Last summer, Tiff and I took a short mid-week city break in Spain.
Initially we were tempted to go to Barcelona or Madrid. But, after a bit of research, we decided to give Valencia – Spain’s third biggest city – a go.
Like Barcelona, Valencia is on the country’s east coast. It’s not far from the popular resorts of Alicante and Benidorm. There’s a beach on the outskirts of the city.
A viable alternative to Barcelona and Madrid
Valencia is a great option if you fancy something different.
First of all, you can get accommodation for less than you’d pay in say, Barcelona, Paris or Rome.
You’ll also find that, while Valencia has enough things to do to keep any tourist occupied for days, it’s not very – well, touristy. There are no hawkers to bug you as you take in the sights and it’s easy to observe normal people going about their day-to-day business. Few people speak English, so it feels like you’ve veered off the beaten track a little.
What I loved most about the city is everything is close together and it’s flat. If you like to explore new places on foot and take in the atmosphere while you do so, it’s perfect.
We spent four nights in Valencia and got to visit most parts of the city, including the beach. However, the city’s also ideal for a two-night weekend break. This is because most of the more interesting sights are located in and around the city’s “old town”.
Where to stay
There’s no shortage of hotels and apartments for rent in the centre of Valencia.
We chose the four-star Vincci Lys in the southern section of the old town, a few minutes walk from the Estacio del Nord (north railway station) and Xàtiva Metro station.
There’s no gym or a pool here. But it has everything else you’d expect from a well-equipped hotel including free wi-fi and air conditioning. It’s down a traffic-free street, so it’s a good option if you’re a light sleeper. Rooms are clean, spacious and comfortable.
The buffet breakfast at the Vincci Lys is excellent. So it’s worth paying for if it isn’t included in your deal. There are loads of options including freshly ground coffee, Spanish cold cuts and cheeses, fresh juices and warm pastries (and not a “full English” in sight, thank god).
The airport is only around five miles from the old town. There’s no need to get a taxi – the Metro station is attached to the airport building, moments from the arrivals hall. You’ll need to buy a single ticket from Zone B to Zone A (€2.10) and another single on the way back as return tickets expire the next day. The ticket machines have instructions in English and are easy to use.
The Metro stations Xàtiva and Colón on routes 3 and 5 are best-placed for the old town. (If you’re unsure which Metro station is best for you, ask at the tourist information office at the airport.)
Try to avoid using large denominations of currency in restaurants and bars, especially if you’re in a rush.
Waiting staff often assume that you’ve given correct money when you settle your bill and it can be hard to communicate with them if there are any misunderstandings. Don’t let this put you off visiting though!
48 hours in Valencia’s old town on a modest budget
If you’re planning a weekend or two-night getaway to Valencia, here’s how you can see the best parts of the city in that time.
Day one – evening
Once you’ve dumped your luggage at the hotel and freshened up, head to the Birra and Blues craft beer bar on the junction between Avinguda de María Cristina and Carrer Sant Ferran.
Birra and Blues is a brewery and chain of two bars and one restaurant. Its bar here in the old town sells its 10 regular draught beers plus seasonal brews, straight from the brewery on the outskirts of the city.
There’s something for all beer lovers at Birra and Blues, including an IPA, a wheat beer, an English-style ale and lager. For those who aren’t fans of the hop, there’s also an extensive cocktail menu.
Fence sitters can sample a selection of third-pint measures of several beers to find out what they like best.
Importantly, Birra and Blues also serves pizzas. So you can refuel while you sip your beer and watch the goings on in the street outside through the bar’s floor-to-ceiling windows. (Don’t worry – there’s plenty of time later in the weekend to try some Valencian cuisine.)
After your beer and pizza, stroll back to the hotel through the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square), which is the hub of the old town. It’s surrounded by beautiful buildings and includes various fountains, palm trees and shrubbery as well as a spacious paved area. It looks great at night.
Day two – morning
Walk off your breakfast by taking the scenic route to the heart of the old town.
First, head east to another square – the Plaça d’Alfons el Magnànim. Then go north-west. You’ll find plenty of narrow streets, cute shops and mini-squares with water fountains shaded by citrus trees.
Don’t worry if you feel like you’re lost – there’s something interesting around every corner.
There are plenty of cafes along the way where you can pop into to grab a coffee or a fresh orange juice, such as the cosy La Bodeguita cafe and bar on the junction of Carrer dels Cabillers and Carrer de les Avellanes near the cathedral.
You’ll see the regulars come in for their mid-morning coffees and odd old-timer in for a shot of brandy.
Next, make your way up to the cathedral – the entrance is at the south end of the building on the edge of the Plaça de la Reina square. You can take a look at the area around the entrance for free. Admission to the rest of the cathedral (excluding the tower) costs just €5.
The design of the cathedral is a mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical.
However, it’s the holy chalice in one of the cathedral’s chapels that visitors are most interested in. Many Christian historians believe that Valencia’s chalice was the one that Jesus and his apostles drank from at the Last Supper.
Day two – afternoon
With all that walking and talk of supper, you’re probably feeling peckish. Head over to the Mercado Central (Central Market – open until 2pm and closed Sundays) on Plaza Ciudad de Brujas (just north of Birra and Blues) to pick up a bite to eat and browse the 350+ stalls.
Valencia’s central market isn’t your typical undercover market – the art-nouveau building, with its impressive central dome, ceramic tiles, wrought-iron framework and stained-glass windows, is worth a visit alone.
