The Plazas of Valencia’s Casco Antiguo
Valencians love to be outside and, as the workday ends, will explode from their offices and flow down the sidewalks like lava, before coming to rest in one of the city’s many plazas. There are hundreds of plazas in Valencia, but here are some of the historic center’s most well-known.
We think that a better name for Plaza de la Reina would be Plaza Cero (Zero Plaza), for a few reasons. Reason #1: This is where the zero-kilometer begins, making it the official center of not just the city, but of the entire Comunidad Valenciana. Reason #2: Zero Plaza sounds cooler than Plaza of the Queen. Reason #3: I bet you don’t even know which queen the plaza’s name refers to. Take as many guesses as you want, I’ll be here all day.
Give up? Valencia has dedicated its most central plaza to Queen Mercedes of Orléans, who was the first wife of Alfonso XII. This all-but-forgotten monarch sat on the throne for five whole months, before succumbing to tuberculosis in 1878. She was only eighteen at the time of her death.
Plaza de la Reina isn’t our favorite plaza in Valencia… but it could be if it would just try harder. So many streets end here: La Paz, Mar, Capellería, San Vicente Martír, Corretgería, Cabillers, Brodadors. It’s book-ended by the old town’s two best towers, the Micalet and Santa Catalina, as well as the stunning entrance to the city cathedral. And the plaza has an interesting vibe, with tourist hordes battling long-time locals for dominance (the tourists are winning). But there’s too much we despise about Plaza de la Reina. Mostly, the traffic. There’s a parking garage here, a big bus stop, a taxi stand, and a pedestrian-unfriendly traffic light that is deviously timed to always trap you in between two roads. We also hate all the restaurants here. There are a lot of them, and not one is good.
But hope reigns supreme. There’s been talk about making the plaza a pedestrian-only zone… which is just so obvious, it needs to have happened a decade ago. And who knows, maybe the McDonald’s will close up shop. Maybe newly enlightened tourists will stop patronizing the awful restaurants with English menus. Or maybe Queen Mercedes of Orléans will rise from the grave and use her royal zombie powers to magically transform her plaza into the beautiful space it deserves to be. Anything is possible, I guess. [Location]
The Plaza del Ayuntamiento is where you’ll find both City Hall and the central post office, along with a number of towering office buildings and fast-food chains. The plaza itself is strange and rather homely: a large, flat expanse of empty concrete in an irregular, trapezoidal shape. The only things here are a tourism kiosk and a few small flower shops.
It’s not beautiful, but the Plaza de Ayuntamiento frequently becomes our favorite spot in all Valencia. This is mascletà-central, where the city’s insane noise-fireworks are set off during Fallas and a couple other festivals. The empty plaza is fenced off, and tens of thousands of people cram into the surrounding streets to be deafened by the show.
Given its size and proximity to the train station, you’ll almost certainly be walking through the Plaza del Ayuntamiento at least once during a visit to Valencia. The post office and city hall are both worth peeking inside, as is the old Rialto theater on the northeastern side of the plaza. [Location]
The Plaza de la Virgen might not be the city’s biggest plaza, nor its most central, but this is without a doubt the most historic plaza in Valencia. Despite the fact that the Plaza de la Reina is “Kilometer Zero,” it’s the Plaza de la Virgen which most consider to be the heart of the Valencian Community.
Completely pedestrian, the Plaza de la Virgen is a large square between the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados and the Palacio de la Generalidad (the seat of the Valencian Government). This is the stage for the Ofrenda of Fallas, and many of the city’s most traditional dances and events. After dark, the flat, glassy surface of the plaza attracts skaters and trick-bikers, but be warned: if you try and bike through during the day, you’ll probably be stopped by the police.
We love coming here for an evening drink. No, the bars at Plaza de la Virgen aren’t any good and, yes, self-respecting Valencian hipsters keep their distance, but for people-watching with a view of the city’s the most magnificent ancient architecture, the Plaza de la Virgen is hard to beat. [Location]
Now, here’s a plaza which self-respecting hipsters will allow themselves to be seen in. Plaza del Arbol is just one of seemingly hundreds of plazas spread across El Carmen, but it’s among our favorites for both the eclectic mix of people who gather here and the tapas of the tavern El Olivo. Cars rarely make it this far into the heart of Carmen, and the vibe on weekend evenings is low-key but buzzing. It’s the perfect place to begin or conclude a night out on the town. [Location]
Perhaps the prettiest plaza in the old town is the Patriarca. Facing both the old university building, La Nau, and the Colegio del Patriarca, this square-shaped space is decorated with a grid of orange trees. Strictly pedestrian with a couple cafes offering outdoor seating, this is a nice spot for parents to relax while their little monsters run around and cause chaos. On the eastern side of the plaza, along the university’s wall, is a fountain with five statues: Isabella and Ferdinand II (the Catholic Monarchs), Pope Alexander VI, Vicente Blasco García (the school’s 18th century dean) and, in the center, a woman who represents “Wisdom.”[Location]
Whenever we shop at the Mercado Central, it’s a good bet that we’ll make a stop at the nearby Plaza Dr. Collado, whether for a energy-boosting coffee before shopping or a tension-easing wine afterwards. When we first moved to Valencia in 2008, most of the tall apartment buildings that border this plaza had been in a horrid state of disrepair, which was surprising for such a popular and central place. But during the last couple years, there’s been an effort to restore them.
There are two establishments at this plaza which we love. The first is the hardware shop in the plaza’s western corner, which looks as though it’s been there for centuries… and actually might have been. And the second is Café Lisboa, which has long been among our favorite bars in the city, thanks to its bohemian vibe, hip and friendly staff, delicious tostadas, and terrace tables arranged underneath the branches of a colossal, gnarled olive tree.
For many years, this plaza had been the site of Valencia’s Lonja del Aceite, or Oil Market. The Plaza de Dr. Collado came into being in 1887, when the market was demolished for reasons now forgotten. The olive tree, as a symbol for oil, was planted in the corner to remind people of the plaza’s former purpose. [Location]
Let’s just say Plaza Negrito’s name won’t win any awards for political correctness. It’s inspired by a fountain in the middle of the plaza, crowned by a black boy holding a conch shell above his head. This diminutive plaza is quiet during the day, but as the sun sets, it comes to life, with a number of bars setting up tables around the fountain. Finding a place to sit can be difficult on a warm summer evening; this is one of the most popular hang-out spots in the city. [Location]
People usually don’t find the Plaza Redonda… it finds them. You’ll be walking from the Plaza de la Reina toward the Mercado Central and, halfway there, realize that you’re standing in a perfectly round area, like a confused steer in a miniature bull ring. And that’s when you know you’re in the Plaza Redonda.
Redonda has been a part of Valencia’s layout since 1837, when it was conceived as a fish and meat market. Eventually, it became a place for sewing supplies; even today you’ll see a number of stalls dedicated to fabric, stitching materials and thread.
A few years ago, the plaza was given a rather hideous makeover. The old stalls which had been arranged in a circle around the perimeter of the plaza were moved into the center, and a modern awning was added, obscuring most of the sky. But then, I might be suffering from a nostalgia complex (“Hey, it didn’t look like this when I first saw it! Change is bad!”). And at any rate, it remains one of the city’s more curious corners. [Location]
Did we skip your favorite plaza? Leave a comment and let us know where you most enjoy hanging out!