Spain’s Trendy Travel Spot: Valencia
Byline by Nellie Huang www.nelliehuang.com
As if Spain has not swept the world off its feet with enough charm and glamour, here comes the rising star of Valencia – a vibrant, spirited city bursting with character and style, ready to take on the new world. With governmental funds pouring in to developing the city into a modern hub, Valencia is set to lead the country into a new era.
Divided into two distinctive districts that are not only worlds but centuries apart, Valencia strongly displays the country’s progression into the 21st century versus its strong adherence to traditions. Home to the world-famous Spanish dish, paella, Valencia portrays Spain at its most authentic. There are no other Spanish cities that are as diverse and extreme as Valencia, few that are as captivating.
Urban Edgy Front
Stylish, futuristic architecture along with chic, cosmopolitan hotels and restaurants form Valencia’s new district. All of it is centered on the edgy, unconventional all-white Ciutat de las Artes y Ciencias, City of Arts and Sciences.
The modern hub is an entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex designed by famous Spanish architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela. First inaugurated in 1998, the complex has since received world-wide recognition for its state-of-the-art technology and artistic contribution. The entire complex is made of an open-air oceanographic park (the largest in Europe), an IMAX cinema, a planetarium and a Science museum.
Sky-soaring luxury hotel chains, commercial offices and buildings fill up the modern district’s skyline, each competing with one another in terms of avant-garde designs and aesthetics. If you’re an urban-comfort creature, then Valencia hotels in the modern district will be right up your alley.
Valencia’s old quarter is just steps away from the modern district but yet seemingly years apart. Similar to most Spanish cities, the Cathedral is the most important landmark in the historic quarters. Once inside, you’ll enter a starkly different world from the modern district – threading through cobbled-laden streets, stumbling upon medieval churches, baroque-style edifices, fountains and monuments.
The Valencia Cathedral, El Seu, is said to be the laying ground of the original Holy Grail (the fact is still not known, but many claim this is the spot.) Visit the Cathedral on a Sunday to join in the local mass and to experience the Spanish religious faith at its best. El Micalet is the bell-tower attached to the Cathedral of Valencia. If you can climb the 207 steps inside El Micalet, you'll be rewarded with fantastic views of Valencia.
Another place worth visiting in the old district is the Mercado Central. As one of the largest markets in Europe, it is also one of the most beautiful – its exterior made up of gorgeous ceramic tiles and stain glass windows. Inside, you’ll find over 1,000 stalls with heaps of fruits, fresh produce and dried nuts.
Of course, one of the reasons that Valencia is ranking high on the list of popular Spanish cities to visit is its popular city beach. Dubbed one of the best beaches in Spain, Playa Las Arenas is just a hop and jump away from the modern district and is blessed with miles of golden white sand. In summer, the beach is flooded with locals and holidaymakers, its boulevard seafood restaurants filled to the brim.
If you’re looking for more tranquility or variety, then hop over to the other beaches along the Levante coastline. Most of them are just an hour or two away from the city of Valencia, each offering a different style of beach culture as that of Valencia capital. Party people can head straight to Benidorm, where pumping music and a gyrating nightlife await. For quieter lounging, head on to the calmer beaches of Altea or Albir and mingle with the locals.
The city of Valencia is also the staging ground of one of Spain’s biggest festivals, Las Fallas, or the fires. Every March, giant figures parade along the streets of Valencia and are eventually lit up with fire. The tradition had evolved from a pagan ritual celebrating the arrival of spring. The population of Valencia almost triples during the festival celebrations as thousands flock to the city to witness the massive celebrations.
Each July, the town of Buñol, an hour away from Valencia City, sets the scene for Spain’s biggest food fight: La Tomatina. Over thousands gather in the small town, dressed in white from top to toe and armed with goggles, to fight one another out – with tomatoes. The result of a food fight of this magnitude is dirty and messy, beware, it is not for the faint-hearted.
Nellie Huang writes about Spain travel for WhyGoSpain, BootsnAll’s comprehensive Spain travel guide. She currently calls Granada home, and shares her Spain travel tips and anecdotes online. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.