If you don’t already know, 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. Here we can judge its livability, access to commodities, and compare to the tourist sections. 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!
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). Valencia speaks its own language, Valenciano, which is for all intents and purposes the same as Catalan, which is spoken in Catalonia, the region in which Barcelona is located. 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. There’s so much to do in Valencia, but if you are short on time, check out this post on things to do in Valencia in one day.
We spent a weekend house sitting and exploring this beautiful coastal city and realized it was much more than one city, but many unique and varied cities within one. And great news for our fellow budget travelers: there are many fantastic hostels in Valencia!
Traditional Valencia: Old Town and La Llotja de la Seda
What city in Spain wouldn’t still have its old heart intact?
One can actually get a bit lost wandering and avoid most of the tourist crowds. There’s lots of old architecture, like the towers, which mark the old city walls.
You can enjoy the magnificence of the towers for free or pay a small fee to go up on top of the walls.
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 Hall of Columns was where merchants traded and worked out contracts – quite a beautiful place to do business!
At just a few euros, you can 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.
There is also an abundance of free museums and cultural spaces. We popped into this one to get out of the heat and found giant mannequins and floats stored away when not being used. Some of them are hundreds of years old!
Just a few steps down the road, we stumbled into yet another free space. The Centre de Carmen is housed in a 13th-century convent complete with a Gothic cloister. We didn’t explore too much as we were hungry, but there were a couple exhibitions by high school students and an upstairs with rotating exhibits.
Despite all this old architecture, you can take just a couple random turns and find more modern decorations. Valencia had quite a bit more street art than we were expecting and a thriving counterculture scene as well.
Alternative Valencia: Street Art and Counter Culture
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).
In our effort to eat all the vegan food in Valencia, we ate at La Mandragora, one of the more alternative spots we’ve had lunch. It’s a vegan gastronomic association and you pay what you think lunch is worth after you’re done.
Green Valencia: 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.
There’s a spot with alien trees.
There are trees that grow through bridges.
If you make it to the west end, you’ll encounter this multi-tiered wall thingy.
It goes so far and changes its look so much, it might as well be a series of parks. If you tire of vegetation, there are fair grounds and a rope web to climb on.
Ideally, you’ll want to rent a bike for a day, and go up and down the whole length of the park, so that you can end up at…
Futuristic Valencia: The City of Arts and Sciences
This incredible, billion dollar controversy from the future is amazing. Some might say amazingly wasteful as this mini city cost almost a billion euros – 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.
At night it’s another place altogether – all lights and shadows and contrasts.
Each of the buildings have a specific purpose and there seems to be a ton of things to do here, we found ourselves entertained just by the awe and grandeur of it all.
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!
What ‘city’ within Valencia would you most like to spend time in? Have you been to a place with such distinct parts within it?