Valencia Travel Guide

Valencia is often overlooked in favour of Madrid or Barcelona, but it's a heady blend of culture, golden beaches and gastronomic bliss. Architecturally intriguing in a way that eludes most European cities, this stylish destination is perfect for city breaks and leisurely days on balmy shores.

Ancient Romans founded Valencia in 137 BC, and it's been pillaged, burned and besieged many times by various conquerors since then. The vivacious city has nevertheless sailed into the second millennium as a sophisticated, modern holiday destination. A favoured location for the America's Cup yacht race, Valencia is situated on the Mediterranean coast about four hours south of Barcelona, and is spread out around its busy port.

A walk along the city's sun-kissed streets will reveal a dizzying wealth a architectural styles. These range from grand Gothic monuments and dramatic Renaissance chapels to lively Modernista markets, and the iconic, innovative works of Santiago Calatrava, who's widely recognised as one of the world's elite designers. He, together with Spanish-Mexican architect, Félix Candela Outeriño, designed the seemingly futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, which draws around four million appreciative visitors each year, and is Valencia's biggest attraction.

Valencia is backed by hills that give way to the plains of Aragon, and it oozes traditional character, particularly in its old town (El Carmen). Along with some arresting examples of medieval architecture, Valencia has retained its cultural heritage through its quirky, exuberant festivals such as the Battle of the Flowers, the fireworks of Fallas, and even one dedicated to tomato-hurling. Valencians have their own language as well.

Outdoors, it's hard to beat the yellow-sand shores that fan out from the port along the coast, and the sprawling city offers plenty of green parks for strolling, cycling, or simply lolling on a bench to get a breath back after indulging in the vibrant life of the city. Football is a local passion, and fans shouldn't miss the atmosphere at one of the carnival-like Valencia FC home matches, which are played at the Mestalla stadium. When night falls, travellers can dine on paella, which originated here, and then hit the town, as Valencia is renowned for its lively collection of bars and clubs.