11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Valencia
In a dreamy seaside setting, this balmy Mediterranean port town lives up to the local saying "a piece of heaven fallen to earth." Under the warm rays of the southern sun, the town's palm-fringed plazas are full of life, and its churches sparkle with brightly colored azulejo domes. As the old capital of the kingdom of Valencia, the city is rich in cultural heritage. Magnificent historic monuments, such as the 15th-century Silk Exchange, the 18th-century Marquise Palace, and the Museum of Fine Arts, tell the story of a wealthy merchant and aristocratic past. Yet Valencia has entered the 21st century with gusto. The sleek Modern Art Institute, along with the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences immerse visitors into a brave new world of artistic and scientific discovery.
See also: Where to Stay in Valencia
1 La Lonja de Seda
This magnificent Gothic structure was built in the 15th century to house the city's Silk Exchange, the marketplace where the famous Valencian silk was traded with merchants (to be sold all over Europe). One of the finest examples of Gothic civil architecture in Europe, the building resembles a medieval castle with its crenellated exterior and formidable tower. The facade features richly decorated doorways, decorative windows, and gargoyles (the grotesque carved creatures that function as waterspouts). The main hall has rich stellar vaulting borne on twisted columns. Visitors may climb the 144 stone steps of the tower's helical staircase. From the top of the tower, the views of the town are stunning. This attraction is open to the public daily. On Sundays, La Lonja is used as a venue for coin and stamp exhibitions.
Address: Plaza del Mercado, Valencia
2 Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias
Tourists can experience a cutting-edge world of arts and sciences at this futuristic complex on the outskirts of Valencia. The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is one of Europe's most impressive centers dedicated to cultural and scientific exhibitions. In a two-kilometer space along the Turia River, the complex includes several stunning examples of avant-garde architecture designed by architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela. The Ciudad complex has six main areas: the Hemisfèric IMAX Cinema that screens digital films; the Umbracle landscaped area with excellent views; the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, an interactive science museum; the Oceanogràfic aquarium; the Reina Sofía opera house, and the Agora concert space. The City of Arts and Sciences also hosts conferences, exhibitions, and workshops related to science and art topics.
Address: 5 Avenida Autopista del Saler, Valencia
3 Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas (Ceramics Museum)
Near San Martín Church is the Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas, a spectacular 18th-century mansion. The Marquise Palace is renowned for its opulently decorated facade with an ornately carved alabaster doorway. This aristocratic palace now houses the National Ceramic Museum, which opened in 1947. The museum presents more than 5,000 examples of traditional pottery from Valencia and the surrounding area, azulejos (blue glazed ceramic) from Teruel, and faience (glazed earthenware) from Toledo and Seville. Other interesting items on display include ancient Greek, Roman, and Arab pottery; fine porcelain from China and Japan; and modern pieces by Mariano Benlliure and Picasso. A highlight of the collection is the fully equipped 19th-century Valencian kitchen featuring traditional tiles.
Address: 2 Calle Poeta Querol, Valencia
4 Museo de Bellas Artes
This Fine Arts Museum is a wonderful place to discover the artistic heritage of the Valencia region. The museum displays archeological findings, paintings, and sculptures. Most of the art collection focuses on works of Valencian artists, from the medieval era to modern times. The assortment of 19th- and 20th-century Valencian art is especially interesting. Among the museum's most precious works are the 14th-century altarpiece of Fray Bonifacio Ferrer (a Valencian friar) and a triptych of the Passion by Hieronymus Bosch. Highlights of the Valencian painting collection are the Last Supper and Saint Bruno by Francisco Ribalta and Saint Jerome by Jusepe de Ribera. Other Spanish masters represented include Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, El Greco, Francisco de Goya and Luis de Morales. Adjoining the Museum of Art is the Jardines del Real, a peaceful green space filled with statues, fountains, and walking paths.
Address: 9 San Pio V, Valencia
5 Catedral de Valencia
The Cathedral of Valencia is a glorious Gothic church with its emblematic Miguelete Tower soaring above the city. Built on the site of an old Moorish mosque, the cathedral was built in the 13th century and renovated in the 17th century. The exterior combines original Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque architectural elements. Vibrant azure-hued tiles adorn the domes, which are a distinctive feature of Valencia's skyline.
Before entering, spend time admiring the facade. The splendid Puerta del Palau doorway dates to the Romanesque era, while the Puerta de los Apóstoles (Apostles' Doorway) dates from the 15th century. The interior has an inspiring ambience with its majestic domed ceiling and a rose window illuminating the space. The various chapels are adorned with masterpieces of art, including paintings by Goya and a crucifix by Alonso Cano. A highlight of the sanctuary is the Chapel of the Holy Grail, with delicate vaulting and star motifs. This chapel illustrates a scene of the 12 apostles in Heaven and the coronation of the Virgin Mary. The most sacred object is a relic of the Holy Grail, an artifact from the first century AD said to be the goblet that Jesus used to perform the Holy Eucharist.
Address: Plaza de la Reina, Valencia
6 Colegio del Patriarca (Museum of Religious Art)
Built between 1586 and 1610, the Colegio del Patriarca is an exquisite Renaissance building with an elegant arcaded courtyard. The Colegio del Patriarca was originally founded by Juan de Ribera, the Archbishop of Valencia, as a seminary to train priests. The seminary buildings, with their exceptional works of art, have been converted into a museum. The Capilla de la Concepción displays valuable 16th-century Flemish tapestries. In the former rector's lodging are many wonderful paintings by the great masters including Dierick Bouts, Rogier van der Weyden, Juan de Juanes, Francisco Ribalta, Luis de Morales, and El Greco as well as fine Brussels tapestries. In the seminary's Iglesia Corpus Christi, a superb painting of the Last Supper by Ribalta graces the high altar.
