Starchitect Santiago Calatrava’s masterpiece of design, the City of Arts & Sciences, has dominated the Valencia cityscape for more than a decade. It is truly spectacular, but there are many other cultural highlights.
Take a sleek, high-speed train from Madrid or Barcelona. Eat delicious manchego and tomato sandwiches (available everywhere like tomato/mozzarella in the U.S.), and drink glasses of fresh juice from Valencia oranges - in a nod to local flavor, every Starbucks has an orange squeezing machine. Taste Orxata, made of sugar, water, and tigernuts - sold on street corners.
You'll crave paella every day, especially here, the city that gave this soft, chewy, and crisp rice dish to the world. The best bit is the socarrat, or crunchy rice, at the bottom.
Try these spots:
- Family run La Matandeta is located in a beautiful home just outside the city. The specialty is Paella Valenciana, with rabbit, chicken, duck, and snails - but most of all, you will fall in love with the family.
- La Pepica: the best alfresco dining for seafood paella and a view of the Mediterranean. This is Ernest Hemingway's old haunt and it's lined with Spanish celebrity photos. A Valencia classic. (Paseo Neptuno 6)
- Restaurant Tridente: Right near La Pepica, this is also traditional paella but served in a super stylish setting overlooking the water. At the Hotel Neptuno. (Paseo Neptuno 2)
Other things not to miss:
Coffee at Mercado de Colon: Formerly a food market, this beautiful space is now an open-air center with cafes and boutique clothing shops. (C de Cirilo Amoros)
Plaza del Mercado: A chaotic, vibrant produce and seafood market - Europe's largest. I picked up perfect peaches, berries, and dried fruit for traveling, and perused as many of the 900+ stalls as I could.
The Bullfighting Museum: Save an hour for this small museum, founded in 1929 and showcasing a collection of bullfighting artifacts. Don't miss the 15-minute tour of the bullring, which leaves every 30 minutes. Admission is free/closed Mondays. Nearby is the beautiful Estacion del Norte train station, worth a photo stop and where you can try the Orxata drink. (Pasaje del Dr Serra)
Café del Duende: It's off the typical tourist track, but I felt like the only visitor in a crowd of Valencia natives in their local bar. Most performers are from Valencia, sharing their talent for the art of flamenco. Performances are from 11:30pm-3:30am on Friday/Saturday nights, with some shows on Wednesdays/Thursdays. (Calle Turia, 62)
Valencia has miles of expansive beaches and the neighborhood closest to them is called the Inner Port. Take an hour-long catamaran cruise with Mundo Marino - it's under 20 euros. Next time, I’ll do the sunset cruise.
Favorite tapas restaurants: Casa Montana (Calle Jose Benlliure, 69) and Casa Guillermo (Marina Real Juan Carlos I, 9) were my favorites, both near the Inner Port. Casa Montana, visited by Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow on their Spain show, has been around since 1836 and serves delicious bites like broad beans, thin slices of Iberico ham and sardines. Casa Guillermo is known as the “King of the Anchovies” and serves small French bread sandwiches and cheese along with a large menu.
Stroll in the L'Eixample neighorbood - sidewalk cafes, shops, and turn-of-the-century apartment buildings make this a beautiful area. Walk down shopping mecca Calle de Colon near Estacion del Norte and you'll want to veer off onto the tree-shaded streets.
See the Holy Grail in the Valencia Cathedral: Most biblical scholars believe that the Holy Grail, the chalice said to be used by Jesus at the Last Supper, is on display here. The cup has been dated to the 1st century, so the timing fits. (Plaza de la Reina)
Stay: Palau de la Mar is a wonderful boutique hotel with great rates. You can easily walk to Valencia's charming old down and city center Plaza de la Virgen. The hotel is comprised of two refurbished 19th-century homes with a distinct modern touch. There's a lovely courtyard for breakfast.