Valencia Is Spain's Best City
13th April 2018I know, it's a bold claim... But having visited twelve Spanish cities in the past five years or so, I am confident in saying that Valencia is without doubt the best city in Spain. It's got everything you could want, from a charming old town to an exhilarating football team to a tranquil nature reserve and everything in-between. In this article I'm going to explore exactly why it is such a brilliant city, and hopefully inspire you to visit. Forget Madrid, forget Seville, even forget Barcelona, Valencia is where it's at!
Not a cloud in sight. Photo by Barney Sheppard
ClimateLet's get the obvious out of the way first, Valencia has a wonderful climate. With lows of 8c in winter and highs of 30c in summer, the city sits within the ideal band of temperatures with enough seasonal variation to keep things interesting but no uncomfortable extremes. It's not just the temperatures that are ideal either, Valencia receives at least six hours of sunshine every day on average, with this figure rising to ten hours during the summer months. Rainfall is also low, with just six rainy days per month on average. In contrast, London has approximately thirteen. The wonderful climate of the city allows it to have an energetic buzz facilitated by outdoor living, and you'll find many of the activities are tailored to this lifestyle. Plus, there's nothing like a bit of sunshine and fresh air to boost your mood.
Valencia's population is approximately 800,000. Photo by Google Manchester's population is approximately 530,000. Photo by Google Barcelona's population is approximately 1.8 million. Photo by Google San Francisco's population is approximately 870,000. Photo by Google
SizeOf course, different people prefer different sized cities, with some enjoying the dynamism of places like London or New York, and others preferring smaller, more walkable cities such as Liverpool or Bilbao. Valencia falls between these two ends of the scale with a population of 800,000 inhabitants. To put this in perspective, the population of Manchester is 530,000, Barcelona 1.8 million and San Francisco 870,000. To me, this middle ground feels perfect. The city is small enough to be generally walkable, in part thanks to its river park which we'll explore later in the article, however it is large and famous enough to attract international events and performances. Proof of this is Valencia's hosting of the Formula One European Grand Prix from 2008-2012. Barcelona, which is rightly celebrated throughout the world as a wonderful city, lacks the walkable, communal aspect of Valencia in my opinion. Its sprawl makes for inconvenient exploration by foot, unfortunately causing the metro and other public transport to be an absolute necessity.
AccentOnly since moving to Spain have I been exposed to the country's wide range of accents and dialects. In Granada where I live Andaluz is prevalent. It's so different to Castellano Spanish that in the Spanish dubbed version of Toy Story 3 when Buzz Lightyear's language is accidentally switched, he starts speaking Andaluz. As well as making my Spanish learning a little trickier, it has been funny to overhear people in other parts of Spain joking about the Andaluz accent. Whilst Valencia does have its own dialect with Valenciano, generally the accent is quite clear and neutral, making spoken language quite easy to understand. I think as a traveller you should always make an effort to at least attempt to speak in the native language, and in Valencia that should be relatively simple.
Jardín Del Turia, Valencia's green ribbon. Photo by Duncan Rhodese Parque De Cabecera is a swirling landscape at the edge of the city. Photo by Barney Sheppard
ParksPerhaps the biggest aspect for me which sets Valencia apart from its Spanish competition are its parks. Two in particular stand out for their size, location and fantastic design. The first is El Jardín Del Turia, which I have mentioned partly inspired my design to pursue a career in architecture in the article Architectural Enlightenment In Valencia. Its story is almost as engaging as the park itself, since it was born from a crisis. The sunken park is actually situated in the dry river bed of the Turia, a river that used to flow through Valencia. Following a disastrous flood in 1957 that submerged almost three quarters of the city, a plan was drawn up to divert the river. This bold plan left the dry river bed as a linear development space which cut right through the heart of the urban area. Initially the space was envisioned as a wide and complex network of motorways to alleviate traffic congestion; I cannot tell you how relieved I am that this idea idea faced heavy resistance from Valencia's citizens. With the tagline "The bed of the Turia is ours and we want green!", the city's inhabitants managed to persuade the leadership to turn the space into a huge linear park. Covering 450 acres and spanning 180 meters in places, the park provides a tranquil and green pedestrian ribbon which runs right through the middle of Valencia. Split into nineteen zones, only one of which is yet to be developed, the park plays host to sports pitches, fountains, play areas, expanses of grass, running tracks and wooded areas. I've never been to a city with a similar development, and my description doesn't do it justice. El Jardín Del Turia only fuels my belief that all cities would benefit from being car free, or at least having a dedicated pedestrian strip or central area.
As if Valencia needed any more wonderful green space, at the Western end of El Jardín Del Turia sits Parque De Cabecera, a multi-level park with a large lake in its centre. Acting as the endpoint of El Jardín Del Turia, it swirls around the lake with interesting viewpoints and elevation changes before blending with the countryside outside the city. Modelled on the passage of water to form small islands, the design reflects the local geography of the area.
Playa De La Malvarrosa is the larger of Valencia's two inner city beaches.
