Our magnificent 48 hours of culture and discovery in Valencia, Spain - direct from Birmingham Airport

We travelled through time from ancient Roman settlements to the Arabic silk road into the 21st century and beyond during our 48 hour city break in Valencia with flights direct from Birmingham Airport

It’s a far cry from a Costa del Sol package holiday, but you can still reach Valencia in just over two hours directly from Birmingham Airport and be transported to a sunny city bursting with culture, wonderful places to eat and drink - and beaches. 

With the remains of ancient Roman settlements still preserved among its beautiful architecture and treasures from its time as the 32nd stop along the Silk Road Eurasian trade route in the mid 15th century, Valencia is steeped in history.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The city dates back to 138 BC when the first settlers built a fortified enclosure in one of the meanders of the Turia River - which makes Birmingham a baby in comparison, with its first settlers, the Beorma tribe, not discovering the River Rea in Digbeth until the seventh century.

But there’s so much more to Valencia than history - we took a bike ride into the future to its City of Arts and Sciences during our incredible 48 hour trip, flying with Ryanair on one of the new routes from Birmingham Airport for 2024. Valencia has developed dramatically in recent years with its sustainable ethos and pedestrianisation of many of its squares.

This is the home of paella and you can enjoy a boat trip through its rice fields on the outskirts of the city in Spain’s biggest lake La Albufera. With some amazing restaurants and fascinating art galleries and shopping centres, it’s a wonderful place to explore.

Valencia is currently the European Green Capital 2024 and its approach to transport and promotion of cycling really is a breath of fresh air (if you’ll pardon the pun). There’s so much to tell, so let me get started on our adventures as guests of Visit Valencia.

History and architecture 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

As I explained, Valencia is steeped in history with beautiful buildings lining its public squares.  One of the first historic buildings we happened upon as we left our hotel on our first morning was Valendia's Bullring. But this isn’t a shopping centre, like the one in Brum (obviously).

This impressive building, known locally as Plaza de Toros, which dates back to 1850 does actually host bull fights - one of the many Spanish traditions that Valencia still holds proud. The bullring was closed during our visit for building maintenance. 

It is situated next to the Valencia’s beautiful train station from which you can reach Madrid in 90 minutes - HS2 is already up and running in Spain.  The train station is one of the many art nouveau treasures in the city, which also boasts wonderful art deco features from the 1920s, alongside its ancient buildings along streets filled with beautiful orange trees in the Old Town. The city’s town hall was among the highlights along with Valencia's Cathedral which houses the Holy Chalice from the Last Supper and dates back to the 1200s. 

Prior to being a cathedral it was a mosque when The Moors occupied the city and it was governed by Islamic rule in the 8th century. One of Valencia's most remarkable buildings is its Silk Exchange which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dates back to 1492 when it was the last stop on the Silk Road which spanned some 6,40 kilometres from China.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s a beautiful building, you could almost spend all day looking around it. A courtyard full of orange trees greets you when you enter. The walls are lined with fascinating gargoyles which spout out water when it rains. It’s well worth taking time to take a close look at the ancient carvings around doorways, with some depicting the seven deadly sins.

Downstairs there’s an eerie dungeon you can walk through. And, by contrast, you can then enjoy spending time in the Golden Room which was particularly beautiful, as was the iconic trading hall - if only walls could talk, I’m sure there are some fascinating stories they could tell.

Another spot for storytelling is the Central Market, although there are plenty of present day stories you can pick up here. The beautiful building dates back to 1839 with its striking roof added in the early 1900s. 

It is Europe’s largest fresh produce market and is bursting with mouthwatering stalls selling huge fresh vegetables, fish, meats and more. Definitely worth a stroll around - it’ll make you wish you were self catering if you’re staying in a hotel.

City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, SpainCity of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain
City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

There are a couple of bars inside the market that you can sit and soak up the atmosphere in as well - with a beer or glass of wine or vermouth. And from the present day, we jumped into the future as we travelled to Turia Garden and the City of Arts and Sciences on bike.

I haven’t ridden a bicycle for some years - and was relieved to discover that the old saying that you never forget how to ride on is true! Turia Gardens were beautiful and the cycle path was so easy to navigate and it was the ponds surrounding the remarkable City of Arts and Sciences that really stood out.

They were constructed over 20 years after the river running through the city was redirected following a catastrophic flood in 1957. Their futuristic designs are incredible, a real innovation. You may recognise some from the racing game Gran Turismo, or Doctor Who. They were also featured in the 2015 film Tomorrowland and HBO series Westworld. 

Arts and culture

It wasn’t just the amazing buildings that made our visit to Valencia so memorable. The city is home to some wonderful museums, including the Science Museum in Turia Gardens, which we’ve spoken about above.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Ceramics Museum is also a stand out. You don’t even need to go inside to marvel at this wonder in the Old Town. With just 48 hours, we couldn’t get around them all, but we did visit the utterly fantastic Centro de Arte Hortensia Herrero where you will find a remarkable collection of contemporary art. British artists David Hockney and Mat Collishaw are among the collection alongside Joan Miro, Anish Kapoor, Anselm Keifer and many more.

