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Valencia is capital of the province of Valencia in Spain's region of Valencia and Murcia.
Valencia is Spain's third largest city. It is famous throughout Spain for its nightlife and for its festival, Las Fallas. It also has a lovely old quarter and a new and very impressive new cultural complex, the Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias.
Valencia was founded by the Romans in 137 BC but became a Muslim city for five centuries with a brief interruption when El Cid took the city. Its muslim past is is reflected in its architecture. Valencia was a prosperous centre for silk, paper, leather and ceramics under Muslim rule. In 1238 James I of Aragon took the city which became part of his Catalan kingdom. It still has very strong Catalan ties.
In the 15th and 16th centuries Valencia became a very prosperous city but lost importance after both the Spanish War of Succession and the Spanish Civil War as it was on the losing side on both occasions.
However Valencia today is enjoying a rise in its popularity and importance .
The main sights of Valencia are contained within a curve of what was once the river Turia (rio Turia). The river has however been diverted and the old river bed is now a 7km long park. The oldest quarter of the town is the Barrio del Carmen. In this quarter there are lots of little streets and alleys to explore. Following a lengthy decline this area is now being renovated and there are lots of cafés and bars allowing you to pause and admire the old town houses lining the streets.
The Plaza del Ayuntamiento is the main square of Valencia and most of the sites are around here. The Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas is one of the best examples of the Baroque architecture which abounds in the city. Its doorway is particularly flamboyant. Inside this building is the National Ceramics museum displaying ceramics from around the world.
The cathedral also has a Baroque main entrance but it is a mix of architectural styles, including Renaissance and Gothic. Inside the cathedral in the chapel of the Santo Caliz is what is claimed to be the Holy Grail - the chalice of Santo Caliz. This is said to be the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. In 2006 the pope used the chalice during a Mass taken in Valencia's cathedral. The cathedral has a museum containing many paintings and a tabernacle made of gold, silver and precious jewels. Don't miss a climb up the cathedral's tower the Miguelete for spectacular views.
On one side of the cathedral is the beautiful Plaza de la Virgen. This square was once the Roman Forum. As well as the cathedral there is the church of Nuestra Senors de los Desamparados and the Gothic Palau de la Generalitat, the government building for Valencia and a large central fountain. Go to the viewing area of La Almoina, east of the square, to look down on Roman, Arab and Christian remains.
The Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart are all that is left of the medieval walls that once surrounded the city. These majestic towers give an idea of the scale of the original walls. The Torres de Serranos was once the exit from Valencia to Barcelona. You can visit the tower for free. The Torres de Quart was once a prison for women!
As well as the Torres de Serranos and the cathedral the other main building to see is La Lonja. This is a 15th century Gothic silk exchange and has a magnificent Hall of Columns. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the other side of the Plaza del Mercado from La Lonja is the Mercado Central, a modernist style covered market. The Mercado de Colon is another Modernista building, now full or shops and cafes.
No visit to Valencia is complete without a visit to the breathtaking Ciudad de Las Artes Y Las Ciencias, Valencias new City of Arts and Science. Designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava (who also designed the transportation terminal for the new World Trade Centre In New York) it includes an IMAX, a planetarium, an interactive science museum and a large Aquarium. The Ciudad de Las Artes Y Las Ciencias was voted one of the top twelve 'Treasures of Spain' in a national TV and radio competition in 2007. It was one of only two modern buildings in the top twelve.
Garden fans will enjoy a wander around Valencia's Botanic Gardens.
Football fans can visit Valencia's impressive Mestalla stadium when Valencia FC do not have a match.
Museums in Valencia
Museo de Historia de Valencai, 2000 years of the history of Valencia. Includes lots of interactive displays.
Museo de Bellas Artes, this Fine Arts museum is one of the best in Spain and has work by Goya and El Greco. The building itself is lovely. The museum is next to one of the biggest parks in the city, the Jardines del Real, home to a small zoo. There are often open-air concerts in the park in the summer.
Instituto Valenciano d Arte Moderno, home to an impressive collection of 20th century Spanish art.
Museu Fallero, each year in the Festival Las Fallas the best structures are saved from the flames and exhibited here.
Museo del Artista Fallero, come here to find out how the 'fallas' are constructed.
Las Fallas Festival in Valencia
Valencia is known throughout Spain for its festival Las Fallas. It is a riot of music, fireworks, bonfires and night-long partying. Each neighbourhood makes a 'fallas' which is a giant papier maché sculpture depicting newsworthy events and local traditions. The main event takes place on the 19th March when the fallas are burnt at midnight. Partying though takes place from the 1 -19 March with nightly firework displays.
Beaches in Valencia
East of the town centre are the beaches of Playa de la Malvarrosa and Playa de las Arenas. These are beautiful sandy beaches with the sea on one side and a long boulevard with lots of restaurants on the other. For something a bit quieter head south to Playa El Saler.
Places to visit near Valencia
From Valencia you can take a boat trip to the island of Nova Tabarca, just 3km off the coast. As well as great views of the Valencia coast you will be able to see the island's 18th century fortress and picturesque church.
The peaceful Albufera Nature Reserve is just 10 km south of Valencia and is ideal for walking, cycling and bird watching. Or take a tour of the paddy fields in the reserve to see where the rice comes from for the delicious paella you wiill likely sample whilst you are here.
Requena, home of the Utiel Requena red wine is worth a visit and is about an hours drive from Valencia.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Valencia and Murcia guide.