Now maybe I’ve gone about this a little backwards. First I told you what there was to see on the fringes of this beautiful Spanish city, and only now am I telling you what there is to do inside it. That doesn’t mean I think the former list is superior though. In fact, my uncharacteristic lack of travel during my semester in Valencia is a very good indication of my feelings towards the place.
After making the city my home for 6 months, I realised the sheer amount of things there are to do. Not just as a tourist, but as a resident. I’ve always thought of home as somewhere stable, steadfast, predictable. Valencia has challenged those preconceptions, and has not only taught me that home doesn’t have to be boring, but also that city living isn’t the horror show I’d imagined either – being in a city doesn’t mean being swallowed up by the noise, but becoming a part of it. I want to write this entry to show you all some of my favourite areas and eateries around the city, but also because I miss it! I’ve been back in my quiet home town for 2 months now, and I want a bit of that noise back.
And so, here’s my personal collection of some of the best parts of a wholly enticing city. Some of are restaurants, because they are just as worthy of being called Valencian landmarks if you ask me:
1. City of Arts and Sciences
Of course. Any guidebook or online source will recommend this place. There’s a good reason. The ‘city’ itself is made up of an aquarium, a science museum, an imax cinema/planetarium, a performing arts theatre, and come summer, a nightclub. These are all found in the most modern, baffling feats-of-architecture structures. There is more than one day’s worth of activities nestled into this little corner of Valencia (the aquarium l’Oceànografic itself takes about 5 hours of exploration time), so why not come back again and again? Tip: it’s better to buy a bundle ticket, which you don’t have to use all on the same day, and will work out much cheaper than paying to enter each place individually.
2. La Malvarrossa Beach
The expansive beach itself is worth some of your time, but la Malvarrosa area with its strip of restaurants and bars is the bit that will keep you there all day long. Valencia is the veritable birthplace of the famous paella dish that everyone knows, loves, and poorly imitates the world over. In my opinion, the beach is the best place to get your fill of traditional Valencian paella in the city. Out of the many restaurants I visited, La Perla was probably my favourite. It is a little pricier than some of the others, but as a good Spanish friend of mine said: a paella that costs less than 15 euros isn’t worth eating. An authentic paella will contain rice, chicken, rabbit, bajoquetas (a type of flat green bean) and garrofones (similar to butter beans). Another place to check out is Atuaire which has plenty of lounging sofas, ambient lighting, an incredible drinks selection, and while we’re being extra-Spanish, the best sangría I’ve had.
3. The X-Door
I went here with some visiting friends after seeing it was #1 for Valencian activities on Tripadvisor. It’s a real life Crystal Maze experience, and oh so much fun. You’re locked in a room and your mission is to leave before the end of the hour by deciphering clues hidden amongst the commonplace items around the room. Well worth a try with a couple of friends, though try and keep yourself organised when let loose on a room full of hidden keys and mysteries to investigate!
4. Túria Gardens
The old riverbed-turned-park winds its way across the city, leaving a trail of colour in its wake. It’s favoured by tourists, joggers and teenage botellón-ers alike due to its incredible length, which runs from the zoo to the aforementioned City of Arts and Sciences, as well as its diversity. The Túria is not only a park. It’s a play area, a quiet hour away from the city crowds, a picnic spot, a frisbee pitch. I took every guest who visited me to the Túria and each time I got to see a different section of it. Tip: enter via Alameda metro station, there is almost always some kind of fair or activity happening in this area.
5. El Carmen
El Carmen is probably my, and everyone else’s, favourite area in Valencia. It is the city’s old town which manifests itself in a maze of cobbled streets mainly filled with kooky little bars and covered in the most amazing murals. It is home to the city’s two castles, and has its own main square el Tossal which is rammed with party goers most nights of the week, but you need only wander down a stray alley or two to find a hidden gem which is more indicative of the area’s real charm.
I ate the best meal of my life when I went to Appetite, a fusion restaurant located in the trendy Ruzafa district (if you’re in the area I also recommend visiting Ubik Cafe, a lovely little bookshop/cafe). The restaurant does things a la omakase – a Japanese word that means it’s up to the chef! Before beginning you give the waiter a brief outline of the things you definitely wouldn’t want to eat (mussels and other such slimy shelly things in our case), and how spicy you like things on a rough scale. From then on it’s all a surprise. The food was perfect; even though I’m quite a fussy eater and was a bit scared of handing the element of choice over to a stranger in a chef’s hat, I loved every course. A mini roast pork dinner complete with gravy, potatoes and vegetables was a little surprise from home after the first very Asian inspired dishes.
So that’s my particular highlights reel, but as I’ve said many times, Valencia is so multi-faceted it’s only right that you go out and explore it for yourselves. I’ve only just scratched the surface and didn’t even mention some of the most popular tourist spots.Tip: be open-minded and don’t be afraid to do a bit of wandering.