My trip to Valencia in late September was one that I embarked on in circumstances that I hadn’t been prepared for. My Dad had just recently passed away, and I had both a mixture of guilt for going away and enjoying myself over this period, but also relief to have a distraction from the emotions of the previous couple of weeks. What spurred me on though was the fact that my Dad had been to Valencia, he really liked it, and he was excited for me to go. I write this travel blog in memory of him, Neville Stanikk.
I can’t say the beginning of the trip was a roaring success, I was catching a late afternoon flight from Gatwick, which was delayed by a couple of hours, meaning a long wait in the departure lounge. Thankfully I had a good book by Randall Munroe to keep me company, and before I knew it, I was on my way.
Landing in Valencia, I was surprised at how small the airport was. It was by no means as tiny as the one in Tallinn I had visited a few months previously, but it was minute in comparison to Gatwick, I was out in a flash, and headed down to the Metro station, where you can catch the Metro 3 or 5 straight into the city. Annoyingly I missed one though, and being that we had landed very late, the next one wasn’t for over 40 minutes, I opted for an Uber.
I arrived at my fairly central apartment via a road that I absolutely would have assumed was just a pedestrian footpath if not exposed to this early on. This became a theme, having to watch out for vehicles on tiny roads that simply don’t seem like they should be roads. Everything was nice and clean though, and I ventured up to my 4th floor apartment. The place was spacious, nicely decorated, with giant windows adorning the entire side of the living room, a really beautiful bathroom, and a comfortable memory foam bed. I’m so used to beds being the weak link in these places, so it was a treat to be able to lay down and get some rest comfortably.
I have a habit of not really planning my day when I visit places, something that would no doubt annoy planner-types if they travelled with me. All I had in my mind was that I was going to explore the old town. Thankfully I only had to step out my door to be met with my first old church, I checked Google Maps to see where the yellow areas were, which is how they mark the busier and usually more interesting areas of a city, and set off wandering around. I had purchased a 72 hour tourist card, so went and picked that up. It gave me free access to various museums, discounts to some attractions and free transport, although I tend to walk as much as possible.
The tops of the buildings in Valencia are stunning. It really is true that when you’re in a location, you should look up, They have a romantic style, and a lot of decoration and colour. I found myself photographing the tops of buildings more than anything else while on my way to my first stop, which turned out to be the Mercado Central. Huge indoor markets like this are something that we seem to have largely abandoned in the UK, but this was beautiful, with stall after staff of fresh food, crafted items and also bars and restaurants - including one owned by a Michelin-starred chef that had quite the queue.
The next few locations were fairly typical visits to churches, some more extravagantly decorated than others. For some reason, despite knowing it’s clichéd, I still take the standard symmetrical wide-angle image of the inside of churches, phones are pretty useful for this. I admit I don’t get as much out of the churches as some, as I’m not even slightly religious. This extended to me weighing up whether to wait in line for the Cathedral, something that is mentioned on all the tourist brochures, but mainly because it apparently holds the ‘holy grail’ (I’m pretty sure it’s not the only place claiming it). When you’re not religious, that’s simply not a draw, and I decided to go and see other things instead. The square it stood at the end of was of far more interest to me as a photographer.
I made my way towards the northern side of the old town, where you’ll find a castle-like entrance structure called Torres de Serranos. It’s pretty huge, and it’s also completely free to walk up to the top, which gives some beautiful views of the city, and also of the long park that flows through the whole length of Valencia. The fact that this was free, but a trip to the top of the Cathedral only 10 minutes earlier would have set me back a few Euros made me feel a little smug I must admit. Valencia is totally flat, so you can see for a long way from pretty much any of the taller buildings.
It was time for some food, but none of the places I had looked up or saved in advance were nearby. I did a search on Google and found a restaurant called La Moma. The decor was classy but stylish, and the food was beautifully tasty. I opted for the beef tenderloin, and for once actually remembered to take a photo of my food. You’d be surprised how often I do this, despite it being my profession. The meals in Valencia are fairly low priced, this item would have been top of the menu in any UK restaurant, and easily over £35, but in total I paid just under £25, which Valencians would probably tell you is very pricey.
Onwards, and I found myself at a building with a walled garden. I looked it up and discovered it was somewhere I had wanted to visit, this was the La Lonja de la Seda, which featured some huge, grand halls inside the adjoining building, with beautiful architecture and marble floors. One of the rooms felt like a banquet hall made for giants. I can’t remember if this was free with my tourist card, I think it maybe was, but it would have been worth the few euros it cost to get in anyway. It didn’t take long to make my way around, and eventually I ended up back on the street, walking through an area of the city filled with a real mixture of architectural styles, most of which I couldn’t pinpoint in style or era (but my Dad likely could have). I was deep in the tourist district at this point, but unlike Barcelona, it didn’t feel like it.
