When I read that Valencia has more than 300 cloudless days a year, I figured it had to be a good option for New Year. Having spent that time of year in a fair number of pretty cold European cities I’ve definitely decided that Spain is a great choice for seeing in the New Year with some winter sun.
To prove the point, after a reasonably early flight out, I was sitting in Plaza de la Reina in a t-shirt and sunglasses sharing a bottle of Rosé by lunchtime on New Year’s Eve. The plaza is one of many in the Centro Histórico, the old part of the city that’s perfect for ambling around.
But there’s also an ultra-modern part to Valencia, particularly the stunning City of Arts & Sciences and then there’s the beach and the port made famous by its hosting of the America’s Cup. All of that plus a good metro service from the airport to the city, great places to eat and drink and some pretty nice shopping makes Valencia an excellent and cheaper alternative to its more popular Spanish siblings Madrid and Barcelona.
See and do
The historic centre is fairly compact and easy to walk around, though some parts can be a bit busy with traffic. The largest square, Plaza Ayuntamiento, is home to the imposing town hall and post office which face each other across fountains and flower stalls.
Near to here is the main shopping area centred on Carrer de Colón which is lined with major chains and department stores like El Cortes Inglés and upmarket clothes shops, while roads off it have a mix of designer brand stores and small one-off shops that often just sell one product. Heading north of here the Mercado Central is worth popping into. It’s apparently Europe’s largest fresh produce market and has a vast array of stalls bursting with colourful food and amazing smells.
Not far from here, Plaza de Reina has plenty of places to eat and drink with outside tables, as well as a tourist office and a place to hire a horse drawn carriage for a ride around the Centro Historico. It’s not exactly the culinary centre of town, but its handy for a drink or lunch stop and as well as places offering full meals and tapas, there’s an Irish bar and one that sells 100 different montaditos (mini rolls).
At one end of the square is the baroque entrance to the city cathedral. It’s worth a look because baroque isn’t the only architectural style you’ll see as it’s been altered many times over the years. There’s also a bell tower which offers great views of the city if you’re up for climbing a couple of hundred spiral steps to the top.
The other side of the cathedral is Plaza de la Virgen which is one end of Calle de Caballeros, the street that runs through the heart of Barrio del Carmen, the oldest quarter of the city. It’s worth a wander by day as has boutique stores, museums and galleries, but night time is when it really comes to life as I’ll explain in the eat, drink, sleep section later. One thing worth mentioning while you’re finding your way round is that some of the street signs on Calle de Caballeros say Calle de Cavallers. I never worked out why and it was confusing for a while when trying to find a recommended restaurant, but it’s definitely the same street!
If you fancy a bit of green space the old town is circled by Jardines del Turia, the old riverbed which is now a nine kilometres long park where people walk, run, cycle and play sports. The river was diverted away from the city after floods in the 1950s and luckily a proposal to turn it into a motorway was ditched in favour of the gardens. It’s easy to walk down to the park from Barrio del Carmen and on route you can stop at Torres de Serranos which overlooks the riverbed and offers good views for less steps up than the cathedral tower.
At one end of the gardens is the fabulous City of Arts & Sciences. I don’t think I’ve seen quite so many modern structures that have the wow factor all in one place. There’s a bridge that looks like harp or maybe a huge sail, an arts centre covered in tiny pieces of mosaic, a spiky science museum and an IMAX that looks like a whale on a lake. The outside of the buildings is worth the trip alone but going inside takes some time and commitment. I wasn’t there long enough and the sun outside was a bit too appealing, but for those with more time there’s Europe’s biggest aquarium as well as a science museum, IMAX cinema, planetarium and the Palau de les Arts cultural centre.
The final part of town that I did make time for was the beach. It wasn’t quite hot enough for me to get my bikini out in December, but the promenade from the Eugenia Vines tram stop along to the port was the perfect New Year’s Day stroll.
Along the way is a quirky fountain boat sculpture which spurts out water in the shape of the hull and sails and then there’s whole row of restaurants and bars facing the lovely sandy beach. New Year’s Day lunch was busy with locals and having not booked we got a table where we could, but the Menu del Dia on offer was good, as is often the case in Spain, and as Valencia is claimed to be the birthplace of paella, that seemed the obvious main course choice. And in any case eating paella in the evening is evidently just for the tourists!
Eat, drink, sleep
There’s no shortage of hotels in Valencia and many are surprisingly good value for the quality and location. If you’re mostly there for the sun then there are options near the beach and with pools. As it was New Year and night life was a primary driver, I chose to stay at a boutique hotel in the old town, SH Ingles on Calle de Marques de dos Aguas. Originally a palace it’s a lovely building opposite the ceramics museum and in a great location for the main shopping area, sites to see and Barrio del Carmen.
As mentioned earlier the Carmen area is the best for eating and drinking with lots of options on and around Calle de Caballeros. A couple of these are on Calle de Catalans, a narrow street that runs into Plaza de Negrita. Messana is quite a cool place with lots of art on the walls, exposed brick walls and a full a la carte as well as set menus. Next to this is the more traditional and busy Bodeguilla Del Gato which has tables and also seats for tapas at the bar. In the nearby square Café Bar Negrito is good for drinks thought the outside tables fill up fast. Around the corner from here on Calle de Calatrava the disco bar Ghecko turned out to be a good spot for several late night Mojitos.
On Calle de Caballeros itself the best tapas I had was at Pepita Pulgarcita, which offers a more contemporary take on the genre. It’s small and can get busy, but the patata bravas alone make it worth the visit. Another nice bar along here is Cava Siglos which has a great range of wines and serves good Agua de Valencia, the local drink which certainly isn’t just water!
Further along towards Plaza del Tossal are plenty more places to eat and bars to drink in, including Johnny Maracas, where you’re likely to see some salsa or Cuban dance moves and the entirely different Sant Jaume which is a converted pharmacy. Absolutely tiny inside but has a nice terrace next to it which is a good spot for watching the nightly promenade.
Plaza del Tossal also has a collection of bars with tables inside and out including Café Infanta which has a nice terrace and Bolsaria which is another late bar with a dance floor. In fact it’s worth saying if you’re not used to nights out in Spanish cities that things don’t get going until late. I rarely leave the hotel before 9.30pm to go and eat, which is another reason why a bigger meal in the day and tapas at night is a pretty good idea.
So all in all Valencia is a perfect place for a European city break that offers lots to see, do, eat and drink as well as a pretty good chance you’ll catch some sun, whatever the time of year.
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