Halfway along the east coast of Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea, sits the city of Valencia. It is the third largest city in Spain and has about as many inhabitants as Amsterdam. Because for Dutchies Valencia is only a two-hour flight away and you can already enjoy the benefits of the Mediterranean climate at the beginning of March, it is a perfect city trip destination. A visit to the city has been on my list for a long time.
I booked a hotel in Plaza de Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square), in the southern part of the old town, la Cuidad Vieja. In addition to the city hall, you will also find the old post office on this square, a stately building on the outside and truly beautiful on the inside. The main hall still functions as a post office, but if you look up, you look straight into an impressive dome. From the Plaza del Ayuntamiento I walk to the Estación del Norte. Opened in 1917, this train station has walls and ceilings that are almost entirely tiled in mosaic. The old wooden counters are still in use.
Next to the Estación del Norte is the Arena, where – unfortunately – bullfights still take place. Someone has written on a statue of a bullfighter the text: “No es cultura, es tortura!” (It’s not culture, it’s torture). I agree. After a few minutes’ walk I arrive at the Mercado de Colón, a market hall from the early twentieth century, where all kinds of restaurants are now located. The enormous classic roof forms a beautiful contrast with the sleek, modern see-through to the underground floor, which was added later.
Via the Plaza de Patriarca, named after the monastery (now a museum) located on the square and the courtyard of the adjacent Centro Cultural La Nau, a former university building, I walk towards the Jardines del Turia. Originally the river Turia flowed right through Valencia, but rainfall regularly caused flooding. In the 1960s it was therefore decided to divert the river around the city. As a result, the original course of the river dried up and a park was created on its bed, the Jardines del Turia. This park now runs like a green ribbon along the east and north sides of the old town. The old bridges that once spanned the river are still there and you can enjoy walking, cycling, sports or lying in the grass in the park.
The next day I visit the northern part of the old town, a place with only highlights. That starts right away in the Mercado Central. You will find such a market hall in many Spanish cities and the stalls sell the things you expect: vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, cheese. But what makes this Mercado special, in my eyes, is the building itself. A truly magnificent hall, built in the early twentieth century. It is already very beautiful from the outside, but when you enter, you find yourself in a huge hall with a high roof and in the middle a huge dome. It is one of the most beautiful market halls I have ever seen.
Opposite the Mercado Central is La Lonja, built in the fifteenth century as a trade fair for silk and wool, among other things. You enter through a private courtyard and opposite the entrance is a building where the Consulado del Mar was located. Here trade disputes at sea were settled. The highlight of La Lonja, however, is the Sala de Contratación. This breathtakingly beautiful room has a seventeen meter high ceiling, which is supported by beautiful twisted columns. I have never seen such pillars before. I think it is a very impressive hall.
Two city gates have been preserved in the old town of Valencia. The Torres de Quart is located on the east side of the old town and was built in the fifteenth century. It is a robust gate, flanked by two impressive thick towers. On the north side of the old town is the Torres de Serranos, from the fourteenth century. It is a very beautiful city gate, where you can go up for a great view over the city.
The northern part of la Cuidad Vieja has countless atmospheric streets, including the oldest street in Valencia, Calle de Caballeros. The streets are flanked by old buildings in that typical Spanish architectural style, with balconies and old lanterns. I walk down the Plaza del Carmen, then past the fifteenth century Palau de la Generalitat, where the regional government of Valencia is located, and then I come to the Plaza de la Virgen.
The Plaza de la Virgen is the main square of the old town. Here is the medieval cathedral and a large fountain with an image that is reminiscent of Neptune, but which actually depicts the Rio Turia. It is a busy, cozy square, with cafes and terraces and orange trees (which you will encounter everywhere in Valencia anyway). A narrow street connects the Plaza de la Virgen with the Plaza de la Reina. Here you will find cafes and terraces as well.
Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias
The next day I leisurely stroll down the Jardines del Turia towards the Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Science), on the southeast side of the city. This complex is located at the end of the Jardines del Turia and, like the park, was built on the former riverbed. The futuristic buildings were designed by the Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava and even though you have seen many photos of them, they are impressive to see in real life.
The first building you come across is the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, a kind of egg-shaped building with natural round shapes, which looks very different from different angles and from different distances. Next to the Palau is the Hemisfèric, a kind of glass dome half above a pond, with a white sphere inside the glass dome that houses a planetarium and IMAX cinema. The Hemisfèric reflects beautifully in the water.
The huge building next door is the Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe. In contrast to the round shapes of the Palau and the Hemisfèric, this museum is a very straight, elongated building. Opposite, on the other side of a pond, is the Umbracle, a sort of tropical garden with white arches.
I really like the architecture of the Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias. The futuristic buildings seem almost surreal. All the buildings of the complex are stark white and therefore stand out beautifully against the blue sky and the reflections in the water complete it. They are very rewarding objects for photographers!
Besides admiring all the old and modern architecture, Valencia also offers every opportunity to eat, drink and enjoy the beautiful weather. It is a very pleasant city, atmospheric and cozy, in short, very worthy of a city trip!