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Budget Traveller's Guide to Valencia Spain

Valencia, Spain is a great destination for budget travellers with affordable accommodations, low-cost transportation, affordable food and drink and a plethora of free cultural activities. Valencia can be visited all year round, but if you travel during the low season, you'll find greater discounts and fewer crowds.

Valencia is a vibrant city on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. It is known for its rich history, an intriguing mix of stunning architecture modern and old, and delicious food. Valencia has become a popular destination for travellers from around the world and deservedly so!

It can get very hot during the summer months and Valencians have perfected a way of year-round living that is most active in the mornings and evenings. Dinner is eaten late and doesn't typically start until at least 20:30. The hottest part of the day (usually about 14:00) is spent resting. The afternoon siesta is common. If you are meandering around during the siesta time, expect to see many beautifully painted business doors firmly closed.

History

The city was founded by the Romans in 138 BC as a port city and was called Valentia Edetanorum. During the Roman period, Valencia was an important city due to its strategic location on the Mediterranean coast. It was also an important center for agriculture and trade.

In the Middle Ages, Valencia was ruled by the Moors and was a prosperous city with a vibrant cultural and intellectual scene. The Moorish architecture, including the famous Silk Market, comes from the Middle Ages when Valencia was a prosperous city ruled by the Moors. Valencia also became important for trade and agriculture, particularly in the production of silk and paper.

After the fall of the Moors, Valencia was ruled by the Kingdom of Aragon and then by the Spanish Empire. Under Spain's control, the city underwent significant economic and cultural growth. Many of the city's landmarks including the Cathedral of Valencia and the Torres de Serranos were built during this era. In the 20th century, Valencia underwent major modernization and industrialization and is part of the autonomous province of Valencia. The entire region, but especially the city, is considered to be an important economic and cultural hub.


Food and Drink

No trip to Valencia would be complete without sampling the local cuisine, which is heavily influenced by both Mediterranean and Arabic flavours. The city is home to many affordable restaurants and cafes, serving traditional Spanish dishes at budget-friendly prices. Valencia also has a vibrant nightlife, with many bars and clubs that offer drinks at reasonable prices, but that's not my scene, so you'll have to discover those on your own.

Some must-try dishes include paella, a traditional Valencian rice dish made with seafood or chicken and vegetables; horchata, a refreshing drink made from ground almonds and tiger nuts; and bunyols, deep-fried doughnut balls filled with chocolate or cream. I'm not much into sweets but I ate more than my fair share of bunyols during my visit.

Getting Around Valencia

Valencia has an efficient public transportation system, which makes it easy to get around the city without spending a lot of money on taxis or car rentals. We found the bus drivers to be incredibly helpful, with one even adding an unscheduled stop right in front of our hotel just to make sure we didn't get lost. The city also has a bike-sharing program that allows visitors to rent bikes for a small fee. I spent a good part of a day on a rented bike exploring Turia park on beautiful bike paths.

Where we stayed

Valencia offers a wide range of affordable accommodation options, from budget hotels to hostels and vacation rentals. The city also has a growing number of budget-friendly vacation apartments, which can provide a more homely and comfortable stay.

We chose the Valencia Flats which offers apartment-style accommodations right next to the City of Arts and Sciences. These apartments are fully equipped with a kitchen, bathroom with amenities and hairdryer, living room with sofa bed and flat-screen TV with international channels and free Wi-Fi. There is 24-hour reception, cleaning, parking, and a bar that also serves snacks. Seems it was fate this room was assigned to me, don't you think?

Things to see and do in Valencia

Valencia offers many free cultural activities, including meandering the historic city center, Central Market, Cathedral of Valencia, or any of the beautiful parks. The futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex is free to walk around and offers discounted combination tickets to the exhibits and shows around the site. It is a marvellous place to explore inside and out. It is easy to experience this city's rich history and culture without spending a lot of money.

The City of Arts and Sciences

One of the most iconic landmarks in Valencia is the City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic complex that houses a planetarium, an IMAX theater, an oceanographic park, and more. Designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, this impressive complex is impossible to miss and absolutely should not be overlooked.

