IMG_5954 12 Things We Love About Valencia, Spain Spain Valencia
Valencia’s Plaza del Ayuntamiento

Valencia, Spain has always been one of those places that we’d been vaguely aware of, but knew next to nothing about – except for maybe its famous oranges. We had no idea, for instance, that Valencia is Spain’s third largest city and the busiest container port on the Mediterranean. And then, after our close Medellín friends relocated there last year, we began to hear about Valencia’s draw for expats.

We knew we had to see this spectacular city for ourselves. So we made Valencia our first and last stop on our month-long trip along Spain’s Mediterranean coast in February.  

Here are our Valencia favorites, with a few tips thrown in! (As usual, a lot of the photos are in galleries – just click through to see each.)

1. The oranges: They’re really a thing.

In fact, you’ll see ornamental orange trees gracing many Valencia streets (but the fruit is only for show – it’s bitter and inedible). Riding the train from Madrid to Valencia, we saw grove after grove of the edible kind. Fresh-squeezed for breakfast, they’re super-sweet and delicious!

2. Spanish is not the first language of many Valencians.

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All of the street signs give the street name in both languages.

Valencia city is the capitol of Valencia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, and most residents speak Valenciano – a regional version of Catalan. Valenciano sounds to us like a melodious mash-up of Spanish, Portuguese, and French. 

3. This city is old – REALLY OLD!

Founded by the Romans in 138 BC (!), Valencia had become an important Moorish outpost by the 700s. In 1238 the Christian king James I of Aragon drove out the Moors and founded the Kingdom of Valencia, later a component realm of the Spanish monarchy. You’ll see evidence of each of these civilizations in Valencia’s sprawling historic district, one of the largest in Spain. 

Tip: We are huge believers in free walking tours and try to find one every time we arrive in a new city. We enjoyed our tour with Guru Walk and learned a lot about Valencia’s history, both ancient and modern. Our advice is to book an early tour; ours took place late in the evening and it went much longer than advertised. After a long day of sightseeing, we were on information overload!

4. There’s a reason you see bat insignia everywhere. 

The legend goes that when James I was staging the final battle to conquer Valencia, a bat landed on his flagpole. He took it as a good omen and, following his victory, adopted the bat for the new kingdom’s coat of arms. Today, the bat symbol is ubiquitous, gracing everything from government buildings to manhole covers.

5. Fallas: Party time for Valencianos

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Photo by David Thomas of a towering falla nearing completion

At this writing, Valencia is in the throes of its famous Fallas celebration – finally back to its full glory after being derailed by the pandemic for the past two years. To the great anguish of Valencian dogs, the first stage of Fallas has been underway since March 1. From what we gather, this consists of daily ear-shattering fireworks displays (called mascletas) in neighborhoods all over town.

Throughout the year, neighborhood groups (think of New Orleans Mardi Gras krewes) work to build their fallas, huge paper mache figures that will be paraded through the streets until March 19 and then go up in flames on the final night. We’re looking forward to experiencing Fallas ourselves someday (but maybe we’ll take some earplugs)!

6. Valencia is Ground Zero for paella.

In fact, many Valencianos claim that theirs is the only TRUE paella. The real purists insist that the rice be cooked with water from the Turia river, and that authentic Valencian

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Enjoying seafood paella at one of the many beachside restaurants in Valencia

paella includes only chicken and rabbit. Not being a rabbit fan (unless I can pet them and ruffle their ears!), I lucked out – the seafood version is plentiful and delicious.

Tip: It’s really easy to find a great paella anywhere in Valencia. Look for the restaurants called arrocerias (from the Spanish word for rice, arroz) that serve a variety of rice dishes including paella. Here is Trip Advisor’s list of the top 10 arrocerias in Valencia.    

 

 

7. Almost everyone rides a bike (or a scooter)

One of the first things you’ll notice about Valencia is its bike culture. The city has one of the most well-developed systems of bike trails we’ve ever seen, with traffic signals designed to provide maximum safety for cyclists.  Our first day there, we rented bikes and rode all over town – including the business and historic districts – with our local friends David and Cindy Thomas. 

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Taking a break on the Flower Bridge across the Jardin Turia. Look at that beautiful and protected bike lane!

Tip 1: There are bike rental places EVERYWHERE in Valencia, and they’re very reasonable. We rented ours from in the Mestalla neighborhood, about $68 for both of us for four days.

