First the bad news. Valencia, Spain's third biggest city, doesn't have that iconic, must-see reason to visit. There's no Sagrada Familia or Prado museum here, or anywhere near the number of sights Madrid and Barcelona have.
But Valencia is still a fine place to visit. It is under two hours from Alicante and Madrid (though the latter is on an expensive high-speed train) and three hours from Barcelona. If it fits into your schedule, you'll find a city that doesn't feel as big as it actually is (the suburbs sprawl out much further than a tourist will ever see), with fine cuisine at good prices and a number of excellent museums.
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1. Explore the Old Town
Explore the city center, starting with the two main squares (Plaza Ayuntamiento and Plaza Victoria).
Valencia's cathedral is said to be home to the Holy Grail. More on Valencia Cathedral.
3. City of Arts and Sciences
This mega cultural center, designed by Calatrava, is host to a dolphin show, an IMAX movie theater, a science museum, and much more. More on the City of Arts and Sciences.
4. Port & Beach
Valencia's revamped port area has played home to the America Cup in recent years and now hosts a Formula One Grand Prix every year. The beach is good as far as city beaches go, though there are better ones in the region.
5. Mercado Central
Valencia's market is more spacious than the more famous Boqueria market in Barcelona, less touristy and not so expensive. More on Mercado Central.
6. La Lonja
The old silk exchange looks like something out of Lord of the Rings! More on La Lonja.
Valencia's bullring is a modern design, but... that doesn't mean it doesn't get some good fighters occasionally, especially during the Fallas festival. More on bullfighting in Valencia.
8. Turia River
The river Turia passed through the city until a 1957 flood forced the council to redirect it around the city. The former riverbed is now a park that snakes through the city. There's also a fun Gulliver (from Gulliver's Travels) children's climbing frame. More on River Turia.
Valencia's self-proclaimed "new generation zoo" is walking distance from the city center. More on Bioparc.
02 of 05
After a while, all cities can blur into one and another. If you want to stretch your legs a little and get out of metropolis, take one of these day trips from Valencia.
A beautiful city on the way to Madrid, now accessible from Valencia by high-speed rail, famous for its 'hanging houses', dwellings that hang off the edge of a cliff! See more on Cuenca
A water park, cathedral, and aqueduct await visitors to Segorbe.
The largest city between Valencia and Barcelona.
13. El Palmar
The rice fields where paella's key ingredient was first grown. Some good paella restaurants in the area.
14. Cueva de las Calaveras
Ancient caves with all the stalagmites and stalactites you'd expect of ancient caves. More on Cueva de las Calaveras.
Valencia's wine-producing town.
Historic town with a scenic castle built on a hilltop. More on Xativa.
03 of 05
Valencia is at the heart of Spain's reputation for great Mediterranean cuisine, with plenty of great food for you to try. But the two you mustn't leave the city without sampling are:
Spain's most famous dish comes from Valencia! More on paella in Valencia.
Valencia's milky (though there's no actual milk in it) drink, made from tiger nuts, whatever they are. (No, they're not that.) More on Horchata in Valencia.
04 of 05
Valencia's museums don't hit the international headlines, but I especially enjoyed the first two.
19. MuVIM museu valencia illustracio i de la modernitat
This museum has such a strange name that it is invariably referred to by its acronym. Excellent street photography that probably "challenges our relationship to the modern world" or something like that, if you bother to read artists' pretentious blurbs. More: Valencian Museum of Illustration and Modernity
20. Toy Soldier Museum
Truly a lovely museum! Toy soldiers re-enact famous eras from history - from prehistoric man to Franco's motorcade. Children will love running around choosing their favorite scene and it's a great way to spark a child's interest in history.
21. Valencia's Modern Art Institute
Pop art, sculpture, photography and art installations are the focus of Valencia's modern art museum. More: Modern Art Institute
22. Museo de Bellas Artes
Valencia's fine art museum, next to the royal... gardens. More: Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia
23. Prehistoric and Ethnology Museums
Two interesting museums, housed in the same building, next door to the modern art institute. More: Prehistoric and Archeology MuseumContinue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
Valencia has two wonderful festivals.
24. Tomatina Tomato Fight
The world's most famous food fight. More: Tomatina Tomato Fight Guide.
Valencia's festival of bonfires and loud bangs mixes hedonistic fun, glorious pyrotechnics and a religious element for grandma. More: What to Do at Las Fallas.