For being Spain’s third largest city, Valencia doesn’t feel very large. The Old Town is situated in the center of the city, steps from the central train station. In the Old Town, besides the historical monuments and cathedrals, you’ll find popular restaurants and bars open late — any night of the week. Along the edge of the Old Town runs the former Turia River, now drained and converted into a park. This is where Valencia starts to feel big. The riverbed park runs for miles; on one end the Mediterranean Sea, and the other, a nature park.
There’s something special about a city that’s turned their river into a park, which contains sports and exercise areas, a bike and jogging path, museums, and picnic areas. When it was decided to divert the Turia River, the plan wasn’t always to make it a public park. But, the people of Valencia rebelled and insisted on a public open space, rather than another highway. That spirit lives on in Valencia today and helps present just how alternative and edgy this city can be. To really capture that cool vibe in Valencia, try these five things when visiting…
1) Go shopping in the Ruzafa neighborhood
The Ruzafa neighborhood is probably Valencia’s most exciting area. Just south of the central train station, it’s not only historic, but it’s also got the bohemian vibes common to other hipster neighborhoods around the world. Popular with hipsters, young artists, and those in-the-know, it’s a cool area centered around a few square blocks full of cafés, bars, shops, clubs, and restaurants.
During the day, you’ll find vintage thrift shops, small galleries, and bookshops. My favorite is the second-hand shop Madame Mim, which advertises itself as a :”freak” shop with a huge, eclectic supply of random objects and vintage fashion.
2) Rent a bike and visit the Turia riverbed park
As mentioned above, the Turia riverbed park is so much more than just an open space. The park has a lot to offer, and is a great place for exploring. From the city center, you can rent a bike for as little as 10€ for the whole day — try Solution Bike Rental — and ride from end to end of the Turia park.
That would have you ride past Valencia’s most famous tourist attraction, the architectural marvels of the City of Arts and Sciences. Designed by the locally-born Santiago Calatrava, the arts center includes an opera house, aquarium, IMAX theater, science center, and performing arts venue. The architecture itself is an attraction, but the museums are equally interesting — especially for families.
3) Try the fusion food at Canalla Bistro
Valencia has always been a foodie destination, thanks to the variety of locally-grown foods and the city’s location on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. With fresh fruits and vegetables, rice from the region, and a seaside port, it’s no wonder that Valencia is home to some of Spain’s most famous culinary creations (like paella). But, local chefs are now taking the city’s foodie reputation more seriously, and pushing its boundaries. The Canalla Bistro, with its trendy interior located in the equally trendy Ruzafa barrio, serves some of Valencia’s most innovative foods. The menu includes Asian foods like tempura, spring rolls, and curries, but with Spanish ingredients. The restaurant serves a tasting menu, which is a great value for lunch if you’re looking for that trendy restaurant experience.
4) Visit the IVAM for contemporary art
The Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, also known by its acronym IVAM, was the first center of modern art in Spain. How’s that for showing off how cool Valencia is? The museum has some permanent exhibitions focusing on design, with a strong collection of sketches. Its rotating temporary exhibitions draw in crowds regularly. The museum is located on the edge of the Old Town, and the surrounding streets are full of street art and equally cool cafés and bars.
5) Taste local foods in Valencia’s foodie markets
Valencia’s Central Market (Mercado Central) is one of Europe’s largest markets. Its Gothic architecture — mixed with a more contemporary modernist style — makes this a feast for the eyes as much as any other sense. However, the market isn’t just like your typical historic Spanish food market. The place is completely modernized, and vendors can fill orders for Valencia’s restaurants electronically with a complex system to more effectively manage the site.
Valencia’s others market are equally interesting. The Mercado de Colón has a basement of restaurants, including the trendy Ma Khin Café, by British celebrity chef Steve Anderson. In Ruzafa, the Mercat de Russafa is a great example of 1970s architecture with its rainbow facade.
Would you like to visit Valencia? Have you ever been? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!