Valencia is often overlooked in favor of its northern neighbor Barcelona, yet Spain’s third largest city has plenty of attractions of its own. These range from museums and small streets to futuristic architecture and picturesque, palm-lined beaches. Despite its size, Valencia has managed to retain a certain personal touch that lends a special flair to a city break in this 2,000-year-old metropolis.
Tip 1: City of Art and Science
The City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias) is the emblem of Valencia and therefore definitely worth a visit. The architectural-cultural complex extends over the area in the dry riverbed of the Turia. The modern complex was created by architects Félix Candela and Santiago Calatrava.
The City of Art and Science of Valencia is without a doubt one of the largest public complexes of culture and science in Europe. The CAC is composed of 6 different elements: The Umbráculo, the Hemisférico, the Museum of Science, the Oceanográfico (see below!), the Palace of Art Reina Sofia and the Ágora. If you have enough time, we recommend you visit them all. It is worth your time!
The Hemisférico is without a doubt the most special building of the CAC. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava and represents a large human eye. With a length of more than 100 meters, the interior of this building is one of the largest projection rooms in Spain. A giant screen of 900 square meters with 3 different projection systems: Cinema in large format (IMAX Dome), digital 3D cinema and digital projections.
Tip 2: Mercat Central
The Mercado Central is Valencia’s main market hall for fresh produce for the end customer and the largest of its kind in Europe. The building was erected in 1917 and thoroughly renovated in 2004. It is completely in Art Nouveau style and is another visual highlight of the city. On the 8160m² area, there are about 400 individual stands and 1500 employees. In addition, there are the customers, the suppliers and the tourists who do not want to miss the spectacle. In addition to fish products of all kinds, you can find meat, sausage, vegetables, fruit, spices, baked goods, sweets and much more.
In Spanish cities it used to be common that each district had its own market hall. Depending on the needs, these were larger or smaller. In recent years, however, it has become increasingly difficult for merchants to compete with supermarkets, and many of the smaller market halls have been partially or completely closed. The Mercado Central, however, is still buzzing today.
Tip 3: L‘Oceanografic
An absolute must-see is Valencia’s Oceanográfic, located in the architectural-cultural complex of the City of Arts and Sciences.
The Oceanográfic is the largest aquarium in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. It covers about 110,000 square meters and is home to over 45,000 animals and 500 species. The aquarium is divided into several building complexes and different thematic areas that recreate the most important ecosystems of our seas and oceans. Among them are the habitats of the Mediterranean Sea, the temperate and tropical zones, two important wetlands, the oceans, the Antarctic and Arctic, and the Red Sea.
The respective habitats are home to different animals, such as sea lions, sea seals, cormorants, penguins, beluga whales, walruses, turtles, various fish, sharks, rays as well as invertebrates and crabs. A special highlight during the visit is the crossing of the gigantic underwater tunnel, which connects the temperate zone of the Pacific and Atlantic with the tropical zone of the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean. With its approximately 70 meters, it is the longest underwater tunnel in Europe. A special attraction of the Oceanográfic is also the daily one-hour dolphin show.
Tip 4: Lonja de la Seda
Lonja de la Seda is the old silk exchange of the city of Valencia. Built in Gothic style between 1482 and 1548, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been used for all sorts of purposes throughout its years. Nowadays the Lonja is one of the most important tourist attractions in Valencia.
Because the Lonja was built in the so-called “Golden Century of Valencia” (Siglo de Oro Valenciano), you can still see the splendor of that time. Large halls with spectacular floors and ceilings make this building very special. The highlights of the Lonja are its spiral columns and the “Golden Chamber” (Cámara Dorada) on the first floor. Especially cozy is the small garden area where you can take a breather.
The Lonja is located directly opposite the Mercado Central in the old part of town. It is a good destination when you are in the center.
Tip 5: Valencia Cathedral
As a visitor to Valencia, there is much to see. But at the top of everyone’s to-do list should be the cathedral.
The history of Valencia Cathedral (in Spanish Catedral de Santa María de Valencia) parallels the history of Spain. After the occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by Muslim conquerors and the subsequent Reconquista, the reconquest by the Christians, the construction of the Gothic cathedral began in Valencia in 1262, on the site where originally stood a Roman temple and later a mosque.
The construction process was marked by various art historical influences and was not completed until the 15th century. In the 1470s, it was primarily the Renaissance that significantly influenced the aesthetics, and later Baroque-style remodeling would be added. However, recent Spanish history has also left its mark. At the time of the Spanish Civil War, for example, considerable damage was done to the choir area, which later had to be removed and replaced.
The cathedral not only impresses with its size and design, it also houses the holy chalice of the Last Supper. Even if many believe (at least since the book Illuminati by Dan Brown) that the holy chalice is merely a metaphor, here in Valencia there is at least the relic of the holy chalice to see.
Another highlight of the cathedral is the Miquelete bell tower. The 51 meter high tower of the cathedral offers a very rewarding view over the city, where you can see the mountains to the west and the sea and harbor to the east.