As the third largest city in Spain, Valencia is known for its palm-tree lined streets and mix of old and new architecture. But this sophisticated city offers so much more than pretty buildings. From sampling the fascinating culinary history to bike riding through medieval streets, there are a myriad of ways to have fun in Valencia. Here, our top five:
1. A Farm-To-Table Paella Cooking Class
Valencia is the birthplace of paella and no matter how many times you’ve tasted the popular dish, you haven’t truly had the best until you’ve eaten it in Valencia. The ultimate paella experience is offered at Barraca Toni Montoliu, where guests actually pick fresh paella ingredients from a farm and help cook it over an open orange wood fire, as it is traditionally prepared. The flavor of the flames and orange wood supplies a savory richness that can’t be duplicated.
2. Biking Through Palm Trees
Peddling around on two wheels is one of our favorite ways to gain perspective of a new city. Luckily, Valencia boasts generous bike lines that allow for easy stop-and-go vistas, and tour companies like Solution Bike Rentals and Tours take you through gardens and parks that you’d probably never discover on your own, as well as famous landmarks like the City of Arts and Sciences. The tour is about three hours and includes a selection of different routes (€25).
3. Sipping Like a Local
Sipping Valencia’s signature cocktail, Valencia de Agua or Valencian Water, is a quick way to connect with local culture, and there’s no better place to do it than at Cafe de Las Horas. Near the city’s main Plaza de La Virgen, yet a world away from other local bars, the cafe dazzles with red velvet walls, twinkling chandeliers, and flowers and bronze sculptures everywhere. Here, the traditional recipe of cava, orange juice, vodka, and gin is given a twist with triple sec and cointreau. Sip a pitcher and people watch or listen to nightly live music.
4. Landmark Shopping
Like most every building in Valencia, the historic Central Market is a work of art. Dating from the 1920s and featuring modernist glasswork, columns, and vaults, it’s easy to focus on the structure and not what it holds. But that would be a mistake because the maze of over 450 stalls reflects a colorful glimpse into Valencian food culture. You’ll find saffron and garrafon greens for paella, as well as the snails and rabbit that are essential for the original version. You’ll also spot rows of perfectly round Valencia oranges and fresh juices and pastries for your morning shopping.
5. The Original Horchata
Most North Americans are familiar with the rice-based Mexican drink of horchata, but the original sip was created just north of Valencia in Alboraya. Traditional Valencian horchata uses chufa or tiger nuts which are hard to come by outside of the region. A tour of the Mon Orxata horchata factory serves up all the details of how the nutty drink is made as well as samples of the fresh, creamy treat.