Valencia without the Oranges

By Nomadic Matt | Published August 29th, 2009

The corner of a street in Valencia, SpainFamous for its oranges, Valencia is located roughly in the middle of Spain’s Mediterranean coast. I wasn’t attracted to Valencia for any reason in particular. I came for the tomato fight in the nearby town of Bunol. However, Valencia surprised me. I loved this city—famous in its own right for delicious seafood, paella, history, and a good soccer team.

Given all the festivities going on around La Tomatina, it was hard to devote a lot of time to exploring the city, and I certainly didn’t get as much in as I would have liked. There were a few good museums and churches that were left unseen until my next eventual visit. That said, I did manage to squeeze in a few attractions.

As I’ve said in previous posts, one of the things I like about Europe is the free walking tours. You learn a bit of history, you get your bearings around the city, and, well, it’s free. It shouldn’t be any surprise then that I took a free walking tour in Valencia. Valencia, it turns out, has quite a long history. It was started as a retirement community, so to speak, for Roman soldiers. Later it was conquered by the Moors, then the Spanish, then the Moors, and finally the Spanish again.

All that has lead to some great and eclectic architecture. What I really enjoyed about Valencia were the wide, clean streets, the ancient, winding streets of the Barrio del Carmen, and the typical Spanish-style buildings with their large doors, balconies, and windows.

What I found the most enjoyable during my time in Valencia (besides the tomatoes) was the food. The food here broke my budget. Coming back to Spain has reminded me of one of the reasons why I liked it so much—the whole tapas culture. Everywhere I went, restaurants had people relaxing outside on tables nibbling tapas, drinking, chatting, and relaxing in the hot sun. It looked like fun, so I joined frequently. It broke my budget (and maybe the buttons on my shirt), but it was too much to resist.

A big building lit up at night in ValenciaThe best (and most expensive meal) I had was down by the beach. Let me just first say that the beach in Valencia isn’t that impressive. It’s a typical city beach with a bit of trash and lots of cigarette butts. Valencia has a big port, so while the water is refreshing, I wouldn’t say it’s the cleanest in the world. The beach is good for a quick trip to cool off from the sun, but overall, I left unimpressed. However, the area has a lot of restaurants on the promenade, the most famous of which is called La Papita. A number of us from the hostel went there and had what could only be the best paella ever. We got three different types—seafood, squid ink (arroz negro), and one with noodles, which was my favorite, and, apparently, original to the area. Moreover, the calamari I got was some of the softest I’ve ever eaten. It melted in my mouth in sheer goodness. If you’re ever in Valencia and enjoy good seafood, this restaurant must be on your list of places to go.

During my short time in Valencia, not much about it wowed me the way other cities in Spain have. But nothing really disappointed me either. If I were on a limited schedule in Spain, other places like Madrid, Barcelona, or Granada might get more of my attention, but if I had some extra time, Valencia would be worth making a trip to.

For more information, visit my page on backpacking Europe or my guide to Spain.

comments 10 Comments

In all my almost 8 years travelling, Valencia is the only place in the world that managed to convince me to stay for an entire YEAR. There’s something amazing about this city; I never bothered much with the museums or churches, or took a free tour, but the locals are super friendly, the university nightlife is amazing (you wouldn’t see that in August) and the fallas parties in March are spectacular.
Because it isn’t as famous to foreigners as Barcelona or Madrid, but is still Spain’s 3rd biggest city, it has a million things going on, but is actually surprisingly cheap since it isn’t overrun with tourists during the academic year (eating at the beach is of course going to be more expensive!! The nightclubs there are expensive too).
I agree with you about the beach; nothing too impressive and far from clean. Despite living there for a year I almost never went to the beach! Too busy partying inland :D
Valencia kick started my world tour. That city changed my life forever and I absolutely adore it and count it as one of my favourite places on the planet. Based on your account and others’, I would say that it is ideal for living in, but perhaps not the best place to visit briefly, although the futuristic Oceanográfico and Opera House certainly merit a gasp or two!
Amunt Valencia!! (Go/Up Valencia!)

I’ve yet to be wowed by any of the Spanish cities I’ve visited but I have to say, the food has always been incredible.

Heather on her travels

I loved the few days I spent in Valencia last spring – we saw loads of stuff, went cycling, museums, bargain food, made a local friend through Hospitality Club. I thought it was just as great as Barcelona but with more of an authentic Spanish feel. Agree with you the beach is just a city beach but fine for a couple of hours relaxing. Wondered where you stayed as there are some great modern hostels. We stayed in Home Backpackers in Barrio Carmen (great for party lovers but not if you want to get any sleep) and then Home Rooms Deluxe, would recommend both.

Guillermo Guerini

It’s really nice to read about Valencia and other Spanish cities. I’m moving to the south of Spain, probably Seville, soon and I’m looking forward to reading about these places. Valencia seems to be nice and I don’t need to say about the Tomatina. Maybe next year… we never know..

Keep writing about your experience in Spain! Can’t wait for the next article.

Good luck,
Guillermo

I will go anywhere for good food and now I’m hungry reading your tales about the calamari.. Yum..

Sadly about the beach, in Spain people doesn’t care so much about its cleaning. Sad but true, and not proud of that since I’m spanish.

Couldn’t agree more about regarding the beach – unfortunately, Valencia has some of the worst beaches in the entire Spain.

Joe

I don’t agree about how dirty is the beach in Valencia. I’ve just come back from Valencia after a week holiday and I thought it was spotless, really clean for an urban beach, and I’ve been in other cities in Spain. Barcelona, Malaga or tarragona are far more dirty compare to the one in Valencia.

NomadicMatt

They might have cleaned it up from when I was there. It’s been three years.

Hi, Valencian here! Just to clarify,the restaurant you went is La Pepica, famous because Hemingway went there to eat the famous Valencian paella: made of rice, chicken and rabbit.

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