If you are looking to visit a Spanish city that “has it all” then you will definitely want to start planning a visit to Valencia.
I recently spent an incredible weekend in the city, and it only took a couple of days for me to decide that Valencia is one of my favorite destinations in all of Spain. Valencia is a city brimming with life, culture, and history, which blend with modern elements to create a refreshing cosmopolitan atmosphere.
It should come as no surprise that Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, has something to offer everyone. Are you a history lover? Then you won’t want to miss the quaint historic center filled with Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque architecture. Looking to spend a day relaxing on the beach? You won’t be disappointed in this coastal city which has kilometers of sandy shoreline calling your name. If you are more interested in modern architecture or discovery, then there is an entire “city within a city” dedicated to celebrating nature, science, and art. In addition, you’ll discover world-class museums, incredible parks, excellent cuisine, and more.
You’ll simply have to visit to discover which aspect of the city appeals the most to you!
While it is certainly impossible to explore all that Valencia has to offer in just 3 days, I’ve created this weekend itinerary to help you get the most out of your visit to this one-of-a-kind city.
Don’t forget to check out the color-coded map at the end of this post for a day-by-day geographical breakdown!
Day 1: Exploring Valencia’s Historic Center
What better way to start off a weekend in Valencia than to begin by discovering the city’s historic roots? The historic center of Valencia is extremely walkable, and it is easy to visit all of the main sights by foot. In fact, many of the major landmarks and tourist sites are close together-I found that I barely needed a map! While there is much exploration to be done in this area, the following is a list of my favorite sites in the order that you will encounter them (I started my day out at the Xàtiva metro station).
Visit the Plaza de Toros de Valencia
Begin your day by dropping by the Plaza de Toros de Valencia. This impressive neoclassical bullring was constructed in the 1850s and certainly takes its inspiration from ancient Roman amphitheaters. The stadium holds over 1o,000 people, and features four stories of beautiful brickwork. While I do not support bullfighting, there is a museum you can visit to learn more about this controversial Spanish tradition.
Drop by the Plaza del Ayuntamiento
Continue walking until you reach the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. This impressive square is home to Valencia’s city hall, and is known for its beautiful architecture and its fountain. It is hard to miss this square as it is one of Valencia’s busiest!
Grab some breakfast at the Mercado Central
One of the highlights of my trip to Valencia was my visit to the Mercado Central. If you’ve read any of my posts about visiting Barcelona, then you would know that I am obsessed with La Boqueria, one of the city’s most popular markets. Well, after visiting Valencia’s central market it is safe to say I have a new obsession! The Mercat Central itself is visually stunning-the gorgeous art nouveau style creates a colorful, light atmosphere which is unlike any market I have visited in Europe thus far.
You’ll want to spend some time perusing the various shops and stalls which sell everything from fresh pastries to craft beers to fresh fish and produce. I stopped by one of the bakeries for a cafe con leche and a few yummy snacks before continuing, which I highly recommend!
Go Goth(ic) at Valencia’s Former Silk Exchange, La Lonja de la Seda
Just across the street from Valenica’s central market you’ll discover La Lonja de la Seda, the impressive 15th-century silk exchange which today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For just €2, visitors can explore the historic building’s stunning hall of spiral columns, the orange garden, and see some beautiful examples of gargoyles and other Gothic architectural details. I was particularly impressed with the hall of columns, and felt that my €2 were well spent!
Climb the bell tower at the Iglesia de Santa Catalina
Unfortunately, when I visited the Church of Santa Catalina, the bell tower was closed for the day! (Maybe they would have let me in if I told them my name is Catalina? 😉 ) If you can, try to time your visit so that you can climb the church’s gorgeous bell tower. It only costs €2 to visit and climb the tower, and I’ve heard the views from the top are lovely! When I visited, a paper sign on the door said it was open between the hours of 11:00-1:30.
See the Holy Grail (maybe) at the Valencia Cathedral
Did you know that the Valencia Cathedral, or Iglesia Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de Valencia (that’s a mouthful!), is rumored to be the location of the Holy Grail? The Cathedral is also known for it’s “Micalet” bell tower, and the variety of styles used in its construction and decoration.
