3 Days in Valencia: a Guide to the Home of Paella
After Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, yet much cheaper, which makes it a perfect budget getaway. The city has a lot to offer: historical walkable city centre, the beach a ride away, plenty of museums (don’t forget your student ID if you have one!), Europe’s biggest aquarium and a fascinating complex known as the City of Arts and Sciences.
After a few words on transportation and accommodation, I share things we did and saw in Valencia by each day. Keep reading to find out where to thrift, what to order in arrosserias, some fun facts about Valencia and much more. ¡Vamonos!
getting there & getting around
When my friends ask me where they can go from Madrid when discovering Spain, I ask them how they plan to move around. The car is often needed in Spain. Not for Valencia though! In fact, that’s where my parents will go to after our wedding in October. My folks don’t drive and they love the sea, so Valencia seems to be a perfect match.
We came there by car because we live in the middle of nowhere. For those of you travelling from the capital there’s a high speed train called AVE. It takes only 1h 35 min to get to Valencia. If you fly there, you can take a bus or subway from the airport (it’s just 20 min away). To move around the city you have a safe and reliable system of trams and buses, relatively cheap taxi and a free option - walking. Valencia is not that big, and the architecture is impressive!
Where we stayed
Usually we rent something on Airbnb, but if we find a good deal on booking.com, we go for it. This was the case last time so we paid for two nights at Hotel Valencia Alameda. It’s right by the park (the biggest urban park in Spain actually, but about it later) and a long walk away from the city centre (30-40min). If you prefer to stay somewhere closer to museums, shops and bars, there are many options on Airbnb. I’m sure you can find a nice place for 40-50 euros per night (in Madrid it would be 70-80 on average).
day 1: sightseeing, thrifting & paella
Right after we checked in, we headed downtown. We had that map they give you at hotels - with tiny images of cathedrals and other must-see things. Silly, but very convenient! I’ve got two maps you might find useful: click here to download one and here to see another.
Vintage-wise Madrid and Barcelona have better things to offer, but there are quite a few shops in Valencia too! We had time to visit only four places because they all are in the same area (click here to download a screenshot of my map with pins).
PANNONICA it was closed on Sunday but I saw a lot of vintage treasures inside (no clothes tho)
LAVESPA ROJA @lavespa_roja if you are into the 70’s
In case you stay in Valencia longer, you might want to visit these shops too: La Señora Henderson, Trixies Vintage, Clot Vintage, Camden Vintage, Su Karma & the biggest secondhand market in town El Rastro (open every Sunday 8am-1pm)
getting full & getting tipsy
You can’t come to Spain and not to eat paella. There’s no excuse unless you are allergic to rice (is it even a thing?!)
“Many non-Spaniards view paella as Spain's national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Valencians, in turn, regard paella as one of their identifying symbols.” - Wiki
There are sooo many places to try Valencian cuisine that I can’t really recommend one! On Tripadviser you can make your choice based on reviews, location and prices. What I can do is to tell you which paellas and drinks are my favourite.
PAELLA WITH DUCK, RABBIT & SNAILS
Yummy, not yikes! I don’t think you can try this one anywhere else in Spain. Order one paella for two, sprinkle it with lemon and get a foodgasm. The best part is the crust at the bottom, you’ll fight for it.
PAELLA WITH SQUID INK
Or arroz negro. Looks Halloweenysh, also leaves your mouth black. It’s cooked with squid (calamares, sepia) and sometimes with fish, and, as you already guessed, with squid ink. Don’t forget to order allioli - a thick sauce looking like mayo and tasting like garlic. If you ever have to buy me, bring this to me.
HORCHATA DE CHUFA
It’s a non-alcoholic beverage that looks like milkshake and tastes like heaven. Some people would disagree on that but they just tried horchata made with wrong plant milk - it has to be chufa, in my opinion. It’s often served with a plastic straw, so you might want to have a reusable one with you.
‘Valencian water’ literally. It looks and tastes similarly to mimosa, but it takes you better places, because the usual orange juice and cava (Spanish champagne) are mixed with vodka and gin. Don’t cancel your order yet, just try one and treat it like a cocktail - with no rush.
Day 2: museum & farmers market
Our second day in Valencia had an interesting start: we had just bought tickets to go to the famous aquarium after 30 min of queuing, and something started burning there. We literally had to turn back when we were about to enter. Well, better safe than sorry! Instead we decided to go to a museum and have lunch at a central market.
