Valencia and Calatrava Challenge the Senses

Valencia has long been on our target list for visiting and maybe for a longer stay. After two years of roving retirement, we finally made it here. Valencia has lots of historic and UNESCO sites to visit as well as their newest attraction, The City of Arts and Sciences, which is truly spectacular.

City of Valor

Founded in 138 BC near the current Costa Blanca, the Roman town of Valentia (Latin for valor) had life centered on the river Turia. Conquered and reconquered at various times by Muslims and Christians, the city has served as the capital of Spain on a couple of occasions, owing to its size and strategic location. Valencia’s importance continues today as the 3rd largest city in Spain as well as the busiest container port in the Mediterranean.

In the past, the Turia river flooded periodically, until, in 1957, a 100-year flood killed 81 denizens. The locals said “No More!” and an effort was undertaken to redirect the river around the historic downtown. The old riverbed was then developed into a narrow parkway, uniting both sides of the growing city. The resulting park is well-loved and utilized. During our visit, there was a carnival fair happening in the riverbed.

Valencia Vibe

The primary historic Centro area abuts the river on the west. The large Barrio Centro exudes a bustling yet comfortable vibe, a bit less hectic than Barcelona to the north. There are numerous pedestrian streets and squares with fountains, benches, and cafes. We are becoming quite used to the typical family-centered scenes in such squares all over Spain, where young and old congregate and socialize in the evening. We’re really enjoying participating in this nightly ritual.

We took advantage of a free Marriott night to splurge on a stay at the Westin, just east of the river, across a flower-bedecked bridge. The hotel is situated in a 1909 Exposition building that had many uses over the years, including stabling the National Police force horses. It now has a gorgeous interior garden patio where breakfast is served daily. My Marriott status got us an upgraded room and breakfast free. Our room was quite large and Diana enjoyed the Westin Bed and robes that came standard. Our location made it easy to walk across the river to the old town to enjoy food and ambiance in the evenings.

Walking Old Town

As with most historic Barrio Centros in Spain, the old town consists of a mix of churches, plazas, bistros, small shops, and tiny, one-way or pedestrian-only streets. We’ve found the GPS services to be spotty in the narrow streets, which can make it difficult to navigate to that well-ranked tapas bar we were seeking. Valencia has its shares of notable old edifices, as well.

The Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) is one of three World Heritage sites in Valencia. Gorgeous spiral columns connected to the ceiling in the huge main hall, once used for commodity trading, earned it its World Heritage status. Completed in 1533, it also has impressive rooms for the merchant marine tribunal (the first in Spain). A central tower was added later and was used for a time to imprison merchant debtors. In the middle is a tranquil orange tree garden courtyard.


As is common in the areas of formerly Moorish Spain, Valencia Cathedral is built on top of a former mosque. The mosque itself was built atop a Visigoth cathedral which in turn was built over a Roman temple. Today’s building exhibits a melange of Romanesque, Valencian Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical styles owing to the construction continuing over centuries.

While we were taking a walking tour, our guide took us to the Parroquia Sant Nicolai church tucked into a little alley. We had walked past this alley not long before and had no idea where it really led. The church at the end had a small but stunning interior. A true hidden treasure.

City of Arts and Sciences

A must-stop on the Valencia Tourist Bus is the City of Arts and Sciences, which is an expansive set of 7 extraordinary buildings from the mind of master architect Santiago Calatrava. Some of you may be familiar with the Calatrava Sundial Bridge in Redding, California. In Valencia, his visions play out on a grand scale.

We walked around the first building and past the large pools to the planetarium, where we caught an Imax film about Amazon discoveries 130 years ago. We continued on past the events space to another signature Calatrava bridge over to the Oceanogràfic. The aquarium had a nice collection of flamingos, jellyfish, sharks, and penguins, among many other animals. Our timing wasn’t good to catch the dolphin show, but we did get to see them practice for a while.

Valencia Beach

We rode the Tourist Bus all the way to the port and beach neighborhood of El Cabanyal. Though only four miles away, the nearby port was considered a separate city until modern-day Valencia grew to engulf it. The beach “sand” was a bit gray and gritty, but it was nowhere near as rocky Nice. Still, many locals embrace it, although it wasn’t especially crowded that day. The quality and location of the beach result in a very limited beach town atmosphere.

Since it was rather warm, we stopped at a local café for some food and drink. More on Valencia food and drink in Special Food and Drink of Valencia. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality and cost of the fare, given the beachfront location. We were told that using the Metro (light rail) was usually the best way to get to the beach.

Finishing Touch

Our Grand Tour del Costa Spain & Portugal has us visiting many cities along the Iberian coast in search of places we might want to return to for extended stays. Valencia was high on our list of targets for a repeat visit but didn’t quite live up to our hopes. We had a good time visiting the sites in and around town and do recommend a visit. But, for us, the vibe didn’t quite fulfill what we are looking for in a place to hang out for a longer time. That’s OK, we have more coast ahead!

What do you think of Valencia, do you want to visit?

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  1. “A central tower was added later and was used for a time to imprison merchant debtors.”

    Debtors prisons are baffling. “You can’t pay us back so we are going to lock you up and prevent you from earning the money to pay us back.”

    Surely the people who set up those institutions centuries ago were not that dumb. All I can guess is that their hunger for vengeance overrode their pragmatism.

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