Valencia – The City That Has It All

The basic attraction of any European city is its historic core – the Old Town. Valencia’s is a rich kaleidoscope of styles, spanning 8 Christian centuries of its history. Not just architecture on the streets, but spectacular monuments worthy of any important European city – two pairs of gigantic Gothic city gates, a Gothic castle-like palace, gorgeous Basilica – one of the first Baroque buildings in Europe, elaborate Cathedral sporting a mixture of styles and cultures (plus the only viable claim in the world to hosting the Holy Grail), and not to forget La Lonja – one of the most spectacular European Gothic structures protected by UNESCO.

There are even Roman ruins. These are just some of the highlights amongst a myriad of other beautiful churches and building from all epochs. Full of cosy corners and genuine snapshots of the past, the Old Town is an insane maze of old Arabic streets. It’s impossible not to get lost but you accept this fate easily, for you will be rewarded with stunning finds all the way and the surprise element makes your walk that much exciting.

Part of Valencia’s charm is how green it is. Valencia is one of the greenest cities in Europe. There is always some kind of park, garden, shady alley, anywhere you go. And the city is split in half by 9 km of a wide green belt – the Turia Garden which used to be a river until it got diverted. The calm and tranquillity of a sunny Spanish afternoon in that river of greenery, right in the middle of this metropolis, is the essence of Valencia. Valencia is also called the City of Flowers – they are abundant everywhere and the locals make incredible things out of them for their many fiestas.

They also call Valencia the City of Contrasts. Ancient monuments in the centre are interspersed with some of the most spectacular and imaginative XIX and XX century architecture. Even deeply residential districts tend to sport something curious on their apartment blocks. In the recent years a whole range of purely futuristic buildings has sprung up, culminating with the mind-boggingly ambitious City of Arts and Sciences. Built by the architecture superstar Santiago Calatrava, also a son of Valencia, this is an enormous educational-leisure complex of futuristic structures that transport you onto some distant space base.

Of interest to the culturally-minded traveller, Valencia has a strong national identity, complete with its own language. What is spectacular, though, is that here the traditional is still very much in fashion, preserved mainly in music, costumes, customs and fiestas. A good third or so of Valencia proudly sports regional costumes (said to be the most colourful in Spain) and music on even the smallest occasion. That includes a lot of youth. Here, it is still cool to be traditional in the 21st century.

There is always some kind of fiesta in Valencia. The locals love noise, spectacle and party. You get an impression they spend the whole year making costumes, spectacles, floats etc for all those colourful fiestas. And there is always plenty of music if you like Spanish wind and percussion – they call Valencia the Vienna of Spain.

The most famous and spectacular of those fiestas is 5 days of urban insanity called Las Fallas. Huge and colourful effigies (monuments, sculptures) get built from wood and papier-mâché on the streets of Valencia, around 800 in total, some as high as 25-30 metres. They are usually satirical or provocative in their content. The whole city dresses up into traditional costumes and takes to the streets with music and warzone level of fireworks. Paella is cooked all over the streets, the crowds party until dawn and on the last day all those effigies get burned.

All this love for noise and party doesn’t just stay in the traditional. The Valencians are some of the most hardcore party animals in Spain and the nightlife here is nationally famous, going well until dawn (and in some places until lunchtime!). They say people here go out from Monday to Sunday. There are myriads of bars, discos and night clubs, as well as concerts and live music nights.

The City of Valencia is also Spain’s flagship of new kind of tourism – following the recent European trend of cultural travel, in contrast to the beach and sunshine holidays. More and more, Valencia gets to be in the circuit of world music, arts and cultural events. There is always something going on here, a truly cosmopolitan and avante-guard spectrum of events. Add to it scores of museums, theatres, art galleries, classical music venues resident in Valencia, and you really don’t have an excuse to be bored.

And yes, there is a beach, and it’s about the best beach that could exist in a city. It might not be a deserted island, but it is large enough, clean enough and lively enough, plus the climate is amazing, the water is great and the sand is of top quality. Just to think that it is a mere 20 minutes from all the sightseeing and culture in the centre…And right there on the beach you can have the famous Valencian cuisine. Paella is a Valencian invention and here you can have the best of the best.

Yet with all of this, with all its buzz and ambition, and a million things to offer, Valencia remains cosy and warm and friendly and laid back. The people are still very welcoming and open, and the city injects a good dose of tranquilliser into your veins as soon as you step off the plane. They call Valencia “the biggest Spanish village”.