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Visiting Valencia: Recommendations on Where to Stay, What to Do, Where and What to Eat, and More

Did you know Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, behind Madrid and Barcelona? Yet it receives far fewer visitors than less-populated cities Sevilla, Granada, and San Sebastian. Although it may not have the same touristic highlights and history of these other picturesque cities, it’s still a worthy stop for a long weekend or 1-2 day visit, particularly if you’re traveling from Barcelona (a three-hour train ride down the coast) or Madrid (a less than two-hour train ride). Valencia is now becoming better known for its sunny, pleasant weather (except for the brutally hot and humid months of July-August: be forewarned and make sure you have accommodations with AC!), pancake-flat landscape, ample green spaces, access to beaches on the Mediterranean Sea, and reasonable prices.

Where to Stay:

Check out the Only You, L&H Gran Via, MYR Mercado Central, Caro Hotel, Casa Clarita, the Westin, SH Ingles, or an Airbnb, VRBO, or Home Exchange in the city center (more about Home Exchange on my Family Travel Resources page). Generally speaking, if you look at a map, the “city center” means inside the Gran Via road (stretching from Gran Via del Marques del Turia on the east to Gran Via del Fernan El Catolic on the west) making a U-shape around the city, running south of the Turia River Park which cuts across the middle of the city. The city is extremely walkable and bike-friendly, so it’s quite easy to get around that way or via public transportation (buses and metro). There are a few main, desirable neighborhoods to stay with plenty of amenities (El Carmen, Gran Via/Colon, Russafa) but it just depends what kind of vibe you’re looking for.

  • El Carmen is the old city with the charming tiny streets, lots of street art/graffiti, and the most historic sites to visit, but can get quite busy and noisy near the major attractions and at night; avoid staying on or above any plaza or bar/restaurant if you are noise-sensitive.
  • Gran Via and the Colon neighborhoods could be described as more cosmopolitan than the old city, will be generally quieter at night, and less touristy (except around the Mercado Colon).
  • Russafa has many good amenities, its own Mercado Russafa, and tends to be a bit more hip and alternative with many more bars, cafes, and restaurants partying late into the night.
  • You could also stay near the Valencia Nord (North) Train Station, which is in the center of everything. Note that most trains will travel in and out of Joaquin Sorolla Train Station, which is south of the city center and not as scenic or interesting of an area to stay.
  • I generally advise visitors to try to stay within a 10-15 minute walk of the Turia River Park, which is the city’s jewel: seven kilometers (4.3 miles) of park space, spanning from the BioParc (Zoo) on the western edge to the City of Arts and Sciences on the eastern edge, before you hit the port.

Transportation:

Google Maps generally works well in Valencia for anywhere you’re visiting. Note that walking distances tend to be overestimated and biking distances tend to be underestimated. Many destinations can be reached by numerous bus lines or metro; just check Google Maps’ transit option. You can buy bus/metro passes in any station, and refill at the Tabacos shops scattered around the city. Although there are ride-share apps (Cabify and Freenow), we prefer using regular taxis that you hail on the street, as they usually are cheaper and very easy to use.

Note that if you’re arriving by plane into Valencia, the airport is well-connected to the Metro system (lines 3, 5). Depending on your arrival time, you can easily take the Metro into the city center (a 20-25 minute ride). Alternatively, taxis into the city center will cost roughly 25-30 euros.

Highlights of What to See and Do:

Your first full day in Valencia, I recommend doing a guided bike tour of the city for a few hours in the morning (you can find options on Airbnb Experiences, GetYourGuide, TripAdvisor, etc. or through one of the bike rental shops; most can provide child seats/trailers if requested in advance). That way you’ll get a good orientation of the main historical sites and can always go back and visit inside them if you’re interested later.

Other things to do:

  • climb El Micalet (the tower in the main cathedral)
  • take in the ambience and people-watching at the large, scenic plazas (Plaza de la Reina, Plaza de la Virgen, and Plaza de Ayuntamiento)
  • visit the two remaining city towers/gates from the Middle Ages (Torres de Serrano, Torres de Quart – the latter you can climb during certain hours)
  • visit La Llonja de La Seda (the old silk market)
  • explore the Mercado Central and pick up olives, meats, cheeses, produce, etc. for a picnic lunch (it gets quite busy so go early if you can; you can also find a less touristy market scene at the Mercado Russafa)
  • Bike in the Turia River Park and enjoy your picnic lunch and the many scenic stops and sights (just be mindful of your belongings: pick-pocketing can be a big issue in the Turia in particular)
  • Wander the Gran Via and Colon neighborhoods, and be sure to pass through the art nouveau-inspired Mercado Colon
  • Explore the dystopic Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias area with Calatrava-designed buildings and museums
  • Bike or take the bus over to the El Cabanyal beach area if it’s warm – there’s a large ‘boardwalk’ of sorts running the length of it
  • If you’re into museums, remember that Joaquin Sorolla is Valencia’s most famous son and you can see a few of his works on exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes), though the Sorolla Museum is actually in Madrid. Another museum to enjoy is the Ceramics Museum, though the building’s facade may be more impressive than the collection.

Generally your time in Valencia is best spent outdoors, wandering and exploring different neighborhoods, plazas, parks, and stopping for good meals. Some of my favorite scenic plazas to grab a cafe con leche or a drink are Plaza del Negrito, Plaza del Carmen, Font de les Tres Gracias, Plaza de la Patriarca, and Plaza del Alfonso Magnanimo.