That’s probably a good moment to talk about the comparisons that can be drawn between Valencia and Barcelona. They are located fairly close to each other, are both large cities, both have long sandy beaches, and are of quite a similar structure. The difference in my mind though is night and day. I’ll confess to being underwhelmed with Barcelona as a city. The grid system of it feels extremely repetitive, and it feels like the city is designed for tourists. I got no sense of authenticity or even real history, even the main attractions are less than 100 years old. Valencia in comparison feels thriving with history, and the areas around this feel unique, and like the locals genuinely live there. There’s also a beautiful contrast of old and new, which I’ll go over on day two. I would absolutely recommend Valencia over Barcelona, if you’re weighing them up.
Back to my trip. I could go on explaining the little exhibits and churches I popped my head into, but if you’re reading this, it probably won’t mean a lot and you’ve probably gotten the idea. I ended up making my way back to my apartment in the early evening and rested my feet, they had done me proud. I had arranged to meet up with a girl called Emma who was living in Valencia, but originally from Portland, Oregon. I always enjoy the chance to meet with people who live in the city. We visited a stunning bar called Cafe de las Horas where I tried Agua de Valencia, a drink featuring famous Valencian orange juice, and it was actually Emma’s first time trying it too (she liked it). We ventured across the town to another bar, and then had some food at a small eatery called Escalons de la Llotja, where I feasted on some octopus, one of my favourite dishes. It was great to have some really nice company for the evening.
On my extremely vague plan today, was a trip to the beach. It was around 28 degrees and my entire trip was nothing but blue skies and sun, so it was ideal weather. I did consult Google Maps to see how long it would take - 1 hour, 10 minutes, ooof! - Even so, I decided I was walking, I like to see things along the way. On my journey I stopped at a tiny brunch cafe called DMundos Cafe Bistro and enjoyed a breaded chicken bocadillo. This place was lovely and so tasty and friendly, I hope they get the exposure they deserve. I ventured on, filled up with my sandwich, and eventually reached the harbour, and then the beach. The Valencian beaches are long and sandy, going on for absolutely miles, with promenade to match. I’ll admit I prefer beaches with more features - such as coves and some rocks - but it was still great to be at the seaside.
Before heading onto the beach properly, I visited a local Ale-Hop (think Flying Tiger, but a bit better), and found exactly what I was looking for, a waterproof pouch that meant I could take my phone into the sea with me. I had been worried about leaving it on the beach as a solo traveller, so this solved that issue. The sea was clear and warm, September is always an ideal time for warm seas after the summer heat. I made my way out, but never quite got deep enough to not be able to touch the bottom. Eventually I came across a sandbank, and so suddenly the water was only up to my midriff again. It was lovely being able to relax in the water for a good amount of time, something I haven’t done in ages - again, I thought of my Dad, who loved going in the sea.
I had walked quite a long way along the promenade to where I was positioned on the beach, something I prefer to do as I don’t understand why so many people just pick the first bit of beach they see, even when it’s crowded. That meant that once I was done with a short sunbathe, I had a fair way to walk back. I honestly thought that my next location, the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias would be a fairly short walk, it didn’t look that far on the map, but I ended up on another fairly epic journey across the city by foot. There wasn’t a lot to see on the way, this area of the city is more general businesses, apartments, but it’s still nice to soak it in. Thankfully, my walk was worth it in the end though.
The City of Arts & Sciences is quite frankly, stunning. Modern architecture with real thought put into each building. The area is comprised of the Science Museum, Hemisphere Cinema and the Centre of Arts, and is clearly the modern cultural hub of the city. What astounded me is how clean everything was, from the crystal blue waters surrounding the buildings, to the enormous windows. In many other locations, you’d expect it to start looking a little more run down or dated by now, but clearly the city takes care of it properly.
I’ll admit that I hadn’t brought my camera out with me this day (a crime for photographers, I know), so I captured some phone pictures instead, knowing that I’d likely be back the next day. I made my way into the Museu de les Ciències, as it was too late in the day to visit the Oceanografic. The museum is located in the longest, central building within the park, and it’s absolutely worth paying to go into. There’s a memory exhibit on the first floor, that admittedly I felt was more suited to couples or groups, as there were tasks you could perform with someone else, but still very interesting. Then on the top floor, wonderful exhibits about both the Earth and Mars, as well as a fascinating and vast exhibit based on the human body and behaviour, with so many things to try throughout. Kids would enjoy this as much as adults I think.