The entire complex with the futuristic architecture of the buildings, including an opera house, planetarium, and science museum, is a sight to behold. Even though we were visiting in the high season it felt spacious and uncrowded.

The huge man-made ponds attract plenty of opportunities to indulge in some activities, including kayaking.

We were highly amused watching people of all ages trying to navigate themselves around in Zorb balls.

Attractions in the City of Arts & Sciences include the Science Museum with interactive exhibits on science and technology. Also within the complex is Hemisfèric, an IMAX cinema and planetarium, and the Umbracle, a landscaped terrace that provides a great view over the complex and the city.

The Museum of Natural Science

The Museo de Ciencias Naturales is located in the Botanical Garden and has exhibits on botany, zoology, and geology. The museum also features interactive exhibits and a planetarium. New temporary exhibits change frequently so every visit can be a very different experience. It is a stunning piece of architecture and a fascinating experience with really bad English translations.


It is currently free to visit from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 - 19:00. It is closed on Mondays, as well as for public holidays January 1 & 6, May 1, and December 25


Oceanographic Park

Oceanográfic de Valéncia is a 3-minute walk west of the City of Arts & Sciences along Carrer d'Eduardo Primo Yúfera. There is a clearly marked pathway between the two. Oceanografic is one of the largest oceanographic centers in the world, featuring a wide range of exhibits and activities while contributing to marine conservation and educational efforts. The large park has over 500 species of marine animals, including sharks, dolphins, and whales. The park's architecture is a work of art in itself, with a futuristic design that reflects the oceanic environment.

The park also features interactive exhibits, such as touch tanks and a virtual reality experience, allowing visitors to learn more about the ocean and its inhabitants. There is a tunnel built under the main tank which is a true delight to walk through.

The park also has a research and conservation center which is committed to protecting the ocean and its inhabitants. The strong focus on conservation and education was evident throughout... except for their most popular demonstration. Their dolphin show is a fast-paced highly-choreographed demonstration of the intelligence and agility of these beautiful animals. The dolphin show continues to evolve from uncomfortable animal entertainment to include extensive educational and conservation messages, but it still felt very wrong to me.

Tickets can be purchased on site or online. There are several combination tickets that can be purchased for other exhibits, so it is worth your time to do a bit of research to decide which works best for you. It is open daily at 10:00, with longer summer hours.


Museums

Valencia has a LOT of museums that cover a diverse range of subjects. From art and history to science and technology, there is a museum (or two) for everyone to enjoy.


The Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia

The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the most important art museums in Spain and is home to a wide collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative art. The collection spans from the medieval period to the 20th century, and highlights include works by El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya.

The museum costs nothing to visit. It is open from 10:00 to 20:00 daily, except Mondays when it is closed.

The Museum of Ceramics

El Museo Nacional de Ceramica y de las Artes Suntuarias Gonzalez Marti is located in the Palace of the Marqués de Dos Aguas and features a wide range of ceramics from the Islamic period to contemporary pieces. The museum also features a collection of porcelain from China and Japan. I was intrigued by the carvings around the entrance.

You will need to pay €3 for this museum. It is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 - 20:00 with afternoon closing from 14:00 - 16:00. On Sundays and public holidays it is open from 10:00 - 14:00. During the summer, night visits are possible from 20:00 - midnight. Children and retirees can get free entry on Saturday evenings and Sundays.


Lonja de la Seda

The medieval Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. This beautifully preserved building was where the silk merchants and artists set up their stalls to trade their wares. The twisty columns reaching to the cathedral-like ceiling were a highlight for me.

Turia Park

The Jardíns del Túria is an urban park located in the former riverbed of the Turia River. The park stretches 7 kilometers from the City of Arts & Science to the Bioparc and is one of the most popular parks in all of Spain. This park was created after a devastating flood in 1957. The river was rerouted and the reclaimed land turned into parkland. Each section of this park is unique and feels very different from the others. The bridges, now crossing dry land, are an interesting feature.

I rented a bicycle near the City of Arts and Sciences and headed along beautiful pathways to see and explore. Some areas of the park attracted skate-boarders, others areas were sports fields. There's even a section where visitors can rent a swan peddleboat.

