Going Solo in Valencia: The Ultimate Travel Guide

Backpacking & Trekking, Cultural Travel, Extras, Spain — By on August 26, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Maggie Parker
Special to the Lost Girls

City Overview

ValenTHia, as locals would call it, is on the coast and is known for: paella, el Ciudad de las artes y las ciencias, and oranges, but of course those aren’t the only great things about this city. Valencia was the first stop on my first solo trip, and it was definitely the perfect place to begin. The people are warm, the city is condensed and easy to get around, and the people are spectacular…did I say that already? Well, it’s true. The welcoming and friendly atmosphere in this city really spreads and is completely contagious. It is impossible to be in a bad mood here, and also almost impossible to not make friends. Even though I was alone, I was never lonely. In fact, I made friends in this city that I ended up meeting up with somewhere else later on in my travels and have kept in touch with since. For a novice in solo-travel, it was a very encouraging first stop.

Hostel Recommendation

I stayed at the Home Youth Hostel right behind La Lonja and only a few steps away from all of the other main sights. Besides being centrally located, it was affordable, clean, comfortable and, once again, friendly. The staff were very helpful in planning, and being on my own, I definitely utilized their knowledge. The hostel has tons of resources for travelers like tapas tours and free walking tours (I’ll get to that later!). The other travelers staying here were also extremely outgoing. By the second night there, my solo travels were pretty much over when I met a few girls in my hostel who wanted to do some of the same things as me.

Best Things to Do

Ciudad de las artes y ciencias

This is a complex built by the famous Spanish architect, Calatrava. It is made up of 4 structures that include an opera house, an aquarium, a planetarium and a science museum (which has a cool outdoor dinosaur display). Since it opened in 1998, this has become the main tourist attraction in Valencia, but was not my favorite sight in this city. I stumbled upon the area while wandering the city and basically took pictures of these structures not really knowing what they were but because they were outrageous looking; I felt like I was in the Jetsons. They are incredible structures no doubt, I would just rather wander the city and talk to locals. Most people don’t really go into the buildings themselves, instead just admiring the architecture from outside. The whole complex is built over what looks like a pool/water park and the buildings are connected by intricate bridges. Definitely a very cool intergalactic must-see.

La Lonja

This is the old silk exchange of Valencia. It was free to go inside which is why I went in to begin with. This is the second main attraction in Valencia, named a World Heritage Site in 1996 because it is an outstanding example of a secular building in late Gothic style. Walking around, I felt like I was taken back in time. I didn’t really know what it was when I first walked in but even without knowing the history, it still moved me.

Mercado Central

Also made famous because of the architecture, it is one of the oldest running markets in Europe. Across from La Lonja, I went in to buy oranges one morning and was surprised by how un-market-like this colorful market was. It was much more than a market and you can get anything you need there. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming, an authentic Valencian experience, and the oranges were cheap!

La Playa

I personally loved the beaches there. I was told they were not that great, but I found them relaxing, beautiful and quiet. The people were extremely friendly, and the store-owners even let me use the bathroom without buying anything, unlike Barcelona. There is a long boardwalk jutting out into the water that you can walk down while admiring the beach and sailboats. It is very easy to get to, just a short tram ride away.

Catedral de Valencia

I personally found this cathedral to be exceptionally beautiful. I am not really into religious buildings but I think the location of this cathedral made it stand out. I arrived in Valencia at night and walked into Plaza de Reina while the sun was setting. It was love at first sight between me and Valencia. In this plaza filled with restaurants, people, and palm trees, the cathedral seemed to be glowing against dark blue skies, it was just breathtaking, and the perfect way to start my solo journey. I went back to that plaza many times just to try to take it all in. This plaza, in my memories, represents Valencia.

Towers/Gates

There are a few of different towers and gates in Valencia like the Torres de Serranos and the Torres de Quart, which are definitely worth checking out to get a feeling of what Valencia was once like.

Barrio del Carmen

This is a popular neighborhood in Valencia as it is historical but still very lively. Part of the old quarter,  you can go here to wander through the ancient streets during the day or spend the night at the bohemian bars and restaurants. Definitely very interesting, you can find an ancient monument next to a contemporary and hip art installation.

Food

The one thing you have to eat is Valencia is Paella because it originated here, but there are some rules about finding it. Authentic paella tips:

  1. The authentic paella places require you to order two servings (not sure exactly why, but if they let you get one, you can assume it’s just heated up from the freezer).
  2. Avoid chains and places that have pictures of their meals on the doors and in the windows, like big pictures of plates of paella.
  3. Real paella is made from fresh ingredients in a special iron pan with a wood fire, not gas or electricity.
  4. Eat it at lunch. That is when paella is usually eaten, so if it is served for dinner, it may be leftover from the restaurant’s lunch.

I found a great little cafe that was completely empty on Calle Caballeros that served vegetarian paella for about 2 euros and it was delicious. However, locals say the best paella is by the Malvarrosa beach area.

Valencia is also known for their oranges, which you can find at Mercado Central.

How to Save Money

  1. A lot of the hostels offer FREE walking tours, look for signs in the hostel or ask the concierge. Our tour guide, while not Spanish, had been living in Valencia for years and spent a few of them studying the city’s history. He was informative and helpful, giving us recommendations for local paella and taking us to the hidden gems of the city. For just a 5 euro tip, it was the perfect 2 hour walking tour.
  2. Use the trams, they are very efficient and go everywhere you would need to get to.
  3. Take-out: There are plenty of small restaurants that you can get a decent meal from to bring it back to your hostel for only a few euros, like the one I found on Calle Caballeros. Follow my rules to avoid non-authentic restaurants. The less-expensive = less touristy.
  4. Bring a towel to the beach, they have chairs you can pay about 3 euros for, but if you bring a towel to lay on, you can save that money for lunch!
Valencia quickly became one of my favorite European cities, mainly because of the feeling I got there. It’s only an hour and a half away from Barcelona, but not nearly as touristy. It is small, warm and rich in history. Once again, the people I met there, both Spanish and not, were some of the nicest people I have ever met on my travels, and that may seem like a small detail but when you are traveling alone for a month, friendly people make a BIG difference, no matter what language they speak.

Note: While there are plenty of other sites to see in Valencia, these were the most important and meaningful to me.

 

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