Done Barcelona? Costas not your cup of sangria? Here is why you should consider 48 hours in Valencia for your next city break….
It might not be the most obvious choice for a Spanish city break, but there are lots of reasons to spend at least 48 hours in Valencia. Spain’s third largest city, Valencia is surprisingly walkable, has a vibrant food and restaurant scene and is (A LOT) less of a tourist trap than nearby Barcelona.
I’ve actually made the move to this city as a permanent resident, and having been here for about two months (to date), I’ve been able to check out the city in depth. So, although this is a 48 hour guide to Valencia, it’s also a bit of an insiders guide too.
So why choose Valencia for your next European holiday, and what is there to do for a long weekend? (or longer?)
Get your bearings
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The city of Valencia sits on the banks of the Turia river which used to run through the city to the sea. Used to run? Yup… Today the Turia River has been diverted, thanks to a devastating flood in the late 1950’s.
In it’s place is a verdant park which is crossed by a plethora of classical and modern looking bridges. The park makes a great centre point in the hot months, and there are plenty of places to relax with a picnic under a tree.
Just south of the river is the Cuitat Vella, or old town, a warren of narrow streets with the occasional medieval landmark. Most of the interesting sights of Valencia are here, in the old town, and the entire area is best discovered on foot.
The postcard image of Valencia is the super futuristic looking City of Arts and Sciences. Lying at what was the end of the Turia River, very close to the port, it is quite a spectacular sight. However, it’s quite hard to get to with public transport, the only option at present being by bus. Alternatively, you can get there on foot, or with a bike or scooter rental.
Getting around Valencia
The entire city of Valencia is very flat, with barely an incline in sight. If you’re in town for a long weekend, you’re unlikely to take much in the way of public transport unless you’re situated away from the centre.
Our best suggestions are hire a bike for a few days, or if you’re based in areas like Benicalap or Malva Rossa/El Cabanyal (the beach) get yourself a Tuin card.
The Tuin card costs about €1 to buy and you can top it up with as much credit as you like. You can also use it for probably all the people in your party as it can be used by up to 60 people! Tap each person in at the beginning of your journey. On the tram, you only tap in. For the metro, tap in and out.
Bus journeys are €1.50 for each journey although there is a separate bus travel card available from Tabacs (red fronted shops that you see everywhere!). Same deal, buy it, top it up, tap on entry.
Where to stay in Valencia?
Most visitors will find themselves in the central area, which includes the old town, Eixample (around the city centre) and the Algiros/Benimaclet area. If you’re literally doing 48 hours in Valencia, keep it as central as possible. Hotels start from around €50 for a night, or hostels around €25-30. These prices fluctuate depending on the season, but this is a reasonable guide.
We use Trivago to find the best price for accommodation. It actually searches across hotels, hostels and Airbnbs, so you’ll be able to find the best price for hotels in Valencia. Give it a try on our handy widget.
The beach suburbs of El Cabanyal, Malva Rossa and El Grau are a little way from the action, but nothing a short trip on the tram can’t fix. From Eugenia Vines (the beach) to Pont de Fusta (closest tram to the old town), it’s about 20-30 minutes, plus a 5 minute walk.
What do they speak in Valencia?
Valencia is Spain, and Castellano, or Spanish, is the standard language that everyone speaks. There is a local lingo too, called Valenciano. It’s very closely related to Catalan, with a few variations in spelling, but if you speak Catalan most people will understand you.
English isn’t that widely spoken, except in tourist centres and restaurants. If you’re visiting for a city break in Valencia then you’ll most likely only need basic Spanish.
What to do for 48 hours in Valencia?
Valencia isn’t quite like Barcelona, with a whole ton of things to do. As such, after 48 hours in Valencia you can easily tick off the major sights and experiences.
Torres de Serranos
The medieval icon of Valencia, these imposing limestone towers once stood as the entry to the city with walls either side. Today, there are no walls, and the bridge crossing the diverted river is now pedestrianised. They still make an impressive sight as you cross the bridge and if you time it right, you can avoid the mass of tourists.
You can climb the Torres de Serranos, also known as Torres de Serrans, the entry fee is just €2 per person. There are no lifts or anything, so you’ll need to climb those steep stairs off your own steam. The view is great, with a nice panorama of the city and the Turia River park.
Don’t fancy paying €2? Come on Sundays instead, then it’s free.
Plaza de la Virgen (Placa de la Mare de Deu)
The centre of the old town, this pretty square is flanked by medieval cathedrals and basilicas on one side, and the Palau de Generalitat, the local government HQ on the other.
In the centre sits a pretty fountain and an array of cafes waiting to serve you coffee and generic paella. The cafes aren’t too tourist trappy and in all honesty a couple are actually decent. Saona, on the northern side of the plaza is one of the better options. Petit Bistro is a local chain which isn’t too bad either.
