Welcome to Valencia, a city on Spain’s eastern coast, known for its food and culture (like so many other cities in this beautiful country! 😜). After spending a long weekend in Valencia, I’d recommend doing the same if you can: that way, you’ll have extra time to see the sights AND just chill on the beach 😎.
Fun fact: Although Spanish (castellano) is usually the dominant language in Valencia (the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia), valenciano is the regional language often seen on street signs and sometimes spoken by locals. Although valenciano is essentially indistinguishable from catalán – the regional language spoken in Spain’s northeastern autonomous community of Cataluña – valenciano does have some different words, and many valencianos take pride in owning their language as distinct from that of their northern neighbors.
Long Weekend in Valencia
Fans of architecture will enjoy a long weekend in Valencia: the city features some Gothic architecture, yet it’s also well-known for its Art Nouveau (modernisme in valenciano), a style of art and architecture often recognized by its inspiration from natural forms like plants and flowers. Valencia’s regional spin on Art Nouveau is a pleasure to see.
Mercat de Colón (Columbus Market)
THIS WAS MY FAVORITE BUILDING IN THE CITY. PERIOD. Mercat de Colón is a must-see stop for your long weekend in Valencia. Pics don’t do this Valencian modernisme masterpiece justice! For those who have been to Barcelona or know Gaudí’s modernist work, this style will look familiar, as the Valencian and Catalan interpretations of Art Nouveau are reminiscent of each other. However, this design incorporates Valencian motifs, such as the region’s well-known oranges.
Mercat Central (Central Market)
Valencia’s Central Market is another fine example of Valencian modernisme. Its facade is quite beautiful, featuring tiles and the characteristic curves of Art Nouveau. Slip inside for a snack or simply to admire the architecture from within, like the attractive dome, the stained glass with the city emblem, and characteristic oranges painted all over the interior!
Estació del Nord (North Station)
Llotja de la Seda (Silk Exchange)
La Llotja de la Seda is a necessary visit for a long weekend in Valencia and one of my favorite sights in the city. It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage site! You’ll notice the fine Gothic details of this structure, both inside and out. The building served as the city’s silk and goods exchange, and its elegant halls feature monumental pillars and impressive coffered ceilings. The internal courtyard dotted with naranjos – orange trees – reminded me of Sevilla and the patio de los naranjos of its cathedral.
Ajuntament (City Hall)
Valencia’s city hall and its two copper domes, set in the heart of town, are a pretty sight. In fact, most buildings around the Plaça de l’Ajuntament (City Hall Plaza) are quite the lookers!
Correus (Post Office)
The elegant post office is situated in the same plaza as City Hall, so it’s an easy sight to see. Make sure to pop in and check out its pretty glass dome.
Valencia’s cathedral is mostly Gothic in appearance, similar to other Spanish cathedrals. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to go inside 😕. Next time!
El Carme (Carmen Neighborhood)
The Barrio del Carmen, or El Carme in Valencian, is a boho, graffitied (and sometimes a bit grungy) neighborhood in the northwest part of the city center – it’s also the city’s oldest area. Spending a long weekend in Valencia will give you some extra time to explore this interesting corner of town. El Carme welcomes visitors with two monumental gates, which are all that remain of the old city walls: Porta de Serrans and Porta de Quart.
Note the arch below: it is the Portal de la Valldigna, an archway built in 1400s as the entrance into old Arab quarter.
A pleasant stop while strolling through El Carme is St. Nicolas Church, technically the Parroquia de San Nicolás de Bari y San Pedro Mártir in Spanish. The interior decor is quite fascinating!
Tile Tributes to Las Fallas
I’ve never been to Las Fallas festival, but, man, it looks crazy. Las Fallas are celebrated in mid-March with the construction of papier mâché figures meant to be celebrities or represent traditions or current events. Of course, a lot of partying is involved as different neighborhoods or groups sponsor and build their own fallas. After the festival, these entertaining effigies get burned – except for one chosen to be spared and put in the Museum Fallero for posterity. As you stroll through town on your long weekend in Valencia, look out for tile placards that commemorate the fallas built by certain groups and their anniversaries.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to visit the City of Arts and Sciences – Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in Valencian – but I had actually already visited in 2011. When doing a summer study abroad program with Penn in Alicante, also in the autonomous community of Valencia, we visited this unique site on a day trip. Hope to go back again one day, though!
Arroz (and Horchata)
I mean, what would a long weekend in Valencia be without PAELLA! Valencianos take their paella very seriously – it’s essentially the region’s signature dish. Traditional paella valenciana usually contains the following ingredients: rice, saffron (that gives the dish its distinctive yellow color), rabbit and/or chicken, green beans, fava beans, artichokes, and a sprig of rosemary. Variations occur, but that’s basically the deal. Point of clarification for us clueless guiris: Non-Spaniards often mistakenly use the word “paella” to refer to a range of rice dishes. For example, what may look like “paella” to the tourist eye may just be a similarly prepared rice dish, which may be called “arroz” and not “paella” – or at least not a traditional paella valenciana. I guess you can sort of compare the paella conflation – how some non-Spaniards may unwittingly call a range of rice dishes “paella” – to how some people may casually call all sparking wine “champagne,” when in fact not all sparkling wine is technically champagne. Of course, there are variations of paella – like seafood paella and paella mixta (combining meat and seafood) – especially around the Mediterranean coast.
Paella and other rice dishes are typically only eaten for lunch; some restaurants that almost exclusively serve paella and other rice dishes may even only open during lunch time, from about 1 – 4 pm. This fact reveals how the Spanish tend to eat heavier at “mediodia” – lunch time – rather than at dinner. It’s practically a faux pas to order a rice dish for dinner in Spain (that’s why I love you and your risotto, Italy 😉).
I recommend making reservations a few days ahead of time anywhere you plan to eat paella or arroz. These places can fill up quickly, and some places – like Goya Gallery below – may even require that you call to request the traditional paella valenciana the day before so that the kitchen has enough time to prepare.
I recommend making a reservation at La Marcelina for delicious traditional paella valenciana right by the beach. This was my dream lunch in Valencia! 😍
Goya Gallery is a just a bit outside the city center but in a pleasant neighborhood. We LOVED the arroz negro with squid ink and seafood! 😋
A friend also recommended LAVOE Arròs i Mar for paella and rice dishes in the city center, but we didn’t get to go 😕.
Horchatería Santa Catalina
The traditional Horchatería Santa Catalina is a must-stop on a long weekend in Valencia. Horchata, or orxata in Valencian, is another staple gustatory speciality in the region. Horchata is essentially like a sweetened nut milk – specifically, it is made from chufa or tiger nuts (you got me – I have NO idea what these nuts are, lol). But I love me some horchata!
You gotta pair your horchata with some fartones (lol) – traditional sugar-dusted pastries.
A long weekend in Valencia would be lacking without some arena between your toes on the shores of the Mediterranean! We went to the beach closest to the city – Playa de las Arenas. We went in the morning on Saturday – around 10 am – until our lunch reservation at 2 pm. This was a good way to avoid the crowds – more and more people arrived as the day progressed, and it also got much hotter. The water was a very agreeable temperature – slightly chilly at first, but you quickly get used to it and the swim is very refreshing. This beach day reminded me of my month studying in seaside Alicante. I love the Mediterranean!