There are many fun things to do in Valencia, the third largest (and quite underrated) city in Spain. If you’re planning to experience the vibrant Las Fallas Festival in March, create space in your agenda to dive in the city’s delightful 2,000 year old history, top gastronomy (seafood lovers, rejoice!), and lively arts & culture scene. Unless you’re brave, the Mediterranean waters will be too cold for beachgoers, but the zesty Spanish spirit will warm up your heart if the weather turns bitter like it did during my visit.
Valencia was a bucket-list item I had the privilege to cross off my list. In fact, you can listen to my interview on the Crossing It Off Podcast for more details about my time in Valencia. Check out what I did during my unforgettable six days there and have fun planning your version of a great time! Olé!
- 1. Celebrate Las Fallas, the ultimate pyrotechnical street fiesta
- 2. Cook your own paella
- 3. Watch a bullfight
- 4. Go back in history in Old Town
- 5. Visit the City of Arts & Sciences
- 6. Chill out by the beach
- 7. Frequently Asked Questions
My top fun things to do in Valencia
1. Celebrate Las Fallas, the ultimate pyrotechnical street fiesta
Las Fallas celebrates the onset of spring and the city becomes a stage for spectacular fireworks displays, elaborate religious parades, loud music, insane firecrackers, countless street food vendors and nonstop fun. It’s flamboyant and grandiose. Over a million people pack the streets of Valencia for five days to see methodically crafted, huge papier-mâché sculptures burn in massive bonfires at the end of the festival. Plan to attend at least three days and don’t skip the last night.
2. Cook your own paella
Valencia is the birthplace of paella, a delicious rice dish made with meats such as chicken, rabbit, snails, chorizo or seafood. The name comes from the Valencian word for frying pan, and the dish is traditionally served on weekends, holidays and celebrations. Paella uses a rice variety called bomba, which can absorb up to three times its volume in liquid, accentuating the flavors of everything that goes into its preparation. Bomba rice has been harvested in Eastern Spain for thousands of years and it’s believed to have originated in the Middle East. During cooking, delicate strings of saffron are poured in a paella, adding its distinctively bright yellow color to the final product.
You’ll find restaurants serving paellas all over Valencia, including the famous La Pepica, a favorite of American writer Ernest Hemingway (one of the reasons I must return to Valencia is to eat there!). However, if you want a memorable hands-on experience, I highly recommend you take a paella cooking class from My First Paella. I even heard from locals that this is one of the best paellas in town.
You start your morning picking fresh ingredients at the Mercado de Ruzafa, a farmer’s market with over 100 vendors and 60 years of tradition. From there, you head over to an industrial kitchen and select the kind of paella you’d like to cook. The traditional paella includes meats like rabbit and snail, but I went nontraditional by choosing the seafood option. I had fun joining other tourists and foodies in chopping veggies, cutting meats and pouring spices on the massive frying pans. All of that under the supervision of an entertaining chef and crew that kept replenishing our sangria glasses, jamón ibérico (cured ham) and manchego cheese platters in a festive and casual atmosphere.
3. Watch a bullfight
Watching a bullfight in Valencia was a bucket list within a bucket list. I’d been told over and over that bullfights are gruesome, barbaric spectacles, but their allure captivated my curiosity since I was a child. Many years before my trip to Valencia, I made it to a bullfight in Seville, but due to heavy rain, the event was canceled before the bulls even entered the arena. Fast forward to my career break. I landed at the Valencia airport and took the underground metro to downtown. The first structure I saw was the Plaza de Toros, the bullfight ring built in the 1850s in neoclassical style, inspired by the architecture of the Roman Colosseum. I knew I had to purchase tickets for an event happening that same afternoon.
Upon arriving at the stadium, I bought a cushion to sit comfortably in the arena. A vendor walked in my direction and sold me the most delicious roasted almonds I’ve ever eaten. The air was frigid, but the atmosphere was lively. Families, friends, men, women, young and old gathered to witness a sport that has thrived in Spain since 711 AD. Shortly, the matadors would slay six bulls in front of our eyes.
Spanish horns kicked off the show with a parade of stunning horses and proud men wearing elaborate colorful outfits. Within moments, the metaphorical curtains of doom opened up for carnage: the elegant matador beaming with embroidery and sequins; the phenomenal bull entering the arena, already pierced and suffering; a swift sword bringing it down, its lifeless body dragged across the arena; the crowd throwing fresh roses to the matador chanting olé, his outfit smeared in blood.
