The following list of things to do in Valencia is brought to you by Sydney from Alone and Abroad, an American living abroad! Read on for some of her top Valencia must-dos.
On the eastern coast of Spain lies Valencia, a unique mix of historic city and beach town. Valencia doesn’t receive as much tourism as Spain’s larger cities (like Barcelona or Madrid), but don’t let that fool you.
With a history that stretches all the way back to 138 BC, there’s no shortage of things to see in Valencia, Spain. Between climbing Roman-era towers, wandering around one of Europe’s biggest aquariums, and feasting on the local cuisine, there’s bound to be plenty to keep every traveler occupied!
During my year of living in Madrid, one of the best trips I took was a girl’s trip to Valencia. Based on what we did and what I wish we had had time to do, here are some of the best things to do in Valencia, Spain.
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1. Swim in the Mediterranean Sea
We didn’t travel all this way to not go to one of Valencia’s many beautiful beaches! While there are plenty of beaches to choose from – Valencia’s coast spans 632 kilometers – Malvarrosa Beach is the closest to the city center. With the palm-lined street, yellow sandy beach, and aquamarine waters, visiting feels as if you’ve hopped into a postcard. Better yet, despite the convenient location, it doesn’t feel crowded.
Consider this your official warning that the Mediterranean Sea is MUCH colder than they make it seem in Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
… But personally, I think it’s worth shivering on the walk home to cross swimming in the Mediterranean off the bucket list.
2. Try Paella Where it Was Invented
Here’s something that you can only do in Spain – try paella in its birthplace. Traditional Valencian paella is a rice dish typically served with chicken, rabbit, beans, and saffron. But it’s common to find paella topped with seafood, vegetables, chorizo, or even squid ink.
The city hosts several paella festivals throughout the year; if you’re planning your trip to Valencia in early fall, make sure to be there on September 20th for World Paella Day!
Another option is to take a Paella cooking class. I took one in Madrid, and it’s such a fun way to bring a piece of Spain back home with you.
3. Spend a Day Touring the City of Arts and Sciences
I do mean spend a day here literally.
The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is one of the most emblematic buildings in Valencia. This massive complex hosts the Hemisféric (a 3D concave movie theater), Oceanogràfic (one of Europe’s biggest aquariums), the Palau de les Arts (a performance hall), Umbracle (an open air-tropical garden), a science museum, Ágora (multipurpose cultural space) AND a lake with rentable rowboats!
Upon further reflection, it might take a few days to see everything in this massive complex. Also, here you can find the “Valencia” city sign to take the pictures proving you were there.
4. Grab a Bite to Eat at One of Europe’s Largest Markets
Next up on our “Places to visit in Valencia” list is the Mercado Central de Valencia, the largest fresh produce market in Europe. Here you’ll find nearly 300 vendors selling produce, pastries, spices, and souvenirs. There’s even a live eel tank and several restaurants.
This market is the perfect place to go when traveling with a group that has trouble agreeing on where to eat. With so many options, there’s bound to be something that’ll please everybody.
5. Climb to the Top of the Serranos Towers
The Torres de Serranos is one of the 12 gates that made up the old city wall. Throughout the centuries, they’ve been used as defense against attacks, as a prison, and as safekeeping for important art during the Spanish Civil War.
It’s only €2 to climb to the top and take some stunning photos over Valencia.
6. Throw Tomatoes at Strangers
This might be cheating because it’s technically outside the city, but it’s too much fun to not include on a “Valencia must-see” list. I’m the author, I make the rules.
Every August, thousands make their way to Bruñol, a small village just outside Valencia to take part in the world’s biggest food fight – La Tomatina! In the days leading up to the battle, there’s a paella contest, fireworks, live music, and parades throughout the city. It’s not only for fun – the citric acid in the tomatoes helps keep the streets clean.
Where else can you hurl tomatoes at people and then spend the rest of the day drinking sangria?
7. Explore the Silk Market
Right across the street from the Central Market is La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, these buildings were used for trading silk in the late 1400s. While there are no more silk vendors anymore, it’s still a gorgeous Gothic building and one of the prettiest sights in Valencia.
Plus, they offer free entry on Sundays!
8. Get a Bird’s Eye View from the Top of Valencia Cathedral
First, it was a Roman temple. Then a mosque. Today, it is the Valencia Cathedral, one of the most easily recognizable buildings in the city.
The cathedral is a stunning blend of Baroque, Gothic, and Romanesque architectural styles, but if you ask me, the best part of the cathedral is climbing to the top of the Miguelete Tower, a bell tower built in the late 1300s. You can only reach the 50m high viewing deck by a narrow winding spiral staircase. We were winded by the time we reached the top, but it was a small price to pay for the view.
9. See the Mysterious Holy Grail
Also inside the Cathedral is one of Valencia’s most renowned tourist attractions – the Holy Grail.
There are countless myths and legends about the Holy Grail. It’s the chalice used by Jesus during the Last Supper. It can grant eternal youth. It’s what King Arthur’s Knights, Indiana Jones, and Monty Python spent their lives searching for.
While the Valencia Cathedral isn’t the only place to claim to own the “real” Holy Grail, Valencia is the only place to have theirs recognized by the Vatican as authentic. Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II have both celebrated Mass with it.
10. Sip Some Valencian Horchata
Paella may be the best-known dish from Valencia, but don’t let it be the only local dish you try here!
This is the home of horchata de valencia, a very different drink from Mexican rice-based horchata. Here in Valencia, horchata is a sweet milk-like drink made from tiger nuts and perfect for sipping on a hot summer afternoon.
While in Valencia, we went to Horchatería Santa Catalina, one of the oldest and most famous cafes for Valencian horchata.
11. Drink the “Water of Valencia”
I saved my favorite local delicacy for last – agua de valencia! “Valencian water” is equal parts cava or champagne, orange juice, vodka, and gin. The most important piece of advice I can offer is to drink it slowly – it tastes like juice but it packs a punch.
Don’t let yourself leave Valencia without checking out Cafe de las Horas, a cool cafe with a 1920s vibe and some of the strongest agua de valencia in the city.
12. Relax in a Rerouted Riverbank
Jardín del Turia is one of the largest urban parks in Spain. It winds throughout the historic city center all the way out to the sea.
50 years ago, this area was a river, but after a series of devastating floods, the city rerouted the river and converted the area into a park. Now this 5-mile stretch is filled with bike paths, sports centers, playgrounds, event spaces, and gardens.
13. See the Narrowest House in Europe
An obscure world record is still a world record. With that in mind, let me introduce you to La Estrecha, the thinnest house in Europe and one of Valencia’s oddest attractions.
Measuring at 107cm (42in), La Estrecha was a family’s way of reducing their tax bill. Houses in Valencia were historically taxed based on the width of the facade, so they decided to build up instead of out. Nowadays, you can visit the inside as the ground floor has been added to the restaurant next door, Tasquita La Estrecha.
Did I miss any of your favorite things to do in Valencia, Spain?
Leave a comment letting us know of any more Valencia must sees!