Yes, we loved vegan Valencia, but that’s only half the story. This city strikes a nice balance between being livable and attracting tourists. Sure, we aren’t residents, but house sitting allows us to pretend to be, even when visiting Valencia for just a weekend. There are many free things to do in Valencia as a major part of the city’s draw is the architecture, which you can view simply walking around!
When we were living in Spain as conversation assistants, we spent a weekend house sitting and exploring this beautiful coastal city. We quickly realized that Valencia is much more than one city, but many unique and varied cities within one. Let’s dive into the best things to do in Valencia for fellow budget travelers!
Valencia is less than two hours from Madrid, making it perfect for a weekend getaway or as an easy stop on a Spain by train itinerary. Valencia is the capital city of the region of Valencia and the third biggest city in Spain (after Madrid and Barcelona), with a population of 800,000 in the city and 2 million in the metro area.
Valencia speaks its own language, Valenciano. For all intents and purposes, the language is the same as Catalan, which is spoken in Catalonia. Go further down the eastern coast and you’ll come across the region of Valencia, the birthplace of paella and horchata and home to the famous Las Fallas festival in March. If you are short on time, check out this post on the best things to do in Valencia in one day. And great news for our fellow budget travelers: there are many fantastic hostels in Valencia!
If you’re only going to be in Valencia a few days and want to make the most out of your trip, you might want to grab a Valencia Tourist Card. Available in 1, 2, or 3 day increments, you get free public transportation, free public museum access, discounts on other museums and restaurants, and even some free tapas and drinks! Learn more about and order your Valencia Tourist Card here.
And as a final note, most of the budget-friendly attractions in Valencia are outdoors – perfect for social distancing. Of course, always double check open hours before visiting attractions, as hours are very subject to change in the current pandemic.
Free Things to Do in Valencia for History Lovers
Want to learn some history before you even arrive in Spain? Don’t miss our top 30 books to read about Spain before your trip (there are also novels, travel guides, memoirs, and more on the list too)!
1. Walk Around the Old Town
What city in Spain wouldn’t still have its old heart intact? Old Town Valencia has many plazas and historic buildings to discover.
One can actually get a bit lost wandering and avoid most of the tourist crowds. We visited in June and even though the squares were bustling, it was quite easy to get away from people by meandering back alleyways. Simply start wandering and let your feet lead you where they may.
2. Visit Plaza de La Virgen’s Sights: Turia Fountain and Valencia Cathedral
COST: FREE to visit the plaza, 5-8 euros to enter the cathedral
Perhaps the most iconic (and touristy) of Valencia’s squares, Plaza de la Virgen is home to Turia Fountain and the Valencia Cathedral.
Turia Fountain depicts the Roman god Neptune and eight naked women, all in bronze. The fountain represents Valencia’s Turia River and was sculpted by Silvestre Edeta. Although the fountain seems much older, it was dedicated in 1976.
Though the fountain may be modern, the Valencia Cathedral is not. Consecrated in 1238, it was built over a former Visigothic cathedral, which had itself been turned into a mosque. Reuse of Visigothic sites in Spain is extremely common; in fact, I wrote my whole archaeological thesis on this topic! #NerdAlert
Most famously, Valencia Cathedral is home to the Holy Chalice, believed by may to be the true Holy Grail. It sits in one of the Cathedral’s chapels and dates to the first century AD. If the chalice doesn’t interest you there are many pieces from art of varying styles: from recently rediscovered Renaissance frescoes to works by famed Spanish painter, Goya.
3. Take a Guided Walking Tour
COST: 5-10 euros
While we love to explore cities by foot on our own, we also love taking walking tours. We usually take a tour as soon as we get into a city because you get a great lay of the landscape immediately. Then we figure out what we want to spend more time on for the rest of our trip.
This walking tour is very affordable and includes entrance to City Hall and La Llotja de La Seda.
Free Tour Valencia offers a Valencia Essentials Tour that covers all the best things to see in Valencia. Just remember to tip your guide!
