Valencia is one of the most exciting cities not only in Spain but all of Europe: rich in art and culture, full of greenery, with a lively nightlife and a world-renowned gastronomic heritage, starting with Paella.
In Valencia we go from visiting historical monuments such as the Cathedral and the Lonja de la Seda to a tour of the bars in the Barrio del Carmen, from Plaza de Toros to a walk in the Turia Gardens, from a dive in to the local cuisine to the Mercado Central to a boat ride in Albuferalake.
From Mediaeval Gothic to the modern lines of the City of Arts and Science, Valencia is a unique journey between past and present. A city that has been able to reinvent itself over the centuries, from a sixteenth-century merchant centre to a reference point of contemporary urban planning.
A trip to Valencia, or an excursion with Costa Cruises, could leave you spoilt for choice: Here are our tips on what to do and see.
Valencia: what to do and what to see in the city
- The City of Arts and Sciences
- The Oceanografic
- Plaza de Toros
- Valencia Cathedral and The Micalet Tower
- La Lonja de la Seda
- Valencia Central Market
- Valencia Biopark
- The Court of Las Aguas
- The Museum of Ceramics
- The Gardens of Turia
- The Barrio del Carmen
The City of Arts and Sciences
Towards the end of the dry bed of the Turia River, there is one of Valencia's most iconic complexes, the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències. It extends into a large area (350 thousand square metres) over five structures, named after three thematic areas: art, science and nature. The buildings are dedicated to museums and permanent exhibitions.
The architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candelae designed it in 1996 by designing buildings with shapes that recall nature. The Hemisferic is shaped like a half human eye and is an Imax cinema where you can see wraparound projections on a 900 sqm screen.
The palace of the Principe Felipe Science Museum is inspired by the skeleton of a dinosaur and contains an interactive museum: explore it with children, who will enjoy playing with scientific principles in a series of activities designed for them.
The Oceanografic park brings to mind the Eskimo igloos. It is home to more than 500 different species, in rooms representing the different marine environments. Walk through the underwater tunnel, marvel at the shark tank, admire dolphins and sea turtles, in their ocean habitats developed in the structure.
The Umbracle is a botanical garden arranged along a 320-metre pedestrian crossing that echoes the tradition of the shaded places where tropical plants are preserved. You walk under a series of 55 fixed arches and 54 mobile parallels made of tencadis (ceramic fragments applied to the mortar).
The Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia has an interesting geometric structure when it is illuminated in the evening: it is an auditorium where you attend concerts and performances.
The Oceanografic Park
In the City of Arts and Sciences complex, it is absolutely worth visiting the Oceanografic park. It is one of the largest marine parks in Europe and is home to about 500 different species and 45,000 specimens, living in perfectly reconstructed marine environments.
The Oceanogràfic is a real scientific, educational and recreational centre and visiting it takes at least half a day. This is what it takes to see the environments into which the aquarium is divided, each with its own specific microclimate.
In the Mediterranean one there are nine towering aquariums; wetlands are located within an external sphere more than 25 metres high; temperate and tropical habitats are a journey from the cooler to the more torrid areas of the oceans. Admire the 7 million cubic metres of water that gathers all the life of the ocean. The Antarctic environment, with Humboldt penguins, tells the story of extreme lands, as well as that of the Arctic.
The must-see attractions are the shark tank, the 70-metre underwater tunnel and the dolphinarium. And if you want to enjoy absolutely everything, eat in the restaurant "on the ocean floor".
Plaza de Toros
Almost every Spanish city has its own arena for bullfights and that of Valencia is special. Plaza de Toros is located in the old town, in the Eixample district.
It was inaugurated in 1859: from that time, Valencia finally had a fixed place in which to carry out bullfights, which used to be held in different places in temporary buildings. It still hosts the challenges between bullfighters and bulls, but also events such as concerts and circus shows.
At the time, the passion for bullfights was at its highest level and the arena was the largest in Spain, with a capacity of 16,850 spectators. Over time, it has undergoneseveral changes, the last in 2010 that brought it to 10,500 viewers.
The building is neoclassical, with its four floors and arches reminiscent of the Nimes arena and the Colosseum. It has a polygonal base (48 sides) and an inner ring for bullfights that is 52 metres in diameter. Get closer to the pillars erected by the city institutions to pay tribute to the great matadors who have died here. The bronze statue near the ticket office is dedicated to Manolo Montoliu, a great banderillero from Valencia.
