Architectural splendour is a main attraction for many visitors to Valencia
VALENCIA SPAIN: Valencia is known to many as ‘Little Barcelona’, but the city offers far more than a substitution to the Catalonian capital. As Spain’s third largest conurbation, the city stretches over an area comprising both old and new foundations; the oldest of which can be traced as far back as 140 BC. The once Roman colony has kept many of its historical traces, especially its prominence as a Mediterranean port and industrial development headquarter.
Art and science
While the city is famed for its innovative spirits, there is much to be explored within the fields of ancient culture and art. Architectural splendour is a main attraction for many visitors, as the city boasts numerous and well-preserved gothic, Romanesque and baroque edifices – some situated within metres from each other, a particularity for the city’s old centre. Newer architectural eras are greatly represented by Valencia’s own architect poster child; Santiago Calatrava, whose works make up most of the metropolitan’s futuristic ‘city of arts and sciences’.
Shark and water
Besides its commitment to culture and art, Valencia has proved a real hotspot for the animal lover. Adjacent to the main centre in the city of arts and sciences is Valencia’s L’Oceanografic, Europe’s largest aquarium, and the second largest water animal park in the world. Shark tunnels, dolphin pools and numerous additional pool areas make L’Oceanografic a natural and educational choice for every family with curious children.
Place to visit
Where land animals are concerned, the Bioparc, an open-air zoo incorporating only natural barriers between the African animals represented, has been ground-breaking in its efforts to both preserve and increase growth of many endangered species.
In an area of 10 hectares visitors can experience and interact with more than 150 types of animals. Remaining sure that all animals are well cared for by biologists and experts in all fields. Bioparc’s main points of focus are conservation, education and raising awareness about African animals.
Should you desire a further immersion into nature, the fascinating Turia Gardens provide casual scenery for an afternoon stroll. The gardens were once part of the Turia River, which in 1957 left the city of Valencia completely destroyed in a catastrophic flood. Luckily, the story did not end there; the river was diverted south and the dry riverbed made into a lush strip of parks and gardens. Today this part of the city brings together sports fanatics and casual joggers alike under flourishing orange trees, all adding to the youthful vibe of Valencia.
Bars and clubs
Speaking of a youthful vibe – at the end of your day there are plenty of bars and clubs prepared to welcome you for a night of relaxed fun. Bringing you back to the city of arts and sciences is the Umbracle – exhibition of Mediterranean vegetation during the day, and high-end open-air club at night. Few places in the world can offer you the somewhat surreal experience of being served up your Agua de Valencia in a museum of vegetation. Well – when in Valencia.
Hot tips for enjoying Valencia
1. Walk: Many cities are best seen in the comfort of your own pace. The local transport system works well indeed, but offers you little in return. Bring your walking shoes and experience the changing beauties of one of Europe’s most diverse cities.
2. Don’t be fooled: A free drink, Sir? Many bars and even restaurants in and around the old town of Valencia will do their utmost to bring you within their doorstep. Quite annoyingly, the free drink offered as a token of appreciation for your custom nearly always contains more water than gratitude. Steer clear.
3. Get off the beaten track for the best meals: Our favourite Valencian restaurants – especially when we want the traditional Paella Valenciana – are difficult to find even with a map. Casa Carmela and Casa Montaña are both worth the trek, and should you ever get lost the Valencian cab drivers are some of the nicest ones you can find.
4. Sports fan? Besides being the home city of Valencia CF, Valencia is a real lover of all kinds of sports. The city boasts tons of opportunities for regular Joe’s to get sporty, whether at an outside gym in Turia Gardens or running along the harbour strip. Bring your kicks!
5. Shop the lot: El Corte Inglés. Say no more. El Corte Inglés.
More to read: The road to Santiago de Compostela
Make it Happen!
Touch Down: Valencia Manises Airport is five miles from the city centre. A taxi to the centre costs around 20 euro. The metro (line 5) to the centre costs 3.90 euro.
Stay: Spring and autumn are the liveliest seasons for cultural events and you are almost guaranteed warm temperatures and sunshine. In the summer it can get uncomfortably hot, but there are at least plenty of beaches rights on the doorstep.
Eat: Lunch happens from 2pm, dinner from 9pm at the very earliest. You can eat earlier at tapas bars and all day at cafés. Calle Caballeros is the main nightlife strip and Sant Jaume at 51 is a friendly spot for people-watching over a vino tinto.
Play: Locals usually leave very small tips – just odd change for drinks, snacks and taxis, and often nothing at all. A 5 per cent tip for a meal is the norm.
Mini Guide: The Valencia Card gives unlimited use of public transport plus discounts at museums, sights, shops and restaurants, www.valenciatouristcard.com