The wonderful city of Valencia is just 2 hours from Madrid by fast train. I’ve been meaning to visit Valencia for a long-time now and we finally made it. The idea of getting the train rather than flying really appealed to me. So, I found some pretty decent priced Renfe AVE tickets on GoEuro.com and a nice little apartment on Booking.com.
I have not heard a single bad word said about Valencia. Everyone that I spoke to about going said “you will love it” and we sure did!
This post will tell you all about my trip and give you info and tips on all of Valencia’s highlights…
- Taking the train from Madrid to Valencia
- The Renfe AVE highspeed train
- Old Town
- Turia Park
- Horchata & Fartons
- City of Arts and Science
- Malvarossa beach
- Agua de Valencia
Taking the train from Atocha Station in Madrid to Valencia
Atocha is the largest train station in Madrid. It provides access to the city underground Metro, the suburban commuter Cercanias line and the AVE highspeed. The highspeed connects to all the major cities in Spain and is super smooth and fast!
It’s a large modern station with a number of shops and restaurants. The ticket machines are really easy to use and the queues to get bags checked and then board the train are usually quite short or move quickly. I have found that taking the AVE train is a much more stress-free way to travel in Spain then flying.
There is an amazing indoor jungle of tropical trees in the middle of the main concourse at Atocha station. The plants cover 4,000 square metres and next to it is a large pond with hundreds of fish and turtles. The metal and glass roof acts as a greenhouse and the wildlife is thriving with the help of mist sprinklers.
The Renfe AVE Highspeed train
The tickets aren’t cheap for the AVE (in comparison to local Spanish trains) but I think the time you save not hanging around the airport is worth it. Also, there is plenty of leg room, you can take on any size toiletries, there is a food & drink service or you can take on your own food. We usually grab coffee and sandwiches or pastries at one of the station cafes to keep us going for the journey. They even show a movie on a small screen hanging overhead and the staff hand out earphones BUT it’s usually in (dubbed) Spanish so, no good if your Spanish isn’t great. I find it easy to relax on the train, read a book or even have a nap. Its a smooth journey and great way to travel across Spain.
Valencia is a port city on the South East coast of Spain. It’s the 3rd largest city in Spain and is often sadly a little over-looked. Tourists tend to head for the cities of Barcelona, Madrid or Granada for a city-break of culture and cuisine. Or to the beaches on Costa Brava or Costa del Sol for a dose of sun and sea action. Valencia offers a great combination of rich history, modern architecture, delicious local food and beautiful beaches.
*RELATED guide – What you need to know before visiting Valencia
There is a mix of old and shabby vs polished and new in Valencia which makes wandering the streets really interesting. They take a lot of pride in their local produce and the quality of food served here is amazing. Here are the highlights of my trip, they will cover what you need to see, do and eat when visiting Valencia.
Highlights of Valencia
I’ve eaten a Paella a few times since moving to Spain but have been looking forward to trying an authentic Paella in Valencia. It’s the home of the traditional Paella which is white rice, green beans, white beans, chicken and rabbit meat all cooked in water in a big Paella pan and seasoned with herbs, olive oil and saffron. In Valencian the word “Paella” is referring to the pan itself not the dish. Valencian people feel very strongly that a real paella should only be made with the above ingredients with the optional addition of snails, duck or artichokes. A more modern coastal version will include seafood but they NEVER add chorizo! … they get very angry about that 😉
Tip: The best paella we had was near the beach. Try to seek out the restaurants where locals are eating to make sure you are getting the good stuff & not the mediocre touristy version!
This is known as “Ciutat Vella” in Valencia. It’s a maze of narrow winding, cobbled streets full of history, graffiti, shops and cafes. The medieval churches and old plazas give a real sense that you are stepping back in time. The old polished marble floors and dimly lit ornate street lamps are beautiful. Add to that the scents coming from the native orange trees and the colours from the surrounding street-art you get an old town that’s very charming in its own rough around-the-edges way.
