Valencia is a beautiful city on the South-East coast of Spain, and I fully appreciated every second of my time there- however short it may have been. Spain’s third largest city after the far busier Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia attracts fewer tourists, meaning that although it still has plenty to offer to visitors from all over the place, the general vibe here is far less frantic than in its sister cities. In the days of the Medieval Kingdom of Aragon (a kingdom which is basically the origin of modern Catalonia), it was a hugely important place, so considering we only had one day in Valencia, we thought it would be a brilliant idea to head straight for the Old City in search of some Medieval Grandeur.
I’ll be honest; it took a REALLY LONG TIME to get from Valencia’s cruise port to the city centre. That’s the thing about travelling by cruise ship; often the ports are miles away from civilisation. (Although often the cruise shuttle bus will drive you on some kind of ‘scenic route’ in an attempt to confuse you but simultaneously make the passengers feel like they’re getting value for money) We passed so many beautiful buildings, with sudden glimpses down little streets or across stunning-looking parks, that several times in the course of the journey I was tempted to yell at the driver to stop and let us out in the middle of the road.
Park life on an old riverbed
Eventually, the bus came to a real standstill and we climbed out onto a wide road overlooking a park. Valencia is full of parks, and it makes sense; Winters here are incredibly short, and in summer the temperatures can get to sweltering levels of heat, so obviously people will want to spend as much time as possible outside. The park we were walking across is called the Jardín Del Turia, and it meanders it’s way right the way through the centre of the city. Until 1957, the River Turia meandered along the exact same path, but when it burst its banks and caused a devastating flood complete with injuries and damages galore, the mayor decided it would be a grand idea to divert the river on an alternative route. The original plan was for the dried up riverbed to become a highway, but you’ve got to admit, that would be kind of boring and ugly, wouldn’t it? The residents campaigned for it to be transformed butterfly-style into a glorious park instead, and nowadays it’s one of the most important parts of the city, home to beautiful gardens and incredible modern architecture.
The Torres de Serranos
After we’d made it to the other side of the park, we headed in the direction of a very blocky-looking castle kind of a structure; it was so square that it almost looked like it belonged in Legoland, although it was built in the 14th century, long before Lego (or even plastic) was a thing.
The Torres de Serranos is considered to be the official gateway to the city, although the walls that it was once part of have long since been knocked down. Originally this very slick-looking gateway was a vital part of Valencia’s defence system (hence the sturdiness), although by the 1500s it became a prison for posh people. That’s right pals, the crime-committing knights and nobleman of Valencia didn’t have to mix with riff-raff in a bog standard prison; they came to the polished Torres de Serranos for an experience more befitting to their social standing.
The funny thing is that from the city-side of the gateway, it almost feels like you’re looking at the back of a dolls house. The gigantic open archways on each floor make the building look as if it’s been cut in half with a gigantic bread-knife, a completely flat back in contrast to the pentagonal towers at the front. It’s totes possible to explore this chunky old tower and roam the battlements to your heart’s content, although we decided on a higher tower a bit further away.
Breakfast in the Plaza de la Virgen
It was actually rather early in the morning when we strolled through the gateway into the old city (you can totes stroll around the gate, but going through it felt like the right thing to do in the circumstances), and we were therefore beginning to experience feelings of hunger and mild starvation from the lack of breakfast before we left. You know how it is.
Before long, we had arrived at the Plaza de la Virgen- a beautiful square enclosed by equally stunning buildings, and with a very shiny-looking floor to match. Does someone polish that floor on the regular?? I’d say, surely it’s a yes. On one side, the stunning Valencia Cathedral stood, casting shadows and brilliant shapes of sunlight onto the square, and in the middle was a massive water fountain depicting Neptune and a bunch of naked lasses (classic). Despite the beauty of the situation, it didn’t really do anything to rid us of our pangs of hunger, so we kept our eyes peeled for any signs of food in the area.
