If you're continuing your travels around Spain from Barcelona, then one city to put on your "must see" list is undoubtedly Valencia. The country's third biggest metropolis is oft overlooked in favour of Madrid, with its world famous art museums and nightlife, Barcelona with its hipster reputation and hedonistic beach lifestyle, Bilbao with the Basque cuisine and Guggenheim, and Seville with its ties to Spanish traditions like bullfighting and flamenco.
But whilst it may be less renowned, look a little closer and Valencia has plenty of its own USPs. It is home after all to the delicious Spanish dish the paella, it houses the epic futuristic City of Arts & Sciences, boasts a unique green belt in the form of The Turia Gardens and even claims to be the final resting place of the Holy Grail itself! Factor in a magnificent Old Town, a Michelin-star studded gastronomic scene and its own long swathe of sandy beaches and you've got a compelling city break destination indeed.
Oh yes, and we nearly forgot Las Fallas...
Above: The jaw-droppingly beautiful City of Arts & Sciences
The Old Town is chock-a-block with treasures and you can take your pick between the likes of the Cathedral (home of the Holy Grail, allegedly at least!), the Central Market (Europe's biggest food market), the Unesco listed Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange), and the unique National Ceramics Museum built in the rococo style with a magnificent alabaster entrance. The Old Town is also full of pretty plazas, orange trees, street art and funky bars, cafes and restaurants.
Outside the Old Town and you simply can't come to Valencia without visiting local boy and global stararchitect Santiago Calatrava's City of Arts and Sciences. A truly inspiring urban space that also includes the Oceanographic aquarium. You'll find it in the Turia Gardens, the green belt developed along the old riverbed... in fact at the other end of the Turia you'll find the Bioparc, a modern zoo with animal enclosures cleverly sculpted into the natural landscape.
Once you've exhausted the city sights, there's also the beach - a huge stretch of sand with enough towel space for the whole town - and Albufera natural park, a wildlife rich lagoon where the iconic paella dish originated from. And if you want to time your visit for March, you could arrive for the legendary Las Fallas festival, where epicly grotesque carnival floats are constructed... and then burnt to the ground in a blaze of a glory.
Eating & Drinking
Of course you have to have at least one helping of paella when in Valencia... although we'd recommend you ask for the original recipe (with chicken, rabbits and snails) if you want the authentic regional dish! Other than that a renascent gastronomic scene means you've got several Michelin starred choices to select from, like Riff, Vertical and El Poblet. Or check out the new "gastro bars" like Canalla Bistro that are making avant garde fusion cuisine affordable for all.
Nightlife wise and Russafa is the district to head to... this is where the cool kids hang out, and you'll find plenty of hip cafes, bars and clubs and even a so-called "Micro Teatre" where you can see plays in short format. Failing that the bars in El Carmen district in the Old Town are also good fun, and many a good night starts at Cafe Infanta.
Naturally in a large city such as Valencia you'll find plenty of decent hotels in which to hang up your hat and lay down your head. The Hospes Palau de Mar is a very comfortable 5 star hotel just by the Turia Gardens on the edge of the Old Town and also near to the Ruzafa district. A good three star option is the Ad Hoc Monumental.
Getting There From Barcelona
Nipping down to Valencia from Barcelona is easy as pie via the Spanish rail service and there are some good prices out there, especially if you can be a little flexible. Check out Renfe.com. Dozens of trains leave every day with journey times varying, but usually between 3 and 4 hours.
For more info check out the official Visit Valencia website and their blog.