Saturday, 10 January 2015

Budget Break: A Cheap Weekend in Valencia

To me, Valencia is the quintessential Spanish city. When you think of Spain, images of sunny streets, sandy beaches and pretty plazas swirl into your mind. But in this case, these aren't the retouched images shared by the tourist board to attract coachloads of visitors, they're the real deal. Valencia's a natural beauty.

Valencia's Plaza de la Virgen

This coastal city has an international airport and is now linked to Madrid by the high-speed AVE train, making it easier to visit than ever. Valencia may be Spain's third-largest metropolis, but its scale feels completely different to that of Madrid and Barcelona. The suburbs may extend further than the casual visitor may ever see, but the centre is compact and easily walkable. The casco antiguo is also mostly pedestrainized, so its traffic-free streets enhance the sensation that you're in a relaxed little town rather than a frenetic city. Throw in plenty of green space, quality eateries, top-notch architecture and the beach, and you've got a pretty perfect weekend break destination.

Where to stay


Unless you're looking for a dedicated beach break, the best place to base yourself is in the casco antiguo (also referred to as El Centro; includes some areas of El Carmen too). Here, you'll be nestled among city sights such as the Cathedral and the market, as well as in easy reach of the much-photographed City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia's architectural highlight. If you're a hipster looking for cool cafés by day and alternative nightlife after dark, try the trendy Russafa area to the south of the centre.

View of central Valencia from the cathedral tower, El Miguelete


The hippest spot to stay on a budget is Home Youth Hostel, located smack bang in the middle of the casco antiguo. Opposite La Lonja (one of Valencia's top sights) and around the corner from the Mercat Central (ditto), this bargain base is a cut above most hostels, with funky decor and a maximum dorm size being 4 people.  Unusually for a hostel, there are no bunk beds and private rooms are available, meaning it's entirely possible to escape the backpacker vibe if you wish. If you do want to get involved, there's a lounge stocked with plenty of information on Valencia and beyond, and organised events such as paella cooking classes.

Other good bets on a budget include stylish 7 Moons near the Jardines del Turia, and Pensión Paris, which has ensuite doubles for €30 a night. Valencia also has a wealth of great Airbnb apartments to rent; on a recent visit I bagged a sizeable studio close to the Torres de Quart for €100 for 2 nights.

What to see

As you'd expect of Spain's third-biggest city, Valencia isn't short on sights. Luckily, many of them can be visited or at least glimpsed for free; a walk around the casco antiguo feels like sightseeing in itself. Adjacent squares Plaza de la Reina and Plaza de la Virgen are both pretty and worth a wander, particularly the latter with its views of the Cathedral and next-door church (Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados) and its central fountain, depicting the River Turia. Plaza de la Virgen is pedestrianised, meaning it's a great spot for a relaxing drink. Valencia's cathedral is also worth a peep (although there's a charge for a full tourist visit) , but the main attraction is climbing the 207 steps of its bell tower, El Miguelete (€2), for unrivalled views of the city (and shaking thighs).

La Lonja


A number of sights in the casco antiguo are free on Sundays or at certain others times, so it's worth asking at the tourist information office in Plaza de la Reina for the latest list. La Lonja is one of these sights: the city's former silk exchange is a building so handsome it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If your legs couldn't handle El Miguelete, try climbing either the Torres Serranos or Quart, two old city gates which provide a lower-level city view. On a rainy day, check out either IVAM (the Valencian Institute of Modern Art) or the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum) depending on your taste: the latter has a pretty extensive collection, while IVAM is in an impressive new building and hosts regular temporary exhibitions.

Jardines del Turia

If wandering is more your thing than ticking off museums, you'll love the Jardines del Turia: 9 kilometres of former riverbed, reclaimed after the river burst its banks and was diverted. It's now landscaped with areas for runners, footballers, children  - and casual wanderers. It leads down to Valencia's most-photographed monuments, which together comprise the City of Arts and Sciences. Designed by top architect and local boy Santiago Calatrava, the 'city' includes a science museum, an opera house, an IMAX cinema and Europe's biggest aquarium, the Oceanografic. Entry to some of these sights is pretty pricey, especially the aquarium at almost €28 per adult, but you can wander around the complex for free.  







What to do

 

Playa de la Malvarrosa. No editing, it's that beautiful.

 

If all those sights aren't enough for you, you could try hiring a bike and exploring the city on two wheels. Many hostels (including Home) rent bikes by the hour or day, and there are numerous rental companies around the casco antiguo. Cycling through the Jardines del Turia is the perfect way to reach the City of Arts and Sciences, and you could even give the bus a miss and ride all the way to the beach. The Playa de Malvarrosa is a smart, spacious city beach, easily accessed by bus or tram if you fancy a day on the sand, or just a beachside paella.

Valencia's market


Back in the city centre, check out the Mercat Central. A beautiful modernista style building, this food market is one of Europe's biggest and stocks a huge variety of fresh produce, making it a great spot to pick up a picnic. Be sure to wander into the seafood section for the most impressive selection of mariscos you may ever see, including live eels. If you prefer your shopping inanimate, the city centre has a good range of Spanish high street and high end stores, with more vintage shops and boutiques in El Carmen.


Where to eat 

 


Valencia's the home of paella, so it would be almost criminal to leave the city without tucking into this rice dish. The problem is it's often on the expensive side, but it's worth treating yourself to a good one. Beachside Paseo de Neptuno is packed with rice restaurants, but La Pepica is the one to hit: a valenciano institution, it's catered to many a celebrity down the years, but remains unpretentious. There's plenty of choice (including vegetarian): both the marisco option and the arroz negro are great. If you're on a budget, avoid the bread and side dishes as these really bump up the bill.

Back in the centre, you can grab some great tapas at Boatella, a typically Spanish bar opposite the market that gets packed with locals at weekends. They serve Spanish classics, plus some seasonal specials, and you can get a good no-frills feed for around €10 a head. Valencia also has a couple of great vegetarian options: the hippyish La Lluna, with an €8 weekday menu, and Tastaolletes, which serves huge, fresh salads and some more creative dishes.

For more tips on Valencia, also check out Not Hemingway's Spain and Sepia.

Have you been to Valencia? What's your top tip for seeing the city on a budget?

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2 comments :

  1. I went to Valencia years ago... I think I may need to become reacquainted with this remarkable city!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you should! It's absolutely stunning and has a great atmosphere. Such a shame it's quite tricky to get to from Seville!

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