Roman Valentia Edetanorum
Quickly piling up on more trips for 2018, we do also continue to benefit from destinations which are way cheaper during the low season months that would rather be very expensive otherwise. 2 weeks ago it was Gran Canaria, the previous weekend, Seville; and now, Valencia. Although all of these three destinations are repeated, it was for some a chance to keep visiting other places, while for others, it was just too many years since we were there and therefore almost forgotten. Not just that, Valencia is also an incredible beautiful and large city, the 3rd largest in Spain where a weekend is even too short time. Now I do also finally get the chance to create this well deserved travel guide for it; and I know it will be laborious and quite in-detail in the sights section. There are just too many!
Founded by the Romans, is has survived periods of prosperity and depression through the centuries. Thriving, then wars and decline; destruction, rebuilding and so forth. From a Roman province, to the Moorish invasion, then reconquered by the Christians to become part of one of the Kingdoms that once were in the Iberian Peninsula: the Crown of Aragon. It was the 15th century what is best known as the Golden Age of Valencia, when the city lived a great economic expansion, culture and arts flourished and an overall wealth that saw the construction of most of the impressive buildings still standing today from that period. Its university, created in 1499 is one of the oldest surviving in Spain too. However, from one of the most influential cities on the Mediterranean to an economic crisis following the discovery of the Americas. Valencians, like the Catalans, Aragonese and Majorcans were prohibited participation in the cross-Atlantic commerce with the New World and any trade with the colonies. This left Valencia secluded with no riches coming in, nor benefiting from it.
To my personal opinion, this city is the combination of Madrid and Barcelona. From Barcelona it takes the fascinating elegant architecture, notably in the modernist style (art nouveau), and the urbanism; a perfect grid of orthogonal streets and avenues (although this is also traditional in Madrid and in any city in Spain during the late 19th early 20th century extensions). From Madrid it takes a vibrant and thriving life, day and night; and that feeling of a great big capital city. Nowadays, although the capital of the autonomous region of Comunidad Valenciana, it was for a brief period in the summer of 1812 the capital of Spain when Joseph Bonaparte moved the Court here; and then again, between 1936 and 1937 during the Second Spanish Republic.
If you see the city on a map, it’s easy to spot where the medieval walls that once enclosed the city stood. Circling the entire old core and meeting by the northern edge with the River Turia. Very few remains from these fortifications other than two grand gates, and the avenues created when the walls once stood. Beyond the “walls” (circling avenue), notice the perfect urban grid of perpendicular streets radiating away from the historic town into the very elegant late 19th early 20th centuries. This is called the Extension, Eixample in Valencian language, and follow the very same principle than any city in Spain at this time. A growth influx in population, and an enormous playground for architects to create their finest buildings and urban landscape. Here you have a reason why there is way much more to see other than the historic centre. The extension can be as fascinating, if no more impressive, than the older parts, and for sure larger; but it did not end with the 20th century.
The city’s revival was at the turn of the 21st century with a massive billions of Euros regeneration project. Whether it was terribly polemical, corrupted and drove the city to bankruptcy, in the other hand it put Valencia in the world map, continuously attracting more and more tourists. This was the built up of the former Turia riverbed along the eastern side, near the Mediterranean and its surrounded areas. The centrepiece? An entire complex of museums, opera house, IMAX cinema, promenades, metro extension and stations, bridges and a sport centre all built by the city’s acclaimed and world renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. Apartment towers, hotels, shopping malls, avenues and gardens were also built with a fine taste for architecture and design, coupled with the latest addition, the largest aquarium in Europe. Still on hold from the original project are 3 skyscrapers by Calatrava, however it remains undecided if it will ever go ahead. Other first class projects accomplished are the Formula 1 Street Circuit and the America’s Cup Port, adding another piece of an internationally acclaimed architect, David Chipperfield.
All in all, I like to consider Valencia as a triple city. An impressive medieval core, surrounded by an outstanding early 20th extension, and completed with a 21st century futuristic neighbourhood. While easy to visit in all of these places, it won’t be possible in just a weekend. Don’t worry if you fall short of time anyway, this is a city worth to return and continue exploring, especially if you make it in coincidence with one of the greatest festivities in the planet, Las Fallas.