Inside, you’ll discover Valencian Gothic, Romanesque, Neo-Classical, Renaissance, and Baroque styles! A visit to the Cathedral costs €7, and there is an additional €2 fee to climb the tower. My favorite part of the Cathedral was the stunning and incredibly detailed ceiling above the altar. I also enjoyed visiting the small museum in the Cathedral.
Satisfy your sweet tooth in the Plaça de la Reina
Feeling hungry after visiting the Cathedral? Walk out of the church and into the Plaça de la Reina. This pleasant and bustling square is the perfect place to stop and take a break. If you are in the mood for something sweet, consider heading to Chocolatería Valor for some delicious churros con chocolate!
View the Cathedral from the Plaça de la Verge
To see another side of the Cathedral (literally), continue walking to the Plaça de la Verge. This plaza offers a side view of the cathedral which is quite impressive, and is also a large square with a fountain. From here, you can easily continue on to the rest of the historic center!
See Valencia’s old city gates
The Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart are the two entry gates still in existence of the original 12 gates that once formed the city’s 14th-century wall. I chose to climb up the Torres de Serranos and thought the view from the top was truly incredible!
Ditch the map and hunt for street art in El Carmen
Valencia has some amazing street art which you won’t need a map to find! One of my favorite parts of my visit to Valencia was how easy it was to put my map down and simply explore. It felt like I ran into some interesting historic building, or a beautiful piece of street art every time I turned a corner.
Day 2: Explore the Turia Gardens and City of Arts and Sciences
Park hop in the Turia Gardens
Did you know that there was once a river running through Valencia? In 1957 the river was actually diverted due to a particularly destructive flood, leaving the entire riverbed drained and available for use. What did the city of Valencia do? It turned the riverbed into one of the largest city parks in all of Spain. The park runs over 5.5 miles and contains beautifully landscaped gardens, fountains, playgrounds, recreational areas, and cycling paths, among other attractions. The Turia Gardens is along the way to your second stop of the day, so be sure to spend some time in these gorgeous parks. These large open areas were one of my favorite features of Valencia, and it was a unique experience crossing over many of the city’s bridges to discover that a park runs under them instead of a river!
Get your culture on in the City of Arts and Sciences
After a day spent soaking up Valencia’s rich history, it’s time to switch to something a little more modern, the City of Arts and Sciences. The Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias is Valencia’s own “city within a city.” This collection of modern structures dedicated to the exploration of science and the arts has become an iconic symbol of Valencia since the building project’s completion in 2005. The incredibly modern buildings reminiscent of sea creatures were all designed by the Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela.
At present, the structures located within the City of Arts and Sciences are L’Hemisfèric, El Museu de les, Ciències Príncipe Felipe, L’Umbracle, L’Oceanogràfic, El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, El Pont de l’Assut de l’Or, and L’Àgora.
I highly recommend purchasing a combined ticket to visit the L’Oceanogràfic, L’Hemisfèric, and the El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe. The combined ticket is a little pricey (it costs €37.40), but I felt that it was money well spent. If you would rather visit only one, L’Oceanogràfic is the most expensive (€29.10), with the L’Hemisfèric, and the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe costing €8 each.
I ultimately opted to get the combined ticket and visit all three, as it is only around €8 more than visiting just the Oceanogràfic, which is probably the one visit you won’t want to skip out on. You can find more information on ticketing and timetables here! Try to purchase your ticket online beforehand to avoid waiting in any lines. I didn’t and wound up waiting for around 20 minutes (which isn’t too terrible).
Marvel at the ocean’s creatures in L’Oceanogràfic
The first visit you will want to make in the City of Arts and Sciences is to the Oceanogràfic. You won’t be able to miss this water-lily shaped oceanarium. The Oceanogràfic is the largest aquarium in all of Europe, and contains tanks filled with over 42,000,000 liters of water! I was incredibly impressed by the Lisbon Aquarium, but the Oceanogràfic really blew that one out of the water (I apologize for the pun-I couldn’t resist!).
The oceanarium contains different buildings with over 500 species from all over the world-you’ll find exhibits featuring creatures from the Mediterranean, Wetlands, Temperate and Tropical Seas, the Antarctic, Arctic, Islands, and the Red Sea. There is also a dolphinarium and even a cool (but extremely pricey) underwater restaurant I am dying to dine at.