For some authentic tapas and drinks, walk slightly out of the plaza to either Cafe de las Horas, or Bar Almudin or Bar Cafeteria Plaza.
In Cafe de las Horas, it’s all about the local cocktail, Agua de Valencia. More on that later. In the other two tapas bars, chow down on tortilla, albondigas, morro de cerdo and all those other delicious things para picar ( to pick).
Around the Plaza de Virgen
While you’re in the old town, some of the things you’ll most likely want to check out are:
- Museo de Almoina – Roman ruins and relics from the days of Moorish rule. Fascinating if you like history, and only €2 (free on sundays).
- Casa Punt de Ganxo – This pretty house wouldn’t look out of place in Barcelona. It’s not open to the public, but it makes a nice pic.
- The Basilica and the Cathedral – Both of these medieval religious buildings are open to the public and are very opulent. Apparently the Holy Grail is housed in the Cathedral – but then thats what 200 other places claim too. If you’re a religious type, you’ll probably find it all quite fascinating. The rest of us, they are very pretty, so pop in and take a look.
Mercat Central/Central Market
Probably the highlight of the old town, the central market has been restored in recent years and is now a major tourist draw. The building itself is beautiful, and you’ll find lots of delicious Spanish treats inside. From coffee bars, to take away Iberico ham boccadillos, this is one of those places that you will definitely visit if you’re in Valencia for a city break.
Its free to enter and it’s open everyday except Sunday. This will be a key stop on any 48 hours in Valencia, so make sure to schedule it in.
This large plaza is the modern centre of the city and is so called as this is where you’ll find the town hall, or ayuntamiento. It’s flanked by chain restaurants and trinket shops, so if you’re craving a Taco Bell or Burger King, this is where you should go.
The square regularly hosts events, demonstrations (we’ve seen a few since we’ve been here) and processions. Although this isn’t really a tourist attraction per se, you’ll likely pass through (especially if you’re going to the train station) and it is very impressive.
Turia River Park
Snaking some 9 kilometers through the city, the Turia River park is a must visit when in Valencia for a city break. The park is home to around 3000 species of trees and plants, including fruits like dates and pomegranates.
On any given day you’ll spot hundreds of joggers, skateboarders, picnicking families, love-struck teenagers and dope smoking dropouts enjoying the shade. Although the park in itself is quite an attraction, there are several reasons to visit here, including:
- The Gulliver Park – This huge playground is modelled around the frame of Gulliver, from the famous story. With kids and adults alike scuttling over the huge sculpture, just like Lilliputians, this is a great place to come if you have kids. If you don’t have kids, never mind. You can still come and ejoy the slides!
- Playgrounds and skate parks – Again, if you have kids in tow, there are lots of playgrounds scattered throughout the park. Big kids, especially skateboarders, will find a variety of terrains including a bowl down by the Gulliver Park and a bumps and rails park between Porta de Serrans and Turia Metro.
The City of Arts & Sciences
At the river mouth end of the Turia Park. the City of Arts and Sciences is the modern icon of the city of Valencia. Visiting for 48 hours in Valencia almost certainly means you’ll end up here either as part of a bike tour or to actually visit.
What is the City of Arts and Sciences? It’s actually a collection of different attractions, including:
- Hemisferic -An IMAX cinema.
- Palau de Reina Sofia – A concert hall, mostly for opera and theatre.
- Ciutat de les Artes i Ciences – A huge natural history museum, and the biggest of the buildings.
- Oceanografic – Europe’s biggest aquarium
- Agora – A conference centre.
- Dolfinari – A dolphinarium with live shows (we don’t agree with these kinds of shows and would actively discourage you from visiting this attraction).
As a visitor for 48 hours in Valencia, the one you’re most likely to visit is the arts and sciences museum and possibly the Oceanografic aquarium.
Entry to the science museum and Hemisferic is quite reasonable, at €8 for adults, or €6.20 for children and students. However, the aquarium, at €30.70 (Going up to €31.30 in 2020) for adults I found to be very steep.
There is a combination ticket for the Oceanarium and the Science museum for €32.20 if you visit on the same day. I also implore you not to visit the dolphinarium as these kinds of shows are stressful and unnatural for the animals. If you haven’t already, watch BlackFish…
However, if you just want to come and take a look, the area is very photogenic. You can also enjoy very affordable boat trips in the pools outside Hemisferic, which are great fun.
There are quite a few interesting museums in Valencia, some of which charge, others don’t. Our pick of the freebies are:
- Museum of Fine Arts/Museu de Belle Arts – Lots of heavy religious stuff, but also some Picasso early work, works by Goya and Velasquez and local hereo Joaquin Sorolla. Free entry and definitely worth a look.
