I'm planning on being in Valencia, Spain, for three days in the spring and was wondering what the must-see things in the city are in such a time crunch. I'd like to be able to say I've been to all the important spots! Oh, and anything to eat would be fabulous. I especially want tapas and good wine. Thanks!
Oh my goodness! You're going to my favorite city! I lived in Valencia for two years, so I'm very happy to brag about it a bit.
I usually start out at the Estació del Nord, the main train station. You have to see it. It's absolutely gorgeous inside and out. Right next door is the Plaza de Toros de Valencia. There are not bull fights all year, but if you're there in March, there are bull fights leading up to Fallas on March 19th (if you can be there for Fallas, it's amazing).
If you have your back to the train station and follow that main road directly in front of you, you'll walk through some of the prettiest buildings in Valencia. Just two blocks up is the Ayuntamiento de Valencia and the gorgeous old post office just opposite at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Stop inside the post office. It's beautiful inside too. On the back side of the Ayuntamiento is a tiny museum with rotating exhibits. It's free, not a must-see, but they have nice things usually. There's a great restaurant near the post office called Vuelve Carolina that serves tapas.
Continue on towards the Mercat Central, another absolutely stunning building that houses the central market. You'll find the classic booth of hanging ham legs, a beautiful fish market, and really delicious spices. Try horchata here, a local drink, and get some paprika to bring home. Next door is the Church of Saints Johns, in homage to all the St. Johns. It's little known, but one of Valencia's oldest cathedrals and worth a quick stop. Across the street is La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia which is free and amazing. It only takes 10-15 minutes to see, so do stop. If you search long enough, you may find the figure of El Caganer carved in stone on the outside of La Lonja.
Wind through the tiny streets behind and in just a couple blocks you'll be at the Plaça Redona across the street from Santa Catalina. The Plaza Redonda is a tiny circular plaza with some souvenir items and sewing supplies. Old ladies often gather here in the mornings to make lace together. The Santa Catalina is a pretty church with a very narrow tower. You can climb to the top for really pretty views of the Plaça de la Reina.
For horchata or cups of hot drinking chocolate stop at Horchatería El Siglo or Chocolateria Valor Valencia. If you want a really special ceramic souvenir, go to Yuste at the Plaça Del Miracle Del Mocaoret. It's family run, and they have true antique pieces as well as new things. Fair priced too.
The Valencia Cathedral Church is immense. Walk around the whole thing if you have time. It's absolutely gorgeous. The tours are inexpensive and at your own pace. Inside is the true Holy Grail encased in a wall of gold. You can also climb this tower for more city views.
Continue on and you'll arrive at the Plaza de la Virgen and the Basilica de la Virgen which houses the "patron virgen" of Valencia. She's a very loved figure here that offers protection for the less fortunate.
This walk and tour up to this point could take a half day or longer depending on your pace. There's another great restaurant near here called Seu Xerea. If you go left from the Plaza, you'll run into the Barri del Carmen neighborhood that is known for bars, restaurants and the night life. There's great graffiti here too. The neighborhood ends at the Torres de Quart, old towers from the days of a city wall, and a darling church just next to them. You can turn right from these towers and walk by the Modern Art Museum and up to the Torres Serranos.
If you continued straight from the Plaza de la Virgen, then you'd run into the Torres dels Serrans and the Jardí del Túria - Antiguo cauce tramos X y XI, a gorgeous greenspace that occupies an old riverbed and wraps around much of the old city.
On another day or if you have time, do stroll through part of the Turia gardens. In particular, head to the end, in the modern part of Valencia to see the beautiful City of Arts and Sciences, a collection of buildings built by Calatrava. The Oceanogràfic is one of the best aquariums I've ever seen, but pricy. There are often art exhibition in the Umbracle which is free and art is frequently displayed along the walk there. It's just an amazing area and definitely worth a stop. You can walk from the Valencia Nord train station, but it will take about 30 minutes.
MORE IN THE CITY:
If you have more time, just walk. To the left from the Plaza Del Toros (when facing it), you'll find a lot of shopping areas and some really nice ones along the smaller streets. The Mercado Colón is really beautiful and I like the boutique shopping along the Calle Cirilo Amorós. There are a ton of pretty gardens in Valencia and great museums. If you want more info, just ask more questions. :)
If you have a car, go to El Palmar at Albufera just south of the city. It's a small fishing village that was once an island on what is known as Europe's largest freshwater lake. For about 10 Euros a person or less, you can take a boat ride through the waters there. You'll see blue heron and the eel nets used for fishing. Some of the best seafood in Valencia is served here. Caught, cleaned, and served within hours. To round out your day, head to the beach either near here or go down to the Malvarrosa beaches and enjoy dinner there.
Ok, so I think you can really do all of the main Valencia sights in a day or may be two, so you have time to do the Albufera and/or one more thing. If you can do one more, go to Sagunto. The town is cute enough, but if you taxi or walk to the top of the hill, you can stroll around a Carthaginian ruin for as long as you like. It's free, huge, has phenomenal views of the Mediterranean Sea and orange groves, and is just really cool. Story is that the city was under Carthaginian rule and tried to side with the Romans. Hannibal came in and battled here. Pretty cool. There's a small museum to the right up a path full of old epigraphs. Good food here too at La Serp.
Ok, so I've named a few, but there are others I love too. For quick snacks in Valencia, go to Sagardi Valencia Centro or Casa Mundo. I mentioned a couple of these, but there are a couple more including one in Carmen. I have a few more on my blog.
Sorry for the verbosity here... I get pretty excited about my city. If you can go for Fallas, let me know. It's March 19th - incredible event. But any time is pretty. Remember that lunch is from 1ish-4 and dinner is from 9ish until 11 or later. In between restaurants will be closed, but that's when you go places for tapas or pinchos or a bar for a sandwich like those I mentioned above.
Also, Valencians are very friendly and will try to speak English or Spanish, but their language is Valenciano and they are proud of it. You'll see a lot of signage in both Valenciano and Castellano (Spanish).
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