It's a park where locals gather. I saw games of chess and bocce. Groups of birders and photographers with their fancy equipment and tripods were common. I stopped to listen to several different musicians busking as I lazily peddled along on my rented bike.

I thought this play structure of Gulliver was brilliant. The children were having a grand time. It is absolutely enormous with slides, rope climbs, and many nooks and crannies.

Bioparc Valencia

Bioparc Valencia is the last section of the park. It is a modern zoo where natural habitats are designed so that visitor pathways and viewing areas are less intrusive to the animals. Each enclosure includes multiple species which interact very naturally.

Visitors will barely notice most barriers separating the animals and humans. Peek-a-boo viewing areas are designed to keep visitors as unobtrusive as possible.

A visit to the biopark could easily be a day-long activity between visiting the habitats, and attending various demonstrations and lectures. Food and drink is available from kiosks, cafés and restaurants.

It is a more expensive activity at €27 and tickets can be purchased online or at the entrance.


The Cathedral of Valencia

The Catedral del Santo Cáliz is an impressive cathedral which blends various architectural styles in vogue throughout its centuries-long construction. The cathedral also features a beautiful cloister and an impressive bell tower.

The Cathedral is home to the Holy Grail, which is said to be the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, as well as other religious art. The Grail is a small chalice displayed on the very ornate far wall of the Chalice Chapel. Do not expect to get very close to it.

We climbed the 207 steps of the bell tower to the very top for the panoramic views. Apparently, we have a need to climb every bell tower we come across. The views are always worth the effort, in my opinion.

We arrived moments before the hour and were able to watch (and be deafened by) the huge bell.

Roman Theatre

The Roman Theatre in Valencia has been very well-preserved and rehabilitated. The Romans built this in the 2nd century for plays, performances, and other public events. It is made of brick and stone and had seating for up to 6,000 people. Much of the Roman Theatre in Valencia is still standing today, including the stage, the auditorium (seating area), and part of the cavea (the circular seating area). The most recent renovations allowed the theatre to return to its original purpose as a venue for public events. Be sure to check for any performances during your visit.

The Theatre is located at the foot of the mountain below Sagunto Castle. Visitors to the site can also see the remains of the original backstage area. The theatre is open to the public, and guided tours are available.


The Torres de Serranos

These 14th-century towers are a pair of medieval towers built in the 14th century that were once part of the city's defensive walls. The towers were originally built as defensive structures, but they have also served as a prison, a palace, and a city gate.

Visitors can climb to the top of the towers to enjoy panoramic views of the city and see the beautiful architecture up close. For safety reasons, the towers are closed during rainy weather. Tickets cost €2. The doors open at 10:00 and are *continuously* open Monday through Saturday until 19:00 or 20 minutes before dusk -- whichever is earlier. On Sundays and public holidays, the last entry is 13:40.


Street Art

The streets of Valencia are adorned with an array of colourful and creative murals, graffiti, and street art pieces. Every street will have a multitude of examples to enjoy. The talent and techniques of these artists can be seen everywhere. Take the time to appreciate it.

One of the most famous street art festivals is the “Fallas” festival in March. During this festival, the city is filled with large sculptures made of paper maché and wood celebrating the history and culture of the city. This week is usually booked well in advance and many accommodations increase their rates for the duration of the festival.

Travellers with an interest in traditional arts and crafts will enjoy searching for the grand exterior cross-stitch displays that artist Raquel Rodrigo has scattered throughout the city. These can be found on everything from the sides of buildings to railings and stairwells.

In addition to the festivals and galleries, there are also many street art tours and free walking routes available to visitors. Visit one of the local tourist offices once you arrive. There are often many wonderful local options available that can't be found on the internet.


Mercado Central

Mercado Central is the major market in Valencia. As all budget travellers know, markets are great places to pick up supplies for breakfast or snacking. Typical of European markets, there is a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood on offer.

The market also includes food stalls and cafés where visitors can enjoy some traditional Spanish dishes like paella and horchata.

There's so much to see and do in Valencia, from exploring the fabulous City of Arts & Sciences or visiting its many museums and galleries. Whether you're interested in history, art, parks or just soaking up the laid-back Mediterranean vibe, I think you'll find what you are looking for in Valencia.

 

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