Valencia: The Complete Guide

Valencia

Spain’s third-largest city, Valencia, is renowned as the birthplace of paella and attracts visitors with its impressive City of Arts and Sciences. Valencia, officially known as València, is the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia. It is the third-largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, with approximately 800,000 inhabitants in the administrative center. Its urban area extends beyond the city limits, encompassing around 1.6 million people. The metropolitan area of Valencia ranges from 1.7 to 2.5 million people, depending on the definition used. The Port of Valencia is the fifth busiest container port in Europe and the busiest in the Mediterranean Sea. The city holds a Beta-global city ranking in the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.

The city is situated on the banks of the Turia River, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, facing the Gulf of Valencia on the Mediterranean Sea. Its historic center, covering approximately 169 hectares, is one of the largest in Spain, boasting ancient monuments, scenic views, and cultural attractions, making Valencia a top tourist destination.

Valencia’s long history is celebrated through numerous popular festivals and traditions, such as the Fallas, which were declared Fiestas of National Tourist Interest in Spain in 1965 and recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in November 2016. From 1991 to 2015, Rita Barberá Nolla served as mayor, succeeded in 2015 by Joan Ribó from Coalició Compromís.

History of Valencia

Roman Foundation

Valencia was founded as a Roman colony in 138 BC by the consul Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus. It was originally named Valentia Edetanorum and served as a settlement for retired Roman soldiers. The city quickly grew due to its strategic location on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula.

Moorish Occupation

In 714, Moroccan and Arab Moors occupied Valencia. They introduced their language, religion, and customs to the city. The Moors implemented advanced irrigation systems and cultivated new crops, which significantly boosted the region’s agriculture. Valencia became the capital of the Taifa of Valencia during this period.

Christian Reconquest

In 1238, King James I of Aragon conquered Valencia. He redistributed the land among his nobles, a process documented in the Llibre del Repartiment. James I also established the Furs of Valencia, a new legal code that extended to the entire Kingdom of Valencia. This period marked the beginning of significant Christian influence and architectural development in the city.

Loss of Autonomy

In the 18th century, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Valencia sided with the Habsburgs. After their defeat, King Philip V of Spain abolished the Furs of Valencia and other regional privileges as punishment. This led to a loss of autonomy and significant changes in the city’s governance and legal systems.

Capital of Spain

Valencia briefly served as the capital of Spain twice. The first instance was in the summer of 1812 when Joseph Bonaparte moved the Spanish Court there during the Peninsular War. The second instance was between 1936 and 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, when the city became the capital of the Second Spanish Republic.

Modern Era

In the 20th and 21st centuries, Valencia has grown into a major urban center. The Port of Valencia became the busiest container port in the Mediterranean Sea. Significant urban development projects, such as the City of Arts and Sciences, have transformed the city into a modern metropolis. Valencia’s historic center remains one of the largest in Spain, with approximately 169 hectares of ancient monuments, scenic views, and cultural attractions.

Festivals and Traditions

Valencia is renowned for its vibrant festivals and traditions. The most famous is the Fallas, a festival celebrated every March that includes the creation and burning of large wooden and papier-mâché sculptures. The Fallas was declared a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in Spain in 1965 and recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2016.

Political Leadership

From 1991 to 2015, Rita Barberá Nolla served as the mayor of Valencia. In 2015, Joan Ribó from Coalició Compromís was elected mayor. Under their leadership, the city has continued to develop its infrastructure, cultural institutions, and international profile.

Valencia’s rich history, from its Roman foundation to its modern development, reflects its importance as a cultural and economic hub in Spain.

Visiting Valencia for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Valencia on the first visit. To help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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Best Time to Visit Valencia

Spring

Spring, from March to May, is an excellent time to visit Valencia. The weather is warm and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 15°C to 25°C (59°F to 77°F). This season is perfect for enjoying outdoor activities, exploring the city’s parks and gardens, and experiencing the famous Fallas festival in March.

Summer

Summer, from June to August, is hot with temperatures often exceeding 30°C (86°F). This is the best time to enjoy Valencia’s beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. However, it can be quite crowded, especially in tourist areas, so be prepared for busy streets and attractions.

Autumn

Autumn, from September to November, offers cooler temperatures ranging from 17°C to 27°C (63°F to 81°F). The crowds begin to thin out, making it a more relaxed time to visit. It’s an excellent season for exploring historical sites, enjoying local cuisine, and attending cultural events.

Winter

Winter, from December to February, is mild with temperatures between 10°C and 20°C (50°F to 68°F). This is the off-peak season, providing a quieter and more peaceful experience. Winter is ideal for visiting museums, historic landmarks, and experiencing Valencia’s Christmas markets and festivities.

Average Temperatures in Valencia

  • January 17°C 5
  • February 19°C 2
  • March 23°C 7
  • April 25°C 5
  • May 26°C 2
  • June 32°C 2
  • July 34°C 1
  • August 35°C 3
  • September 30°C 9
  • October 26°C 6
  • November 22°C 7
  • December 18°C 4

How to get to Valencia

By Air

Valencia is served by Valencia Airport (VLC), located about 8 kilometers (5 miles) west of the city center.

  • From the Airport:
    • Metro: Lines 3 and 5 of the Valencia Metro connect the airport to the city center in about 20 minutes.
    • Taxi: Taxis are readily available and take approximately 15-20 minutes to reach the city center.
    • Bus: The Aerobus provides a direct service from the airport to the city center, taking about 25 minutes.

By Train

Valencia has two main train stations: Estación del Norte and Joaquín Sorolla.

  • Estación del Norte: This station handles regional and commuter trains.
  • Joaquín Sorolla: This station handles high-speed AVE trains.
  • From Madrid: High-speed AVE trains from Madrid to Valencia take around 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • From Barcelona: High-speed trains from Barcelona to Valencia take about 3 hours.

By Bus

Several bus companies operate routes to Valencia from various cities in Spain.

  • From Madrid: Buses from Madrid to Valencia take around 4 hours.
  • From Barcelona: Buses from Barcelona to Valencia take about 4.5 hours.

By Car

Driving to Valencia is convenient, especially for those exploring the surrounding regions.

  • From Madrid: The drive from Madrid to Valencia takes about 3.5-4 hours via the A-3 highway.
  • From Barcelona: The drive from Barcelona to Valencia takes about 3.5-4 hours via the AP-7 highway.

Local Transportation

  • Metro: Valencia’s metro system has six lines that cover most of the city and its suburbs.
  • Bus: The EMT Valencia operates an extensive bus network throughout the city.
  • Bike: Valencia has a bike-sharing program called Valenbisi, with numerous stations across the city.
  • Taxi: Taxis are readily available and relatively affordable for getting around the city.

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