An Insider’s Guide to Valencia

I can’t recreate the paella I ate in Valencia. I’ve tried it at home, and at Spanish restaurants in New York. But it has a flavor in Valencia, where paella was born, that is unlike anything else: a delicate mix of fresh seafood, rabbit, chicken, snails, and — the best part — crunchy rice at the bottom, all infused with saffron.

It has been endlessly chronicled, but the City of Arts and Sciences‘ otherworldly architecture still causes jaws to drop. Along with paella, the glass-and-steel complex that includes a science museum, an aquarium, and a world-class music venue is a symbol of Valencia and its cultural heartbeat.

The well-preserved city center boasts Valencia Cathedral (home to the Holy Grail, the chalice Jesus is believed to have used at the Last Supper), one of Europe’s largest farmers’ markets, seaside dining, and delightful neighborhoods that have yet to be discovered by the casual tourist.

Hospes Palau de la Mar, a restored palace on a centrally located residential street, is my favorite hotel in the city. Breakfast is best enjoyed over a couple of hours in the beautiful interior garden. But best of all, starting rates are reasonable, especially compared to other high-profile cities in Spain.

That’s why I decided to ask the hotel’s general manager, Patricia Garcia Vizcaino, what she loved about her home city.

Here’s her insider advice on the best of the best in and around Valencia:

Annie Fitzsimmons: Why is visiting Valencia special compared to more traversed Spanish cities like Madrid and Barcelona?

Patricia Garcia Vizcaino: “Valencia es la tierra de las flores, de la luz y del color” is part of our Valencia anthem and we are proud about it. It means Valencia is the land of flowers, sunlight, and colors. There is so much here that has helped us be a very popular European destination, starting with the remarkable architecture of the historic city center and then the modern City of Arts and Sciences by Calatrava.

Of course, Valencia is also the birthplace of one of Spain’s most popular dishes, paella. I love eating it by the sea, in the Saler beach area.

AF: What should visitors not miss when they visit Valencia?

PGV: The City of Arts and Sciences and the Oceanogràfic, the largest aquarium in Europe; The Lladró Museum, a huge complex where the famous Lladró porcelain is created; Albufera National Park, home to the largest lake in Spain and incredible wildlife; and the Bioparc Valencia, a zoological park

AF: What is your perfect day in Valencia when the weather is nice?

PGV: Breakfast in Plaza de la Reina, a visit to the Bioparc or golfing, lunch in Barrio del Carmen, a walk through the Turia gardens, a concert in Palau de la Musica or an opera in the Palau de les Arts, dinner in a restaurant next to the sea, and a cocktail in a lounge bar in Barrio del Carmen or Ruzafa.

AF: What if it’s too hot or rainy? What do you like to do indoors?

PGV: Visit the Central Market and buy food and flowers, go to the Oceanogràfic or one of Valencia’s many museums, or play a sport indoors.

AF: What are some of your favorite day trips around Valencia?

PGV: A visit to El Saler, a beach half an hour from Valencia, and Albufera National Park; the botanic garden at the University of Valencia, originally founded in 1567; The Monastery of San Miguel de los Reyes just outside the city; and La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible Gothic architecture.

AF: Tell me about eating out in Valencia. Do you prefer eating by the water or in town?

PGV: I like both places — by the water and in town, but adore homemade dishes in restaurants with old traditions and architecture. Valencians like to eat out, so there are so many good restaurants, tapas places, and bars that serve food.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her travels on Twitter @anniefitz.