The most fascinating cities in the world are usually either full of ancient ruins, such as Rome and Athens, or the embodiment of modernization, such as Singapore and New York.
Few ancient cities manage to reconcile their ancient history with the 21st century, but Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, is successful.
Bringing together Valencia’s wide range of modern, cultural and historical attractions in one visit is no easy task. On my list of the 17 best things to do in Valencia, you will eat paella and drink plonk in the sun to contemplate an elusive sip of the Holy Grail.
And if you come at the right time of the year, you could even find yourself in the middle of the biggest tomato action in the world.
Visit Valencia like a pro
Before we look at what to do in Valencia, let’s start with how you should do it. Make a serious dent in your to-do list in Valencia and save money at the same time with a Valencia Tourist Card (VTCard) for discounts on admission tickets, shopping, tours and food and drink.
Choose a 1 -, 2- or 3-day pass. The card is also your ticket for public transport for the valid days, with access to the metro and the local buses of Valencia. Your VTCard will also come with a handy card marked with the included attractions and their discounts.
A 3-day VTCard costs when purchased online and can either be sent to your home for a small shipping fee or picked up at any tourist information in Valencia. I picked mine up at the tourist information office of the town hall.
Visit the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia
The Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia proves that you don’t have to be an opera fan to enjoy a state-of-the-art opera. I booked a 50-minute guided tour to learn more about this futuristic building in the shape of a giant Spartan helmet. The Opera House is the largest building of the complex of the City of Arts and Sciences with more than 40,000 square meters and a height of 75 meters.
Our guide explained the history of the building, from the planning and construction to the opening ceremony in 2005 by Queen Sofia, as well as information about its daily operation. The 4 theaters of the building can accommodate more than 3,500 people. I was amazed at the attention to detail that impeccable acoustics produce, including beech wood walls to absorb the sound, multi-tiered seats like an old Roman theater and leather chairs made by the same company that makes Ferrari interiors.
Enter the future at the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe
The architecture of the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe is as impressive as the opera. This time the building has the shape of a huge cetacean skeleton with long corridors, high ceilings and endless floor-to-ceiling windows. Take your jaw off the floor long enough to get inside and buy your tickets before dropping them off again at the remarkable exhibitions inside.
The permanent exhibition is a fascinating exploration of language. Visitors receive a smart card in their native language, which can be used to translate displays. The exhibits include the origins of speech in humans and animals, the origins of human ancestors, such as Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, and even the effect of speech on the crying of a newborn.
Most of the exhibits were interactive and suitable for all ages. Outside the permanent exhibition, there were more entertaining scientific exhibitions for children, such as an anthill and newly hatched chicken babies. Temporary exhibitions covered the Mediterranean Sea and the exploration of Mars.
See sharks in Oceanogràfic València
The oceanographic building in the form of a water lily is also included in the City of Arts and Sciences. This is a massive complex full of marine life. The exhibits accurately recreate the natural habitats of animals, such as the Mediterranean Sea. The exposition on the species of the Mediterranean included seahorses, sea urchins, starfish, LOBSTERS and various kinds of jellyfish.
Other exhibits included marine animals from afar, such as walruses and belugas in the Arctic exhibit and sea lions and turtles in a tropical exhibit. And the highlight was the Pacific Ocean, where you could walk through a plexiglass tunnel surrounded by sharks swimming freely in the huge reservoir.
The only drawback of this place is that I will never be able to eat squid again! We saw these cute little squids swimming in their aquarium and learned all about their life cycle. I spent 3.5 hours in oceanography, but I could easily have spent more time.
Eating paella on the beach
Paella is one of the most famous Spanish dishes and comes from Valencia. You will be bombarded with restaurants that serve all paella variants, but the trick is to find the best ones and avoid tourist traps.
Tip: avoid seafood. This dish was created for tourists. The traditional Valencian paella is served with chicken, rabbit or game.
My recommendation for the best paella in Valencia is located outside the city center of Albufera, also known as the cradle of paella. Book a 5-hour day trip to Albufera National Park, where you will learn about the history of the region and its current agricultural practices. After that, you will sail on the calm lake and take a well-deserved lunch break to taste the best paella in the area. Literally. This restaurant has won the World paella Championship.
If you don’t feel like hiking, there are many good paella restaurants in the city. I recommend dinner on the beach for a wonderful view of the authentic Valencian cuisine. My favorite paella restaurant by the sea was la Pepica
See the Holy Grail at Valencia Cathedral
It’s true, the Holy Grail is Real, Real, authentic, authentic, in good faith! Now we probably use the word use. Many Grails around the world claim to be the Holy Grail, but that of Valencia is considered by many (including the Pope) to be the real deal. It is located in the Cathedral of Valencia, which is an incredible sight in itself.
Visit this beautiful stone building with a free audio guide that offers a thorough history of the cathedral and its design, construction and renovation after it was partially finished during the Spanish Civil Debate.
The cathedral was built about 750 years ago. As a result, it shows 3 different architectural styles-Baroque, Gothic and Romanesque. In addition to the magnificent architecture, you can see various relics and exhibits in the museum of the cathedral, including the Holy Grail.
If you feel energetic, you can climb 207 steps to the Gothic bell tower of the cathedral to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.
Cycle through the Jardín del Turia
Valencia has cultivated an active cycling culture, so there are many places where you can rent hourly or daily bicycles. This is the perfect way to integrate many websites in a short time. Head to the Jardín del Turia, an old riverbed that is now a park that runs right through the historic center of the city. This long path will surround you with beautiful landscapes and nature.
Encourage your favorite football team at Mestalla Stadium
Spain has no shortage of world-class football teams. Valencia is a top team that plays at the Mestalla Stadium, the second oldest stadium in Spain and the fifth largest in terms of capacity. Buy tickets for an exciting match or visit the stadium.
The tours, both in Spanish and English, will take you through the entire complex, including VIP seating, presidential box and even royal seat. You can go to the field and sit on the bench, where the Valencia substitutes sit during the matches.
You will also go inside to see the team’s trophies and learn more about the history and construction of the stadium. Immerse yourself in the players’ dressing room, and then upstairs to the museum of the stadium, where there are other trophies and examples of old kits, boots and footballs of the team.
Taste Valencian plonk on an oenological tour
Spain is famous not only for its good cuisine, but also for its delicious plonk. The Utiel-Requena plonk region is a must for plonk lovers. It is the largest plonk-growing area in the region and is home to Bobal and Muscat grapes. Visit the plonk route and vineyards and taste world-class plonks while you are there.
Drinking Orxata at The Central market
The Central Market of Valencia is the largest fresh produce market in Europe, so it is a must-see if you are in the city. The highlight here is a drink called orxata (pronounced “gold-sha-tah”), based on a tiger nut called chufa. Since the nut is too hard to bite, it is traditionally soaked in water and then added to a mixture of sugar and cold water to drink the orxata.