My Colourful City Guide
It’s always great when you don’t know much about a destination and end up singing its praises afterwards. My logic was that I needed to fly into Valencia for the Las Morenas De España retreat anyway, so it made sense to stick around and break up my journey back to the UK. Now I’m already keen to do a return trip and start a long term relationship with Spain. There’s not much rain, the cava is €2-5 a glass and you can buy a basket bag for any occasion.
Technically Valencia spans a wider area than Barcelona, but it’s less populated and feels a lot calmer. It’s a great destination if you want to combine a cultural city break with occasional beach visits and you’d probably need a few days to tackle everything properly. I’m glad that I kept things simple, sticking to the old town, Ruzafa and charming El Cabanyal district.
As per usual these are the tips and tricks I gathered from my own experiences, research (Hand Luggage Only is always a good start) and people I chatted to. Here’s how to spend a colourful 36 hours in the city.
Watch my vlog from Jávea & Valencia!
Staying At The Valencia Lounge Hostel
This is probably the reason why I was so excited about Valencia, after all who doesn’t love a quirky place to rest their head? I discovered the Valencia Lounge Hostel after doing a bit of Pinterest detective work and spotting a rather aesthetically pleasing pin of the interior design studio Masquespacio that worked on the project.
I’d definitely recommend checking out their projects and even using it as a basis for your travel plans. They managed to work with the traditional features of the 18th century neoclassical building and give every room an individual touch that alludes to the kind of person that may stay there.
If you book early enough this hostel can work out cheaper than an Airbnb, but there are a few important details to note. Firstly, the checking in process is super modern. You download the Stay My Way app (don’t do this outside on 3G like I did), input your details and unlock the door using Bluetooth on your phone.
The main drawback is that you’re not able to enter the building before your reservation, so it can be tricky to leave your luggage in the building if you arrive early (I only managed this after a very humorous interaction with a cleaner who only spoke Spanish). On the way back I decided not to take any chances and left my luggage at Valencia Nord station (it cost around €5 for my huge case).
If you’re prone to losing phones or room keys (especially outside of reception hours), then you won’t be able to get into your room at all. Due to the layout of the hostel there are also no en-suite rooms, so two shared toilets and three showers between eleven rooms. There were never any issues waiting but I do think they were cleaned once a day.
With this in mind, I’d definitely stay there again as I’m a sucker for the interiors and it’s a great area to be based in. I liked being close enough to certain sights but not feeling overwhelmed by crowds so it was nice to nip back every so often (especially after smashing my iPhone screen). The Centre del Carme is also a few streets away and I made full use of the free entry to the Okuda San Miguel exhibition.
Buying Multiple Basket Bags
Only I would come back from Spain with four extra basket bags in my luggage. In my defence two ended up being gifts. As much as I love some of the High Street versions (like this Zara find), there’s something about buying a style that’s unique to a certain culture or destination. Most of the ones I spotted in Jávea and Valencia were either round or large straw totes (though there are lots of variations) and ranged from €9 for something small and plain to €50 Euros for a more intricate bag.
So where’s the best place to head to? A lot of prices were pretty similar, but Trilles near the central market seemed to be the best value (a small round bag was €16 and a shopper style was €12). I also spotted Simple, Cestería El Globo and numerous places along Carrer del Músic Peydró that sold everything in wicker that you could think of. I definitely considered checking an armchair in with my luggage.
Admiring The Architecture
It seems that if you’re after interesting architecture, then it’s best to head to the maritime areas. Like the colourful houses of Burano Island in Venice and Nyhavn in Copenhagen, the El Cabanyal neighbourhood in Valencia also has a story behind all the colour.
El Cabanyal used to be a separate part of the city back in the 13th century and had to be constantly rebuilt after after multiple fires and floods. Now you can spot some of the grand Modernist, Art Nouveau and Art Deco houses that are still standing, with over 200 different kinds of tile patterns adorning the facades. They were built between 1880 and 1940, when wealthier inhabitants lived alongside the fisherman, gypsies and port workers.
Unfortunately the area has been neglected by the government and local residents have spent decades protesting plans to build new roads and apartment blocks. It’s tricky to find any concrete information, but I’d definitely recommend visiting and showing support to local businesses, since some of the buildings have been demolished already.
If you fancy exploring, then head to the Marítim – Serrería stop on the Metro and down Carrer d’en Vicent Gallart (Casa Montaña is meant to be great for tapas). Once you get to Carrer de Josep Benlliure, turn left and follow the road towards Carrer del Mediterrani and beyond. When I was researching some posts mentioned that this area can be a little sketchy in parts and even though I felt perfectly at ease, I’d definitely have your wits about you when it comes to tech.
If you’re in the Ruzafa area (think hipsters), then Casa Judia is also worth looking out, or up for. It’s an art-deco apartment building designed by Joan Guardiola, who was apparently one of Gaudi’s apprentices.
Eating As Many Meals As Possible
I am so glad that I’ve finally had a decent paella! I’m always a bit wary of trying things in London when I haven’t had at least 24 recommendations, so it’s probably best that I waited until I went to the area that started it all.
The birthplace of the dish is around ten miles away from Valencia and evolved from a mix of water vole, eels and butterbeans to something more sophisticated. Now a typical Valencian paella can have rabbit, chicken, vegetables and even snails (though I’m pretty sure I didn’t come across any). Most locals will only eat it for lunch and it’s a good thing if you have to wait longer than twenty minutes, as you’d want it to be cooked fresh every time.
If you are travelling solo, then it’s worth remembering that most places will only serve it for a minimum of two people. Luckily I’d been chatting to Rosalyn over on Instagram who mentioned that she was near El Trompo, so we ended up having an impromptu lunch by the beach.
Each region tends to have its own rice-based speciality and apparently there’s a ‘baked’ version you can make in the oven. I’ll probably be attempting it myself with a spice mix that I picked up from the Central Market.
Dulce De Leche – An Instagram-able environment for your coffee and cake.
Horchateria Santa Catalina – If you fancy even more specialised baked goods, then come here for your churros fix.
Tasca Angel – A typical and reasonably priced tapas bar if you fancy a quick bite. There’s also lots of buzzy places nearby.
Central Market – Admire the signage and visit for any snacks and food-related souvenirs.
Las Mas Bonita – This photogenic beachfront eatery is the first place I’m heading to when I’m next in the city.
All The Things I Wish I’d Known Beforehand…
In terms of transport, you can get the metro from airport into the centre for around £2.20 and the tickets can be topped up, Oyster style. The metro stations can be pretty spaced out, so plan your days strategically and be prepared to do a lot of walking.
If you have visions of cycling around, then there’s plenty of designated lanes and the Valenbisi hire scheme . However the initial fee of €10 is for weekly hire with journeys under 30 minutes being free, so it didn’t make sense for me to cough up when I only had a few hours before my flight. Uber doesn’t run in the city, but Cabify is a great alternative if you get stuck (my invite code is KRISTABELP2) and need to hotfoot it to the airport.
Like a lot of places in Europe, most shops and some less-touristy restaurants close in the afternoon, which can be any time between 1.30-5pm. The markets also tend to close at 3pm and Sundays are a no-go, so check opening times beforehand and plan your schedule accordingly to avoid any disappointment.
English is less widely spoken, so I made full use of my Google Translate app (and felt pretty ashamed at my lack of Spanish). I’m definitely going to resurrect Duolingo for my next visit…
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