The minute I set foot in the Valencia train station, the impressive architecture and the colorful building gave me a sense of beauty, pleasure and freedom. The rose marble on the sidewalks adds a touch of well deserved luxury to this colorful bright city, but they also remind of an important and grand historical past.
I was in love already! We walked a couple of blocks on the way to our accommodation in the heart of the old town and I felt so safe and so good. It was crowded, yet you din’t feel that aggressive vibe that very crowded cities sometimes have. People are calm, warm and smiling. Maybe the colorful flowers spread around the city, the rose marble or the bright warm sun contribute to this, but I knew I set foot into one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Children playing in the squares, young men singing, people playing with balloons and old couples having fun while taking photos in the flowers – now that is a scene you don’t see every day. Heavenly delighting!
Terraces full with people at every corner, having tapas and sangria, laughing and enjoying this gorgeous afternoon. We just had to stop for some tapas and a jar of sangria to enjoy the view and this dynamic – yet so peaceful scenery.
The minute we sat down, someone came to give us menus and ask for what we would like to drink, which is so amazing as in so many cities you wait for so long, especially when they have a full house. But here, I felt so welcomed! Another thing that struck me was that even in the busiest hours, people do not use the honk and they maintain the glorious and serene atmosphere of the city!
After a great welcoming, we went to our hosts – Cosy Rooms Embajador – a really cosy hotel right in the heart of the old town, in a building from the 19th century with a breathtaking rooftop where I would spend my mornings.
1. Colorful Street Art in Barrio del Carmen
Sunny, bright and green, Valencia has already striking beautiful colors that greet you in its flowers, palm trees, parks and buildings. But when to these colors, its inhabitants add vibrant street art, you receive an explosion of colors that can only lift up your spirits every single day!
Every street corner has a story to tell and every wall has beauty to show. There are some streets in the old town where you almost feel like walking through an art museum. Larger than life drawings and walls that look like large paintings, this incredible art gives such a dynamic spin to the entire city.
El Carmen is a neighborhood in the old town where you will find the most street art murals. The dreamy and sometimes surrealistic works can really tickle the imagination of those passing by and nonetheless, transform a simple walking into a museum-quality experience.
2. House of Cats
This is one of the secrets of the city and it is a really tiny place just for cats. It is the El Carmen neighborhood on Carrer del Museu, on a blue wall. I’ve hard a couple of rumors regarding this tiny cat house, like there’s a legend of a woman who owned the house and left it for the cats of Valencia or that locals built this tiny artsy place where they put food for the cats. Either story might be true and the fact is that it’s a really lovely place and worth seeing!
3. City of Arts and Science
Valencia is a complex city with many different sides and this part of it is the very modern, Dubai-like destination. It is not really a city, but an entertainment center with a futuristic and really beautiful architecture. You will find here an interactive museum of science, a planetarium, an IMAX cinema, an oceanographic, an opera house and performing arts center, a covered plaza for concerts and events and outdoor galleries.
There are so many events and even outdoor performances here and it is quite crowded both with tourists and locals, but I felt again that relaxed vibe that can turn any crowded place into a really amazing destination.
4. Breathtaking City Views
Exploring the towers of Valencia is definitely a must! From the bell towers of medieval cathedrals and churches to the gates that formed the ancient city wall, Valencia seen from above is even more beautiful!
Torres de Serranos is really impressive and it was built in the 14th century, being back then the only entrance to the city. It is very well kept and it seems like time has been gentle with this old gate, especially that it was at some point a prison too for nobles.
El Miguelete is another famous tower and you just have to climb 207 steps to conquer it and admire the sea, while the bell tower of Santa Catalina will give you breathtaking views of the old town and of the famous Plaza Redonda, a very charming and popular round square in the heart of the city.
5. Lonja de la Seda
Lonja de la Seda means silk exchange and it was the main building of trade in the 15th and 16th centuries, in a time when Valencia was very prosperous, powerful and wealthy. This impressive building shows that, being a masterpiece of the Gothic style and one of the most famous in Europe. In 1996, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
6. Museo de la Seda
Speaking of silk, there couldn’t not be a whole museum dedicated to silk, celebrating the rich history of the city and the delicate process of creating silk. Not only a museum, this was also the College of High Silk Art and it was one of the highlights of this visits, so I highly recommend you visit it!
Not only I was mind blown by the beauty of it, but you get to actually see how silk is made from live silk worms and feel the softness of it!
Silk was a major industry in Valencia and the College of High Silk Art was created to protect the quality of the silk, due to the invasion of poorer qualities on the market. In the Hall of Fame – the most beautiful room of this museum – leaders of this college met centuries ago. Even if the place has been restored, it’s like you still feel the powerful magnetism of the room.
7. Church of San Nicolas
Another masterpiece of the Gothic style, this church is a must-see. I have almost missed it the first time, as it has a very narrow entrance somewhere hidden on a small street in the historical center. If you get a ticket for the Museo de la Seda, that will also include a free entrance to this church which is really breathtaking!
8. Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia
Explore the large collection of over 2,000 works in the Museu de Belles Arts, where you will see a couple of paintings of Velazquez – its famous Self portrait, El Greco, Goya, Sorolla and I was lucky to see a temporary exhibition of rare letters, sketches and drawings by Picasso.
I was impressed to find out that admission is free so anyone can go and spend hours admiring the art and get inspired, even go daily just to be surrounded by all that beauty. In general, I have noticed that the prices for museums, art galleries and other touristic attractions are very low compared to other European cities and extremely well organized and kept, so people in Valencia do really value culture and art, and know how to promote their treasures offering fair prices and not over pricing their landmarks just for tourists.
9. The Institute of Modern Art: IVAM
This place is so full of creativity and inspiring ideas! It was not initially on my list, but we’ve stumbled upon it by accident, following street art on narrow colorful streets that led us straight in front of the impressive building. The exhibitions’ huge posters caught my eye and decided to take a sneak peek inside. That turned into almost 5 hours of devouring every corner of each exhibition. I was honestly mind-blown by some of the pieces and they evoked powerful emotions, while provoking you to see concepts in a different perspective. 6 exhibitions were inside, most of them temporary, from what I’ve understood. The price for 1 ticket was 6 euros, which makes it 1 euro/exhibition, which is incredibly low especially to the immense value that you receive!
And also eat it, not only see it! 🙂 Paella is popular all over Spain, but it is actually a Valencian dish, so here you will definitely eat the best paella and not to mention that there is paella everywhere! At every corner you can get great tapas, paella & sangria! There are many types of paella, but the Valencian paella is the original one made of: white rice, green beans, meat – usually chicken or rabbit, seasoning with saffron and may have other ingredients too. Delicious and consistent, I have learned that the best part is at the end, after you finish most of it and get to scrub the fried sticky rice from the bottom of the hot pan! Totally true!
To sum up…
Valencia is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe I have ever seen. Colorful, sunny and vibrant, it is a mixture of old and new with brilliant architecture, breathtaking views and an amazing artistic scenery. It is super affordable and you can attend so many artistic venues! Don’t follow a rigid itinerary, but get lost in the old town and explore all the narrow streets. You will find cool street styles and amazing street art, full of colors and great bars with tapas & sangria! Let yourself free and enjoy every moment of it!