Valencia is the new Spanish city, quickly emerging from one of Europe’s best kept secrets to a full-flung all-encompassing destination where the spectrum of attractions is so wide that it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t find something of interest here.
Valencia has many nicknames. City of Contrasts, City of Flowers, Vienna of Spain, the Biggest Spanish Village – all reflecting the charm of Valencia. Where all tourism experts agree, though, is that Valencia is by far not a one-horse destination, rather a festive chariot pulled by a dozen well-bred stallions.
The core of any European city is its Old Town, historic architecture. Valencia sports a myriad of styles, from Gothic to 23rd century, something to see on every corner. It appears that there is a tradition of adding something new, something curious to a building, even if it was built in 13th century. There is a good selection of spectacular top-range monuments, imposing and stunning: pairs of enormous old Gothic city gates, the Cathedral – a hybrid of historic styles crowned with a landmark octagonal bell-tower, Palau de Generalitat – a Gothic palace, La Lonja – the most elaborate and best preserved European Late Gothic site, just to name a few. Incidentally, the Cathedral holds the Holy Grail – the only viable claim remaining in the whole world.
Amongst them is a myriad of gorgeous buildings and charming corners, with a surprise at every step of the way. Yet here all this charm remains close to you, embraces you. Life on the streets of Old Town – an insane maze of old Arabic streets – is business as usual, as if time stopped a few centuries ago.
Yet the City of Contrasts is not called that for nothing. Amongst all the ancient masterpieces you see plenty of modernism and imaginative styles from the XX century all the way to the recent surge of futuristic architecture, culminating with the City of Arts and Sciences.
Designed by the architecture superstar Santiago Calatrava (incidentally, a son of Valencia), this thing is a huge complex of futuristic strange-shaped structures that transports you onto some distant space base. The complex holds a marine park, a science museum, an IMAX cinema and an opera hall. It is definitely one of the most unusual sights in Europe, single-handedly attracting crowds of tourists.
Yet in all this futurism, Valencia is a place where it is still cool to be traditional. Numerous fiestas have been preserved throughout centuries and are still celebrated with the same vigour and spectacle. The traditional dress is still worn on many occasions. The culmination of Valencian traditional culture takes place in the middle of March, in 4 days of urban mayhem called Las Fallas, which attract over a million foreign visitors every year. Over 700 huge effigies get built from wood and papier-mache on the streets of Valencia, the crowds party for 4 days non-stop and on the last day all those effigies get burned.
Even though the traditional culture is very strong, Valencia is an amazingly cosmopolitan cultural destination, leading Spain in the new direction of cultural tourism, and away from beach and sunshine holidays. Valencia is firmly on the European circuit of music, arts and cultural events, and with a myriad of excellent art spaces, theatres and public events, there is always something to do.
For a more fun-loving traveller, Valencia offers a nationally famous nightlife. They say people here party from Monday to Sunday. The Valencians are known throughout Spain for being hardcore party animals, and nights go all the way till dawn, and in some places till lunchtime.
A food-loving traveller will be glad to know that Valencia is home to paella and it is here that you can try the most genuine version of this dish, as well as a lot of other variations on rice.
But if you still want a beach, you still don’t have to go anywhere. Valencian beach is an excellent beach for a city and a very short bus trip out of Valencia will take you to some more uncrowded coastline of white sands, blue water and divine beauty.
Yet, with all of this to offer, Valencia remains modest and welcoming, friendly and open. The buzz of the city here somehow blends with a tranquil atmosphere of the village.