Valencia is a harmony of the cultural and the cosmopolitan, of the historical and the high-tech, a brilliant balance of ancient and avant-garde. It’s a fantastic destination for a city break; the third-largest city in Spain takes a bit of buzz from Barcelona, some magic from Madrid and blends it with its own distinct identity, a melting pot of Moorish and Mediterranean influences and plenty more besides.
It’s got an impressive CV (could that be curriculum valenciana?): one of the largest historic centres in the country with appropriately awe-inspiring architecture, a vibrant social scene, miles of green spaces and golden sands, great food, and great weather. If you’re short on time, most of the city’s sightseeing can be done within three main areas:
JARDINES DEL TURIA & CIUDAD DE LAS ARTES Y LAS CIENCIAS
For an amazing scenic cycle tour, rent a bike and ride down the Turia, the great green artery running nine kilometres through the heart of the city. Following a major flood in the 1950’s, the River Turia was diverted away from the city and the dried-up riverbed has blossomed into a picturesque sunken park. Whizz under several beautiful bridges past flowerbeds, fountains and football pitches, and pause to catch your breath at the Palau de la Música Valenciana (Valencian Music Palace).
Continue onwards to the easternmost end of the Turia and the iconic, Instagram-friendly Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts & Science). The stunning space-age structures rising from the riverbed is the defining image of modern Valencia. It’s Europe’s largest cultural complex, designed by internationally acclaimed (and local-born) architect Santiago Calatrava. The half-sphere L’Hemisfèric, resembling half an eyeball, houses an IMAX cinema and planetarium. Its reflection in the surrounding shallow glass-bottomed pools completes the ingenious illusion of the eye in its entirety. Next door, El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, a colossal structure – the largest exhibition space in Spain – resembling the skeleton of a whale, houses interactive, educational and entertaining exhibits over three floors. L’Umbracle runs parallel; a series of high arches over a landscaped botanical garden featuring hundreds of plant species indigenous to the area. By night, it turns into a fabulous open-air club and outdoor lounge, with a basement club downstairs playing loudly into the small hours. A short hop over the road is L’Oceanogràfic, the largest oceanarium in Europe, home to 500 different species – including sharks, dolphins, sea lions, penguins and beluga whales – across ten areas representing different habitats and ocean zones. If you time it right, you can dance along to the dolphin show, set to orchestral music.