La Tomatina is well known around the world, but apart from 20 000 people throwing 120 tons of tomatoes on the streets of Buñol, the region has so much more to offer for those looking for a bit more relaxing stay than Barcelona.
Here we tell you what’s in and hot (literally!) in the East of Spain Valencia region capital. Whether you are getting involved in tomato fight on August 28 or not, you can surely enjoy the Spanish laissez-faire approach to life. No more Fear of Missing Out!
Valencia | Basic Facts
Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city. It homes around 800 000 people, which is a little more than Seville (read: what to do around Seville). It is a modern port city and a centre for business. As for currency, you will get by euros. Valencia is also known for the Fallas festival – save the date for June 2020!
Region: Southern Europe
Language | Catalan
Currency | Euro
Population | 800 000
Yes, you may be excited to have taken Spanish classes back in the day, but there are some things to keep in mind when going to Valencia.
As a matter of fact, not all Valencians speak Spanish. The official language is Valenciano, a dialect of Catalan. Therefore, when greeting someone, use Bon dia which is more frequently used by locals than Boenos dias. To say goodbyes, say Ow – meaning See you later!
If you’ve never heard about La Tomatina Valenciana, you probably just landed from Moon. The famous tomato fight festival has been around since 1945 from an ordinary street fight. At first, vegetables form a market stall were used, but in the years to follow people would bring their own tomatoes in quarrels to fight. Although illegal in the 50s, the tomato vibe is taking leaps and the festival becomes larger with every year.
While tomatoes take up the central stage, there are parades, paella cooking contests, fireworks and so much more! That said, the world’s largest food fight will take place on August 28, 2019, and you better be there.
To have a taste of the local Spanish life, head to El Cabanyal. Located just behind Las Arenas Beach, the main beach of the city, the district is full of modernist style buildings. Pioneered by Antonio Gaudi, and scattered across the whole Barcelona city, Catalan Modernism is all around Cabanyal-Canyamela neighbourhood. Here, the building are low, and you will see the real Spanish life unfolding between the ceramic facades and colourful, patterned tiles. On abandoned house walls, artists splash the life in with street art, graffiti. This is the birthplace of illustrator Sorrola amongst many other artists, whose work will be exhibited in the cultural centre in the former Cabanyal slaughterhouse. You will most definitely find an Instagram-friendly spot here!
To truly get the vibe of city, meet the locals. While the residential area is calmer during the middle of the day, you can have esmorsaret, the little lunch prepared by locals, for locals. The neighbourhood food scene is quite diverse, and exotic restaurants from Japanese to Chinese and Mexican represent the true queerness of the place. Get the essence at La Pascuala or El Ultramarinos.
At night, listen to flamenco concerts at Mar d´Amura. Spanish and Mediterranean spark friendly attitudes towards tourists and asking for directions will have success if you address locals with ”Bon día rey/reina/cariño.”
When there is enough of wandering around the streets of El Cabanyal, you may want to have a walk in the beach where artists from Sorolla and Goya to even Hemingway walked in their time.
What to take home from a place that is so full of diversity? In case you come from a place as hot as Valencia, we suggest getting a beautiful, hand-painted wooden fan with roses, flamenco dancer or matador.
Eastern Spain is also famous for its fabrics and embroidery. Level up your shopping experience visiting Plaza Redonda. The tiny, locally owned textile shops have great embroidery and textiles to bring back home. Pro tip: remember taking a picture of the store and its owner– your home-stayers will be amazed knowing where the gift comes from!
Paella, paella, paella. Whereas tourist restaurants in Spain are offering food to tourists all over the country, the birthplace of the food is Valencia. Same case as pizza and Naples. Valenciennes sit down to paella on Sunday. To not to give out yourself as guiri, a Northern European tourist in Spanish, or extranjera, remember that the dish is always eaten during the daytime, and never at night. To know you get the real thing (although it will be the case anyway), know that the traditional dish is made from chicken, rabbit and garrafó white beans. You can also seek seafood and vegan options (read: where eat vegan in Spain, Granada), or paella with artichokes, or even snails! Go to La Rogeta cuina vegana for vegan paella and El Racó de la Paella for traditional paella.
Along the world-famous Sagrada Familia and Alhambra, Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. The complex translating into English as City of Arts and Sciences is also the most important tourist destination in the region, and rightly so.
Taking almost a decade to build, the huge architecture centre now houses Oceanografic the largest aquarium in Europe. When you are tired of looking at sea lions and sharks representing marine from the Mediterranean to polar oceans and even Red Sea, walk around Agora. Built to host Tennis Open (but didn’t – it happened to be too expensive for Valencia), it now stands empty, waiting for the opening as an event space.
When hot is becoming too hot, look out for horchateria or a simple ice cream store. Horchateria Santa Catalina is our favourite, and you simply must ask: “Hola! Quiero una horchata de chufa, por favor.”We already wrote about the traditional drinks in Europe, and Valencia happen to be the home of Horchata. Made using the milky juice from tiger nuts and mixed with sugar, the drink is cool and refreshing in hot summer days and makes a healthy vegan alternative to ice cream.
To get you tipsy, taste the Aigua de València, translating into Valencian Water. Served in jugs, and drank from champagne or cocktail glasses, the drink will splash refreshing sweetness. Valencian Water is made from cava (Spanish sparkling wine), orange juice and vodka or gin.
Meet the talented seamstress Lindsay, the owner of one of a kind Spanish 50s vintage dress shop. She left her job 8 years ago, leaving the life of headteacher back in England and moving to Valencia to become an owner for the store full of vintage gems. She sources and styles vintage dresses for performers, prom nights and even weddings, and you can take a moment and dive into the sugar-pastel world of the 50s.
To enjoy Valencia to the fullest, rent apartment in Valencia centre. Spanish modernist housing in El Carmen historical centre neighbourhood features high ceilings, natural materials and modernist interiors. You can also look for apartments around the centre to escape the more touristy areas.
How to Get Around?
To get around Valencia, walking is surely the best option. If you want to get from one attraction to the next in no time, though, get a metro ticket. The Valencia underground metro zone map shows the destinations. One-journey tickets Billete Sencillo (one-way) for €1.50 or Billete Ida y Vuelte (return ticket) €1.50 are normally within zone A. If you have to travel further, you can specify the zone (-es) – see the adjusted prices here. The return journey can be used until the end of the day after using the first journey. Both are the best options if you are around for a few days. However, if you are keen on slow travel, the Bonmetro 10-day ticket may be useful. When buying tickets at the metro station, you can navigate the machine in English. Cash, cards and coins are all accepted to buy a metro ticket for Valencia.
What Apps to Download?
Before going to Valencia, we suggest you downloading Maps.me for offline navigation and El Tiempo for accurate weather forecasts. We already wrote about the full Spain best travel apps – you can re-visit the article.
What Gives Out You’re a Tourist?
Coming to practicalities, there are some simple rules to remember to fit in. First, do not pack shorts, especially if you are a man. Women after 25 usually wear dresses or skirts. In general, conservative dressing style is always preferred. Also, leave your sneakers at home and pack leather shoes, espadrilles or flats for your Valencia trip. You will also encounter a lot of leather and fur around here,
Although Spanish are known for outgoing and loud interactions, a piece of good advice to Americans is to lower your voices while here. Another tip? Keep your hair well done, and – finally – eating on the street is a no-no. Packed with some of these tips, you will feel more respected by locals, if not entirely fitting in.
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