Short of vacation days? Valencia is one of our favorite mini-moon destinations. Perched on the southeastern coast of Spain, this palm-tree-lined paradise will tickle your tastebuds with juicy oranges, vine-ripened tomatoes, and flavorful paella. More than just a gastronomic powerhouse, the aptly nicknamed City of Joy presents ample opportunities for culture, leisure, and recreation. It brims with museums, beautiful parks, and thought-provoking architecture. Add to that sandy beaches and 300 days of sunshine.
Now that you’re sold on Valencia, the next step is to start planning. You want to optimize every last minute, right? Endless internet research and thumbing through brochures seem daunting. So, we’ll save you the trouble. To help make the most of your precious time off, we’ve put together a guide to spending the perfect weekend in Valencia. Buen viaje!
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What to Do
To get a true sense of Valencia, kick things off in its historic heart. A labyrinth of cobbled streets, Ciutat Vella (Old Town) brims with grand squares, bustling markets, sidewalk cafés, artisan shops, and ancient architecture. It’s also home to many of the city’s most emblematic landmarks—including the Silk Exchange, Valencia Cathedral, Plaza de la Virgen, and Torres de Quart. Don’t just stick to the prescribed tourist route—give yourself permission to roam. Within a few minutes, you might spy colorful wall murals tucked away in an assuming alleyway or an atmospheric bodega.
A low-ley wellness mecca, Valencia is flush with yoga studios, running tracks, bike lanes, and urban parks. Stretching nine kilometers along the former riverbanks, the magnificent Turia Gardens encompass grassy meadows, shaded benches, flower beds, fountains, bridges, and sports facilities, plus numerous paths for pedestrians, cyclists, and segways. You could easily spend an entire day wandering around. Though, if you’re only in Valencia for the weekend, it’s important to be strategic with your time. That means hitting Cabecera Park early and moving toward the eye-popping Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. The brainchild of local architect Santiago Calatrava, the futuristic complex features a ship-shaped opera house, IMAX dome theater, interactive science museum, open-air garden, and the largest aquarium in Europe. Valencia also has several beaches. From Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, you can hop in an Uber or hoof it another 45 minutes to Playa de la Malvarrosa for some fun in the sun.
Where to Eat and Drink
The most palatable part of any trip? Food. Paella was born in Valencia, so heaping spoonfuls of saffron-infused goodness are definitely in your future. But where to sample the “best” version of this beloved recipe really depends on who you ask. Locals, critics, and repeat customers favor Casa Carmela. The 97-year-old institution is well worth the trek to Playa de la Malvarrosa. Ernest Hemingway praised his go-to spot, La Pépica, in The Sun Also Rises. For our money, you can’t beat the traditional Valencian paella with chicken, rabbit, and peas at Restaurante Canela.
La Más Bonita Ruzafa serves up a tasty brunch and some seriously scrumptious homemade pastries. We’re big fans of L’Aplec for a casual dinner. Celebrating a special occasion? Snag a table at Ricard Camarena Restaurant, a two-Michelin-star establishment lauded for its artful gastronomy.
Typical Spanish provisions—bread, jamón, olive oil, and wine—still hold a special place in Valencia. To that end, the fresh-baked loaf from Horno San Bartolomé has been described as something of a religious experience. Old-school tapas joints, such as La Pilareta, and cozy wine bars continue to have a cult-like following. And, of course, no epicurean journey would be complete without savoring the magic of the legendary Mercado Central.
Understanding the importance of cured ham, cheese, and seafood, you might be surprised to learn that Valencia happens to be a fairly vegan-friendly destination. Many restaurants offer meat-free options. You’ll also find a handful of plant-based eateries (try Khambú for a quick bite or takeaway grub) and juice shops. That just goes to show that there’s space for everyone in the city’s vast culinary scene.
Where to Stay
From Ruzafa to El Carmen, Valencia has quite a few desirable districts—all of which deserve exploration. That said, time-strapped travelers will get the most out of staying in Old Town. For that authentic neighborhood atmosphere, we love the idea of booking an Airbnb like Calexandre Flat or Solana’s Apartment. Alternately, you can reserve a room at the 26-key Caro Hotel, housed in a 19th-century palace, steps away from Valencia Cathedral.