We made our way to Bocados Cafe in one corner of the square and tucked in to pan con tomate (aka bread and tomatoes), freshly squeezed orange juice, and coffee. Toasted bread spread with tomatoes, garlic and olive oil is a classic Spanish dish- particularly popular in Catalan country. It’s a downright lovely start to the day, that’s for sure, although if you happen to be around the city for dinner then I highly recommend that you check out a paella; Valencia is the official birthplace of that scrumptious dish, so it’s surely the number one spot in which to try one.
Climbing El Miguelete
Europe is covered with Medieval towers of varying heights and sizes, and for some reason despite the fact that I seize up with fear every time I embark on a climb, I still seemingly find it very important to climb as many as I possibly can. When we saw a queue forming outside the entrance to the cathedral we had to decided super-fast whether to go inside, or keep exploring. Time is of the essence when you work on a cruise ship, ya know? Schedules are tight. We only had a couple of hours more of freedom before we had to start working.
It was a no-brainer really. We went for the bell tower climb.
Valencia’s old city contains a plethora of geometric shapes; El Miguelete (that’s the name of the tower, named after Miguel, the bell), follows this geometric trend. This bad boy Medieval Tower is octagonal in design, with over two hundred steps leading to the top. The staircase is so narrow that a traffic-light system has been installed to make sure that the flow of traffic goes either up or down, but not both at the same time. Makes sense, though the concept of waiting for a green light at either the top or bottom before you head up or down the tower, was a bit tricky for some people to grasp, alas.
The 360° view of the city from the top is stunning, mostly red rooftops with peacock blues and greens spattered throughout. It was rather on the windy side, but I was loving life!!
When we got stuck waiting for the traffic light to turn green (it can be quite a long wait, given the 207-step climb), me and one of my pals hung out underneath the colossal bell taking in the joys of being trapped at the top of the tower, when a trio of Americans asked us if we’d take their picture. Obviously we were more than happy to oblige; and the Americans naturally asked us if they could return the favour. Next thing you know, it was a bell tower photo shoot extravaganza up there, of epic Voguing proportions! What better way to kill time, know what I’m saying? And the Americans were loving it!!
El Miguelete, entry €2.
The Magical Crystal Man
Tower-climbing mission complete, we stumbled out from the dark swirling stone staircase, to a selection of market stalls set up outside the cathedral’s entrance. My Canadian pal is quite the crystal fan, and so when we saw a very smiley looking man crouching on the floor near a blanket full of crystals, he made a beeline straight for the magical man and his crystal-blanket. Pardon the pun, but what an absolute gem this guy was!
I’ve never met anybody so enthusiastic about crystals in my whole entire life. The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed man produced a guide book to excitedly tell us about each and every crystal we showed any interest in, plus the exact location that he’d purchased them. Bless his heart and soul! I’ve read so many articles telling me not to buy anything from street vendors in case they’re running some kind of scam…but this lad was so full of joy and happiness that if we’d have gone back to Valencia, I definitely would have sought him out again. When we realised that time was actually running away from us, and we’d have to run back to the shuttle stop on the double, the lovely lad told us to wait one second so he could give each of us a tiny gemstone to take with us, taking a few seconds to think about each one before he handed them over and explaining earnestly what each one meant.
Magic magic man!!
I’ll be honest- one day is definitely not enough to see Valencia- ideally you’d need several to properly explore this incredible city. And let’s face it pals, we really had half a day thanks to having to get back in time to work. But I was so grateful to have been able to see Valencia at all; this tiny glimpse showed me that it’s a city packed full of history and culture with so many things to do.
What. A. Place.
- Valencia cruise terminal to the city centre should take around twenty-five minutes in total, although this is entirely dependent on traffic.
- Owing to the fact that this city is way less touristic than places like Barcelona and Madrid, food and drink here is way more affordable.
- The official language here is not Spanish. How confusing. They actually speak Valencian, which is a dialect of Catalan.
- If you arrive by airplane, it takes 20 minutes to reach Valencia city centre from the airport by Metro. Pretty sweet.
- Everywhere in the city centre is very reachable on foot, however if you need to go further afield, a single bus ticket is €1.50.
- Siesta is very much in place in Valencia. It’s normal for shops and restaurants to close between 2pm and 6pm for an afternoon nap/chill out time.