A brief encounter with one of Spain's largest cities. Valencia has beautiful buildings and a vibrant core
Valencia is one of those cities we have driven by and flown through several times. We have often talked about stopping to visit. During our most recent journey to Spain, we had a few hours to kill before catching a flight from Valencia to Rome, so we thought we’d take a quick trip in the heart of the city to see what it was all about.
Valencia is the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia and the third-largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, with around 800,000 inhabitants in the administrative centre. Sitting right on the eastern Mediterranean coast of Spain, Valencia is best known for its “fallas” festival, its ceramics and its futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. Since 1982, Valencia has been working endlessly to reinvent itself by building-wide new streets and continually investing in daring and unusual architectural projects. The city is located in the heart of one of the most fertile regions in Europe where fields are bursting with crops like oranges and lemons, rice and more.
Always an important city, Valencia was fought over for the agricultural wealth of its surrounding “huerta.” Founded by the Romans in 138 BC, Valencia later prospered as the capital of a far-flung Moorish kingdom until El Cid briefly recaptured it at the end of the 11th century. It wasn’t until 1238 that Jaime I of Aragón permanently wrested Valencia back. It has remained one of Spain’s largest and richest cities ever since.
With only a brief amount of time available we decided to start our exploration in the Plaça del Ajuntament. Around this plaza are several interesting buildings, including the city hall and post office.
1. POST OFFICE
Construction of the Central Post Office or Correos building began in 1915 and was finished seven years later. It was designed by the architect Miguel Angel Navarro, and its design is clearly eclectic, the dominant style at the time. The most noteworthy feature of the building is the main entrance. It’s set out from the rest of the structure and flanked by double Ionic columns and semi-circular arches, crowned with impressive allegorical figures on top. It’s well-worth stopping in just to buy stamps and mail off those postcards.
2. CITY HALL
Opposite the post office, across Plaça del Ajuntament, is the majestic city hall of Valencia., the most striking feature of which is its very impressive clock tower. The building’s two annexes are joined and comprise the older 18th Century “Teaching House” and a more recent 20th Century construction which includes the facade onto the plaza outside.
As this is a public building you can enter for free. There was some basic security that required us to pass through a very old looking metal detector. It was a quiet day when we visited, so we just sailed through. Just inside the entrance is the grand marble staircase which takes you up to the next floor. Inside there is a small museum which was not very interesting but the room itself was very ornate and dominated by the huge crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
3. STREETS AROUND THE PLAÇA DEL AJUNTAMENT
We decided to leave the main square and head down some of the side streets. Passing by the post office, things get a little less frenetic and we found ourselves traipsing along shady streets that were overlooked by exquisite buildings with very impressive architectural features. Sadly, it was not long before we found ourselves in a pedestrianised shopping area sharing our space again with a busy mass of locals and tourists. That said there were some very cute shops which drew us inside – but as this was the start of our holiday, we resisted the temptation to spend our money.
4. CENTRAL STATION
Karen will attest to the fact that I have a thing about train stations in big cities. For one thing, they often have impressive edifices and luxuriant interiors and can be one of the most attractive architectural attractions of a city. The central train station, Estació Nord, in Valencia was no exception to this rule.
The Estació Nord is located next to the Plaza de Toros de Valencia, the city’s bullring, and 200m from the city hall. The front of the station reminded me a bit of an Indian palace (perhaps a stretch) – but it was certainly imposing. For us, the real jewel of this building was its interiors – which had some beautiful examples of Valencian Art Nouveau design.
5. OLD TOWN
We soon ran out of time, but before heading out to the airport we decided to take a little drive around the city centre.
Beyond the area, we had explored there are some even older parts of the city. This area is characterised by lovely winding, narrow streets lined with brightly coloured buildings, stunning churches and statuesque gates that once played their part in the city’s fortifications in ancient times.
There was no time left for us to explore further – so we’ll just have to come back again and spend more time discovering the delights of this lovely city.
Planning your visit to Valencia
Getting to Valencia by train is a doddle. Valencia is a major transportation hub for Spain and receives local, regional, national and international trains at its station. High-speed trains connect Madrid and Valencia in about an hour and a half, with multiple departures daily. Additionally, trains to and from Barcelona take about three hours.
If you prefer to travel by car the A-3 motorway connects Madrid to Valencia. The drive is about 200 miles and takes around four hours. In addition, the AP-7 motorway runs from Barcelona, which is about 230 miles north.
Flying is another good option. Valencia’s airport offers flights to most major European cities as well as to a few North African locations. As of early 2011, direct flights from the United States are not available; however, connecting flights from Madrid, Paris or London all operate numerous times daily.is trip takes about three and a half hours and runs parallel to Spain’s Mediterranean coastline.
Ride the bus. Hourly buses depart from Madrid for Valencia each day. The trip takes about four hours, depending on the traffic in each city. Buses also travel to Valencia frequently from Barcelona, about five hours away; and Malaga on the southern coast of Spain, about eight hours away.
Best time to visit Valencia
The best time to visit Valencia is April and May, the sweet spot full of warm weather and void of crazy crowds. In general, the city boasts a Mediterranean climate with consistently pleasant weather. In fact, Valencia sees an average of 300 days of sunshine per year. Average high temps range from 60 degrees in the cooler months to 85 degrees in the height of summer. Wintertime is also pretty comfortable – between the mid-40s to mid-60s – and the city is more or less tourist-free. The downside is that certain attractions shorten their hours of operation..
Where to stay in Valencia
1. THE BALANDRET HOTEL
Set on the seafront of Las Arenas Beach and its promenade, Hotel Boutique Balandret offers an on-site restaurant and bright rooms with free WiFi in Valencia.
Decorated in cream or grey tones, each room at Hotel Boutique Balandret comes with a private bathroom including a hairdryer. All rooms have a flat-screen satellite TV, a safe, and some of them feature sea views.
At Hotel Boutique Balandret you will find a 24-hour front desk, a terrace and a snack bar. Other facilities offered at the property include meeting facilities, a shared lounge and a games room.
There is a large kids play area equipped with different toys and children’s painting materials; and several babies accessories such as bath, baby cot and children’s toilet seat are available for free.
2. CITY GARDEN B&B
3. HOSTAL ANTIGUA MORELLANA
This former inn is located in the heart of old Valencia and has been welcoming visitors since the 18th century. The charming townhouse, run by four sisters, has been modernised into a bijou boutique hotel.
The hotel is close to many top landmarks, tucked away in a little narrow street in the Old Town. La Lonja, the 15th-century Gothic silk exchange, is one street over, while the landmark Valencia Cathedral and impressive Plaza de la Reina square are a few hundred yards away. You can catch the tourist bus and other buses from here. Plenty of little bars and restaurants can be found in this quarter. All in all, the location is ideal for exploring the old city. Reasonable rates and proximity to one of Europe’s largest food markets make up for the scarce facilities.