Valencia Cathedral and The Micalet Tower
Valencia Cathedral holds the history of the city. It is located in Plaza de la Virgen and is the seat of the Archbishop of Valencia.
It was erected above the old Balansiya Mosque after the Reconquest against the Islamists by James I The Conqueror, to "mark the Christian" territory; in turn the Mosque stood on the site of a Visigoth cathedral. Construction began in the 13th century and lasted for two more centuries. It is an example of the Valencian Gothic style, given the main structure that refers to the canons of the time, but the long construction led to the introduction of Renaissance elements, a style that was taking hold in the 15th century, but also of the Baroque, as well as of the Neoclassical.
So the Gate of the Almoina is Romanesque, the Door of the Apostles is Gothic, the Iron Gate is Baroque, the Obra Nova has strong Italian Renaissance influences. Inside, the aisle is Gothic style and the main altar is of Renaissance school. Don't miss the Chapel of the Holy Chalice: according to a tradition the Holy Grail is contained here, inside the ‘retablo’, an altarpiece in alabaster.
The cathedral is also known for the Micalet (or Miguelete, from the name of the main bell, called Miguel), the belltower which is one of the city's symbols: you can climb to the top by climbing 207 steps.
La Lonja de la Seda
The Lonja de la Seda is the building of the Valencia Silk Trade Hall, a symbol of the city's heyday and a Unesco World Heritage Site. It is here that from the 15th century onwards the most important trading was carried out and merchants negotiated the prices of silk. The Valencians simply call it La Lonja, or La Llotja in the local dialect, the Lodge, or the portico.
The group of buildings was built between 1482 and 1533 in the Valencian Gothic style. In front of you will you find a structure that vaguely resembles that of a castle, with the central crenelated tower. The most important and evocative part of the Lonja is the Sala de Contrataciòn, where merchants gathered to buy and sell silk. The hall is a representation of paradise, with five rows of palm-shaped columns and domes alluding to the celestial vault.
Remarkable is the self-supporting spiral staircase, without a central pin, an architectural wonder for the era. Latin inscriptions along the walls testify the honesty of Valencian merchants in golden letters.
The Albufera Nature Park is a favourite of Valencians. It covers 21,000 hectares and is located 10 km from the city. It offers numerous possibilities for relaxation and activities in the middle of nature, and also boat trips, as the heart of the area is the largest artificial lake in Europe. The Albufera is an urban oasis made of woods and rice paddies: visiting it also means better understanding the city's gastronomic traditions, because this is where the Valencian paella was born.
In the park you can relax on the grass, take part in impromptu football matches, ride bikes and go on the lake by renting a rowing boat. There are six marked trails that lead you to observe the waterfowl that nest here. If you don't want to walk, hop on the tour bus that takes a complete tour of the area and allows you to admire the variety of the ecosystem.
For foodies it's worth stopping at the village of El Palmar to taste paella and other specialities such as the all-i-pebre (a plate of eel) and the Lisa Adobada (red mullet).
Valencia Central Market
Inside the Ciutat Vella we find the Mercado Central, an essential destination for lovers of gastronomy, but also a meeting point for Valencians in a place with a modernist charm.
The Mercat Central (in Valencian dialect) is located in front of the Llotja de la Seda and is a riot of food stalls, perfumes, colours, fresh food and quality dishes. It is no coincidence that it is considered Europe's largest fresh produce market and the best place to (literally) immerse yourself in the local cuisine. A walk here, amongst 8,000 square metres of lodges and corridors, is a dip into Mediterranean flavours and tastes.
The place housed an open-air market from 1893, the Mercat Nou, then the municipality decided to equip it with a roof: the pavilion was built between 1914 and 1928, with a square plan and central dome to illuminate the large interior space. You'll notice the different architectural styles:Art Nouvea (iron columns reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower) mixes with Gothic-Renaissance influences (such as the presence of tiles and stained glass windows).
The interior is home to more than 1200 stalls overflowing with fruits, vegetables, spices and local produce; If you are not impressed, go to the fish and meat area. To sample a few dishes, head to one of the restaurants scattered around the building: one of the most popular ones is the Central Bar, where you can eat tapas, gourmet sandwiches and typical dishes.
If you are travelling with children, bring them to Valencia Biopark, on the western side of the old Turia River course, dedicated to African habitats. You will find large spaces and savannah environments with animals from the continent: the complete opposite of a zoo where the specimens are confined in cages.
The Biopark opened its doors in 2008. The project is inspired by the principles of animal observation through zoo-immersion, that is, the possibility of seeing them in their natural habitats (many plants come from Africa) with the least possible mediation.
