Things to see and do in the Valencia Region
1. Old quarter
The old quarter of Valencia Region is the perfect area for history buffs and architectural aficionados, boasting an impressive and intricate network of largely pedestrianised narrow streets and small squares with beautiful buildings at every corner. From the church of Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados, with the statue of the Virgin, Valencia Region’s patron saint on its altar, to the extraordinary façade of the 15th century Palacio del Marqués, one of the best examples of Spanish rococó, with voluptuous caryatids and fantastic fish entwined over the principal doorway, the Old Quarter is a must for those wanting to lose themselves for a few hours.
At the heart of the old quarter is the Plaza de la Virgen, former site of the forum of Roman Valencia Region, dominated by the eclectic mass of the cathedral which combines most of the significant architectural styles of the last thousand years, from the Baroque to the Gothic and Romanesque.Close by, in La Almoina, archaeological excavations protected by a transparent cover show Christian, Roman and Arab foundations of the three most powerful civilisations to influence the city.
But the Old Quarter has more to offer than history alone – after a day spent soaking up the local culture, the winding streets offer an abundance of restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs to keep you occupied. Valencia, and particularly Calle Caballero, is well known for its vibrant night life and it certainly doesn’t disappoint, offering a dynamic mix of chilled out cafes, gourmet restaurants and heaving clubs packed with locals as much as fellow travelers. Whatever piques your interest, don’t leave without sampling some of the famous paella or arroz a bunda, invented in Valencia Region, alongside a cold glass of some of the fantastic local moscatel or semillón.
2. The City of Arts and Sciences
If the Old Quarter is firmly rooted in the artistic mastery of the past, The City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias) is the place to go to absorb Valencia Region’s vision of the future.
Predominantly designed by the international acclaimed and Valencian born architect Santiago Calatrava, is a dramatic collection of large futuristic structures set in the former river bed of the Turia close to the sea. The extraordinary curving buildings of glass and steel house the Hemisfèric, which has a planetarium, IMAX theatre and laser show under its high roof.
It also has the Prince Felipe Science museum, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, Valencia Region’s new opera house and the Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium with long walkways and glass tunnels extending through the huge tanks which are zoned into different seascapes, ranging from the Mediterranean to the Polar.
3. The Turia Gardens
Away from focusing on the architectural feats of Valencia Region’s modern and historical sites, the Turia Gardens are a 10 kilometre green avenue of trees, lawns, walking tracks and fountains which extends across the city – the perfect opportunity to get some downtime. Once the course of the river, which following a disastrous flood in 1957 was diverted away from Valencia Region, it was then transformed into a lovely urban park and green lung for the city. In summer families escape the heat of the day and the bustle of the city in the cool shade of many species of trees. There are playing fields and playgrounds including a huge recumbent figure of Gulliver for children to play upon.
There is no better way to discover the Turia Gardens and Valencia City in general than by bike, following one of the numerous cycle paths and taking advantage of the city’s innovative bike scheme, Valenbisi. Cycling is the preferred mode of transport for most Valencianos and the city have embraced its popularity, implementing a bike rental system that allows locals and visitors alike to pick up hired bikes from one of the many rental stations dispersed throughout the city. And it’s just as simple to find somewhere to deposit your bike when you inevitably stumble across a fantastic little restaurant or tucked away boutique, allowing you to explore to your heart’s desire!
4. The Cathedral of Valencia
The Cathedral of Valencia is an eclectic mix of styles which reflect the city’s complex history.
Built on the site of a Visigothic church, which then became a mosque during the Muslim era, the cathedral now has Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque elements in its lofty nave, chapels, portals and arcades, making it an ideal place to lose yourself for an hour or two.
Just inside the main entrance in the Chapel of Santo Cáliz is a chalice which is purported to be the Holy Grail, from which Christ drank at the Last Supper. Beneath the high windows of alabaster which bring light into the high, mostly Gothic, interior there are two paintings by Goya in the chapel of San Francisco.
5. The Natural Park of the Albufera
The Natural Park of the Albufera just south of Valencia Region is a Mecca for bird watchers. Connected to the sea by two narrow canals, it is one of the largest lakes in the country, with a total area of 21,000 hectares, much of which is covered in thick reed beds.
One of the most important areas of Europe for migrating and resident birds, visitors can take boats trips through the many winding channels and be sure to see rare species in the sheltered, hidden backwaters.
Each year the canals are closed for two months to allow the water of the Albufera to fill the rice paddy fields which line the edge of the lake, so be sure to choose the right time for a boat trip!