Restaurants:

In Valencia, paella is traditionally made with chicken, rabbits, and vegetables and you only eat it for lunch, not dinner. It’s possible to get seafood and other types of paella of course, but just know it’s not the typical variety here. For an excellent lunch (the menu del dia which includes a starter, main dish, dessert, and coffee), I love Mattilda restaurant – just call in advance to make a reservation. Note that most restaurants don’t open for lunch until 1:30 or 2 p.m. and the typical lunch experience can be 2+ hours. Hence why lunch (comida) is the main meal of the day, why most people don’t eat dinner until late (9-10 p.m. or later), and, unlike in many other countries, dinner is not the biggest meal of the day.

Another Valencian staple is the almorzet, a loaded bocadillo (sandwich), a typical mid-morning meal for many workers, which comes with a coffee or a beer, and olives and nuts.

Here are just a few restaurant recommendations. Again, be aware that most restaurants do not open or offer dinner reservations until at least 8/8:30pm.

  • Sorbito Divino (excellent tapas)
  • Refugio (upscale, creative Spanish food)
  • Bodega La Rentaora (traditional, casual Valencian tapas) or La Barra de Boni/Vinostrum, next door at the Mercado Soren
  • Mattilda (paella lunch)
  • La Pizca de Sal (classic Spanish-style lunch in a scenic setting next to Torres de Quart)
  • Ostras Pedrin Centro (casual, lively spot for all types of seafood and my favorite oyster joint)
  • Central Bar by Ricard Camarena (tapas, in Mercado Central)
  • Las Cervezas del Mercado in Mercado Colon (tasty tapas and salads), or BAR X by Ricard Camarena also in the Mercado Colon
  • Mare Meua Bar de Tapas (casual, pintxos-style tapas)
  • Kukla (the best Israeli/mediterranean and vegetarian fare in town)
  • Restaurante Oslo, Restaurante Copenhagen (upscale vegetarian)
  • Masa Madre (best pizza in Valencia)
  • Unsushi (my favorite sushi in Valencia)
  • If by the beach, check out Casa Montana, Festinar, Malafama Canyamelar, or La Llimera Cabanyal
  • Alqueria de Pou (classic Valencian dishes such as paella and alcachofas (artichokes) in a pretty outdoor patio setting a bit outside of town)
  • La Terracita Cuina de Mercat (chef changes the menu daily, based on what he finds at the Mercado Central)
  • For Michelin-star-level dining, check out and be sure to get a reservation (and a babysitter!) at La Salita de Begonia Rodrigo, Fierro, Lienzo, El Poblet, Restaurant Riff, Karak, Blanqueries, or any restaurant by Ricard Camarena (Habitual, Canalla Bistro, Ricard Camarena Restaurante)

Drinks: any of the cafes/bars on Plaza Negrito are fun, as well as Cafe San Jaume or La Bella de Cadiz (to try Agua de Valencia – basically a super-strong screwdriver). Amberes Wine & Cocktail Bar is also a beautiful, sedate wine bar with excellent food. For a fancier and festive cocktail experience, check out Botanista, La Bella de Cadiz, or La Diva.

Coffee: there are many cute coffee shops/cafes around town such as La Mas Bonita and Dulce de Leche (both have several locations). I also like Rito Tostadores or Lulat in Gran Via and Blackbird in Russafa. For simply superb coffee, try Ikore Kofi stand in Mercado Russafa or Q7th Specialty Coffee in El Carmen. For those hard-to-find-in-Europe iced coffee drinks, visit Coffee Jeff, the Syra franchise, or Pure Coffeine.

What to do with kids in Valencia:

Valencia is quite kid-friendly, hence why it’s become a magnet for expat families relocating from all over Europe, Central and South America, and the U.S. in particular. If you’re exploring Valencia with kids, here are a few suggestions:

  • Rent bikes (child seats/trailers are easy to rent from most bike shops) and check out the Turia River Park for plenty to see and explore, as well as numerous playgrounds.
  • Parque Gulliver (a huge structure designed in the shape of Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians – it’s a favorite but has set hours of opening, so be sure to check in advance and go in the mornings to avoid lines)
  • Parks and playgrounds other than Gulliver: Parque Viveros, Parque Central, Parque La Canaleta, Parque Cabecera.
  • The Bioparc (zoo) is really excellent in Valencia.
  • Museo de Las Ciencias is a top, hands-on museum for kids of all ages. Also check out the Hemisferic (IMAX theater) and the Oceanografic (Aquarium) located in the Ciuded de Artes y Ciencias complex; the Oceanografic is actually the largest aquarium in Europe and is quite impressive.
  • Public pools during the summer with kids’ areas: Piscina Benicalap, Piscina Oeste

I have a Google map list of family-friendly parks and playgrounds adjacent to bars/cafes/restaurants (a terrific feature of life in Spain and many European countries generally) which I’m happy to share if you contact me via the blog or IG.

Shopping:

Valencia has a ton of cute and reasonably priced boutiques. Sustainable fashion and vintage is really big here too. I have a Google list of my favorite shops that I’m happy to share if you contact me via the blog or IG. Some of my favorites:

  • Clothing & Accessories: BluBambu, Sister Birkin, Candela y Manuela, El Telar de Azucar, REFER (sustainable fashion), Biscuit Valencia, El Mundo Al Reves, El Miracle
  • Crush – a mix of local designers, jewelry, clothes, crafts, art, etc. in one large space in Colon neighborhood
  • Quart de Kilo – Spanish food and beverage products
  • For gifts, artwork, and unique and memorable souvenirs: Cecilia Plaza, Mercat de Tapineria, Atypical Valencia, Pucherito Verde Handmade, La Postalera, Gnomo, Mercat de Tapineria

I hope these recommendations help for your next trip to Valencia!