From walking through multi coloured tunnels, to turning upside down in mirrors and a fire art installation called Sordid Earth, your senses will be awakened like never before.  It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in an amazing setting inside a 17th-century palace, which has previously been a nightclub. Hortensia Herrerro, a billionaire supermarket owner and Valencian local, has created the collection over 20 years and spent millions renovating the art gallery buildings - and buying the art.

And it’s not just the Sordid Earth installation in which fire is used as art. Valencia is renowned for its Fire Festival - The Fallas of Valencia, which runs from March 1 to 19. When we visited on February 3 to 5, the city was already preparing for this huge event which attracts two million spectators each year. There were traditional dancing competitions in the square outside the Cathedral with young and old dressed in customary costumes.

It is a celebration of art and satire in which a highlight is the erection of giant monuments which are later burned to the ground in a series of deafening explosions - with just one saved by the judges. It comes from a celebration of the arrival of spring when carpenters burned wood that were used to prop up their lights during winter.

Valencia Marina, beaches and lake

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

We might have only had 48 hours in Valencia, but we couldn’t miss out on visiting the beach - especially as they’re just 20 minutes away by car. The coastline with El Cabanyal Beach and La Malvarrosa Beach is along the Balearic Sea, but we couldn’t see as far out as Ibiza or Majorca. It was a beautiful setting, so many impressive hotels lining up alongside the peaceful waterfront, glistening in the sunshine. A wonderful spot to enjoy a cycle ride, run - or just a peaceful walk, and, of course, a sunbathe.

If you have longer than 48 hours you may want to consider booking a few days in the city, then setting up in a hotel along the beachfront for another couple of days - it’s a perfect place to fully unwind.

Albufera Nature Reserve in ValenciaAlbufera Nature Reserve in Valencia
Albufera Nature Reserve in Valencia

We also enjoyed a boat trip around Spain’s biggest Lake Albufera - an Arabic name for small sea - just 10 minutes out of town by taxi. It was here that rice was introduced to the city and where you’ll find the city’s rice fields, with birds and nature drifting away side by side harmoniously. No wonder it's such a popular spot for local weddings. It is also where one of Spain's most famous dishes began.

Food and drink

From glamorous rooftop sky bars and restaurants to traditional paella and tapas, Valencian gastronomy is second to none.  Let’s start at the top with one of our top highlights - the utterly awesome Atenea Sky. I love the rooftop restaurants in Birmingham, like Orelle and Marco Pierre White at the Cube. But eating in the sunny, open air is quite another experience.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The setting was stunning with the avant-garde architectures setting the scene with live music. Our dinner was divine. We were served three set courses, which included options for vegetarians.

To begin we shared starters including beautifully creamy burrata surrounded by the freshest tomato salsa, we also enjoyed the tastiest meatballs and a traditional fish dish called Sebia which was a real treat. Our beef main was so tasty with a tomato sauce and grilled peppers and tomatoes and roast potatoes. Dessert was an sponge, topped with the freshest fruit. It was a meal to treasure.

Atenea Sky restaurant in Valencia, SpainAtenea Sky restaurant in Valencia, Spain
Atenea Sky restaurant in Valencia, Spain

Our visit to the beach after visiting the rice fields included a traditional paella with rabbit and chicken at the gorgeous waterfront destination El Tridente de Neptuno. Like baltis, these are cooked in the pan they are served in. Traditionally on an open fire. Well, it certainly was an experience. The rice was so full of flavour, the meat was so tender. With this being the area of Spain that initiated paella, it’s clear they are still the masters of the art!

Traditional Spanis paella at El Tridente de Neptuno in ValenciaTraditional Spanis paella at El Tridente de Neptuno in Valencia
Traditional Spanis paella at El Tridente de Neptuno in Valencia

We also enjoyed a fabulous meal at Hotel SH Colon. Like Atenea this was a three course set menu, with a couple of options for the main course and dessert. Our starters to share included burrata and ham and cheese croquettes. I enjoyed a fabulous baked salmon for my main, served on a bed of stir fried vegetables and alioli. We had fresh bread in a basket. And I chose a chocolate sponge with melt in the middle sauce and madagascan ice cream for dessert.

Getting around 

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

One of the highlights of our trip was our bike ride around Turia Gardens. There are dedicated bike lanes throughout the city centre roads, which were manageable and many bike hire shops throughout Valencia. With the pedestrianisation of many of the key squares it’s easy to ride through those as well. It is also pleasant to walk around. You don’t feel the need to get cabs while in the city centre. There is also an underground, tram and buses.

Where to stay

We stayed at the conveniently located and wonderfully comfortable Hotel SH Colon on Plaza Colon, near the Bullring and train station. The rooms were a decent size, with TV, en suite and cosy bed. The staff were so friendly and welcoming. The restaurant wasn’t huge, but there was a fantastic choice for breakfast with waiters on hand to make egg dishes and fresh coffee. The bar and outdoor terrace were great spaces to relax in too - especially after a flight from Birmingham Airport with direct flights with Ryanair.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.