FullSizeRender-768x1024 12 Things We Love About Valencia, Spain Spain Valencia Tip 2: Not up for biking? Try a YEGO! These lime-green, eco-friendly electric scooters are super-easy to rent and ride. Just download the app and put in your credit card and driver’s license info (foreign DLs are not a problem). Once they approve you, you can search for a YEGO near you and reserve it. Each YEGO comes with two helmets, and you can use the app to unlock and start it. It’s all very efficient and friendly.

 

 

8. The Jardin del Turia was a beautiful solution to a terrible tragedy.

Once upon a time, the Turia River flowed right through the middle of Valencia. Then, in 1957, the river overflowed and flooded nearly three quarters of the city, killing at least 60 people. To ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again, Valencia executed a plan to divert the river around its western outskirts to the Mediterranean. At the same time, the city built the Jardin del Turia, a fabulous sunken park that follows the former riverbed for about 9 km from east to west. 

As urban parks go, the Turia is something special. It’s beautifully landscaped and criss-crossed with 19 bridges from every era, including the Middle Ages. We really enjoyed biking the length of the Turia one morning. 

Tip: Start early on your bike adventure in the Jardin del Turia. It gets pretty busy with joggers, cyclists, scooter riders, and walkers as the day wears on.

9. El Carmen is a good place to lose yourself.

Valencia’s bohemian El Carmen district is simply oozing with charm. It’s a great place to wander and explore the narrow, winding streets (many of which are dead ends), find a cozy little cerveceria for a beer and a few tapas, and gawk at the street art.  

10. You’ll never go hungry at Valencia’s public markets.

The enormous Valencia Merkat Central (Central Market) is a feast for the senses, with every kind of seafood imaginable together with fantastic cheeses, meats, and produce. We also had a great lunch at the Merkat Colon, a stunning Art Nouveau building that today houses dozens of gourmet tapas restaurants.

11. The City of Arts and Sciences 

Chosen by the Spanish people as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain, this sprawling complex of museums and performing arts venues is sited at the western end of the Jardin Turia. Designed by noted architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, each of the ultra-modern buildings is a work of art. A highlight for us was a visit to  Valencia Oceanografic, Europe’s largest oceanarium. 

12. Nature is right at Valencianos’ doorstep.

You don’t have to go far out of town to experience some fantastic natural wonders. We were lucky enough to make a new friend in Valencia who included us in a group hike to the Órganos de Benitandús, about an hour’s drive out of the city. It was such a great (and unexpected) experience that we’ve decided to spin it out into its own post. Check it out!

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One of the spectacular views from our 15-km hike

A few more thoughts

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Special thanks to our amazing hosts, David and Cindy Thomas!

Valencia was the first and last stop in our month-long journey along Spain’s Costa Blanca region, with stays in Alicante, Dénia, and Cartagena. (Stay tuned, lots more blogging to come!) Spoiler alert: We are targeting this region as our next home base after we get Colombia out of our systems, probably within the next couple of years. Although we were in major vacation mode, this trip was also exploratory. 

This was our second trip to Spain (after Madrid in 2019), and it had a long incubation. After two earlier pandemic-scuttled attempts, we were determined to go this time, although Omicron was still casting a long shadow when we flew from Colombia on Feb. 2. We’re happy to say that European travel in the time of Covid was easier and safer than we expected, helped along by our vaccination status. Although things are changing rapidly, we were required to be fully vaccinated to enter Spain and also had to show our vaccination cards to enter many restaurants and other venues. While we were there, Spain dropped its outdoor mask mandate but was still requiring masks in all indoor public locations. We were happy to comply, of course.

One more tip: Here’s a great city guide to Valencia for visitors. 

Have you visited Valencia, Spain? What were YOUR favorite experiences?

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33 Comments

  1. As usual, your blog made me feel that I had been there with you and wanting to visit that spectacular city, too! Thank you for taking us along on your trip.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Mimi! I hope we can take a trip together one of these days. Love you!

  2. So much to love about Valencia, it is such a gorgeous city with a lot to offer. I would not be surprised if you choose it as your new home in a few years time. Great post 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Gilda! Valencia is in the running for sure. At this point, we’re thinking Alicante. Probably within the next couple of years or so. Are you home from Brazil yet?

  3. Fallas is a blast! On the night of the burning of the papier-mâché floats, be prepared to be in a crush of people. At the front of the crowd, it can get nearly insufferably hot; people “taunt” the firefighters so that they’ll get some relief by being sprayed.