BeachesWhere better to enjoy Valencia's beautiful weather than one of the many huge sandy beaches along the city's coastal border. Stretching approximately 3.5km in length, the two most popular city beaches are Playa El Cabanyal and Playa De La Malvarrosa. On them you'll find a wealth of activities, from volleyball nets to pedalo and jets-ski rentals, as well as the option to stroll or cycle along the sinuous marine promenade, a wonderful way to take in the sea views and atmosphere of the beaches. At the end of Playa El Cabanyal is the port, which is a lovely place to take a walk in the evening as the sun sets. Especially under appreciated in my opinion are the concrete wave breakers where you can sit to escape the buzz of the city and look out to sea. During the summer and autumn months the water temperature stays above 20c, making a refreshing dip to cool off very appealing. Comparing these temperatures with Newquay in Cornwall, where the water temperature never rises above 16c, I know which I'd prefer...
Just 10km outside of the city more quiet, natural beaches can be found, most of which are part of the Albufera Natural Park which we'll explore further on in this article. A key feature of these beaches are their sand dunes, and whilst they have all the necessary amenities they act as a more rugged and tranquil option than their inner-city counterparts.
Valencia's Central Market. Photo by Barney Sheppard One of many charming streets in the old town. Photo by Barney Sheppard The famous cat house. Photo by Barney Sheppard Part of the view from the Torre Del Micalet. Photo by Barney Sheppard
Old TownHome to a number of museums, the cathedral, central market, charming squares and tight alleyways, Valencia's old town is full of character and beauty. It is easy to spend an afternoon exploring this part of the city and grabbing a bite to eat in some of the cafes spread across the area. You're likely to stumble across quirky surprises, such as the cat house and some brilliant graffiti, and I also highly recommend the Torre Del Micalet, a lookout tower attached to the cathedral which costs just 2€! The central market is particularly beautiful too.
The awesome Ciudad De Las Artes Y Las Ciencias will always have a special place in my heart. Photo by Barney Sheppard
La Ciudad De Las Artes Y Las CienciasWhilst I'm sure Valencia's other museums and galleries are brilliant, La Ciudad De Las Artes Y Las Ciencias blows them out of the water. Forming the other half of my inspiration for studying architecture alongside El Jardín Del Turia, the complex of cultural buildings is an architectural wonder that truly looks out of this world (check it out on the Photography page). In fact, it was used to represent an alien world in a Doctor Who episode. Designed by starchitect Santiago Calatrava, I would definitely urge you to bookmark a whole day to visit the site and explore the institutions. They include an art gallery, aquarium, science museum and IMAX cinema. I can't aptly describe the jaw dropping scale of the complex, it really has to be seen to be believed.
La Mestalla, the 55,000 capacity home of Valencia CF. Photo by Valencia CF
FootballIf you're a football fan, Valencia delivers yet again, with two La Liga teams in the city. Valencia CF is the largest club, and when I visited I was lucky enough to score tickets to watch their game against Real Sociedad (you can find tickets here. Regularly competing in Europe and with a grand domestic history too, they are an exciting team that are worthy of representing the city. Their stadium is almost 100 years old having been built in 1923, and it holds 55,000 people. The steep seats and rough appearance make for a brilliant, raw atmosphere, as well as the football crazy Spanish fans. The other team in Valencia, Levante, is a little less successful, however holds great appeal for those who like to support the underdog. Levante are a yoyo team that have had multiple spells in both La Liga and the Segunda División in recent years. Surely there is never a dull moment with them since they seem to be constantly fighting to stave off relegation or gain promotion.
Sunset over the lake in Albufera Natural Park.
Albufera Natural ParkAlbufera Natural Park is located 10km South of Valencia, and it is home to the largest lake in Spain. The birthplace of paella, by exploring the park along some of its six different walking and cycling routes you will be exposed to rice fields, sand dunes, beaches and forests. After sampling some of what some people would argue is Spain's national dish you can take a boat trip on the lake and watch the sunset through the park's wispy grasses. The bus to Albufera takes approximately half an hour, and alongside the park there are also some quaint towns to explore. Unfortunately I didn't have time to go to the natural park when I recently visited Valencia, however this does give me a good excuse to return again.
Public TransportWhilst most of the time cycling, skating or walking through El Jardín Del Turia will suffice, it's great to have the option of efficient public transport. Valencia is well served in this department with trams, buses and a metro line. I mainly walked during my visit, however on the last day when heavy rain began to fall I used the metro. The system, which is organised, clean and fast, is connected to all the major parts of the city as well as the airport. Ideal.
Transport LinksIf for some reason you feel like leaving Valencia for a while to compare its magnificence to somewhere else, the city is well linked to other parts of Spain as well as the rest of Europe. Trains to Madrid and Barcelona take two and three and a half hours respectively, and cost between 20€ and 30€. In terms of flights, Valencia Airport covers just about everywhere in Europe as well as Morocco. If you're in a hurry you can fly to Madrid or Barcelona, and the Balearic Islands are just a two and a half hour flight away as well (or a seven hour ferry). It is unfortunate that flights to North and South America, Australia, Asia or most of Africa are not offered, however with Madrid and its large airport so close it's not a huge issue.
So there you have it, eleven reasons why Valencia is the best city in Spain. I'm sure there are plenty more too, I haven't even gone into the food, nightlife or festivals... Whilst I love Granada and Andalucía where I'm currently located, I can't help but feel a twinge of sadness that I haven't spent my year abroad in Valencia. For now, holidays to the city will have to do, but who knows what opportunities the future could bring. I hope you've enjoyed the article, now go and book your flights to Valencia before it inevitably becomes even more popular.