Making my way out, the area looked even more beautiful bathed in golden hour light. I can see why when you search for Valencia, it’s images of this area that usually come up. I took a walk around it, through the gardens they had built on a higher level, and then made my way back towards the old town. Again, I was walking, almost stubbornly at this point. There are absolutely buses I could jump on, and a metro system, but that’s boring, right? My priority at this point was food. I located a 4.7 rated Argentinian steakhouse called Gordon 10 half way to my apartment, and honestly it was the best steak I’ve had, possibly ever. The cuts of meat were presented and explained to me before ordering, and everything was just incredibly flavourful, so much so that I had to try their chocolate cake too, oops.
Finally I returned to my apartment, happy with my adventures for the day, and with very tired feet. I had walked around 34,000 steps that day (about 22km), and so took some time to relax in my apartment. Eventually though, I craved going out again, and I had cocktails on my mind. I visited a bar nearby that I’d seen very good reviews for, it was classy, and joined to a hotel. I had two cocktails here, and they both hit the spot in terms of flavour, I had chosen well. They were clearly quite strong, as I felt the alcohol fairly fast. I then spotted a bar further afield that listed itself as ‘rock music and cocktails’ - my cup of tea! I took a stroll over to it, and ventured inside. It was quiet, but I should have expected that on a Tuesday evening. The music playing was great though, and the cocktails were tasty, so no complaints from me. After two drinks, it was time to head to bed.
Seeing as I had left it too late the previous day, it was L'Oceanografic day, Europe’s largest aquarium. I had heard very good things, and was also looking forward to visiting that area of the city again. What might surprise you, is that I decided to get the bus down to it. I had walked this route the previous day, so I thought making use of my tourist card probably made sense in this instance. The buses are prompt and modern, and I arrived directly outside the entrance of the aquarium. Prices for L'Oceanografic are fairly high, but you do get what you pay for in this instance.
Upon entering L'Oceanografic, I realised that the same care to cleanliness and presentation that had been given to the science park, had been applied here too, everything was beautiful and pristine. I’m so used to zoos and aquariums being a little tired or sometimes a bit depressing even, that it was great to go somewhere where you thought “the animals probably love living here”. The park is a mixture of outdoor attractions (such as giant tortoises, flamingos, dolphins and birds), to enormous underground aquariums, each one suitable for specific style of sea life, whether arctic, tropical or mediterranean. The variety of animals on display was truly amazing, and they all seemed to have a lot of space, and seemed happy too. A highlight was certainly seeing a beluga whale in the cold water section, not something you see every day. It turns out they are curious creatures, and loved swimming right up to the glass (which was spotless).
Other highlights were the shark section, and also the bird enclosure, which you could walk into, with nothing between you and the beautiful birds. I was very glad there were no whales larger than the beluga, as I really dislike the small spaces that larger whales can end up with in other parks. I imagine this place can get pretty packed during peak seasons with kids. There were a fair few there during my visit, but it didn’t cause any issue for me. Part of why I wait until late September to travel. You're probably expecting photos of fish, but....
It took quite a long time to walk around the entirety of Oceanografic - a few hours - and after this I decided to pop back to the City of Arts & Sciences. It wasn’t quite the golden hour light I had experienced the day before, but it still looked beautiful. Slightly frustratingly, the end that I had planned to get my photo from was partially closed off, as they were setting up for some sort of event, but I was still able to capture something decent. I’m never sure who these pictures are for. I guess a few friends, myself, but it’s nice to get them anyway.
Next it was time for a little bit of fun. On the shallow water surrounding the science park, you can hire out various boats, electric paddle boards and more for around 10 minutes, for quite a cheap price. I decided to do it and waited around 10-15 minutes to get on one of the electric paddle board things, which had a steering handle like a scooter. I’m not entirely sure what to call it, but I was very relaxing going around on the water. I enjoyed watching someone getting into one of the zorbs you can hire, and just constantly falling over - absolutely no ability to stand up even for a second.
Time for another bus, and this time it was out to the other side of the city to visit the Botanical Gardens. I wish my travel blogs could be full of amazing and impressive things, but sadly this was one of the more disappointed sections of the trip. Although it was discounted with my pass, the garden was quite soulless, it didn’t feel like a whole lot of care was put into it, and it was laid out in a very basic grid shape. I realise it would have been out of season for flowers and fruits mostly, but there was no colour, and many plants looked like they were dying in the sun. Furthermore, I instantly started getting bitten by mosquitos, so I didn’t spend too long in there, and found myself a pharmacy to get some antihistamines. Please note, what you see in this photo, is a more beautiful garden that was part of the City of Sciences, not the Botanic Gardens.
