1. Taste fresh produce at Mercado Central
One of the largest covered markets in Europe with almost 300 traders selling everything from live eels to giant legs of ham, this cathedral-like Art Nouveau building is constantly abuzz with locals doing their shopping and tourists checking out the city’s freshest produce. Don’t miss its cured meats and freshly squeezed juices, and you can even pick up your own pan to cook paella back home.
2. Admire architecture at La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia
Across the road from Mercado Central is a Gothic-style former silk exchange that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 1482 and 1533, the walled complex (Carrer de la Llotja, 2) includes a tranquil patio and imposing trading hall with lofty columns supporting a domed ceiling. The grandiose setting is a reminder of the power and wealth Valencia enjoyed in the 15th and 16th centuries.
3. Indulge your sweet tooth with horchata and fartons
Any visitor to Spain will be familiar with churros con chocolate, sticks of deep-fried dough served with chocolate sauce for dipping. Valencia’s answer to churros is horchata and fartons – a glass of sweet tigernut milk served cold (horchata), accompanied by sugary pastries (fartons). Try this popular treat (below) at pastry shop Horchateria Santa Catalina, a long-established favourite among locals.
4. Enjoy sweeping views of the city at Valencia Cathedral
Dating back to 1283, the Gothic-style Roman Catholic church is a cultural landmark in the heart of the old town. It is said to house the Holy Grail from the Last Supper and a mummified arm of one of the city’s patron saints. Climbing the 207 steps of the adjoining bell tower will lead you to a 360-degree view (below) of the city.
5. Try authentic rabbit paella
Valencianos (as locals are known) love arroz (rice) and proudly claim that Spain’s most famous dish, paella, originated in Valencia. Every second restaurant in the old town has paella on the menu but for a truly authentic experience you should sample the traditional version, made with rabbit, chicken and snails. Paella is also strictly a lunch dish for locals. Try authentic paella (below) in the countryside at La Genuina.
6. Stroll through Turia Gardens
Rice-heavy lunches can be walked off along nine kilometres of foot paths criss-crossed by 18 bridges in the Turia Gardens, a dried-up riverbed that snakes through the heart of the city. Created after the city was flooded in 1957, the gardens are one of the largest urban parks in Spain.
7. Learn about a fiery festival at Museo Fallero
Valencia shares the rest of the country’s passion for explosive festivals. Its most famous, Las Fallas (festival of fire), culminates in the burning of cardboard and papier-mâché figures. It’s a tradition that has its roots in the Middle Ages, when carpenters would burn planks of wood used to hold up candles in the winter, to celebrate the end of the dark, cold season. If you can’t make it to the fiery festival in March, this museum is the next best thing. It displays the intricate sculptures – some rather grotesque looking – that have been ‘pardoned’ from the flames each year.
8. Entertain the kids at the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences
Designed by homegrown architect Santiago Calatrava and the late Felix Candela, this dazzling precinct of sleek, modern buildings includes Oceanografic – the largest aquarium in Europe – a science museum, and a cinema plus planetarium inside a building that resembles a giant eye. The precinct is at one end of Turia Gardens.
9. While away a day on an urban beach
Some of the best city beaches in Europe are 15 minutes from Valencia’s centre. Stretching north from the port, a promenade with restaurants, bars and child-friendly sandy beaches dot the city’s coastline. Whether you want to play volleyball, lie on a lounger or sip a cocktail at a beachfront bar, there’s space to suit all tastes.
10. Get lost in the hip Ruzafa neighbourhood
Valencia’s coolest barrio (neighbourhood) is full of independent shops, bars, restaurants and cafes – including Ubik Cafe (below), which doubles up as a bookshop. From Greek to Mexican, almost every cuisine is available in this trendy area. For Spanish food with an international twist, Canalla Bistro, helmed by Valencia’s hottest chef Ricard Camarena, offers diners a gastronomic trip around the world.
– TEXT BY ROBERT KIDD
PHOTOS: CITY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES, LA GENUINA, HORCHATERIA SANTA CATALINA, UBIK CAFE, VISIT VALENCIA
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.