Once you have discovered Valencia, you’ll wish you had more than a day to explore Spain’s third-largest city, located on the southeast coast. With an easily walkable centre, gorgeous medieval monuments built from golden stone that glows in the sunshine, and some dazzling art nouveau gems, Valencia is a joy to explore. It is also the home of paella; the surrounding countryside green with market gardens and rice fields.
Ships dock at the main port, a couple of miles out of town, and you’ll need to take a shuttle bus or a taxi into the centre. Once you are there, Valencia is full of surprises, one of the most pleasing being the Turia Gardens, the former bed of the Turia river that has now been diverted outside the city. This ribbon of green that winds its way across the centre is now a lovely park, and if you are feeling energetic, a great place for a cycle ride. The City of Arts and Sciences, overlooking the gardens, is a sight to behold – a dazzling cluster of futuristic white buildings, among them the science museum, planetarium, opera house and the Oceanogràfic marine park (a good detour if you have children in tow) housing belugas, sharks and walruses.
In the centre, the chunky cathedral on Plaza de la Reina, blending Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture, is worth a visit to admire a modest-looking chalice, believed by historians to be the actual Holy Grail. Surrounding the cathedral are all manner of lovely old buildings; La Lonja, the 15th century Silk Exchange, for example, is a stunning example of gothic architecture. But just wandering the streets is a pleasure, especially if you like quirky shops; as well as all the usual big names, you will find plenty of arty, independent vintage stores with reasonable prices.
Save time – and room – for a trip to the art nouveau Central Market on Plaza del Mercado. Apart from the fact that you can munch your way around more than 1,000 stalls, it is a great place for gift shopping: from bags of saffron for paella to cheese, iberico ham and olive oil. Paella pans are especially good value, if you can squeeze one into your luggage.