Valencia Is Not for Everyone
Valencia may be Spain's third-largest city, but most tourists barely give it a second chance. Rick Steves, whose European travel guides are read by millions, doesn't even mention it in his 1,000-plus page guidebook on Spain.
Is Valencia worth visiting—a secret stud of a city that's being unfairly overlooked? Or is it a dud of a destination?
Here's what we've learned from living there for three months and how to decide for yourself.
Do you want to visit quintessential Spain?
If so, don't visit Valencia.
Valencia is more practical, modern, and livable than it is dreamy, stylish, and historical.
Sure, Valencia has a bullfighting ring in the center of the city, some beautiful old buildings and squares, and lots of tapas bars, but its streets don't have the same level of charm and character as other Spanish cities.
If you want to add some quintessential, non-touristy destinations to your trip, see our post on How We Stumbled Off the Beaten Path in Spain for inspiration.
Are you looking for a beach holiday?
If so, don't visit Valencia.
As underrated as Valencia may be as an overall tourist destination, its beaches are overrated.
The beaches are just ok. They're expansive, blue flag status, and the water's warm. But they're not beautiful and, most importantly, they're not conveniently-located.
Getting to Valencia's beaches from the city center takes a good 15 minutes by car or 40-plus minutes by bike or tram. The beachside restaurants aren't worth their inflated prices and the neighborhoods behind the beach, notably Cabanyal, are worth a wander for maybe an hour but not much more.
Are you looking to escape from tourists?
Keep looking because tourist swarms have found Valencia.
Valencianos aren't telling foreigners to, "Go home!" like Barcelonans are, and tourists don't outnumber locals like in central Seville or San Sebastian, but the city center is already chock-a-block with inauthentic paella restaurants, bike rental outfits, and souvenir shops. It's not an off-the-beaten path Spanish destination anymore.
That said, it's not hard to get away from tourists, as we explain in our Off the Beaten Path Valencia City Guide.
Do you like eating cheap meals?
Valencia's worth visiting for its menu del dias.
These bang-for-your-buck lunch deals are available from 1:30 to 4 p.m. and usually include your choice of drink (wine, beer, water, or soda), bread, a hearty starter (sometimes more than one), an entree, and dessert or coffee (sometimes both). And you get it all for 10 to 15 euros.
You'll find menu del dias all over Spain, but pay more for them. And in some cities, like Seville, very few restaurants offer them anymore.
We list our favorite menu del dias on our Where to Eat in Valencia guide, but here are a few to whet your appetite:
- 64 Restaurant: Our easy #1 pick. For â‚¬10.90 you get three starters to share between two people, a main course, a drink, coffee, bread, and dessert. The experimental menu changes weekly.
- El Trovador: The working-class favorite. Watch out for the waiters as they fly around dealing with the hungry hordes who come in every day for their filling â‚¬10 menu del dia.
- Forastera: For something a bit fancier, but still casual. La Forastera's â‚¬15 menu (drinks not included) serves creative market-to-table dishes that changes daily.
Are you looking for a base to explore Spain from?
If so, don't pick Valencia.
The day trip options from Valencia underwhelm compared to day trips from other cities in Spain you could base yourself in. The towns aren't as historically interesting as elsewhere in Spain, the beaches are over-developed, and natural areas are few and far between.
But that's not to say there's nothing. We found some beautiful places outside Valencia and shared the details in our blog post on our 7 Favorite Day Trips from Valencia.
Do you love rice?
If so, Valencia's worth visiting.
Word is Valencia's locally-grown rice, which comes from the Albufera rice fields 20km south of the city, is exceptionally tasty because of the unique minerality in the water here. Whatever it is that makes the tap water gross to drink also makes rice that's grown and cooked in it delicious to eat.
Paella is the obvious go-to rice dish in Valencia because it was invented here. But if you're nuts about rice you'll want to try other dishes like arroz caldoso, meloso, al horno, and a banda too.
Speaking of nuts…
Do you love almond milk?
I doubt anybody loves almond milk so much that they'd plan a trip around it. But if someone's out there, Valencia's worth visiting to try its almond-milk-like horchata.
Valencian horchata has nothing to do with the typical sweet, cinnamon rice drink from Mexico.
