Why Valencia is one of the greatest cities in the world

The well-known American news magazine TIME recently made a list called The World’s Greatest Places of 2022. Said list only included 50 destinations in the whole world, and one of them landed in Spain. More precisely, in Valencia.

In 2022, Valencia became the eighth city to be designated a World Design Capital by the World Design Organization (WDO). The innovative infrastructures of this city on the south-east coast of Spain, altogether with its vibrant cultural life, natural treasures and historical monuments, prove that Valencia is indeed a wonderful destination. In this article, we will guide you through some of the most interesting spots in this exceptional city.

A glance at the future: the City of Arts and Sciences complex

A bridge and a modern blue building

The City of Arts and Sciences complex. | Shutterstock

When we talk about Valencia, the first thing that comes to mind is the striking futuristic monuments we see pictured everywhere. Most of them belong to the City of Arts and Sciences complex, a series of cultural spaces that host artistic and intellectual activities and exhibitions, as well as promoting progress and science.

The City of Arts and Sciences complex was inaugurated on 16 April 1998, designed by the famous architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela. It consists of six main buildings: the Hemisfèric, the Umbracle, the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, the Oceanogràfic, the Reina Sofía Palace of the Arts, and the Ágora. In the following lines, we will comment on some of the most appealing ones.

A modern building on a blue pond

The Hemisfèric. | Shutterstock

The Hemisfèric was the first structure to be built in the City of Arts and Sciences complex. Its construction finished in 1998, and this peculiar building is mainly used as an IMAX cinema and a planetarium. Built around a great film auditorium, the external design of the Hemisfèric resembles an eye with a half-closed eyelid.

Moreover, the combination of glass and water creates an otherworldly effect which connects all the buildings in this city that seems to belong to a distant galaxy. In fact, it has already been used as a science-fiction scenery, since they have recorded scenes from TV shows such as Doctor Who and Westworld there.

A white path surrounded by plants with high white archways above

The Umbracle. | Shutterstock

If we follow the water, we shall encounter the skeleton of a giant whale. It is not, of course, a living one. We are talking about the Umbracle, an enchanting sculpture garden that grows under a row of white whale ribs. Don’t you worry, no animals were harmed in the making of this building! It is, however, a nice place to stroll around plants and works of art.

A white futuristic building above water

The Reina Sofía Palace of the Arts. | Shutterstock

For those who liked the eye-shaped structure of the Hemisfèric, they might also like the Reina Sofía Palace of the Arts. This opera house that watches us with its diamond-shaped pupil is surrounded by water too, and its metallic roof is 230 metres long and 70 metres high.

Looking back at the past: stunning historical buildings in Valencia

A highly decorated exterior wall of a cathedral, with sculptures and columns

The Valencia Cathedral. | Shutterstock

We shall leave behind the futuristic, white and blue buildings of the City of Arts and Sciences complex, and head to the equally interesting architectural wonders from the past. In fact, Valencia is one of the oldest cities in Spain, dating back to the Roman period. As a consequence, we can find many exceptional historical monuments here. However, in this section we will only focus on two of them: the Silk Exchange and the Cathedral.

The silk trade played a major role in Valencia between the 14th and the 18th centuries, which explains why The Silk Exchange was built in the 15th century. This piece of civil architecture displays clear elements of Gothic style, and one simply cannot avoid getting lost in its forest of beautiful winding pillars. The building is divided into four parts: the Tower, the Sea Consulate Room, the Orange-tree Patio and the Room of Columns. It was declared a historic-artistic monument in 1931, and UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site later in 1996.

The interior of a building with spiral columns

The Silk Exchange. | Shutterstock

The Valencia Cathedral is a predominantly Gothic monument too, but in reality, it’s a blend of different architectural styles, with Romanesque and Mudéjar elements that enrich its historical value. This particular architectural style is known as Valencian Gothic, marked by techniques used in Mediterranean countries and by the influence of Mudéjar architecture. It was built on top of an old mosque, and its construction began in the 13th century, although it wasn’t finished until the 17th century.

One of the most beloved elements of the cathedral is the tower Micalet, or El Miguelete in Spanish. This beautiful bell tower reaches a height of 63 metres, and one can go to the top by walking through a spiral staircase. However, perhaps the most striking object in the Valencia Cathedral is nothing less than the Holy Grail! At least that is what some people believe to be the Holy Chalice kept in this cathedral’s chapel. Many pilgrims journey to see the sacred golden cup in the Valencia Cathedral. Either way, there is no doubt that this historical monument is a priceless treasure.

A tower and some palm trees on front

The tower Micalet or El Miguelete in the Valencia Cathedral. | Shutterstock

Green Valencia, a natural gem

Apart from the human-made architecture we have been visiting so far, there are also natural cathedrals, columns and bridges that invite us to dive into the magnificent wilderness around us. Valencia rests next to the sea, surrounded by rich natural areas waiting for us to explore them.

Abeautiful beach with no people and a palm tree on the left

The beach Playa de la Malvarrosa in Valencia. | Shutterstock

There are many beautiful beaches near Valencia, namely Playa de la Malvarrosa, Playa de las Arenas, and Playa de Pinedo. If we visit them, we will find long strips of land made of golden, silky sand, and the palm trees there swing with the warm Mediterranean breeze. If we seek wilder beaches, we might follow the coastline southwards.

In fact, about 10km south from the city lies the L’Albufera Natural Park. This green jewel provides many different paths for every taste. It can even be enjoyed by bicycle, since it has a path specifically intended for that, and one might also take a nice boat trip to admire its fantastic views from the lake.

A beautiful sunset full of orange and red shades as seen from a marshland

A sunset in L’Albufera. | Shutterstock

Indeed, the landscape around the lake is made of beautiful marshlands and rice fields. Between the lake and the sea, we will find an ecosystem of natural dunes and pine forests, and the charming wild beach of La Devesa, among others.

If you are interested in learning more about the natural heritage of L’Albufera, you should definitely check out Racó de l’Olla, a centre of research and environmental education that is perfect for understanding the intricacies of this natural park.

Many birds perched on branches over a lake

More than 350 bird species dwell in the ecosystem of L’Albufera. | Shutterstock

When it comes to the fauna inhabiting this area, it must be noted that the L’Albufera Natural Park hosts some endangered species such as the fartet and the samaruc. It’s also home to a high number of bird species, the most common ones being red-crested pochards, northern shovelers, seagulls, and heron. In fact, more than 350 bird species dwell in this ecosystem, which makes it perfect for birdwatching.

We could watch the birds take flight, glide through the air, flying over the dunes and the sapphire blue sea, hovering past the cathedral’s tower… We could perch on the ethereal white shapes of the City of Arts and Sciences complex, studying the passage of time, wondering how would it feel like to become part of this complex yet delicate painting we call Valencia. We might not be able to do that, but there is always time for embarking on a new, exciting adventure where the past and the present are delightfully intertwined.


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