National Ceramics Museum
Google says there are 35 museums in Valencia, but we had enough time to visit just one - National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts. It is in the top 10 though! And it can be found in an amazing historical building called Palace of the Marquis of Dos Aguas.
I’ve loved ceramics ever since I was a kid, and who doesn’t like to feel like an aristocrat?! The museum has a vibe of the elegant lifestyle and makes me think of St. Petersbourg’s palaces. Jose was a bit bored though… Ah, things we do for love!
If you’d rather go to other museums, at least pass by the building and appreciate its stunning baroque façade made in alabaster. Believe me, it’s worth checking out!
The Central Market of Valencia
“The Central Market of Valencia is one of the largest in Europe, covers more than 8,000 square metres, with a predominantly Valencian Art Nouveau style […] The beauty of the building stands out especially on account of the light that enters through the roof at various points, and through coloured window panels.” - Wiki
One of the best markets I’ve ever visited! My only regret was not having a reusable straw with me and no produce bags. There were so many things to try! Horchata de chufa right at the entry of the market, sweet fartons polo that you dip in that horchata, Valencian pastries, all kinds of fruits and veggies, pies, pickled stuff, cheeses, jamon!..
If you manage to remain hungry, have lunch at the Central Market. There is a bar called, well, Central Bar, and the food there is freaking amazing! You won’t miss the place, it’s right in the middle of everything, covered in black and brown ceramic tiles. Keep in mind, it’s pretty busy there and you might need to wait.
That day after lunch we had to take a siesta. Later we walked through the park back to the city centre to have dinner at Kaori Ruzafa -probably one of the best Japanese restaurants I’ve ever been to. It’s a very special place. Let the waiter know if you have any allergies and then just trust them with the menu, they will pleasantly surprise you. And yes, better book a table.
day 3: the City of Arts and Sciences
“The City of Arts and Sciences is an ensemble of six areas in the dry river bed of the now diverted River Turia in Valencia, Spain. Designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava and started in July 1996, it is an impressive example of modern architecture.” - valencia-cityguide.com
The ‘city’ is located in the biggest urban park in Spain - Valencia’s Riverbed Gardens. It is 9km long, covers 110 hectares and crosses Valencia from one end to another, almost meeting the sea. In my opinion, it would take at least one day to discover the park, and then you’d need one day for every complex there is in The City of Arts and Sciences:
The Hemisferic (IMAX Cinema, Planetarium and Laserium);
El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe (Science museum);
El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (opera house and performing arts centre);
Ágora (for varied events);
and L’Oceanografic — an open-air aquarium or oceanographic park, which we managed to visit despite a fire there a day before.
As you can see, the park and The City are so big, that you might need a guided tour and more than a day there. Since we didn’t have this luxury, I can tell you about our experience in L’Oceanografic.
“The Oceanogràfic of the City of Arts and Sciences is the largest aquarium in Europe and contains representatives of the world’s main marine ecosystems. Each building is identified with the following aquatic environments: the Mediterranean, Wetlands, Temperate and Tropical Seas, Oceans, the Antarctic, the Arctic, Islands, and the Red Sea, as well as the Dolphinarium. The Underwater Restaurant and the Access Building which welcomes visitors stand out because of their spectacular roofs designed by Félix Candela.” - cac.es
My husband is crazy about marine creatures, so I don’t need a guide when I’m with him. However, if I were in the oceanographic park alone, I’d get an audio guide or hire an actual talking human, because there are 18 buildings and a lot of info to absorb.
Surface area of 110,000 square metres, over 25 kilometres of piping, more than 45,000 examples of different marine species and blablabla… You can read more here.
Keep in mind that there you spend a lot of time outside, so dress appropriately and apply SPF! In a day we saw almost everything except dolphins, because it’s sad, we think they should be free. Ok, this topic is a bit complicated because all living creatures should be free, but on the other hand, aquariums help us appreciate the ocean and care for what lives in it. Dolphin shows, though, are totally unnecessary.
This is what we did during our brief visit. I wish we stayed in Valencia longer, I’d like to share more about the city’s history. But I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the best things in life - thrifting and food. Let me know if you plan to go to Valencia, maybe we will coincide and get to share a paella! Bye-bye!
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