The park has four different environmental zones. Madagascar, with the fauna and flora of the great oceanic island, is home to seven species of lemurs, flamingos and the characteristic fossa, similar to small cougars. Then there is the environment of the Savannah, with grassy grasslands inhabited by zebras, lions, elephants, giraffes, rhinos. In the Equatorial forest predators such as the leopard live, while the wetlands are the kingdom of hippos, crocodiles and giant turtles.
The Court of Las Aguas
The Water Court, also known as the Tribunal de la Vega, is a typical Valencian tradition. It is an appointment that is held every Thursday at noon in front of the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados, at the Door of the Apostles. Locals and tourists attend the royal court scene as disputes between farmers over water used for irrigation are discussed.
The institution has ancient origins: it was born to settle the quarrels between neighbouring landowners who contested the water of the Turia River for their fields, which they exploited through irrigation channels. The issues were resolved by the appropriate court, which is still in operation and is recognised by Spanish law. There are eight members of the jury (belonging to the eight farming communities that draw from the waters of the river), which elect a president. At 12 o'clock the chimes of the bell tower mark the beginning of the debates, which end with those who have been reported being found guilty or innocent. The penalty is a cash payment.
The Museum of Ceramics
One of Valencia's most interesting museums is the Gonzalez Marti National Museum of Ceramics and Sumptuary Arts , which celebrates one of the largest local industries. It is located in the palace of the Marqués de Dos Aguas and was created in 1954 thanks to Manuel Gonzalez Marti, who donated his collection to the state. Later it was enriched with a collection of clothes, paintings, furnishings and sumptuary art objects (the processing of precious materials such as metals, stones, crystals)
The art objects are arranged on the three floors of the building: it is worth stopping in the room dedicated to Christian-style mediaeval ceramics, observe the Japanese room with original furniture, Valencian tiles and ancient Greek and Roman pottery.
The Gardens of Turia
The Jardi del Turia Valencia's main park, a 110-hectare area that winds like a snake in the city centre. It is the largest urban garden in Spain and is unique also for another reason: it occupies the ancient Turia River Bed, which was drained by the municipality to prevent the city from being regularly inundated by floods. One of the last, in 1957, caused massive casualties and damage, so much so that the Valencians discussed the diversion of the river and the transformation of its bed into gardens, which were then inaugurated in 1986.
Today the Jardi is the green lung of the city, but also a place of relaxation and social meetings. Along the banks of the old river are several structures dedicated to sport, entertainment and culture.
There is a botanical garden, the Bioparck at the north end and the City of Arts and Sciences complex to the south, and Parc Gulliver, a children’s park with the 70-metre-long sculpture of the character from the Jonathan Swift book,"Gulliver's Travels". The numerous sports fields allow you to practice basketball, soccer, skateboarding, biking, running and fitness.
The Barrio del Carmen
The Barrio del Carmen is one of the districts of Valencia's Ciutat Vella, with a long history behind it and an intense nightlife. In addition to being one of the first districts of the city, over the centuries it has often changed face and function: infamous area of criminals and prostitutes, barracks, Muslim refuge, convent areas, the neighbourhood of mediaeval aristocracy, a proletarian barrio in the 20th century. Today it is the place par excellence of the Valencian movida, full of clubs, tapas bars and restaurants.
The best way to reach it is a walk along the bed of the Turia. The very centre of the neighbourhood is the Plaza del Carmen, where the church and the attached convent of Carmen Calzado (the Discalced Carmelites) stand. The building dates back to the 13th century, when the friars of the order settled here: to see the two cloisters, the 15th century Gothic one and the sixteenth century Renaissance on. Today the convent has been converted into the Museum of the 19th century.
Other points not to be missed are the Torres de Quart and Torres de Serranos, two defence towers erected in the mid-15th century. The first is reminiscent of that of the Maschio Angioino in Naples; the second was one of the gateways to the city and is one of Valencia's best-preserved monuments.
However, the best way to enjoy the Barrio del Carmen is to come towards evening to explore the artisan, artists and designers’ shops for original products, and then stay there until night to experience a Valencian evening, wandering through the alleys amidst music, events, meetings, gourmet dinners or street food tastings.
Discover Valencia with Costa Cruises
Together with Barcelona, Valencia is one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in Spain, a place where culture, nature and fun mix in a unique way. If your Costa cruise in the Mediterranean stops here, don't forget to enjoy the sea too: Valencia's beaches are in the city, an ideal place for a relaxing break between visits.