Out of all the cities we had on our Europe itinerary this past spring, I was probably most excited about Valencia. Sure, there was the anticipation of going to a new city. But it's also because it was Spain. I have loved every single Spanish city I've ever visited.
Madrid was fascinating and full of energy. Barcelona was a food lover and artist's dream. Even side trips to places like Toledo and Montserrat were fascinating, each in its own way. We absolutely fell in love with the food mecca San Sebastian, and had been planning to go back in 2020 . . . . . .
This is all just a very long intro to explain why I was excited to finally go back to Spain. We had a fantastic time in Valencia. It's a slower-paced city on the Southern side. The weather is good, the cost of living is a bit lower, and the quality of life is excellent.
Below is a trip report, which serves as great inspiration for a potential Valencia itinerary. I've also summarized classic must-eat foods, Valencian specialties, and some of our favorites.
Food - What to Eat?
The first day we arrived we went straight to enjoy one of the most classic Valencia experiences - enjoy paella on the beach.
Bryan's colleague had booked an excellent place called Casa Ripoll. The simple grilled baby squid was the best seafood I had the entire trip. It was so fresh, perfectly tender texture, and maybe there was something about sitting on that beach.
That was my first time trying Agua de Valencia, the quintessential Valencian drink. It's sort of like a mimosa, but made with Valencia orange juice, vodka, gin, and cava (or champagne). It's very refreshing, and goes down very easily.
Although almost all restaurants will recommend their seafood paella as being the best, the traditional Valencian paella actually does not have seafood! We tried the traditional version at La Pepica, yet another very famous and delicious paella restaurant also on the beach.
It's hard to be in Spain and not try some of their local (globally famous) ham - jamon iberico. It's cheaper in Spain than anywhere else in the world. I had a plate for dinner one night dining in the outdoor patio of the Westin Valencia (my hotel).
There are several very well-known chefs in the region, and they each have their own little restaurant empire in Valencia.
Chef Ricard Camarena’s namesake restaurant boasts 2 Michelin stars and was probably my favorite high-end meal in Valencia. I loved how he focused on bringing out the flavors of ingredients, especially vegetables.
He also has a much more casual outpost in the Central Market called ”Central Bar by Ricard Camarena.” Come early, otherwise be prepared to line up. It’s fun to try their signature (fancier) aqua de Valencia, as well as sample a bunch of different small bites. Many people around us were getting grilled seafood, Russian salad, fried zucchini flowers, tripe, and other tapas.
Quique Dacosta is another name in town. His flagship eponymous restaurant in Denia, Spain has 3 Michelin stars and has won numerous awards. He's built an impressive number of other restaurants, and we ate at several of them.
2-Michelin star El Poblet was elegant, refined, and a nice place to enjoy a quiet, relaxing meal. Each course came with a story woven with flavors. We liked how they had different length tasting menus. We went with the medium one (6ish courses), which was perfect.
Llisa Negra is a more casual outpost serving excellent paellas, seafood, and other Valencian classics (sometimes with a fusion twist!) in a fashionable space.
The craziest deal of all was our excellent tapas tasting at MercatBar by Quique Dacosta. For only a mere 34 euros per person, we enjoyed a fantastic 6-course tasting of beautiful bites. A Robert Parker RP95 Valencian wine was only an additional 30 Euros for the bottle (!). We were blown away by the prices, though to be fair, it was an off-season price, and would disappear once the high season (summer) began.
La Salita was probably one of the hottest restaurants that we tried. The food is creative. Chef Begoña Rodrigo experiments with flavors around the globe, and focuses a lot on vegetables (which I love). Cocktails are also wild, and the presentation of some of them is quite a show involving smoke, pouring from high places, and more.
What to See
The City of Arts & Sciences and the surrounding area is beautiful and certainly a must-visit. I jogged in the area when I could, and just took in the beautiful surroundings. It's a pretty big area, filled with several large museums and other buildings.
The old Turia River was filled in back in 1957 after a horrible flood decimated the city. It turned into a long winding park (Turia River Gardens) following the river path and separates the city into two. All the old bridges are still there! It's a joy to jog "inside" the river along this long green path. It's fun to people watch, run by orange trees, and just enjoy the vast amount of green all around.
I was so thankful to have a balcony, and I took full advantage of it, working remotely from there every morning, moving my seat around to avoid the direct sunlight throughout the day.
One of the most famous sites is the Valencia Cathedral, which supposedly holds the holy chalice/grail that Jesus used during the Last Supper. The chalice is very, very protected behind many layers of glass, but you can still visit and look at it from afar.
Opening hours: 10:30AM to 5:30PM (last entry 4:30PM)
Sometimes billed as the “Sistine Chapel” of Valencia, Parroquia de San Nicolás de Bari y San Pedro Mártir is a stunning church to visit. The ceiling is impressive, and there's so much to explore.
Spanish old style food markets are fascinating to visit. You can see so much phenomenal food all around, from cured jamon, cheese, and fresh fish to all sorts of produce. A highlight is dining at Central Bar by Ricard Camarena(Hours: 9AM - 3PM), where you can sit at a counter and try grilled fresh seafood, Valencian classics, sandwiches, and more.
Another cool building is La Llotja de la Seda, or the Silk Trading Room. It's worth it to get the audio guide to learn more about the history of the building.
Torres de Serranos is one of the 12 gates that used to be part of the ancient city wall in Valencia. We had lots of fun climbing the old gate and exploring its many levels.
The views are also lovely from the top.
All in all, I really really enjoyed Valencia. It's a sunny, relaxing town full of friendly people, good food, and walkable neighborhoods. I can see why people vacation and retire here. It's certainly worth a visit if you are in Spain.