Enough of Barcelona? Check Valencia!
A somewhat alternative travel guide for the city of the Bats!
The weather is often nice, and tourism is boosting, but Valencia is not so crowded as Barcelona. Perfect for a little getaway. Most online top 10 tips cite more or less the same activities and attractions and will give you a good taster of this city. If you would like to get a little bit out of your comfort zone; here is an alternative spin on interesting must-dos in Valencia according to 'yo', including my favourite restaurant tips.
Look for Bats
Yes that's right. Look for bats, as they are the heraldic symbol of the city. This beloved symbol can be found everywhere, even on the logo of football club Valencia FC. It is actually part of the emblem of Valencia that commemorates the end of 500 years of Muslim rule; it contains four important elements:
- A striped square that symbolizes the surrender flag of the Moors
- The crown refers to a Christian King defeating the Moors
- Two L's stand for the Latin words ‘Honour’ and ‘Loyalty’
- The bat: it is believed that as King James 1st in 1238 A.D entered the city a bat flew in front of his face. This was considered to be a big blessing... So start counting those bats and blessings!
Look for David de Limón and other street art
Valencia is the perfect spot to go street art hunting, it even seems that the city embraces this artform. You will find most pieces of art in and around the vibrant Barrio del Carmen, where you will find Açai bars in the daytime and the coolest cafes and restaurants in the evening.
Most street artists use the facades of empty buildings or roller shutters from stores. A win-win situation, right?
The most famous artist from the region must be David de Limón. You cannot walk through the narrow streets of Valencia without spotting any of his works. His funny looking ninja figures have become a source of regularity in the Valencian, urban landscape. How many can you spot?
Look for the prettiest façade
The architectural mix of Valencia is simply stunning. Romanesque, gothic and rococo go hand in hand with the Spanish Modernista which contains elements of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. This beautiful combination will make you grasp for air every time you turn around a corner.
I am standing in front of the Ceramics Museum here, but the truth is even residential buildings are worth the occiasional photo stop. One façade prettier than the other.
Ditch all the clichés about bad Spanish food in the bin
If you have never eaten paella in your life, then Valencia is definitely the place to be. Many Valencian restaurants specialize in making this tasty dish. Watch out for enormous paella pans at for example the Mercado Central, where you can find all kinds of food stalls. From cliché tasters like Spanish ham to energy boosting smoothies. Yum!
The Valencian food scene has so much more to offer though. Modern versions of the paella (like the one we had at Mercatbar) or sexy, award winning tapas make you crave for more. You can find the most interesting restaurants in the Rufaza area, but nice food options are spread all over the city.
Some of my favourite food spots:
Mercatbar: innovative, modern Valencian cuisine with an international twist. Don't forget to check out the Fan Beer Menu with yes, Belgian beer!
La Bodego de Tofelet: wine at super market prices and modern tapas including award winning ones ;-)
Favela Bistro: a colourful, modern restaurant where you can find typical Brazilian dishes like feijoada, pan de queso and picanha. Yum!
La Mas Bonita: healthy food with a twist, options for vegans and non-vegans! Very Instagrammable cake and smoothies. Check out their sweet location at the seaside.
Spot beautiful Valencian tiles at the bottom (!) of the balconies
Valencia is famous for its beautiful ceramics spread all over the city. Some shops still have tiles displayed outside on the exterior wall representing their profession. You can find the tiles on floors, ceilings, in kitchens, bars, markets etc.
These artfully decorated beauties can basically be found in every corner of Valencia. The most special place to spot them is at the bottom of balconies. So don't forget to look up to admire these pretty glazed tiles.
Look for naughty gothic figures at the Lloja de la Seda
If you are visiting Valencia for the first time, chances are high that the Lloja de la Seda will be on your to do list. It's unmistakeable late Gothic-style look, makes it an interest monument to look at from the outside, to admire from the inside. The group of buildings was originally built to trade silk, hence its name The Silk Exchange.
If you are in for a little challenge here, look for funny, crazy figurines like the one pictured here below. What is the message behind these somewhat sexual oriented sculptures? I'm still trying to figure it out.
Let the oranges be the perfect backdrop for your Instagram picture
You can't escape oranges when visiting Valencia. They even grow on trees lining the streets. They are however inedible, so please don't touch them. Let them be the perfect background for your next picture or make a close-up of the prettiest one!
This automatically makes me think of Aqua de Valencia. This delicious local cocktail is probably to best way to enjoy Valencian oranges. It is a mix of cava, sugar, orange juice and some other spirits, depending on the secret recipe of the maker!
Be amazed by science while testing the communication wands at the Ciudad de las Artes y Sciencias
What I love most about Valencia is the contrast between its cultural heritage and its modern take on things. One minute you are walking through the old city centre, the next you are being blown away by modern architecture at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Sciencias. This modern looking architectural complex hosts a music palace, an immense aquarium, the 'Hemisféric', a Science museum and much more. Just walking around here is inspiring. It also sits at the end or beginning of the Turia gardens, one of the largest urban parks in Spain. Nine kilometres of green where you easily go for a run or a walk or just enjoy nature and unwind. A horrible flood in 1957 was a blessing in disguise; the Turia's course was diverted south of the city and the river bed is now one of Valencia's hot spots.
If you don't have time to go inside the Science museum, here is a fun little thing to do at the entrance. Walk to the main entrance of the museum and you will find a sign that explains the magic of the communicating arches.
It will basically explain you to:
- Stand at one end of the arch while your partner or friend is at the opposite side.
- Speak normally facing the wall. Start a conversation. Omg yes, you can hear each other!
- Now place yourself in the centre of the arch and your friend stays right where he is...What do you hear? Nothing!
Amazing right? The sound waves of your voice are channelled through the arched structure and reach directly into the ear of the other person. If you stand in the middle, the waves are scattered in all directions...
Admire the colourful dresses of the Valencian traditional dancers
On any given Sunday you are most likely to stumble upon some kind of traditional dance event, especially on the Plaza de la Virgen, one of Valencia's most famous historical locations in the city centre. I do love cities where traditions are kept... Baila!
Tired of looking around? Relax at the Botanical Garden!
When visiting Valencia, you will normally easily find your way to the Turia gardens, but if you want to be even more far away from the sound of cars, I can strongly advise you to go to the Botanical Garden. It has history dating back to the 16th century and gives home to an enormous variety of species of plants.
Not only is this garden, located on calle Quart in El Botànic neighbourhood, the perfect spot to rest after an intense day of visiting museums and such, on your way over there you will run into the beautiful Torres de Quart, a defensive tower from Valencia's old city wall. Less busy than famous brother Torres de Serranos, but also with the option to go to the top! Win-win!