If Spanish cities were members of the Royal Family, Valencia would have to be Prince Harry – third in line to the throne (after tourist favourites Madrid and Barcelona) but unwilling to fade into the background (ie likes a bit of a party).

The city, Spain’s third largest, has long been regarded as the home of paella and the Holy Grail but more modern attractions, such as the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences), are ensuring its place on the modern traveller’s map.

So Valencia is buzzing and modern, but also has an accessible and beautiful old quarter plus a series of beaches for those who prefer to lie around and catch some sun.

Park life

Once upon a time, Valencia’s Turia River snaked around the city centre. In the 1950s the river was diverted and now, in its place, is the Jardines del Turia – a 7km-long park that features fountains, children’s playground and sports fields (currently alive with World Cup-inspired football action). Look carefully at some of the modern stone sculptures and you may just find a family of stray cats setting up house. Take a walk in the park for a brief escape from city life and while you’re down there, visit the Palau de la Música and the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias – which lies at one end.

View from the top

Take your camera (and possibly your asthma puffer) and climb the 207 steps to the top of the Miguelete bell tower, which is to the left of the main entrance to the cathedral. Stop halfway and, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse at the bellringers at work (watch them for as long as it takes you to get your breath back before climbing the rest of the spiral staircase, which apparently was carved from one piece of stone). The 360° view across the city is well worth the long walk to the top of the tower. And, if your calf muscles can handle it, you can also check out the view from the Torres de Serranos, one of two imposing stone gates that are all that’s left of the old city walls.

Back to the beach

If you are feeling a little pale and in need of some Vitamin D after another long London winter, a trip to Valencia could almost be considered medicinal. Head down to the Playa de la Malvarrosa or the Playa de las Arenas for a dose of sand, sea and sunlight.

When you’ve had enough sun, drop into on of the many restaurants that face the ocean and try some of the city’s most famous dish, paella. Locals normally only eat rice at lunchtime but don’t expect an early feed – some of the restaurants don’t start serving meals until 1pm.

Worth a look

Like many attractions in Valencia the cathedral closes in the mid-afternoon and reopens later so plan your trip around these times. Grab an audio tour and learn all about the Holy Grail and the city’s history.

Mercado Central
The magnificent building, built in 1928, now houses a covered food market that assaults the senses, in good and bad ways, as soon as you enter.

Bonus points for: Having something for everyone
Loses marks for: Painfully late lunches
Check out: www.valencia.es