6. The Central Market (Mercado Central)
The Central Market (Mercado Central) is a lovely airy structure of curving glass and cast iron which was built in the 1920s on the site of one of the oldest food markets in Europe. Today the newly restored building with bright Art Nouveau mosaics, slender columns and tiled floors is a bustling vibrant place popular with Valencianos, who come here daily to shop for fresh produce. Divided into sections, from meat and fish to vegetables and fruit, the extraordinary variety and quality of foodstuffs on sale reflect the importance the people of the city attach to their widely varied gastronomy.
But it’s not just locals who enjoy the benefits of the Mercado Central’s impressive offerings, foodies the world over delight at the wealth of gastronomic delicacies on offer, calling it “eye candy for foodies”, and it’s well worth going self-catering just for the experience of shopping here. Be sure to bring an empty stomach - the Iberico ham and Valencian oranges are absolute musts and you can pick up good quality food on the go if you’re in a rush to explore the city further, with many stalls selling black paella peppered with little octopus or a glass of horchata, as well as numerous other local specialities to entertain even the pickiest of appetites.
7. Cycling in Alicante
Cycling in Alicante: The tranquil empty country roads of the interior of Alicante Province, with a varied mix of plains and winding roads leading into the high sierra offer both on and off road cyclists a multiplicity of choice.
Fine weather is more or less guaranteed for most of the year and international cycling teams use the province as an ideal winter, spring and autumn training location. The quiet backroads and sleepy villages are also a powerful attraction for touring cyclists of all ranges of fitness who want to explore at a more leisurely place.
For mountain bikers the many trails up into the mountains, some of which were old mule and donkey tracks dating back nearly two thousand years, offer excellent and challenging rides through hidden country now visited only rarely by shepherds and their flocks.
Read more about Valencia Region cycling
Only 20 kilometres from Valencia Region and easily accessible by bus or train (30 minutes), the coastal town of Sagunto is one of the most important historical locations of the entire region.
Bronze Age and Iberian peoples settled here, drawn by the fertile lands and the natural fortress formed by a high crag which rears out of the plains. But Sagunto is most famous for its courageous resistance to the Carthaginian general Hannibal, who laid a siege to the fortress in 219 BC for 8 months.
Rather than surrender, the citizens set fire to their city and perished in the flames. Today, the fortress and old Jewish quarter of the city of Sagunto are a popular tourist attraction, with one of the largest and most highly restored Roman theatres in existence in Spain set in a natural amphitheatre just above the town.
Some 40 miles inland from Valencia, Xátiva is a charming town of leafy boulevards beneath two hills crowned by a beautiful castle with long walls winding along the crest.
Once used as a base by Hannibal, then a prosperous trading and agricultural centre during the Muslim era, the city was also birthplace to the notorious Rodrigo de Borgia who, as Alexander the VI in the 15th century, would become known as one of the most corrupt and ruthless popes in history.
From the ramparts of the newly restored fortress high above the city with extraordinary views over the rich agricultural plains it is easy to understand why Xátiva had such strategic importance to all who ruled Spain.
10. Utiel-Requena Region
Scarcely 40 miles inland from the city of Valencia, on the way to Madrid, you will find the Utiel-Requena Plateau.
With a totally different climate to that of the coast, its cold, frosty winters and sunny, scorching summers make it the largest wine-producing area in the Valencia Region and one of the largest in Spain. A rural landscape of rolling hills and vineyards dotted with small towns and villages combines with mountainous, thickly wooded areas ideal for trekking or cycling.
One of the most dramatic features of the area are the Hoces del Cabriel Gorges, where the Cabriel river runs swiftly among impressive stone walls and needles, an awe inspiring backdrop for sports such as canoeing or rafting. If you prefer walking around old towns and monuments, then Requena’s old town (the “Villa”) is the place to visit. Its winding streets flanked by old white houses, some impressive gothic churches and the “Cuevas del Vino”, a maze-like underground system of wine cellars with more than one mile of caves, will surprise you.
Should you prefer to focus on cuisine and wines, you will find a good array of restaurants in the area, together with some of the oldest wine cellars and wineries in Spain. Utiel-Requena is a Spanish Denominación de Origen (DO) for wines with the area being renowned for the predominant use of the Bobal grape variety. Archaeological finds in ancient Iberian settlements, such as the one at Villares, show that viticulture and wine production in the area dates to at least the 7th century BC.
Read more about activities in Valencia Region