This brings me to talk about a last point before giving you the sights listing. Las Fallas is a must in a lifetime, on the same way going to another Spanish festival, La Tomatina, could be. Listed an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, the festival see the construction of firecracker-filled cardboard and paper-mârché artistic monuments, of any size from small single person’s like size, to massive towers over 30 meters tall that are burnt on the last night of the festival. Every day before that, there are fireworks displays, day and night, some of which spectacular at the City Hall square at noon; parades and flower offerings.
Now that you are ready to set off to the streets, when hunger calls it’s your lucky day (well if you like rice and sea food anyway). Valencia is the birthplace of world famous dish paella. The hardest part will be finding a nice place with a good quality one. It’s a hard dish that’s for sure, and it could potentially be either overcooked, dry, or hard rice, or not the nicest nor freshest sea food. Places along the promenade by the beach are famous and good in reputation; but at the “menu del dia” restaurants where you get a starter, main course, dessert and a drink in a set menu are generally not the best option for choosing the dish; I would rather order something else. Compare a few places around to discard the tourist traps and the unnecessarily overpriced ones, and you will easily come to a nice option for sure.
For more information about Valencia check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Valencia
- Historic city centre In a rounded shape delimited at the entire north side by the former River Turia and all along the other sides by the now gone city walls. It’s a large area full of sights and history everywhere. Starting from the north heading south:
-San Jose and Serranos Bridges Both the oldest in city from medieval era, across the former Turia river into the new parts of the city
-Medieval gates From the 15th century, only 2 remain, and very small portions of the former Moorish walls that once enclosed the entire old town.
-Torres de Serranos The largest and most iconic in the city, right across the Serranos Bridge marking the north entrance to the city.
-Torres de Quart On Carrer de Guillem de Castro, and avenue taking the space where the former walls were, at the northwestern part of the old town.
-Plaza del Carmen Small yet nice square not far west from Torres de Serranos along Carrer de Roteros. There you find the Santisima Cruz Church and the Pineda Palace among other nice constructions.
-Palau dels Borja Along Carrer de Guillem de Castro which starts near the Torres de Serranos and terminates at the central square Plaza de la Virgen. Nowadays the Valencian Court.
-San Lorenzo Church Opposite the Courts. Consecrated in 1238, the current look dates from the reworks done in 1684.
-Carrer dels Serrans One of the principal pedestrian streets across the historic centre, linking the central square Plaza de la Virgen with the Torres de Serranos.
-Manises Square The terminating point of Carrer Serrans, with the characteristic San Bartolome Tower, the only element remaining from one of the former oldest churches in the city. Here you will find both the Palace of the Generalitat and the Palau del Marqués de Castellfort.
-Plaza de la Virgen The heart of the old town, and one of the most historical. Right at the other side of the Palace of the Generalitat.
-Cathedral Built between the 13th and 15th centuries in Gothic style with elements of Baroque and Romanesque. Its main tower, El Micalet, it one of the most recognizable silhouettes. Something unique is the Tribunal de les Aigües (Water Court). Dating from the Moorish times, this court hears and mediates in matters relating to irrigation water, and sits every Thursday at noon outside the Portal of the Apostles. It’s been declared an UNESCO intangible site.
-Basilica of our Lady of the Forsaken Along the eastern side of the square, and with a facade at the opposite side over the Almoina Square; it makes a nice view in conjunction with the Cathedral. Built in Gothic style from 1652
-Almoina Square At the opposite side of the Basilica of our Lady of the Forsaken. Newly restored with an archaeological museum underground displaying part of the Roman and Visigoth city.
-Almudin Along the north face of the square. One of the original medieval buildings in Valencia, where grain was stored. Additions are the 17th century frescoes. Nowadays a modern art gallery.
-Cathedral Part of the back is also facing along the southern side of this square.
-Casa del Punt de Ganxo In the southern side, an elegant residential building designed in modernist style with xerography painting in its facade.
