outside of the city), where they showed us around the working farms and introduced us to their families. We visited one little farm which had been turned into a horchateria – its sunny terrace was packed with kids running around and parents getting together to chat about life and indulge in fresh fartons and horchata. I met the owner, Vicent, who was very proud to show me the chufas they use to make this famous drink. Needless to say, we were the first tourists to visit, and I promised her I would spread the word about her beautiful little slice of heaven.
You’ll see horchata and fartons advertised all over Valencia, but if you’re feeling really adventurous and like to get under the skin of a new place, head to Horchateria Vida, Partida Saboya nº 6, 46120 Alboraya, Valencia. It’s a good hour out of the city by train, but it really does offer a unique perspective of local Valencian culture. Check out their Facebook page for more photos and details.
Vicent and I, after she showed me around her horchateria and explained how they make Valencia’s famous horchata. Our Valencian friends (and local tour guides), Pau and Neiser, showing us around the farmland near their home town.
6. Discover Valencia’s Explosive Las Fallas Festival (Every March)
Valencia literally explodes into life every March for its explosive Las Fallas festival. Each neighbourhood creates huge statues, which occupy the streets before being set on fire. Paired with the beautiful costumes and earth-shattering mascletá (firework) shows, this is undeniably one of Spain’s most thrilling cultural events.
Way more about Valencia’s Las Fallas festival in my post here.
Where to Stay in Valencia, Spain
Apartments in Valencia
One of the smartest things I ever did was listen to Sylvie when she suggested we rent an apartment in Valencia’s Barrio del Carmen area. We were literally only a hop, skip and a tapas away from little squares alive with bars and cafes. And my beloved Plaza de la Virgen was literally at the top of our street. More importantly, we had a fridge stocked with ice-cold beers!
I thoroughly recommend Valenciaflats Centro Ciudad if you’d like to rent an entire apartment in Valencia.
Hotels in Valencia
Romance and Luxury in the Centre: There are countless hotels in Valencia to suit all different types of budgets. My favourite hotel was the 4-star Vincci Mercat, which is modern, chic and comfortable and situated right in the heart of the city. Prices (around €75 a night) offer outstanding value for money too.
On the beach: If you’d rather stay by the beach then you can’t get any better than the Hotel Boutique Balandret. It’s 3-star but feels more like a 4-star and the prices are fantastic, especially considering it’s located right on the beach boardwalk. Perfect for families, groups and couples.