The main sights to see here are:
- Mercat Central – A beautifully grand indoor food market, selling all the local produce. You can buy fresh ingredients to take home or sit at a bar just outside to enjoy some paella or tapas.
- La Lonja de la Seda – The Unesco World Heritage site that was originally the Silk exchange. It’s a huge Gothic building with incredible twisted pillars.
- Museo National de Ceramica – A museum displaying ornate ceramic and art pieces. The exterior alone is worth seeing.
- Valencia Cathedral – A Gothic building with Neo-Classical side chapels. It has what is claimed to be the Holy Grail on display. You can climb the 207 steps of the spiral staircase bell tower to get great views over the city.
- Plaza de la Virgin – The square just to the west of the Cathedral. It has a lovely fountain in the centre and lots of restaurants and shops around the edge.
- Plaza de la Reina – A bustling square that gets very heavy local traffic but is worth visiting to take photos of the buildings and have an ice cream.
This is where the River Turia originally flowed in Valencia and is known locally as Jardines del Turia. The river ran down the mountains, through the middle of the city and into the sea. After a terrible storm in the 50’s the river burst its banks and flooded Valencia in 2 metres of water. Following this, the river was re-routed and a long project began to turn the old river bed into a park. It’s now a lovely green area with tall native trees, that shade cycle and walking paths dotted with water features and sports facilities.
Tip: We walked along the park to get to the City of Arts and Science but it is quite far. There are lots of bike hire places if you want to give your feet a bit of a rest!
Horchata & Fartons
Horchata is a smooth cold milky drink made from ground tiger nuts, sugar and ice. Fartons are served on the side and are a long, thick, soft, sweet, bread. It reminded me of milkshake and iced finger buns. It’s a yummy sweet snack that locals tend to have in the late afternoon and is unique to Valencia.
Tip: The most famous place to get Horchata is at Horcheteria de Santa Catalina but we were really happy with the one we had just outside Mercat Central!
City of Arts and Science
“Ciutat de las Artes y Ciencies” is one of the most photographed landscapes in Valencia. It’s a collection of innovative buildings designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava. They form a science and culture leisure complex that looks and feels totally futuristic. It covers approx 2 kilometres of the Turia river bed park. As well as the Umbracle palm tree area and the iconic Assut D’or bridge there is a collection of uniquely shaped white buildings.
The 5 main buildings house the following tourist attractions that are open to the public:
- Oceanographic – Europe’s biggest aquarium
- Hemisferic – A digital 3D IMAX cinema
- Museu de leas Ciences – An interactive science museum
- Palau de les Artes Reina Sofia – Opera House
- Agora – Modern event space
This is the beach closest to Valencia city centre. It starts at the port and stretches up the coast to the Playa de Patacona. It’s a lovely wide, soft, white sand beach lined with nice bars and restaurants. There are many fab spots here to stop for Paella or drinks, particularly at the port end.
Tip: Catch the city tram or bus for a 30-min ride to the beach!
Agua de Valencia
Agua de Valencia translates to “water of Valencia” and is an alcoholic cocktail famous in this area of Spain. It’s made with orange juice, cava, vodka and gin. It’s usually served in big jugs full of ice and orange slices and is like a refreshing Spanish punch. Perfect for enjoying by the beach or after a hot afternoon exploring the city.
Tip: look out for places advertising that they have “zumo de naranja” so that you get freshly squeezed orange juice, it tastes much better then bottled juice!
If we had more time I would love to have visited the Albufera nature reserve, or the BioParc zoo and some more of the beaches along the coast. I will just have to save them for my next visit 🙂
In Valencia they hold some really fun (and pretty crazy) festivals and fiestas. If you can time your visit right, be sure to check out:
Have you been to Valencia? Or plan to visit there soon? Tell me all about it in the comments box!
You might also be interested in Seeking the Spanish Sun guides to…
Check out our Pinterest page for more Valencia travel inspiration…