As we neared the end of our two-week Spain vacation, we made one final stop before returning to Barcelona: Valencia, Spain. In many ways, the ambiance and bustling energy of these two cities are very similar, but Valencia feels welcoming and familiar in a way that not many cities do. Maybe this characteristic is just a side effect of the city’s rich culinary culture as the birthplace of Spanish paella. Nothing is quite as inviting as delicious food and kind people willing to share it with you, which is exactly what our experience in Valencia was all about!
Valencia One Day Itinerary
If you only have enough time to spend one day in Valencia, Spain, don’t worry! This Valencia One Day Itinerary squeezes the best of Valencia (especially its food) into 24 hours of pure bliss. Some of the best things to see in Valencia in one day also happen to be where you can find the best food in Valencia, Spain – the markets! So we’ll start our Valencia 1 day itinerary there:
The Central Market of Valencia – Morning
Of course, every Valencia itinerary must include a visit to the city’s largest and most popular market- the Central Market of Valencia (Mercado Central de Valencia). This antiquated building is home to dozens of stalls serving up scrumptious Spanish delicacies. With tempting options like refreshing fruit cups and warm baked goods, this market is the perfect place to start off your one day in Valencia. The eye-catching stained-glass windows and domed ceiling are great reasons to visit, too.
If you only have 1 day in Valencia, the Central Market Valencia is a must-see so make sure you arrive on time. The Mercado Central Valencia is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Ruzafa Market and My First Paella Cooking Class – Mid morning/Afternoon
Next on our Valencia Spain itinerary was one of the most anticipated activities of our trip- a paella cooking class that began at the local market, where we would purchase ingredients (including a special bean found only in authentic Valencian paellas). As soon as we walked into the Ruzafa Market with our guide and the rest of the group, we were mesmerized. It felt like we had stepped into the heart of the community. Local patrons browsed the plump, colorful arrays of produce, the rows of fresh meat and cheese, and the shiny, slippery seafood section. We met and bought ingredients from vendors whose families had been working in this market for generations. But mixed with the mesmerizing was also a bit of horror. I saw things that I’ve never seen back home, like the small, dog-like animal in the fresh meats sections that I later learned was a skinned rabbit (RIP Thumper) and the glassy, bulging eyes of the fish that stared at us as we made our seafood purchases. Our visit to Ruzafa Valencia felt like an authentic glimpse into Spanish culture. It’s definitely a list topper of what to see in Valencia, Spain in one day!
Know Before You Go: The Ruzafa Market Valencia is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. However, My First Paella offers two cooking classes a day, the early one from 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. (with free Market Tour) and the later one from 5:30 p.m. – 8:20 p.m. (without free Market Tour). I would highly recommend the earlier one, especially if you won’t have the time to visit any other markets in Valencia.
Our next stop was the studio kitchen where we would be cooking our very own paella! After adorning some aprons and nibbling on some delicious appetizers (the best indication of how the main course will taste 😉 ), we began prepping and cooking our paella. Here is the process step-by-step:
Towards the end of the cooking process, our hostess brought out a star anise-infused liquor and poured everyone a shot while she explained to us that, in Valencia, cooking a paella is an all-day affair and this is how people like to celebrate when the cooking is done. It wasn’t the most delicious thing I tried that day, but I could appreciate the tradition.
Finally, it was time to eat the paella! After cooking and getting to know each other all morning, our group sat down around the long table, chatting like old friends. No matter that we represented four different continents and spoke at least three different languages. We had bonded over food and now we could enjoy it together. Taking that first bite, I realized I was possibly eating the best paella in Valencia, Spain! The rice was perfectly cooked and soaked with flavor. The beans were bright and crispy, and the meat was juicy and tender. *sigh* It was an amazing meal.
There are plenty of great suggestions of where to eat paella in Valencia, but from my experience, one of the best things to do in Valencia, Spain is to help cook one yourself! A cooking class keeps the whole family engaged and makes it super easy to meet other travelers. My First Paella cooking class was an excellent way to enjoy Valencia, and I loved how the small group sizes made it feel like a fun, intimate dinner party. Thank you to Marta and Inma for making us feel at home in their kitchen!
L’Alquimista – Evening
This Italian restaurant is the best way to end your Valencia one day trip! It had a wonderfully rustic and laid-back appeal, and simple, yet delicious dishes. I guess you can really never go wrong when your main ingredients are cheese and pasta!
Bonus: 2 Days in Valencia, Spain
If you have more than 24 hours in Valencia, Spain (like 2 or even 3 days in Valencia, Spain), there are plenty more exciting places to explore in this city! Here are my suggestions for the best things to do in Valencia, Spain:
L’Oceanogràfic (Valencia Aquarium)
As the largest aquarium in Europe, the Valencia Aquarium is a must-see if you have the time. With hundreds of marine species inhabiting its tanks, this aquarium will keep the whole family entertained for hours! The highlight of any trip to the aquarium is walking through the glass tunnel while sharks and other creatures swim overhead.
This whimsical park will make the heart of any literature geek skip a beat. This children’s playground brings to life the iconic character of Gulliver from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels in a huge sculpture. Gulliver’s body is laid out like he just washed ashore, and children can literally climb up Gulliver’s arm and slide down his leg! But even if you’re an adult, the park is a fun, quirky spot for Valencia sightseeing.
Gulliver Park hours do vary based on the month so always check before hand, but the cost is always free!
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (Valencia City of Arts and Sciences)
The aquarium is actually just one of six buildings that make up the breathtaking City of Arts and Sciences; there is also El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (the opera house and performing arts center;), L’Hemisfèric (that houses the Imax theater, planetarium and laserium), L’Umbracle (the walkway/garden), El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe (the science museum), and Ágora (an open space for events). These Valencia attractions could easily take up your whole itinerary, but even if you don’t visit each building individually, they are some of the most amazing things to see in Valencia simply for their incredible architecture.
Playa de la Malvarrosa
Of course, if you visit Valencia, you’re right on the coast so why not take a trip to the beach? This beach in Valencia, Spain is probably the closest to the city center and offers a nice, long expanse of beach to walk. However, if you’re looking for a one day trip from Valencia, you could venture to a beach a little farther away like Arenal Beach. If you’re really just looking for a beach getaway during your time in Valencia, the options of Valencia beaches is almost endless!
I hope this itinerary of Valencia things to do inspires you to take a trip to this sunny strip of Spanish coast and fill yourself up on some of the region’s heartwarming paella!
All photos edited by Caitlyn Cuello