If you also plan to visit Madrid on your trip, don’t miss our Madrid guide: Top Cheap and Free Things to Do in Madrid.
4. Visit the Old Castle Gates
COST: Free on weekends and holidays, 1-2 euros otherwise.
The castle gates are all that remain of the ancient walls that used to surround the city. The walls were demolished in the 19th century (boo!!) but luckily, you can still visit the gates.
Considered to be the largest European Gothic city gate, Torres de Serranos were finished in 1391. It’s pretty incredible that they are still standing after over 500 years (they did get a face lift cleaning in 2000). Though they look older, Torres de Quart were built a bit later in the 15th century.
You can enjoy the magnificence of the towers for free or pay a small fee to go up to Serranos Tower.
5. Visit La Llotja de La Seda
COST: Free on Sundays and public holidays, 2 euros normally
If you want an in-depth exploration of the golden age of Valencia, look no further than the La Llotja de la Seda (Silk Exchange). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex was built between 1482 and 1548 and showcases the height of Valencia’s wealth and power.
The entire complex was centered on all things finance, commerce, and trading. Visiting this UNESCO site is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Valencia. We visited on Sunday, when entrance is free. Otherwise it’s just 2 euros. Unbelievable! One of the things we love about Spain is how affordable it is. Entrance to this kind of attraction in the U.S. would easily be $40.
The Hall of Columns was where merchants traded and worked out contracts – quite a beautiful place to do business!
We recommend setting aside a morning (or afternoon) to peruse to your hearts content the official trade building of Renaissance Valencia. An informative video explains all, but mostly you can just admire the grandeur at your own pace.
6. Las Fallas Museum
COST: Free on Sundays and official holidays, normally 1-2 euros
Valencia has an abundance of free museums and cultural spaces. Don’t miss Las Fallas Museum, as the Las Fallas Festival is a uniquely Valencian tradition.
Las Fallas is Valencia’s famous festival that takes place once a year, from March 1st-19th. Leading up to the festival, teams build large anthropomorphic papier-mâché figures, sparing no expense to try to out-do everyone else’s figure.
These figures, called ninots, are often more than 20 feet tall and are marched through the streets during festival parades. On the last day of the festival, all the figures are eventually burned in one tremendous night of bonfires. One lucky winning ninot is spared to be displayed in the future in the Las Fallas Museum.
Best Things to See in Valencia for the Alternative Traveler
7. The Centre de Carme
Just a few steps down the road from the Fallas Museum, we stumbled into yet another free space. We’d say this is more of an alternative thing to do in Valencia as it’s not a “classic tourist sight.” If you like to check out cool cultural spaces, duck in here for a quick visit.
The Centre de Carme is housed in a 13th-century monastery complete with a Gothic cloister. The buildings are absolutely beautiful and we had them nearly all to ourselves on a Sunday afternoon.
We didn’t explore too much as we were hungry (lol real talk), but there were a couple art exhibitions by high school students and an upstairs with rotating exhibits.
8. Discover Street Art in Valencia
COST: Self-guided tour of street art in Valencia is of course free, tours vary in price.
Valencia had quite a bit more street art than we were expecting and a thriving counterculture scene as well. The heart of Valencia’s street art district is the neighborhood of El Carmen. Although in most cities it seems like street art hubs are located in more peripheral neighborhoods, El Carmen is one of the central neighborhoods with some quite touristy areas.
Once you start meandering through the streets though, tourists start to thin out and you’ll gain the company of people of the more silent variety (aka, they’re painted).
We meandered around exploring street art in Valencia at our own pace, but when we go back, we’ll definitely take a guided tour to learn more. Check out this guided tour of street art in Valencia or take a free street art tour.
Things to Do in Valencia for Nature Lovers
9. Meander Through Turia River Park
Just like Madrid’s river park, known by locals as Madrid Río, Valencia Turia River Park is a reconstructed space built with locals in mind. But unlike Madrid’s riverside park, which actually still has a river running through it, Valencia’s river park is located where the river used to be.