The evening was filled with more walking about the city, fillings in the gaps to the north that I’d missed on the first day. I had planned to visit a restaurant called Restaurant Secret, but sadly they were fully booked (despite being mostly empty) and I had to resort to elsewhere. I found another restaurant and had some pasta and calamari, although it couldn’t reach the heights of the dinner from the day before. I felt like my first choice being fully booked threw a bit of a spanner in the works with my perfectionism over where I ate. I headed back to the apartment and just relaxed for the evening, including a phone call with my partner Charlie, who I wish had been able to experience Valencia with me.
DAY 4, HEADING HOME
Final days are always awkward, you’ve usually fit in the things you want to do, because you know that you’re going to have your luggage with you before your flight on the last day. I checked out of my apartment, and decided I fancied some brunch. I spotted a place called Eggcellent which had good reviews, and enjoyed some poached egg, bacon and avocado toast. I’ll admit that throughout this blog, I’ve missed out how many times I found myself a gelato place. I almost always get dark chocolate, nom.
I had spotted an archaeology museum a couple of days previous, and was keen to pay it a visit. You know us men, always thinking about the Roman Empire, right? It was hard not to with the amazing display at this place, so it's well worth a visit, as you get to walk through a large fairly well preserved area of Roman buildings, all with very informative videos and signage to help you visualise it all.
Walking about was making my shoulders fairly sore with my bag on, I did it for a while before stopping at a nice bar which was rammed with locals (a good sign) and had some wine, a bargain at 2.50 eur per glass, but still tasted great. I decided to jump on another bus and explore the beaches to the south of Valencia. They’re out of town, in much more quiet suburbs, but still long and sandy, and very pleasant. It was clear that I was out of the city, the atmosphere was lazy, nobody was doing much, and I tried to visit a couple of places to ask if I could buy a bottle of water, at which they simply spoke zero English, and didn’t understand. It doesn’t take going very far for people suddenly to not be bilingual, fair enough though I suppose.
I ended up having to sit down at a restaurant facing the sea, to order some water to a table instead, and chilled there for a while, knowing I had time to kill before my flight, which wasn’t until 8.55pm. I took a stroll along the beach with my shoes off, but didn’t venture into the sea, as I didn’t fancy having to get my towel out and get things all sandy before flying home. There wasn’t much more to see in this area apart from more beach, so eventually I cut in back onto the road and made my way back to where the bus had dropped me. I know that further down this direction there’s a town you can get to by bus that serves arguably the best paella in the city, but I didn’t want to be too far out on this final day.
After a return bus journey, I sat down at Mercat de Colón, which is an old market that’s been converted into a restaurant and bar area. Some of the places here have really low reviews and are clearly tourist traps, but a few are very highly rated. I opted for the Suc de Lluna BioCafè and tried their paella valenciana. In all honesty, I knew it wasn’t going to quite be as it should, as the original paella contains rabbit for starters, and this didn’t. It was fairly average, and I didn’t think the place warranted the high rating it had on Google, especially the chocolate cake they gave me as part of a meal deal at the end, I took one bite and didn’t bother with any more (those who know me, will be shocked). I think maybe the fact this place pushed the ‘bio’ aspect of their business, has caused people to leave higher reviews maybe. Time to dump in a few last random photos...
It was finally time to go, I jumped on the metro and made my way towards the airport. At one point, EasyJet told me it was going to be a 2 hour delay, then 90 mins, and you get the idea. Eventually after all their updates and a panic of if I was going to make it in time to get my train home, my flight arrived perfectly on time, not bad for the fact Gatwick was in chaos throughout the whole week.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip, it was honestly a perfect location for late September, and it seems like similar weather continues into October too. If you’re looking for somewhere with sun, history, beaches, great restaurants and stunning attractions to explore, it’s a fantastic option. I’d say 3 days is enough time to see most things, and I would say that one negative is that there don’t seem to be many nearby scenic towns to visit on the train, which is usually something I do, meaning you’re sort of stuck in Valencia, or need to take the 2 hour train to Madrid. That reason alone puts Valencia below Lisbon in my list of locations in this area of Europe, but certainly above Barcelona. It was a pleasure to get away, and well done to anyone who’s actually managed to read all of this!