    I second your thoughts about the aquarium. It was one of my highlights as well!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks! Our friends in Valencia are in the crush of Fallas as we speak. Their poor dogs have not had a good time! But Fallas sounds like it definitely needs to be experienced at least once. We’re looking forward to it!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks for reading! Love your pup 🙂

  4. Another excellent post! Thank you for your comments and photos. They give us a first look at a gorgeous city. We had been thinking of Medellin as a next living possibility (we already lived in Ecuador for almost 3 years) but we’re now thinking of Spain. We took a 36-day Mediterranean cruise plus pre-cruise stay in Trieste, Italy, from late October until we disembarked in Miami on Dec. 3 and we do love that part of the world. I have some questions. Did you explore the cost of living? Is it difficult to understand the Valenciano language compared to Spanish? What did Valencia “feel” like to you compared to Medellin? I look forward to your answers and your next blog.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi Jofannie – maybe we’ll run into you someday in Spain!
      Answers:
      1. Valenciano is a little like Portuguese – there are a few words in there that are close to Spanish, but not enough for it to be completely understandable to Spanish speakers. If anything, it’s more like French: pont (bridge), for example. If you know some French, you can probably understand it. Fortunately, most everyone in Valencia speaks Spanish and a lot speak English.
      2. Valencia and Medellin are like apples and oranges. Medellin is a much larger and more densely populated city, for one thing. Medellin doesn’t have the bike culture that Valencia has, and traffic is much worse. And of course, Medellin doesn’t have the history. But Medellin has a lot of charms of its own. In general, the people of Colombia are more outgoing and less reserved than Europeans, including the Spanish.
      Hope that helps!
      – Susan

      • It helps a lot! Thanks so much for your prompt response! We’ll definitely have to visit there.

        • I just saw your post to another visitor about Alicante. We were just there in November as part of a lengthy (36 days) Mediterranean cruise and wish we could have stayed longer. It’s a lovely place.

          • John and Susan Pazera

            We fell in love with Alicante. It is our front runner of cities to be based in, when we move there. Blog post coming!

  5. We greatly looked forward to your great write-up on Valencia, Spain after you announced the plan some months ago. It was not disappointing! Terrific photos capturing the colorful thrall of this remarkable city. Your gift brought back such great memories.

    Our experience in Valencia was before the pandemic, in February 2020. We rented a nice apartment on AirBNB enjoying a nice long walk from the Estació. It was located across the street from a Mercado Común, where we were amazed at the immense variety of reasonably-priced products—a great international market.

    Our focus often is to find unusual dining, like De Claire Oyster Bar (reviewed https://goo.gl/maps/97mhvAX4DULnMRYK8). In the old city, we couldn’t miss funky La Casa de las Horas and the classic Agua de Valencia cocktail pitchers of Cava, Gin, Vodka and exquisite orange juice. Such tourists. Without shame.

    Hoping to return to Spain in the spring or summer. Madrid and return to Málaga. It’s really good news the pandemic seems under sensible control in Spain.

    We will certainly miss you from El Retiro, where we soon complete 10 years in joyful residency. My partner is sure he spotted John about town, just now recognizing him from your Valencia photos.
    Enjoy your fund trip, keeping safe and returning to grateful dogs who have incredibly missed you.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi! Wow, you’ve lived here in Retiro for 10 years? We walk every day with our dog (just lost one of them, sadly), so chances are good you’ve seen us around town. And yes, Rosie girl was incredibly glad to see us 🙂

      No shame about the Agua de Valencia – we consumed a bit of that ourselves! And also the amazing sangria. Couldn’t get enough of it. And of course, my favorite, the Aperol Spritz. That oyster bar sounds amazing – we will put it on our list for next time. It is not far from the Airbnb we stayed in for three nights.

      Where in Retiro do you live? We live in Quintas del Guarzo just down the road from the parque principal.

      • Forgive the lengthy response.

        We loved your continuation narrative and photos from hiking in Spain. It’s great to have a constellation of friends to look up during travels.

        You and we corresponded some months ago, but you have been so busy, it may have slipped past. Whereas we are winding down from remote consulting work, now emphasizing travel, gardening and “home economics.”

        Terribly spoiled, we greatly miss foods difficult (or impossible) to get in Colombia, even in Bogotá. So,a lot of ingredients (Mexican, Asian) are imported and we try not to flinch from any challenge, like authentic New York bagels, Chinese dim sum, lots of Mexican meals they can’t replicate here.

        We treated neighbors to Ajiaco: they didn’t croak. But our homemade tortillas suck. Lately, we’ve had great fun and success with sous vide. Without that our meat would be inedible. Things just don’t cook the same at over 7,000 feet elevation.

