Hello and happy Tuesday! Welcome to part one of my coverage of Valencia, Spain. Today, I’m exploring some of the key sights in the city as well as detailing the delicious foods. Tomorrow, I’ll be exploring Valencia on two wheels – don’t miss it!
Throughout the first two months of the year, it seemed that everywhere I looked I was bombarded with information about Valencia. From newspaper articles to blog posts, it seemed like everyone but me was in Valencia. As I dutifully read each and every piece I became further intrigued by this Mediterranean city. At just over 350km from Madrid, it seemed like a completely reasonable overnight trip.
When a friend decided to come to Madrid for a visit, I floated the idea past her and after a bit of research she was on board. My Valencian adventure dream was set to come true!
After a raucous night out in Madrid that involved a few buckets of San Miguel, we were up far too early and on our way to Atocha station to board the train to Valencia. For over SIX HOURS the train twisted, turned and chugged its way to the coast; we’d made the decision to book the cheap train on the way there, so our train stopped at every. single. small. town. along. the way. (Note: There are direct, fast AVE trains from Madrid to Valencia, which take approx. 1.5 hours. We chose this option on the way back and it was magical!)
It seemed like a great idea when we booked, but after that third hour on the train, we were reconsidering. We finally arrived in Valencia and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a pre-Las Fallas celebration.
We finally arrived in Valencia and found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a pre-Las Fallas celebration. Each year in March, Spain’s third largest city welcomes thousands of visitors for Las Fallas, a five-day long continuous street party that includes fireworks displays, parades, dancing, costumes, and concludes with La Cremà, the main event, the burning of effigies.
As I said, we arrived in Valencia a few days before Las Fallas, but it seemed as though the party had already started. Each day at 2 PM large crowds would gather in the main city square to witness a barrage of fireworks — which, given that it was the middle of the day and sunny, was more of a cloud of smoke with a few bangs here and there.
At first, we couldn’t really wrap their heads around the pre-celebrations: Why are they lighting fireworks at 2 PM? What is with all the firecrackers? What is going on? were questions we asked ourselves and each other frequently that first day, but by the end of our visit, it was hard to say that it didn’t add an air of festivity to our 2.5 days of exploring.
What to see
Plaça de la Mare de Déu
Each of our days seemed to start in the Plaça de la Mare de Déu. Although it’s not the main square in Valencia, it is certainly the most popular with tourists. Plaça de la Mare de Déu is home to many of Valencia’s most famous buildings including the Basilica of the VIrgin and the Turia fountain, as well as many delicious restaurants and bars.
Patios and courtyards are set up nearly year-round in Valencia, thanks to their amazing climate which includes some 300 days of sunshine, so it’s a great place to grab a cafe, peoplewatch and enjoy the sunshine.
Llotja de la Seda
Unfortunately, the first morning that we were in Valencia the skies opened above us and we experienced one of the city’s rare downpours. After seeking solace in the Central Market (which I unfortunatley have no decent photos of, but it is a must-see in Valencia), we ran across the street, dodging raindrops and puddles, to the Llotja de la Seda.
The Llotja de la Seda (or Lonja de la Seda as it’s known in Spanish) is a late Valencian Gothic-style building that used to house the city’s silk exchange. During the middle ages, merchants would gather in the Llotja de la Seda to buy and sell their silk, and work out contracts with distributors.
Although it is no longer home to the silk exchange, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is mostly intact and contains many of it’s orginal furnishings. For just €2 we were able to explore the various parts of the building, from the basement to the great hall — which boasts some of the highest ceilings I’ve ever seen — and learn a little more about this exceptional piece of Valencian history.
Torres de Serranos
The Torres de Serranos are one of the 12 gates that formed the ancient city wall of Valencia. Built in 1392, the Torres de Serranos are one of the best preserved monuments in the city, and still serve as one of the main entrances.
The towers are open to visitors and for just a few euros you can climb the stairs all the way to the top and take in specatacular views of the city.
The City of Arts and Sciences
The City of Arts and Sciences is one of the most surprising sites we saw in Valencia. Located outside of the historic centre, the City of Arts and Sciences is one of Valencia’s most important modern tourist destinations.
When researching our trip, I had read about the City of Arts and Sciences but hadn’t seen a photo. I’d envisioned a Gothic- or Baroque-style group of buildings that were home to paintings and amazing discoveries. So, imgine my shock when our tour bus rolled up to a series of buildings that were designed to resemble a whales skeleton, an eye, and basically looked like they belonged in a sci-fi movie.
The City of Arts and Sciences was in the late-1990s and is home to a museum, an IMAX, an opera house and performing arts centre.
We spent nearly an hour exploring the City of Arts and Sciences, awstruck by the architecture and the detail of these grand structures.
From the City of Arts and Sciences, we hopped back on the bus and continued on to the beach, because no visit to Valencia would be complete without dipping your toes in the Mediterranean.
What to Eat/Drink
I was starving and it was delicious which is why I completely forgot to take a photo of the Valencia paella I devoured upon arrived in the city (#badblogger). If Valencia is famous for anything, it’s the paella.
Paella is viewed by many as the Spanish national dish. A delicious blend of rice and spices, there are different forms of paella depending where you are in Spain. In the province of Valencia, where it is believed paella originated, it is prepared with both rabbit and chicken.
Upon arrival in the city, I was on a food mission — it was Valencian paella or bust. After a short wander through the city, we found ourselves at a courtyard restaurant with steaming plates of paella. It was delicious, and totally worth the hype.
Valencia is a town with lots to see, do and eat. It’s often overlooked by travellers and tourists in favour of Madrid or Barcelona, but thanks to its amazing climate, charming sights and scenery and the Las Fallas celebrations, it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves.
If you’re planning a visit to Spain, definitely plan to add Valencia to your itinerary.
Check back tomorrow for part two of my adventures in Valencia: Exploring the city on two wheels.
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