After the Great Flood of Valencia in 1957, causing significant damage to a large part of the city, the river was diverted to avoid future catastrophes. Now, with many decades for vegetation to grow, this enormous park looks magical. Different sections have their own unique vegetation and highlights.
The park goes so far and changes its look so much, it might as well be a series of parks. Ideally, you’ll want to rent a bike for a day, and go up and down the whole length of the park. And at the end, there are some river banks to sit beside for a nice picnic:
10. Explore Valencia By Bike
COST: Approx 15 euros/day to rent a bike, tours vary in price.
We rented bikes and rode up and down Turia Park on our own, and we highly recommend it. Even if you’re not an experienced biker, the park has large pathways and there are no cars, so it’s very safe, peaceful, and tranquil.
If you’d prefer to join a bike tour, there are many options in Valencia. This great Valencia bike tour takes you through all the must see attractions, Turia gardens, and the city of Arts and Sciences. You can also upgrade your bike for an electric one.
You can even join this twilight bike tour, which ends at the City of Arts and Sciences (see below) for epic photos. This is exactly what we did on our self-guided tour, and we highly recommend doing the same.
That leads us to an absolute must for things to do in Valencia….
Best Things to See in Valencia for Architecture Lovers
11. Travel to the Future in The City of Arts and Sciences
This billion euro controversy from the future is amazing. Some might say this is amazingly wasteful as this mini city cost almost a billion euros. Critics point out that money that could have been used for countless other purposes in a crisis ravaged Spain.
While this is a completely valid point, it doesn’t stop the City of Arts and Sciences from being incredibly transporting and epic. We felt like we were in a sci-fi movie both times we visited. Indeed, the film Tomorrowland as well as an episode of Doctor Who have been filmed against this stunning backdrop.
Each of the buildings have a specific purpose and there are a ton of things to do here. We found ourselves entertained just by the awe and grandeur of it all.
If you want to go inside the buildings (including opera house, an aquarium, a science museum, an IMAX cinema, and more), a combo pass will make sure you get the best bang for your buck. This pass gives you access to the Hemisferic, the Oceanographic (the biggest aquarium in Europe) and the Principe Felipe Science Museum.
At night it’s another place altogether – all lights and shadows and contrasts.
Best Chill Things to Do in Valencia
12. Lounge on La Malvarrosa Beach
COST: Bus or taxi fare
While the city is not technically on the beach, it’s an easy bus or cab ride away. We spent an afternoon checking out the beach, walking along the boardwalk, and of course, having a splash in the ocean!
Visiting in cooler weather? Check out our post on What to Wear in Spain in Winter.
13. Hang out at a terrace in a plaza
COST: varies with consumption
One of our favorite things we loved to do when living in Spain was having lunch, a drink, or a coffee on one of the many terraces for outdoor dining. There’s nothing like relishing in a slow afternoon coffee and people watching. So much of Spanish life takes places in the street, so this is an absolute must do when visiting any Spanish city, Valencia included.
Some of the most popular, centrally located plazas with terraces are:
- Plaza de la Virgen: We already talked about this famous plaza in our very first tip, but it’s worth a mention as there are many terraces here for a nice break after lots of sightseeing. Always remember that prices are higher in famous plazas! But it can be worth it for the nice views, of course.
- Plaza Lope de Vega: Named after Spain’s famed playwright, this tiny plaza is filled with charm. It’s right down the street from the Central Market and Llotja de la Seda, so it’s perfect for a before/after terrace stop.
- Plaza Redonda: This one’s not technically square, but round! So cool and definitely worth popping by.
There are, of course, many other plazas in Valencia. Check out this great article for more.