        Our farm is Finca la Mariana, Ver. El Carmen Bajo #39. It about 2 km up Vía el Guarzo past the cemetery, just past the enormous La Argentina project. You all are just up the road on Calle 19, which continues our way as Vía el Guarzo.

        Our neighborhood was formerly property of a couple old Colombian family landholders maintaining fincas de recreo (weekend retreat farms). Gradually, some of them sold off houses and lots. Our 30 year-old house had been owned by a Senator.

        Gringos were a novelty here, especially living in 24/7. Gradually, other middle-class folks built homes here. They were not entirely welcomed by the old landholders (who fashion themselves somewhat as quasi-nobility). But we became extended family to the wonderful people (from Santander and Bogotá) who built Villa Charleston (Ver. El Carmen Bajo #36).

        We have only Latin American, even Cuban expat friends and acquaintances, including newly-arrived Venezuelans. US expats don’t really like the suburbs apparently.

        Originally, we brought our poodle Bijou with us from San Diego, among scant basic belongings. She since sadly departed us. We soon acquired, adopted and bred four Great Danes (Thor, Xena, Ylva and Sofía) and another poodle, Aimée. Only Sofía and Aiméé sadly remain. Losing pet children is terribly hard. A neighborhood cat recently adopted us. I dubbed her Gato Demonio (DemonCat) because she loves to sneak-attack the dogs.

        So, what’s next for you after hiking Spain? Do you have WhatApp?

        For us: international travel was daunting. Went to Punta Cana in January. Planning return to Santa Marta. Like that better than Cartagena. Plan for trip to Santa Rosa to visit elderly mother-in-law. Spain still possible if not too complicated.

        Best wishes for fun and safe journeys! And mil gracias for sharing.

        Lorenzo

        • John and Susan Pazera Reply

          Hi Lorenzo – check your email 🙂
          – Susan

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Gracias, Larry! You are my photography idol, so I appreciate your comments. Can you believe we take all our pictures with our iPhone 12s? Hope you and Cathy are well. 🙂

  6. We didn’t know much about Valencia either. It looks like a gorgeous city. I keep returning to the picture of the museum with the ornate doorway. Looks like I’m putting another one on my list! Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Maggie! Yes, the Ceramic Museum looks incredible from the outside – one of those buildings you can just stand and stare at for a while. We didn’t get a chance to go inside, but from what we understand, the palace furnishings and decor are just as amazing as the ceramics displays. Next time!

  7. Scott Thompson Reply

    Thanks mucho! After we visit Panama and Colombia in February 2023, I’ll plan a trip to Valencia. My Colombian bride has family in the Jaén area of Spain so that’s a reason to visit too!

    Scott Thompson
    San Diego, CA

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Hi, Scott! Looks like you have plenty of good reasons to visit Spain. Enjoy!

  8. Hi guys. I’ve been on several “football and beer” trips with my old buddy to various places around Europe, and Valencia was our first ever such trip. It was brilliant, walking through the converted river bed, so many sports grounds all with games in progress, down to the futuristic buildings towards the waterfront, the old town in the centre..and a super beach with beach bars just to cap it all. Great city. We also discovered the claim to “original paella”…and ordered one. It was delicious, but both the chicken and the rabbit were whole, and simply placed on top of the paella rather than mixed in – and both absolutely recognisable as the animal which they once were!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      That sounds fun! Looks like you hit all the coolest things to see in Valencia. I’ll bet you were at the big Mestalla football stadium, right? Our friends that hosted us live a block from there. It’s a cool neighborhood. And you just gave me another reason NOT to try traditional Valencia paella! Ugh. When we were touring the markets, they had skinned rabbits on display, with their heads on and their little staring eyes. Nope, nope, can’t eat Bambi!

  9. Gosh, thanks for taking me along with you especially this time. I’ve never made it to Spain, so I was pleased to tag along with you. All the best, Muriel

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      So glad you enjoyed the post, Muriel! Valencia’s really special.

  10. Really enjoyed all of this post even though it was waiting in my inbox for ages – but good things come to those who wait, I see! Toured Spain for over a month but we didn’t see the Costa Brave region at all. IF we ever are lucky enough to return, you’ve shown so many reasons to stop in Valencia for a bit. Enchanted with your street art photos, the intriguing architecture, the pelican and scarlet ibis to highlight a few.

  11. ok! I am reading all of your Spain posts!! I THINK I may get over there this fall. I’m interested in Madrid, San Sebastian or Seville.

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