Address: Calle de la Nave 1 (Plaza del Patriarca), Valencia
7 Iglesia de Santo Tomás y San Felipe Neri
With its dazzling blue-tiled dome, this beautiful church exemplifies the characteristic Mediterranean style of Valencia. Built in 1725, the Church of Saint Thomas and Saint Philip was listed as a National Historic Monument in 1982. The church has a fancifully decorated Baroque facade, and the architectural layout was modeled after the much-imitated Il Gesú church in Rome. The breathtaking interior has a spacious central nave lined with numerous side chapels. Catholic mass is held at the church daily. The monument is not open to the public for visit, but tourists may attend a mass to see the lovely sanctuary.
Address: Plaza de San Vicente Ferrer, Valencia
8 Fallas Festival (Fiesta de San José)
Every year in March, Valencia becomes a scene of joyous celebration during the Fiesta de San José (Feast Day of Saint Joseph). This lively religious festival is known for its creative installations called fallas, large floats featuring figures made of papier mâché. These creations are set up in the streets and then burned at midnight on the last day of the fiesta. The custom originated in the Middle Ages, when carpenters and other craftsmen would burn leftover scraps of wood and other materials on the feast of Saint Joseph.
9 Institut Valencia d'Art Moderne
Housed in a surprising Space-Age building, the Valencia Institute of Modern Art is dedicated to the avant-garde art of the 20th century. The permanent collection covers all movements of modern art including Abstract and Pop Art, Informalism and New Figurative. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, lectures, and workshops. In striking contrast to the modern building, an underground room of the museum reveals ruins of Valencia's medieval city wall. The archeological remains were uncovered during construction of the museum.
Address: 118 Calle Guillem de Castro, Valencia
10 Torres de Serranos (Ancient Town Gate)
This impressive landmark is a symbol of Valencia. The Torres de Serranos represents an ancient gate of the Old Town and recalls an era when the town was surrounded by defense walls. The town ramparts were built in the 14th century on top of Roman foundations. In 1930, the Serranos Towers were restored to their former glory. From these massive towers, visitors can take in sweeping views of the cityscape. The archway of the entrance gate features decorative Gothic details and two shields of the city.
Address: Plaza dels Furs, Valencia
11 Mercado Central
Opposite the Lonja, the Mercado Central is a spacious marketplace built in 1928. The Art Nouveau building is lavishly adorned with azulejos, decorative ceramics typical of the region. The hall contains 1,300 market stalls where vendors sell fresh fruits, vegetables, and food products from the Valencia region as well as other areas of Spain. The Iglesia de los Santos Juanes, a lovely 14th-century church is found immediately next to the market hall. This church has an exquisite Baroque facade and a gorgeous ceiling painting created by Palomino in 1700.
Address: Plaza del Mercado, Valencia
Where to Stay in Valencia for Sightseeing
The top tourist attractions in Valencia are in two areas, with most of the historic sites around the cathedral and Plaza del Ayuntamiento. In a broad park that was once a river, the stunning new City of Arts and Sciences is a complex of museums and arts venues, most designed by Santiago Calatrava. Fortunately for tourists, these and other attractions (including the beach) are connected by an excellent transit system. These highly-rated hotels in Valencia are convenient for sightseeing:
- Luxury Hotels: On a quiet street, five minutes from the cathedral and new archaeological museum, Caro Hotel occupies a beautifully restored old building with period features. A stately classic, The Westin Valencia is in a quiet neighborhood across the new park, a pleasant walk to the old center over the Bridge of Flowers and well connected by public transport. With a huge pool and balconies overlooking the beach and Mediterranean, Hotel Las Arenas Balneario Resort is on a metro line to the center, a good compromise between beach and sightseeing.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Balconies of the luxurious Belle Epoch Melia Plaza overlook Plaza del Ayuntamiento, a prime location for Las Fallas, shopping, historic sites, and restaurants. Towards the cathedral, Petit Palace Bristol is near Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas and easy to access from the train station. SH Ingles is in the historic La Xerea neighborhood, near Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas.
- Budget Hotels: Just off Plaza del Ayuntamiento, near restaurants and historic attractions, Catalonia Excelsior offers a free breakfast. With many luxuries for the price, Barcelo Valencia is opposite the City of Arts and Sciences, with great views of the iconic buildings. Also with rooms overlooking the City of Arts and Sciences, a 20-minute walk to the beach and a 15-minute walk into the center, NH Valencia Las Ciencias has a spa.
Day Trips from Valencia
Playa del Saler: A Pristine Beach
One of the most popular beaches in the Valencia region, this pristine stretch of sand lies only 16 kilometers from Valencia in the La Albufera Natural Park. Two other beautiful beaches border El Saler Beach: Playa L'Arbre del Gos; and to the south, La Garrofera beach. This idyllic stretch of fine sandy shoreline extends for 2.6 kilometers and is protected from the wind by dunes and pine trees.
The Medieval Town of Requena
The charming medieval town of Requena lies 68 kilometers from Valencia. The historic center of Requena has a typical Hispanic-Arabic ambience with its old Moorish castle, many narrow pedestrian streets, peaceful squares, and houses adorned with decorative tiles and wrought-iron balconies. The town has two important 14th-century churches, the Iglesia de Santa María and the Iglesia del Salvador; both feature ornate Isabelline Gothic facades. Other noteworthy medieval monuments include the El Cid Palace and the Iglesia de San Nicolás. For those seeking relaxation, the Fuente Podrida spa resort is a worthwhile 30 kilometers from Requena in a pristine natural environment.