Valencia is a bustling city on Spain’s warm, welcoming Mediterranean coastline. It is the third largest city in the country in terms of population (only Barcelona and Madrid are larger). Over the past few decades, a building boom has turned this once quiet coastal town into an interesting and exciting urban destination. A host of free attractions, from historic sightseeing spots to energetic and colorful festivals, mean that visitors can fill their itineraries without having to empty their wallets. Despite lacking the notoriety that Madrid or Barcelona enjoy, Valencia is definitely a worthwhile stop for any European vacationer.
Here are the ten best free attractions in Valencia.
1. Old Town
For all its modern buildings and progressive vibe, Valencia is a historic city at heart. Nowhere is this more evident than in the city’s old center. This area a treat for architecture lovers and history buffs, who can spend days on the quiet streets snapping pictures of the atmospheric buildings and alleyways. At night things are decidedly more lively. Places like Barrio de Carmen change from quiet Old World neighborhoods into bustling nightlife destinations.
Each Spring, Valencia comes alive with gigantic, whimsical floats made from paper mache. These cartoonish, fairy-tale-like structures are featured in parades that mark the Fallas festivities. Fireworks, music ,and a general sense of revelry characterize the fest, which is uniquely Valencian. Since much of the partying takes place on the street, it is completely free to take part in Fallas.
3. Mercat Central
Valencia’s central market is as much a tourist destination as it is a shopping venue. Located in a building that is one of the best remaining examples of Spanish “modernist” architecture in Valencia, it is still used as a retail space by local vendors. People crowd into the aisles, buying fresh meats, produce and artisanal foods. This is not a bad place to window shop and enjoy the sights, scents and sounds of Spanish cuisine.
4. Turia Gardens
This lengthy green-space is a welcome piece of nature in urban Valencia. The “gardens” include trees and flowers, of course, but there are also park-lands with sports fields, walking and cycling paths, and even fountains and a man-made lake. The park was constructed using an old river bed, and people can descend from many of Valencia’s neighborhood and get to the gardens easily. So Turia is a free, green attraction that is always nearby, no matter what part of the city you happen the be exploring.
5. Ceramics Museum
This museums is free to anyone under 18 (or over 65). Others only pay a €1.20. The museum features displays about the history of ceramics and also contains some of the most ornately decorated pottery found anywhere in the world. The collection ranges from attractive modern pieces to aged-but-detailed, well preserved pottery made during Moorish times.
6. Playa de El Saler
This long (6-plus kilometer) stretch of sandy seaside is not as crowded as Valencia’s more-urban beaches. For visitors who want to enjoy the warm blue waters of the Mediterranean without having to search for an open spot to throw their beach blanket down, El Saler is the ideal destination. The beach can be reached via public transit in less than 30 minutes from the center of the city.
7. Valencia Cathedral
This cathedral is nearly 800 years old. Its is one of the best examples of Spanish Gothic-style architecture in Valencia. Because additions and renovations took place over the centuries, newer styles such as neo-classical, renaissance and baroque are also part of the church and are evidence of a colorful and lengthy history. The church contains a chalice that is thought by some to be the legendary Holy Grail. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the cathedral is its Moorish-style belfry (known as the Micalet). The whole skyline of Valencia can be seen by people who can climb the many stairs to the top of this tower.
8. The City of Arts and Sciences
Unfortunately, it is rather expensive to visit the museums that are a part of this complex, but enjoying the stunning, modern architecture is free. The showpiece among these one-of-a-kind buildings is the Agora, a giant, sweeping, dome-like structure that covers more than 4,800 square meters. Architecture fans will surely be enthralled with this place, but so will regular sightseers in search of the most picture-worthy sites in the city
9. Plaza de la Virgen
If you are in search of Old Valencia, one of the best places to look is Plaza de la Virgen. This public space is easily recognizable because of an ornate fountain, lit up at night, which sits in the middle of the plaza. This has long been the city’s most important meeting place, with an history that dates back as far as Roman times. Most festivals and events still pass through the plaza and locals stop by to socialize day or night, creating a buzzing atmosphere.
10. Valencia City Beaches
Valencia is known by many visitors for its beaches. While there is a lot more to this dynamic city than its urban stretches of sand, the beaches are attractive for their sand and social scenes and the easy access that they give people to the warm blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The two most popular central beaches are Playa de Malvarrosa and Playa de Levante.
Valencia might be in the shadows of Barcelona and Madrid when it comes to tourism in Spain, but this Mediterranean town has beaches and sunshine to go along with a diverse menu of attractions. It is definitely a worthwhile destination, and one that offers plenty of free attractions for those looking to enjoy the best that seaside Spain has to offer without breaking their bank.
Do you have your own favorite free places to visit in Valencia? Let us know in the comment section below.