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Valencia from the air

Valencia: More than just rice for paella

Culturally rich and historically diverse. Get to know the Valencia, enjoy their cuisine, and learn about their history and architecture.

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Culturally rich and historically diverse, Valencia is like Madrid’s second baby sister, after Barcelona. I like to think of Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia as the Spanish sisters. Madrid is the mature, cultured, and metropolitan sister, and Barcelona is the artsy, quirky, and sometimes goofy middle sister. Valencia is the younger, smaller sister of the three. She seems to want to be taken seriously, but in reality doesn’t care.

Valencia is a Roman city located on the Mediterranean Sea. In addition to paella, Orxata, and football, it’s also known for its cultural festivals and unique architecture. Valencia’s once walled Ciutat Vella (old town) is walkable to and from any typical touristy point of interest, and, remarkably, the first POI literally hugs the entire city with a welcoming environmental triumph.

Jardín del Turia (the Garden of Turia)

The Turia River used to cut right through Valencia up until 1957. That’s when city officials decided to divert it south to avoid the constant flooding of the metropolitan center. Now, it flows out toward the Mediterranean Sea just south of port authority. The river bed, now a five-mile long stretch of green space, is a stunning and environmentally-friendly local and visitor favorite. It’s also one of the largest city parks in Spain. Meandering eastward from Parc de la Canaleta on the west side to Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences), the park is complete with several points of interest including 18 historic bridges, a zoo, playgrounds for children, a state-of-the-art sports facility, various outdoor sports fields, and winding foot paths that are fantastic for runners, walkers, and cyclists.

Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences)

The darling of this lush garden has to be the City of Arts and Sciences. The eight structures in this popular attraction, took more than two decades to complete. It finally opened to the public in 2009. It is a city of architectural wonder and engineering complexity, and the most intense cluster of museums, green space, and wading pools I’ve ever experienced in my travels. 

The structures include: a science museum, a planetarium with an IMAX Dome, an opera house and performing arts venue, an open-air aquarium, a sculpture garden/nature walk filled with plants native to Valencia, an entertainment venue and two suspension bridges. From a bird’s eye view, this cluster resembles the skeleton of a long reptile wearing an ancient Roman soldier’s helmet.

This ultra-modern attraction could take a few days to fully appreciate. It can be overwhelming, so know what you want to experience beforehand. Show times and museum sessions vary, so you’ll also have to account for that. If you want to loop your way around the entire Ciudad on foot, wear a pair of comfortable shoes, because the journey is long.

Other points of interest

Historic monuments are abundant in Spain, and Valencia comes with its fair share. The Porta de Mar (sea gate), located on the Carrer del Justícia, steps from the Pont de I’Exposió, is a monument honoring the victims of the Spanish Civil War. Within the Ciutat Vella you won’t want to miss the fascinating Mercado Central (central market), La Lonja de la Seda (the former silk exchange), La Catedral (Valencia Cathedral) and Plaza de la Reina (Queen’s Square).

But what I loved doing the most in this charming city was walking through its pedestrian streets, getting to know the Valencians, enjoying their cuisine, and learning about their history and architecture. You’ll find so many reasons to revisit. You can find visitor information on their tourism site.

I recommend staying at least three nights here. My only regret is not being able to run Valencia’s Green Garden because we were short on time and I had been recovering from a recent hip injury. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back to this beautiful city and experience what we missed.

Read up on my other travels in Spain. Madrid and the north of Spain are well worth your time.

Visit my travel page for more of my favorite places.

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