You’ll want to head to the Oceanogràfic first because you will probably spend the most time wandering around the aquarium checking out all of the different exhibits. My personal favorite sights were the jellyfish, flamingoes, and the long tunnel filled with sharks and stingrays. It was so cool walking through the tunnel and having sharks swim right over you! I would allow 2-5 hours to explore the oceanarium. If you can, bring a snack with beforehand because the food is a little on the expensive side!
If you only have time or funds to visit one of the buildings in the City of Arts and Sciences, make it L’Oceanogràfic.
Experience hands-on science in the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe
El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, or the Prince Philip Science Museum, is known for being a highly interactive museum dedicated to science. The experience is actually so interactive that the museum’s motto is that it is “forbidden not to touch, not to feel, not to think.” The museum is easy to spot, as the structure is shaped like a giant whale skeleton.
I must confess that I am not typically inclined to visit museums devoted to science (I am much more of an art lover). That being said, this museum was pretty unique and was included (along with the Hemisfèric) in my combined ticket. If you love science, interactive museums, or have children, then this is definitely the place for you. I personally probably would have skipped this museum if it was not included in the combined ticket, but I visited with a friend, and we spent a fun couple of hours playing around with different exhibits.
Kick back, relax, and enjoy an IMAX film at L’Hemisfèric
I recommend either ending your day at the City of Arts and Sciences by visiting the Hemispheric, an IMAX cinema and planetarium that looks like a massive eye and is meant to symbolize “the eye of knowledge.” The combined ticket allows you to view 1 IMAX film (under an hour) at the Hemispheric. The films do change throughout the years, but when I visited I watched one all about America’s National Parks. There are headsets available so you can listen to each film in a variety of languages. This was my final stop of the day, and it was really nice to kick back, relax, and watch a movie. While I definitely enjoyed the experience, if you are on a budget this stop could easily be skipped!
Day 3: Hit the beach and enjoy some authentic Valencian paella
Now that you’ve gotten your fill of history, arts, and culture, it’s time to have some fun and hit the beach!
“Vamos a la Playa”…de la Malvarrosa
If you are visiting in the summer and the weather is still great, one could easily spend the whole day soaking up the sun on Valencia’s stunning beaches. The beach is easy to access from the city center and is quite large and wide. The beach is also sandy, so you’ll be able to kick off those flip-flops and feel the sand between your toes.
Along the Malvarrosa beach, you’ll discover sand artists creating large sand castles. When I visited I even saw a rendition of the Last Supper done completely in the sand! Who would have thought you could see the Last Supper outside of Milan 😉 .
I visited Valencia during the month of October. While it was a little too chilly to hop in the water, I still enjoyed a lovely afternoon walking around the beach and boardwalk.
Fun fact: paella was actually invented in Valencia! If you haven’t yet tried this famous Spanish dish, then be sure to do so for the first time here. There are many restaurants along the beach where you can enjoy this typical dish, just be sure to avoid sitting down at an ultra-touristy one (avoid any pictures of food). A typical Valencian paella is prepared with rice, chicken, rabbit and local beans (among other ingredients). However, if you are a big seafood lover you could also opt for a seafood paella, which is not traditionally associated with Valencia.
But wait…there’s more!
If you aren’t a beach lover or happen to have some extra time in Valencia, consider heading to some of these other sites and museums!
- Museu de Belles Arts de València (Fine Arts Museum of Valencia)
- Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (Valencia’s modern art museum)
- Mercado de Colón (another awesome Valencian market)
- Museo de la Almoina (Archeological museum)
Museo Fallero (Museum filled with figures from Valencia’s famous Fallas festival)
- Red=Day 1
- Orange=Day 2
- Yellow=Day 3
- Green=Optional points of interest
There are so many amazing things to see and do in Valencia that you certainly won’t be bored over a 3-day visit! Whether you are a lover of history, art, beaches, food, science, or nature, you are sure to find something (or many things) you love about this incredible Spanish city. I know that I did!
Do you have any great Valencia tips or are you planning a visit there yourself? Let me know in the comments below!
You might also enjoy these Spain posts:
- 3 Perfect Days in Barcelona: The Ultimate Itinerary
- 15 Things You Absolutely Must Do In Seville, Spain
- Must Do Madrid: The Top 10 Things To Do In Spain’s Capital
- Everything You Need To Know About Visiting The Alhambra
- Dear Italy, I Love You, But I’m Leaving You For Spain
Pin this post for planning later!