All smiles vanished from my face and I could hardly move. I’m a meat eater, I know, but that felt like savagery. I understand that bullfights are a strong component of Spanish heritage, a metaphor for the dance of life and death, but they’re undeniably violent. I stayed for a second round hoping to see something different, but it was more of the same. Not my choice of entertainment. I left my seat with my head down, and on my way out, I saw the first slayed bull hanging on a wire while butchers peeled off the rest of its skin. That night I skipped dinner. There are bucket-lists that are meant to be crossed over only once.
4. Go back in history in Old Town
Valencia has a lovely Old Town with charming cobblestone streets and narrow arched alleys. Over 2,000 years ago the city was part of the Roman empire. It was later ruled by the Moors, who along with the Jewish were expelled by the Christians in tumultuous battles. Historical figures such as El Cid, the epic military leader from the 11th century, once stepped on those very streets that now ignited my imagination. Remains of 14th-century city walls are still standing. Some of the major highlights include the Cathedral (Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados) that supposedly hosts the Holy Grail, and the Lonja de la Seda, a 15th century Valencian-gothic style building where merchants worked out contracts, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I must admit that the mind fog from my sleepless nights attending Las Fallas kept me from exploring these indoor spaces in Old Town. I still can’t believe I skipped the Holy Grail over an afternoon at the manicure. However, I strolled through those ancient corners soaking in the architecture and often closing my eyes to sense the whispers of times past, the rise and fall of civilizations.
5. Visit the City of Arts & Sciences
This massive, modern cultural and architectural complex is considered one of the 12 treasures of Spain. It hosts a museum and plenty of exhibits and activities, but I focused on L’Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe. Though I love nature, prefer it in the wild and for this reason I hardly visit zoos or aquariums. On my last day in the Valencia, I felt compelled to see wildlife to restore some mental sanity after the noisy Las Fallas. I spent an afternoon among sharks, dolphins, penguins, turtles and jellyfish. The sweet looking belugas, the very first I’ve ever seen, were by far my favorite.
6. Chill out by the beach
Word of caution: it can be chilly as in very cold!
I chose to visit Valencia during Las Fallas because of its symbolic metaphor, a street fiesta that burns the old to create space for new beginnings. However, my heart was always set on fulfilling my childhood fantasy of visiting a Valencian beach while wearing an embroidered white dress on a pleasant sunny afternoon. Ironically, none of that happened: the weather felt glacial, the Mediterranean sea was gray and agitated, and my three layers of clothes were not enough to keep me warm. Regardless, my walk on Malvarrossa beach, only a 15-minute taxi drive from Old Town, felt emotional. I was living my dream, and even if it wasn’t exactly as I had pictured, it was still beautiful, powerful, emblematic. At that moment I gave my inner child a taste of what’s possible when we honor our promises. These days, both my inner child and the grown woman that I became know there’s a sunny and warm version of Valencia waiting for us. We’ll be going back.
7. Frequently Asked Questions
1. What languages are spoken in Valencia?
There are two official languages: Spanish and Valencian, a dialect of Catalan. Spanish is the predominant language, but street signage includes both.
2. How do I get to Valencia?
I flew into Valencia airport (VLC) and left the city by train. Estación del Norte (North Station) is a gem of 20th-century architecture with impressive tile work adorning its walls and ceilings.
3. Any hotel recommendations?
I spent my first two nights renting a room from the apartment of a local Valencian via AirBnB, but the infrastructure didn’t meet my needs (no heater!), so I moved to the Cosmo Boutique Hotel in the heart of Old Town. The location is excellent, but be aware: during Las Fallas, street noise will be inhumanely loud day and night.
4. Are public transportation and Uber available?
Yes. Valencia has excellent public infrastructure, and you don’t need to rent a car, especially if you plan to spend most of the time in the walkable Old Town. I took the subway from the airport into the city and used buses, taxis and Uber to move around.
5. Is Valencia safe for solo female travelers?
Yes. The crime rate is relatively low. I walked alone at night on many occasions and always felt safe. Of course, you should always exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings anywhere you travel.
6. What’s the weather like during Las Fallas?
Valencia is known for its mild weather year round, but I experienced cold, windy and rainy days during my stay, with lows in the upper 40s °F (around 8 – 9 °C) and highs in the lower 60s °F (around 15 – 16 °C). Layer up!
Interested in Spain?
Check out my travel guide San Sebastian, Spain: Best, Joyful Things To Do