-Archbishop’s Palace Farther south in the square after Casa del Punt de Ganxo. A very refined historicist baroque style construction.
-Palace of the Marques de Campo The Museum of the City. At the eastern side of the square, although this is not the main and important facade; yet along the narrow street you reach the entrance. Depicting the history of the city in art and visuals.
-San Esteve Church East, beyond the museum of the city, meters east from the Almudin building along the same street. Built during the Gothic period with changes over the centuries until the 17th.
-Square of Naples and Sicily Another charming space full with colourful historic buildings just southeast of San Esteve Church.
-Baños del Almirante A street southwest from the previous square. Dating from the 14th century, one of the few remnants of a former Arab bath entirely preserved.
-Plaza de la Reina One of the largest in Valencia’s old core. Along the entire north face is the main facade of the Cathedral.
-Santa Catalina Church Built in 1245 in place of the former mosque that here stood. You’ll reach it from the southwestern corner of Plaza de la Reina.
-Plaza Redonda Opposite the Santa Catalina Church accessing through the arches. Hidden to a point not everyone is aware of its existence, it is one of the most unique not just in Valencia but in Spain overall.
-Market Square Continuing to the west from Plaza Redonda you reach some of the major highlights in Valencia.
-Saint John’s Church At the very north of the square, with 2 very different facades each worth the look.
-Llotja de la Seda (Silk Exchange Market) Opposite Saint John’s Church. An UNESCO World Heritage Site listed for being one of the finest examples of Valencian Gothic style.
-Central Market One of the largest indoor markets in Europe, and the largest in the art-nouveau style (modernism).
-Carrer del Marqués de Dos Aigues Before reaching the Town Hall Square, return heading east to this street. You can take it from the northernmost part at Calle la Paz (south side of Plaza de la Reina) then walk it to the end.
-Palace of the Marqués de Dos Aigues The former mansion in Gothic style from the wealthy Rabassa de Perelló family. The main entrance is simply spectacular! Part of the building is now home to the National Museum of Ceramic and Art.
-San Juan de la Cruz Church The next building after the previous palace, was one of the first that was founded after the Reconquest of Jaime I on an old mosque; however the present building dates from 1615.
-Teatro Principal Farther down at the southern end of the street, the main and one of the oldest theatre in Valencia.
-Banco de Valencia Forming an interesting perspective in the corner of 2 streets, is the head office of the bank, in pure historicist style.
-City Hall Square The largest in the city and the most impressive for the grand buildings that surround it, majority in the modernist style. It is one of the locations for the festivities of Las Fallas where the set of strong fireworks are fired during the celebrations.
-City Hall Along the western side of the square is composed of 2 buildings in different styles, the oldest part dating from 1763, while the main and central body dates from the 20th century in neoclassical style.
-Central Post Office At the opposite side of the square from the City Hall, in a mix of neoclassical and modernist styles.
-Theatre Rialto Also along the eastern side of the square, an art-deco style cinema.
-North Railway Station A marvellous example of modernism style (the Vienna Secession to be precise in here). Just south from the City Hall Square, along Carrer de Xativa, avenue which is in the place where the city walls once stood, dividing the old town with the 20th century extensions beyond. Notice the Valencian tiles inside, and the original wooden ticket offices.
-Bullring Next to the train station, one of the most impressive and largest in Spain, made to look like Rome’s Colosseum.
-Casa Judia Just behind the bullring, in Carrer de Castellon, is one of the most impressive art-deco buildings not just in the city by Spain, in Egyptian style.
-Columbus Market Southeast outside of the historic core in the middle of this elegant 20th century extension of the city known as the Eixample. In fine Catalan modernist style, like many other constructions in the area between Calle Colon and Gran Via.
- Former Turia River grounds Since the flooding of 1960 the river was diverted, and in place a large regeneration project started with the creation of huge gardens and facilities, restoration of the bridges, the nearby medieval gates and the 21st century addition of The City of Arts.
