If you were to ask a random pool of Valencians which they consider to be the city’s hippest neighborhood… well, Ruzafa would probably be the winner. But it wouldn’t be a blow-out. The northern district of Benimaclet is smaller and less well-known, but it has a young population, excellent restaurants, and a cool vibe all its own.
At either end of the Plaza de la Reina, you’ll find Valencia’s two most emblematic church towers. The Micalet, or “Little Michael,” is attached to the city cathedral, while the bell tower of the Santa Catalina church is at the end of Calle Paz. Both towers can be ascended; the ticket price is negligible, but the cost to your legs will be great.
Housed in the dried-out skeleton of the world’s biggest whale, the Prince Felipe Science Museum is worth visiting primarily for the other-worldly architecture of Santiago Calatrava. A joint ticket will allow you to check out the exhibits here, and catch a show at the IMAX theater in the nearby Hemsiferic.
The Mercado de Colón opened its doors in 1916 as a marketplace for the well-to-do residents of the Ensanche (or “Expansion”), which was at the time Valencia’s newest neighborhood. Today, the fruit and veggie sellers have been replaced by cafes, and the Mercado de Colón has evolved into a popular location in which to hang out with friends and relax.
An array of futuristic buildings occupying the eastern end of the Turia Riverbed Park, the City of Arts and Sciences is easily Valencia’s most distinctive feature. When people think “Valencia,” the sharp white lines, shallow blue pools and tile-covered curves of Santiago Calatrava’s creations are generally what spring to mind.
Following the San Martín Obispo and San Esteban, the San Juan de la Cruz completes Valencia’s trio of churches which have been recently restored to their original Baroque brilliance. Like its brothers, this is one of the city’s oldest churches, founded in 1343, immediately after the Reconquista. And also like its brothers, it’s just… wow.
Back in 2010, Valencia unveiled the results of an effort to restore three of its most impressive Baroque-era churches: the San Martín, San Esteban and San Juan de la Cruz, all located a short distance from each other in the city center. If any of these had been my childhood church, I might have grown up with a different idea of “God”: not some wizened, white-bearded grump sitting on a cloud, but a flamboyant show-off with a flair for the extravagant.
Directly across from the Mercado Central, La Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) is Valencia’s most historic building, and its only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 1482 and 1548 at the height of Valencia’s Golden Age, the Lonja is like a church devoted to the god of commerce.
With hundreds of stalls selling fruits, veggies and meat, Valencia’s Mercado Central is among the largest fresh food markets in Europe. And although it has become one of the city’s principal tourist attractions, it’s remained popular among locals as well, many of whom do their everyday shopping here.
A thousand years ago, a formidable set of walls protected Valencia from marauders and invading armies, and anyone hoping to gain access to the city had to pass through one of its twelve monumental gates. Today, the medieval walls have disappeared, but two gates remain: the Torres de Serranos to the north, and the Torres de Quart to the west.