When it comes to excellent cities, Spain has an embarrassment of riches. Of course your first choice will likely be Barcelona, and your second choice Madrid, but once you’ve perused those fine cities, where will you visit third? Seville? Grenada? San Sebastian? Bilbao? Mallorca? Vigo? I fussed and fretted while trying to figure out where in Spain to visit next, until I realized that I didn’t need to actually make a decision. I would simply choose the third largest city in Spain as the third city on my Spanish itinerary. And that is how I ended up spending a charming weekend in Valencia.
Some of you may only have heard of Valencia because of oranges, but I promise you that this city has so much more to offer than citrus fruit. Join me and we will spend a day with beautiful views, feminist street art, hidden reading nooks, elaborate fountains, and award winning gelato. By the end of the day, Valencia will still be third in population, but it might just be first in your heart.
Morning: Valencia Cathedral
Address: Plaza de la Virgen
Hours: 10-6:30 Monday-Saturday, Shorter Hours Sunday
Price: 7 Euros, includes audioguide
Valencia Cathedral is a 13th century Gothic Cathedral smack in the heart of Valencia. Being from the 13th century means that it’s older than Joan of Arc, Shakespeare, Twinkies…lots of things. So you won’t want to miss out on your opportunity to spend time in such an ancient and historical building. The audioguide included with the price of admission is chock a block full of fascinating tidbits, but for now we will just limit ourselves to:
three fun facts about valencia cathedral
1) Because the Cathedral began construction in the 13th century, most of the architecture is in the Gothic style. If you have trouble remembering what the Gothic style looks like, just think “pointy, gargoyles, and stained glass windows”.
However, since it took centuries to build the cathedral, there were additions made in other styles, such as Neoclassical and Baroque. Again, just think that Neoclassical = round shapes, white, and columns and Baroque = elaborate and shiny. See:
I think you’re getting a hang of identifying different architectural styles already!
2) Valencia Cathedral is home to many spectacular works of art, including this painting above by Goya. It is considered a precursor to his famous Black Paintings in the Prado Museum in Madrid. I’m not an art history expert, but I’m going to guess that’s because this painting has a lot of black in it and it definitely looks like someone is dying.
3) The most famous possession of the Valencia Cathedral is not, however, a painting. Instead, it is the world famous Holy Grail, beloved by Monty Python and Indiana Jones alike. This chalice is supposedly the chalice that Jesus drank out of with his disciples during the Last Supper. Obviously, people disagree about whether or not this is the actual Holy Grail. But what is indisputable is that the cup is from the correct time period–100-50 BC–and location, so it’s still a fascinating artifact, even if you aren’t convinced that it is a holy relic.
Travelerette Treasure: My favorite part of any historic building is the funny little details you find when you look carefully enough. I adored this delicately painted pink ceiling with the fluffy little cherubs hiding in the corners. Also I want that chandelier for my apartment.
Lunch: Central Market
Address: Plaça de la Ciutat de Bruges
Hours: 7 AM-3 PM Most Days, Closed Sundays
Valencia is rightly famous for its excellent markets, and since you are already near the most well-known market in town, it is simplicity itself to simply hop on over for lunch. We will be returning to this market on our second day in Valencia, so I’m going to leave some of the highlights for then. But suffice it to say that this market has all the produce, seafood, jamon, saffron, and snails that any Valencian-loving heart could wish for.
I came across a wonderful organic pizza stand called Infraganti and treated myself to one of their slices of tomato basil pizza. The cornmeal crust was especially tasty and the toppings were so fresh. You can see how green the basil is and how red the tomatoes are. It made a perfect snack to fuel the rest of my Valencian ramblings.
Also, at any Spanish food market, you need to get a cup of fresh fruit juice made by one of the produce vendors. That’s just science. It’s Valencia, so make it orange juice! It will be the sweetest orange juice you have ever had.
Early Afternoon: Explore Valencia
I’m a big believer in taking some time each day to put aside plans and freely explore a city. There is so much to see in Valencia’s Old Town and you will only have a few hours. But I will get you started with…
the approximately top five best things to see in Valencia’s old town
1) You absolutely must stop in the extraordinary La Lonja building while you are walking around Valencia. Admission is only 2 Euros and includes all the looky-loos at these majestic ceilings that your eyes can handle.
La Lonja is the closest thing to the Alhambra that you are going to find in Valencia. (If you’re looking for the actual Alhambra, you might be a little lost because it’s in Grenada.) La Lonja used to be the silk market back in the 15th century, and now it’s just a cool place where you can curl up in a corner with a mystery novel and people watch.
They also have beautiful orange trees in the garden. Do not steal them! Didn’t your mother ever tell you to never steal oranges from a 15th century silk market, Internet Stranger? Were you raised by wolves?
2) If you’re looking for an aerial attraction, don’t miss the lovely Santa Catalina church on the Plaza Lope de Vega. The simple stone interior is worth a look, but the main attraction is the viewing area from the bell tower.
I also like this netting that they put up so in case you get super cranky, you can’t throw some unsuspecting tourist off the bell tower and ruin their day. Good thinking, Santa Catalina!
Travelerette Tip: The church closes between 1:30 and 5:30, so be sure to time your visit accordingly! If you miss it in the afternoon, stop by before 7:30 when it closes for the night.
3) If you get snacky, stop at Veneta Gelato on Calle Bordadores 8, for what some people say is the best gelato in Spain. I had a cup of Galetta dela Nonna, which tasted like Nutella with a whole bunch of nummy crunchies thrown in. Nothing to hate there!
4) Go on a fountain hunt. This fountain in the Plaza de la Virgen is probably the most striking. It’s a good thing these people live in Valencia where it’s sunny all the time because they are definitely not wearing enough clothes, IMHO.