-The City of Arts and Science From nothing to out of sudden a must stop when visiting Valencia. Built in the former Turia’s riverbed. Entirely designed by Valencia architect Santiago Calatrava (except for the aquarium), even if you do not enter any of the museums, it’s worth to see the striking architecture of the buildings, and walk between them and the palms promenade within the L’Umbracle. The site is huge, with many constructions including a museum of science, a huge IMAX, a tennis court and one of the largest aquariums in the world among other structures landscaped around water features and gardens.
-Museum of Sciences The main building in the complex, designed to resemble the skeleton of a whale.
-L’Hemisfèric One of the largest IMAX cinemas in Spain, designed as a human eye, which due to the giant hydraulic structure it can open and close.
-L’Umbracle Along the side between the main Museum and IMAX is this semi-covered promenade acting as a garden full of palms and flowers.
-Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía At one of the ends of the complex, it’s home to a giant opera house, the highest in the world. Part of its roof can open and close.
-L’Agora The latest addition to the complex, and last one. A multi-functional space used for sports, conferences and events. Unfortunately it was never completed, where huge beams are missing rising from the top; the very same as is the “Oculus” he designed in New York City.
-Pont de l’Assut de l’Or The second of the bridges designed by Calatrava in the city, and the most spectacular for its tall structure.
-L’Oceanogràfic The largest aquarium in Europe, integrated into the entire complex, east from the Pont de l’Assut de l’Or. Designed by architect Félix Candela who never saw it finished.
- The Port Continuing east after the City of Arts and Science you reach the port area, being the America’s Cup Port the jewel here. Another of such construction projects that once led to the bankruptcy of the city, however a great infrastructure today with fine architecture as is the Veles e Vents building designed by David Chipperfield.
- The Beach Located at the east of the city, north from the America’s Cup Port. Known as La Malvarosa is nice, long and wide. The trams are the easiest and fastest way to get there.
The International Airport Manises is around 10 kilometres west from downtown and very well connected either by bus or by metro. The cheapest option is the “Metrobus” towards Plaza de Espana every 25 minutes, taking approximately half an hour costing 1.45 Euros per way. In the other hand although more expensive yet much more frequent you have the metro, where you can then change to other lines into your final destination. The cost for this is 1 Euro for the metro card itself, and 3.90 Euros for the fare between the airport and the city (the airport lies in tariff Zone D which is the farthest, hence the most expensive).
Arriving overland from other parts of Spain is simple and straightforward, and in many cases faster than flying. With a great high-speed network crisscrossing Spain nowadays, it is only 1.35 hour to Madrid, 3 hours to Barcelona, and much less in every city in between. It’s little over 1 hour to Alicante. However these trains are quite expensive, unless you plan ahead and get a nice deal whenever they launch the tickets (maximum 3 months ahead). The longer options would be the long distance buses to anywhere in Spain, and farther beyond in mainland Europe. Also, by boat you can reach Palma, Ibiza and Mahon in the Balearic Islands.
Within the city public transportation is easy and plentiful. Considering it is the 3rd largest city in the country, there are hundreds of bus lines, 6 metro lines, 3 tram lines and commuter railways of both the Valencian company (FGV) and National railways (RENFE), therefore everywhere you would ever need to go in and around the city is covered. The old town and the 20th century extension surrounding the historic core is entirely walk-able. Distances might look far from end to end, however this is the best way to enjoy the beauty of the city with its countless sights and buildings that otherwise you would never know they exist. The historic core anyway, is almost entirely pedestrian.
A city of such importance and size means a great choice of absolutely anything you can imagine. From the top luxurious to the most modest places, and countless bed & breakfast and airb&b style. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. It is through these sites that we found our best deal and value for money considering this is not a cheap city when coming to places to stay overnights.
We stayed at the Hotel Villacarlos, in Avinguda del Puerto 60, this is to the east of the former Turia riverbed near the City of Arts and Culture, and some 15 minutes walk toward the port. A property that clearly succeeded our expectations where even if they advertise as a 3*, it feels more as a 4*. Very well maintained, clean and cosy, with friendly staff and the most important an extremely comfortable room, quiet and with good taste in the mobiliary. The breakfast was included with our rate and again, a nice deal with this. A choice of everything and good quality. Absolutely recommended to anyone for any length of stay.