The stalls sell everything from fruit, vegetables, preserves, meat, fish and bread to herbs and spices, paella pans and sweets. Look closely and you’ll find lamb heads, pigs’ trotters and even ostrich eggs.
If you’re still hungry after looking into the friendly eyes of a dead cow, you can buy food such as bocadillos (filled baguettes) or paella from one of the small food outlets that are gathered together in one section of the market.
Once you’ve had your fill, go back to the hotel for a siesta – you deserve it.
If you fancy something sweet to cap off your lunch, pick up a chocolate con churros (thick hot chocolate with sugared, deep-fried batter sticks) on the way.
Day two – evening
There’s no rush to get going after your nap as many restaurants in Valencia don’t open until at least 8pm. When you do head out, it’s worth hunting out some tapas.
It seems like there are tapas restaurants opening everywhere in the UK these days. But there’s nothing better than the genuine Spanish experience. You’ll get this at Taberna Antonio Manuel, on the bustling Carrer de Sant Vicent Màrtir.
Here, you can sit outside or be shown to a seat in the restaurant to watch the chefs prepare your food. As well as tapas, there’s also platters of meat and fish and rabbit (a Valencian favourite) on the menu. The calamari here was the best I’ve ever tasted.
Once you’ve finished up at Taberna Antonio Manuel wander back across the old town to the Plaça de la Verge (Virgin Square).
Here you can perch on the long stone steps near the fountain with an ice cream. Or sit outside one of the nearby bars with a drink admiring the view across the square to the back of the cathedral.
If you’re lucky, there’ll be live music too – there’s sometimes a stage set up here during festivals and other celebrations.
Day three – morning
Load up on breakfast – you’re going to need it today because you’re going to climb the cathedral tower and spend some time in the saddle.
Unlike most UK towns and cities, Valencia is great for cycling. Not only is it flat, but there are a multitude of cycle paths to explore. And, when you do have to share the streets with other pedestrians and motorists, everyone respects each other.
You’ll have already noticed that you can hire bikes from docking stations in the street. This is a good scheme for locals. But it’s not that handy for tourists as you have to set up an account first.
Your best bet is to pop into one of the many bike hire outlets dotted across the old town. You can hire a bicycle at one of these for as little as €8 a day.
We used a company called “The Easy Way” near the Central Market on our visit. Here you can hire a five-speed hybrid bike for 24 hours for €9 complete with lock, helmet, lights and a handy basket for your belongings. You’ll need to leave some official identification such as your passport or driving licence as a deposit.
Once you’re comfortable you can explore some of the quiet roads in the north of the old town.
Be ready to stop off at some of the many shops that are hidden down the back streets. You’ll find everything from clothing and crafts to antiques. There’s even a beer shop that doubles up as a travel agency.
Day three – afternoon
Valencia is a beautiful city from ground level. It’s even more impressive from the Cathedral’s “El Miguelete” bell tower (€2 admission) – the first of the 207 steps to the top of the 165-foot tower is on the left after you enter the cathedral.
The tower was built in the 14th and 15th centuries. It’s named after its biggest bell, “Miguel”. At the top, there are spectacular 360-degree views of the city and the mountains and sea in the distance.
Make sure you cover your ears at the turn of the hour – as you’d expect, Miguel has quite a loud clang.
As you’re travelling home this evening, you’ll be needing a hearty, good-value lunch to see you through. You’ll get this at “Tapineria” – a small restaurant named after the street it’s on (Calle Tapineria).
The inside of the restaurant is typical of the family-run establishments you find in this part of Spain. But it’s the seating area outside in the small square behind the restaurant that steals the show. Here you can sit under the shade of some lemon trees and enjoy a glass or three of sangria and a decent €10 three-course lunch from the set menu.
I had a delicious Valencian Salad (goat’s cheese, tomato, olives, sultanas and crunchy lettuce) and a tasty seafood paella.
Dessert was orange ice cream. Other dishes on the set menu included traditional rabbit paella and a fish-based pastry starter.
After lunch, jump back on your bike and head east past the cathedral towards the Jardin del Turia – the impressive dried-out riverbed that’s now a calm, sunken park that snakes its way through the city.
The city diverted the river south after one-too-many floods in the 60s and 70s. It’s quite an experience to cycle along it knowing that where you are was covered in several feet of water only 50 or so years ago.
If you head in the direction of the Torres de Serranos – one of 12 gates of the medieval city walls – you’ll come out about mid way down the old river. From there, you can cycle about three miles in either direction passing under some of the 80 bridges that still span the “river”.
Southwards is the most interesting route. If you’re feeling energetic, you’ll make it all the way to the City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of futuristic buildings that house attractions such as an IMAX cinema, planetarium, aquarium, science museum and opera house.
Along the way, be sure to stop at the Puente de las Flores (Flower Bridge).
The city decorates this bridge with more than 27,000 flowers. It’s quite a sight.
There are also plenty of quiet grassy spots that are perfect for a lay down – don’t let the fact you’ve checked out of your hotel deny you another siesta before you drop off your bike, pick up your luggage and jump onto the Metro to make your way home.
Additional info about Valencia
- Valencia’s weather is pleasant all year although it can get uncomfortably hot during the middle of the day in the summer.
- You must carry your passport on you at all times in this part of Spain.
- Valencia is relatively safe but it’s best to take sensible precautions – don’t walk alone after dark and don’t make it easy for thieves to steal your belongings.
- It’s the norm to not leave a tip or to leave small tips in taxis, bars and restaurants – 10% is generous here.
- It’s OK to drink the tap water but bottled water is inexpensive.