This next fountain is a little classier because there’s no naked people on it.
Also I like the volume on that spray. I wish I could get my hair to have the same volume.
I don’t know who the people on this fountain are, but I feel sorry for them because it looks like they are trapped by the water and they can’t get down.
5) Visit the National Ceramic Museum on Poeta Querol 2. Unfortunately the museum was closed when I visited, but you will still be able to check out the majestic Rococo exterior. Rococo means “Baroque, only more so”.
Pretty sure this detail depicts a team of evil ducks and squid attacking people with jars of boiling water. I would go see that movie. Plus there is a fountain!
I don’t think Valencia is likely to experience a fountain shortage any time soon.
Late Afternoon: Street Art Tour
Time: 4:30 Every Day but Sunday
I love doing walking tours, especially if there’s food involved, and my favorite international tour company is Urban Adventures, so I was pleased to see that they did a street art tour in Valencia. I’ve done street art tours in Buenos Aires and Melbourne so I was excited to try this tour in Spain. My guide was an extremely friendly and knowledgeable young woman named Lenny who took me all over Valencia in search of the most interesting street art in the city. We saw about a jillion things, so just allow me to share with you…
the approximately top five most interesting street artists in valencia
1) Some artists, like Escif, the creator of the McDonald’s anti-ad above, use their street art to send political messages. I like how the French fries in the picture look like a city skyline, so it’s like the citizens of the city are being kept prisoner by the McDonald’s fry box. But I feel like the anti-corporate message is somewhat undercut by the fact that seeing McDonald’s fries always makes me want to eat some fries. So greasy and delicious.
2) David de Limon is probably the most recognizable street artist in Valencia because he is mostly famous for painting this dude who looks like a ninja, but is not actually a ninja. You can tell how Mr. Not-a-Ninja is feeling based on the emoji on his shirt. So that figure is sad, but this one seems to be in love.
And now…there are two of him!
They both look happy, though, which pleases me. It’s always nice when two emoji-sporting humans cloaked in black can find happiness.
3) I may have lied when I called David de Limon the most recognizable street artist in Valencia, since this guy, Mucho Queso, might be even easier to spot since all he paints are bright yellow cheeses. Mucho Queso translates to “A Lot of Cheese”, so we certainly can’t accuse this artist of hiding his agenda. I like a man who knows how to get right to the point.
4) Lest you start to think that all street artists are male, here we have La Nena, who is easily recognized by her image of the screaming woman from the 1950s. I imagine this is a commentary on how conventional gender roles can be restrictive to women. But my favorite work of hers is this little girl in a newspaper boat being carried away by ravens.
I like to think that the girl is being carried away to a magical land where imagination can thrive. But maybe she’s just being carried away by some evil birds so they can eat her. Hard to tell!
5) Another street artist with a strong personal style is Deih. His pieces look like something out of a comic book with science fiction elements and bright colors. This one above was my favorite of his pieces because I think the night-sky-skin look is going to be really big this fall.
Lenny also taught me how to take this panoramic shot of one of Deih’s longer pieces. I did my best to follow her helpful instructions, but I’m not so hot with the different features on my iPhone. #imawriternotaphotographer
6) The most famous street artist on display in Valencia is Blu. His work is available to see all over the world. I’ve spied some of his pieces in Buenos Aires and Berlin. This mural is called “Moses”, and the dude’s beard is made of snakes. I’m assuming that this is a reference to Moses’s staff being turned into a snake in the Bible, but I’m not sure what the significance is. I just assume the mural has an anti-capitalist message. That’s always the safest bet when it comes to street art.
7) If you don’t like deep thoughts, but you do like smiling, I recommend searching out the street art of Julieta. Her cheerful, anime inspired work is just to make you feel good. This mural certainly cheered me up, even after I noticed the weird skull creatures lurking in this work.
Travelerette Treasure: I love street art, but no art can make me as happy as food can. That’s why I was grateful that there was a snack stop on this tour. We went into the famous Horchateria de Santa Catalina for a sweet bun called a farton and the famous Valencian drink, horchata.
Horchata tastes a little like sweet almond milk, but it’s actually made from chufa nuts, which are also sometimes called tiger nuts. The chufa nuts have health benefits and are said to prevent heart disease, so I feel that this makes horchata a healthy drink despite the sugar in it. At least that’s what I told myself. Also chufa is fun to say. CHUFA!
Travelerette Tip: At the end of the tour, we stopped at a craft beer bar called Tyris on Tap. A pint is included with the tour, but actually I think it’s better to get two half-pints so you can try more beers. Lenny got two different half-pints so I could taste hers too. I especially recommend the Amor Amargo American Pale Ale and the Lemonzilla Fruit American Pale Ale. The latter was very refreshing on a hot summer day.
Dinner: La Pilareta
Address: arrer del Moro Zeit 13
I was getting hungry, and I hadn’t made dinner plans, so Lenny directed me to a local restaurant called La Pilareta. Their specialty is clochinas, which are small and sweet Valencian mussels served in a broth. I accompanied this with some warm and spicy patatas bravas and a glass of the Spanish booze of choice at the moment, sweet red vermouth.
The mussels were the star of the show. They were just so juicy and delicate in flavor. If you are in Valencia in the summer, which is mussel season, you really need to eat some of these babies.
And That’s How to Have a Perfect 24 Hours in Valencia!
What would you do with 24 Hours in Valencia? Which street artist was your favorite? Do you think that’s really the Holy Grail? Why don’t we just have an argument about religion in the comments section? That’ll be fun for me to moderate! Please leave your thoughts below.
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.