Here, horchata is made from ground tiger nuts, "chufa" in Spanish. (FYI: They aren't actually nuts but tubers.)
Most horchata sold in Valencia is very sugary, but if you go to an actual horchateria—Vida is our favorite—you have the option to try natural, sugar-free stuff that's truly healthy and tastes like an exotic version of almond milk.
Are you a street art aficionado?
If Banksy is your hero and Exit Through the Gift Shop is your favorite movie ever, visiting Valencia is worth it.
Banksy may not have visited Valencia, but he's left his mark on the city's walls all the same. His influence on local artists like Escif, David de Limon, and Julieta XLF is evident in their colorful, creative, and sometimes provocative art that spices up the city's streets, especially around the central El Carmen district.
Valencia street art tours run daily between April and September.
Do you know someone who lives in Valencia?
Then visit Valencia!
This one may seem obvious, but we have to mention it out of frustration at all our friends who made plans to visit nearby Spain or Portugal but didn't feel visiting Valencia was worth including in their itineraries even though we invited them.
Mistake! We could have shown them a way better time than they had getting lost amongst the hordes in Barcelona or Lisbon.
Your friends can do the same for you, too. So don't even think twice about visiting Valencia if you have a host.
Are you visiting Spain in mid-March?
Valencia's worth visiting for Las Fallas.
From the March 15-19, the city explodes into parties, parades, surreal paper mache statues, fireworks, and flames for this UNESCO cultural heritage festival.
Ask anyone who's experienced Las Fallas and they'll give the same response: they'll shake their heads, chuckle, and say, "it's crazy."
Here's the most comprehensive guide on Las Fallas we've seen.
Do you enjoy working out outside or running while traveling?
If so, then Turia Park makes Valencia a must-visit.
The park occupies the 9-kilometer-long, 175-meter-wide strip where the Turia River flowed until 1957, when it was diverted to protect the city from future flooding.
It's an unbroken, 100% car-free park with running and biking paths, outdoor workout areas, open grass, fountains, sports facilities, and playgrounds. It may just be the best urban park we've ever been to.
Are you concerned about safety?
Don't worry because Valencia is super safe.
The petty crime virus that plagues Barcelona has yet to spread south to Valencia. There's got to be some crime in the city but neither we nor anyone we've asked about it has heard about it.
Are you traveling with younger kids?
Valencia's full of kid-friendly things to do and see:
- The crazy architecture of the City of Arts and Sciences will stimulate their imagination.
- Gulliver Park will blow their minds.
- The Valencia Bioparc Zoo is a surefire hit.
- Turia Park is full of kid-friendly parks and bike paths.
- There seems to be a different parade every week.
- The beach is near enough for a fun and easy half-day trip.
Do you like exploring cities by bike?
Valencia's worth visiting because it's very bike-friendly:
- It's as flat as a paella pan. The only "hills" in Valencia are the ramps down to the Turia Park.
- Turia Park is a dream for biking because it is car-free and cuts through the whole city.
- A web of dedicated bike lanes blankets the city's streets.
- Traffic is relaxed and drivers respect cyclists.
- Not as many people steal bikes as in Barcelona, for example.
Do you like being close to nature?
If so, then don't visit Valencia.
Whichever direction you head out of central Valencia you'll have to get past kilometer-after-kilometer of six-to-eight story apartment buildings before seeing open sky. And even then you'll either be amidst tightly-packed farms or at the well-developed beach.
The closest pure nature to Valencia are the short trails and small protected beaches of Albufera Natural Park, which aren't particularly interesting or beautiful.
But if you venture a bit further, you can find some spectacular natural sights. Check out these posts for some recommendations:
Here's our final answer to the "Is Valencia worth visiting?" question:
If you visit Valencia, you won't regret it.
In every other blog post and forum questioning, "Is Valencia worth visiting?" the consensus is a clear, "YES!"
So evidently just about everyone who visits Valencia enjoys it. And if you go, you probably will too.
If you don't visit Valencia, you won't regret it either.
Few (if any) of those who've visited Valencia will pick it as their favorite in all of Spain. And those who skipped it don't regret it. The country's got A LOT to see.
So if you give Valencia a pass, you won't regret it either.
So that means…
Good news: Whether or not you decide to visit Valencia, you can't go wrong!