Valencia – the city – already rivals the cosmopolitan and cultural centres of Barcelona and Madrid, with a vibrant nightlife, fantastic architecture and a rich heritage. Equally, the larger region – with two official languages, Valencian (Catalan) and Spanish – boasts fantastic beaches, picturesque landscapes and historic towns.
Valencia’s Old Town is a labyrinth of stunning streetscapes and lively avenues, where Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles mix seamlessly. To the northeast is the trendy, thriving area of Barrio del Carmen, which has undergone several stages of regeneration and is the place to go to experience Valencia’s famed nightlife, with loads of restaurants, clubs and open-air drinking spots spilling over into the small hours. Kick off your night with some drinks at the popular live music venue, La Bolseria, before hitting Piccadilly Club for some all-night dance music.
In terms of sightseeing, the Unesco-listed 16th-century La Lonja (silk exchange) is a fantastic example of late-Gothic extravagance. No expense was spared and the lavish building is made up of three main halls, filled with twisted columns and an intricately decorated ceiling. Also worth seeing are the Torres de Serranos, two 14th-century towers that used to form part of the city walls.
Jardins del Turia
Stretching 9km from the city centre to the City of Arts and Sciences, this unique park is surrounded by ancient walls and is set in the old riverbed of the Turia. The river was prone to flooding and, after several people lost their lives in 1957, the city decided to divert it, leaving a fertile riverbed that was quickly converted into a lush stretch of greenery. The trenched nature of the river creates a peaceful refuge for Valencians to escape the city, losing themselves in the park’s gardens, sports pitches and playgrounds.
Parc Natural de L’Albufera
The centrepiece of this nature reserve is the enormous lagoon of Albufera. It’s surrounded by pine trees and rice fields so leave city life behind and stroll through its forests or relax on an empty beach. And be sure to take a dip in the invigorating freshwater lagoon.
Perhaps more significantly, this is allegedly the place where paella was born. So head down to one of the inviting waterside restaurants in the fishing villages of El Palmar or El Perellonet, right in the heart of the nature reserve, and get stuck into a delicious seafood treat. At only 40 minutes by bus from Valencia city, it’d be rude not to.
Step back in time in this quaint little town, about an hour to the southwest of Valencia. Set at the foot of a hill straddled by a massive castle, Xàtiva dates back to Roman times when it was famous for its silk fabrics. The local museum commemorates the moment King Philip V ordered the town to be burned by hanging his portrait upside down. Explore the narrow, meandering streets before walking up to the well-preserved castle, its extensive grounds including gardens, prisons and lavish living quarters. Best of all, you’ll get some spectacular views of the town and surrounding countryside from this vantage point.
La Devesa beach
The Costa Blanca is famous for its fantastic beaches and there are plenty of resorts both north and south of Valencia. But it can be hard to avoid the crowds as most of the beaches are easily accessible from the capital. However, few tourists make the trip to La Devesa – also confusingly known as La Dehesa – which is a short bus ride or a half-hour walk from the city. Take the ‘Yellow Bus’, departing from the train station, to Perello; tickets cost €1.20 (about 99p). The walk, through a secluded pine forest and past a small lake, is worth the journey before you even reach the golden, clean sands and warm waters of the beach.
Bordered by lush forests and near Albufera Lake, this is a truly stunning location. Head to the right at the beach and join the nudists, or stick to the left to hide your shame. If you fancy the same kind of beach with a bit more life, just get off the bus slightly earlier at the well-served resort of El Saler.
City of Arts and Sciences
Europe’s largest cultural complex, Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava’s futuristic vision is a modern marvel: stunning concrete, steel and glass buildings surrounded by huge, shallow pools and immaculately landscaped walkways thrown in for good measure.
It includes the Hemisfèric, a building shaped like an eye, with an eyeball that projects somewhat gimmicky, special-effect-heavy Imax films. It also houses an interactive Science Museum and the Parque Oceanográfico, one of the world’s biggest and most impressive aquariums. The latter is divided into 10 themed zones with beluga whales, reef fish, sharks, turtles, dolphins and penguins. Combined entry to all three buildings costs €32.90 (about £27).