- Museum de Fallas – The Fallas are festivities that take place every year in March. They involve loud processions and elaborate floats, and this small and free museum shows you what you’re missing, if you can’t make it for real.
- Centre de Carmen – In El Carmen you’ll find this old seminary, converted to a museum. Lots of modern art by local artists and regular events. Worth a visit even if just to have a look at the building.
If you’re a fan of street art, you’re in for a treat. The old town is literally painted with cool street art, most by local artists. Most of it is in El Carmen (where I live), and here is just a small sample…
There are lots of graffiti tours of Valencia, and some of the most popular cycle tours also take in the street art of the city.
Valencia sits just north of the popular Costa Blanca, which is one of Spain’s biggest tourist draws with miles of golden sand beaches and consistent weather year round.
Although Valencia itself doesn’t sit on the coast, it’s urban sprawl has enveloped a few towns that do. Malva-Rossa and El Cabanyal are both old fishing villages that have become ‘Valencia’ and can be reached from the city via tram or bus (or a combo of metro and tram).
The most direct way from the old town is to take the tram towards Dr Lluch from Pont de Fusta. The journey is around 20 minutes and costs around €1.50 (if you pay as you go, it’s cheaper with a Tuin card).
The beach is long and flat, the sea is warm from May until September and the seafront is lined with cafes and restaurants. In peak summer there are beach huts renting parasols and loungers, as well as shacks selling cold drinks.
What to eat in Valencia
This is a whole other blog post, which I will come to in time. But, for the proposes of a 48 hour guide and to give you an overview of what you must try, here is my best suggestions for what to eat in Valencia.
Paella – This is the ‘national’ dish of Valencia, and you’ll see it available everywhere. A pan of saffron scented rice, with a mixture of chicken or rabbit with seafood, which is the typical Paella Valenciana. However, you’ll spot options for marisco (seafood), verduras (veggie/vegan), arroz negro (with squid ink and seafood) and fiduella, which is pella but with a sort of spaghetti instead of rice.
You’ll see if everywhere, but I’ve had decent paella at Restaurante San Miguel (Carrer de San Miguel 23).
Tapas – OK, this might come as a surprise, but tapas is not a Valencian thing. Yes, you do see tapas *everywhere*, but it’s not a typical local cuisine. We’ve found, since being in Valencia, that tapas is quite expensive especially in the old town and the beach areas. Prices are normally north of €5 for a simple plate of patatas bravas, which in other parts of Spain could be nearly half that price.
Saying that, one of the pleasures of Spain is watching the world go past with a few small plates and a cold drink.
Horchata (orxata) – This sweet, milk like drink is made from tiger nuts and can be found at stalls and cafes all over the city. Best served with a farton, a sort of long doughnut made for dipping in your drink. It’s a genuine local delicacy so make sure to check it out..
The most atmospheric place to get a horchata is at the Santa Catalina Hotchateria (plaza de Santa Catalina 6).
Agua de Valencia – Skip the sangria. No-one in Spain (apart from tourists) drinks sangria. This local cocktail is made from orange juice, a shot of vodka or gin and topped up with cava.
You’ll see agua de Valencia served everywhere, but get the real deal from Cafe de los Horas, just off Plaza de Virgen.
Also, Tinto de Verano is a more typical version of sangria. Red wine and a soft drink, usually lemonade or sometimes fanta or coke. Often served as a glass of red wine with a refresco (soft drink) on the side.
Planning your Valencia visit
Valencia is a very easy city to spend a long weekend (or longer), and is also a good location to base yourself to explore the greater Valencia region.
With a car hire, you can head to nearby towns like Peniscola (Game of Thrones location), Buñol (tomatina festival) or Benicassim (big music festival) and explore some of the beautiful pueblos in the area too.
If you’re wondering about nightlife (which I’ve not mentioned at all in this article), there is lots to do pretty much every night of the week. The main areas for nightlife are Rusafa, a trendy area in the south of the city, El Carmen in the old town, which has lots of late night bars, and Benimaclet, which is student central.
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Getting to Valencia
Valencia airport is well connected to the rest of Europe and even has flights to North Africa. If you’re coming from North America or Asia, you’ll likely need to connect either in Madrid or another European city.
Trains and buses in Spain are efficient, although prices can go up closer to travel time. In fact, sometimes the train can be more expensive than flying – a bit of a nightmare for those trying to save the planet.
But, if you’re looking at spending 48 hours in Valencia as part of a Spanish road trip, or a European tour, there are lots of ways to get here…
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Enjoyed this post about how to plan 48 hours in Valencia? Check out some of our other 48 hour guides.
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