City of Arts and Sciences[/caption]Valencia is Spain’s 3rd largest city with a population of around 740,000. It lies on the Mediterranean coast some 350km south of Barcelona. Madrid is a similar distance inland but is now only 1½ hours away thanks to the high speed AVE rail link. No other city in Spain has seen such a transformation as Valencia has since my first visit in the early 90s when there wasn’t even a motorway connecting the two cities. The opening of the different parts of the City of Arts and Sciences between 1998 and 2005 marked the beginning of the urban regeneration that would put the city on the map as a European tourist destination but would ultimately lead to the region becoming the most indebted in Spain as the Spanish economy teetered on the brink of collapse.
The city is littered with expensive capital projects that could not be financed including the beautiful marina area which hosted the 2007 America’s Cup and the Formula One racing track in the city centre that allowed Valencia to stage the European Grand Prix for four years. The biggest ‘white elephant’ is Castellon Airport just up the coast which cost €150 million Euros to build and has never seen the arrival of a single flight!
The economic profligacy of the Valencian regional government and the corrupt actions of too many of its officials reflects everything that has gone wrong in the Spanish economy as a whole. But how does that affect you as a tourist to this fabulous city? The answer in a nutshell … not at all! The city I visited before all the economic madness is still there. To confirm this just head to the top of the 14th century Miguelete bell tower for a look at old Valencia then head off to discover this modern city where the traditional way of life is never far away.
Things to See & Do
There are surprisingly few direct international flights to Valencia so you might have to fly into Madrid or Barcelona and get a domestic connection. Ryanair is the most active airline at the city’s Manises Airport but schedules seem to change frequently. The airport is only 8km from the city so getting to your hotel is very easy. If you’re already in Spain then train services from Madrid and Barcelona are excellent and intercity bus services are available from all over the country.
What to Do & See
The major tourist attraction in Valencia is the amazing City of Arts and Sciences which attracts 4 million annual visitors and is equally fascinating to adults and children alike. The city is now firmly established on the European art circuit with galleries containing works by El Greco, Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez. Of more historical interest are the Cathedral which has reputedly been home of the mythical Holy Grail for the past 500 years and the Miguelete bell tower next to it. The city’s silk exchange, covered market and bullring are other major attractions. Art enthusiasts are in for a treat at the ‘Museo de Bellas Artes’ and the ‘Instituto Valencia de Arte Moderno’ which are two of Spain’s finest art museums putting the city up there behind Madrid and Barcelona on the Spanish art scene.If you visit the city between 15th and 19th March you can experience one of Spain’s greatest festivals, Las Fallas, when revellers enjoy a week long party with fireworks and massive bonfires every night. Hotel rooms during the Fallas Festival are in short supply as many visitors book up a full year in advance. Budget travellers should also plan on booking hostals in Valencia as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
Football fans might be interested in ordering Valencia football tickets and seeing a game at the Mestalla Stadium during their visit.
The Valencia region is home to ‘Paella Valenciana’, Spain’s most famous dish. Many restaurants in the city offer a selection of rice dishes including paella and a lesser known dish called ‘Fideua’(noodle paella)which is well worth trying. After dinner head for the bars and nightclubs around Barrio del Carmen in the old city where Valencia’s notoriously lively nightlife goes on. Here you can try an ‘Agua de Valencia’ which is a very tasty (and potent) champagne cocktail from the city.
Beyond the city of Valencia is a whole region known as ‘La Comunidad Valenciana‘ which is one of Spain’s autonomous communities. It stretches from Catalonia in the north to Murcia in the south and is made up of the provinces of Castellón, Valencia and Alicante. The region as a whole attracts millions of visitors every year, mainly to its holiday resorts along the Costa Blanca.