When sitting at a terrace, you might be wondering, what should I eat in Valencia? Don’t worry, we’ve got some ideas of traditional Valencian foods for you in the next section 😉
Foodie Valencia: What to Eat in Valencia
14. Eat Paella in its birthplace
While most travelers in Spain assume that they can eat paella anywhere across the country, there’s only one true place to eat paella in Spain: Valencia. Originally from Valencia, the seafood dish originates from the region of Valencia, allegedly in a town right outside Valencia called Albufera.
Fellow plant-based eaters don’t have to miss out on this one! Discover all the vegetarian and vegan Valencia goodness (including veggie paella) in our Vegan Valencia Guide.
15. Have a Horchata
COST: a few euros
Horchata is also a traditional food from Valencia whose origins go back at least as far as the 13th century. Spanish horchata is very different from Mexican horchata, as its made from chufa (tiger nuts), while Mexican horchata is rice-based. It’s such a refreshing drink and you can find it anywhere in Valencia.
16. Explore Valencia’s Markets
COST: FREE (unless you buy something of course)
You can’t spend any time at a city in Spain without visiting a neighborhood market. Valencia has many markets, but the most famous and centrally located ones are:
- Mercado Central: This Art Nouveau market is your classic, traditional Spanish market. There’s such a huge variety of stalls; in fact, it’s the largest covered market in Europe!
- Mercado de Colon: Unlike Mercado Central, Mercado de Colon (Columbus Market) is more of a gastro market, with a variety of trendy cafes and nice restaurants. The building is spacious and gorgeous, well worth walking through even if you don’t eat here.
17. Go out for Tapas
COST: varies, 10-20 euros depending on consumption
When in Spain, one must also go out for tapas, of course. Tapas hopping anywhere in Valencia will be sure to be fun, but we especially loved our night spent checking out the many cool and alternative bars in the Ruzafa neighborhood.
18. Drink some Valencian orange juice
COST: 1 euro
Of course, when you’re in Valencia, you need to drink some Valencian orange juice! If you’re feeling like something a little more boozy, have the city’s signature cocktail: Agua de Valencia, which consists of cava, orange juice, vodka, and gin.
Where to Stay in Valencia: Budget Hotels in Valencia
Our last few entries on our list of top 20 things to do in Valencia aren’t technically “things to do” but hey…travelers need somewhere to lay their heads at night, don’t we?
We’re not going to recommend staying in an Airbnb in Valencia due to the negative impact that Airbnb has on European cities, including Spanish cities. Want to learn more? Head to our article and podcast episode on The Airbnb Effect.
We always recommend using Booking.com as many properties offer a free cancellation policy. This is essential in normal times and is true especially now, with ever changing travel restrictions.
19. Hostal Antigua Morellana
Located in the heart of Valencia’s Old Town, you’re just steps away from all the explorations we discussed in this article. This highly rated budget hotel in Valencia is super affordable, but has everything you need: free WiFi, a 24 hour reception desk, air conditioning (important in Spain’s summer), and more. Click here to check availability and current rates.
20. Quart Youth Hostel and Apartments
Hostels frequently get a bad rap, but often it’s because of the type of hostel, rather than the idea of a hostel itself. We’ve had great experiences in chill hostels. Staying in a hostel is a great way to meet people while traveling, and you don’t even need to stay in a 10+ person dorm room. Quart Youth Hostel offers beds in dorm-style rooms, of course, but they also have double rooms and even a loft with various bedrooms. Perfect for a group vacation.
Quart Youth Hostel is located just 5 minute walk away from the Old Town, so you’ve got easy access to all the sights without being directly in the heart of the tourist town.
Click here to check availability and current rates.
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While Valencia might not get as attention or tourism as larger cities like Barcelona and Madrid, this unique coastal city is undoubtedly worth a visit. We felt like we got a good feel for the city in a few days, yet at the same time could have spent longer exploring different areas and taking day trips – something for next time!
Planning a Trip to Spain? Check Out Our Other Articles:
Best 30 Books About Spain to Read Before Your Trip
What to Wear in Spain in Winter
Top Free and Cheap Things to Do in Madrid