Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city, is ideal for budget-conscious travelers. Eating out, accommodation and transportation costs are significantly cheaper than they are in Barcelona and Madrid, and there’s a wealth of free things to do.

From the more obvious parks and beaches to amazing Unesco World Heritage sites and fascinating museums, you’ll find some of Spain's best activities in the city. Here’s how to do Valencia on the cheap.

The clear, blue wash of the Mediterranean Sea cuts diagonally against the soft, pinkish sands of Playa de Gandia in Valencia, Spain with several tower blocks rising up in the background
Playa de Gandia, just south of Valencia, is easily reachable by train © LUNAMARINA / Getty Images

Relax on the beach

Valencia is a coastal city, so one of the best free things to do in summer is to enjoy the beach. The two beaches closest to the city center are the vast Playa de las Arenas and Playa de la Malvarossa, both of which are so wide you’re almost always sure to find a spot to lay your towel. They also have free facilities such as toilets and outdoor showers. Lined with shady palms and covered in golden sand, the calm shallow waters are ideal for families. Connected by train to the south, Playa de Gandia is a gorgeous stretch of soft pink sand that's one of the best beaches in and around Valencia

Climb the Torres Serranos and Torres de Quart

Valencia was once surrounded by high city walls, but all that’s left of them today is the two main gateways – Torres Serranos and Torres de Quart. Built in the 14th century, the grand Torres Serranos was once the main exit to Barcelona and the north and now offers spectacular views over the historic quarter of the Barrio del Carmen. The imposing Torres de Quart, on the other hand, was built in the 15th century and faces west toward Madrid, looking out toward the new part of the city and the Jardines del Turia. Both are free to climb on Sundays and cost €2 the rest of the week.

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Explore the Jardines del Turia

The Jardines del Turia lie along Valencia’s dried-up riverbed, stretching for 5.6 miles (9km) and wrapping around the heart of the city. Made up of various grassy meadows, parks, ponds and pathways, the gardens are ideal for exploring, exercising, playing or picnicking. Starting at the Valencia Bioparc to the west, they twist and turn all the way to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias in the east. If you've got kids, make a stop at Gulliver playground, one of the more unusual things to do in the city. Inspired by the book Gulliver's Travels, little ones can clamber all over a giant model of Gulliver, complete with ropes and slides and other imaginative takes on the character's adventures in Lilliput.

An interior shot of people shopping in Valencia's Mercado Central, one of the oldest in Europe and a combination of architectural styles, including late gothic and modernism.
Valencia's Mercado Central is one of the oldest in Europe ©Andrei Rybachuk/Shutterstock

Wander around the Mercado Central 

Valencia’s grand covered market is just as much about architecture and style as it is about food and flavors. Built in 1928, the Modernista structure has an impressive central dome decorated with oranges and a stunning decorative stained-glass facade. Inside you’ll find more than 250 stalls packed with fresh produce, from seafood and cured meats to olives and cheeses. There are also several tapas bars and takeaway paella stands. 

Visit the Museo de Bellas Artes

The Museo de Bellas Artes, or Fine Arts Museum, is one of Valencia's few museums that's completely free to visit any day of the week. Housed in an elegant baroque building, it showcases works by several Spanish masters, including Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Murillos and the Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla.

Discover La Lonja on a Sunday

La Lonja sits opposite Mercado Central and is one of the most extraordinary buildings in the city. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, it was built in the late 15th century, at a time when trade was thriving in the city, to house Valencia’s silk exchange. Visit on a Sunday to explore its cathedral-like gothic interiors with twisted columns and wrought iron chandeliers, and to relax in the charming courtyard filled with orange trees.

Valencia's futuristic Calatrava-designed City of Arts and Sciences on a cloudy evening
The Santiago Calatrava-designed City of Arts and Sciences comprises multiple attractions ©Luca Quadrio/500px

Admire the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

Valencia’s top attraction is the futuristic-looking City of Arts and Sciences. Entry prices to the city's museums can cost quite a bit, but if that's not in your budget, they're still worth exploring from the outside. You can enter the city for free and admire each of its otherworldly Santiago Calatrava-designed buildings – the majestic Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house, the science museum, the Hemisfèric 3D cinema and the Oceanogràfic aquarium.

Spend time at the contemporary Bombas Gens

Bombas Gens is a fascinating modern art gallery, housed inside an old hydraulic-pump factory from the 1930s. At the height of the Spanish Civil War in 1938, the factory even changed to making bombs. Inside there’s an old air-raid shelter and a medieval cellar, as well as exhibits on everything from photography and painting to sculpture mixed medium. Exhibitions in the two main galleries change yearly, and temporary exhibits in the smaller galleries change every few months. 

Visit the Plaza de Toros on a Sunday

Wondering what to do in Valencia on a Sunday? The city’s bullring and museum is free. Around 170 years old, the building resembles a more modern version of Rome’s Colosseum, though today the bullring plays host to more concerts and sporting events than bullfights. The museum is housed inside the bullring itself and explores the history of the building and its uses. 

A display of Fallas parade works at Valencia's Museo Fallero
The Museo Fallero is free on Sundays ©Greg Elms/Lonely Planet

Learn about one of Spain's best festivals

Occurring each March, Valencia's festival of Las Fallas is one of Spain’s best and most anticipated celebrations of the year, in which papier-mâché sculptures are set up throughout the city before being ceremoniously burned. The Museo Fallero is free to enter on Sundays and details the history of this bizarre, fiery festival. It also houses all the ninots indultats (individual characters from the falla sculptural scenes) that were selected to be saved from the flames over the years.

Experience the fiery fun of Las Fallas in Valencia

Explore the Museo de Prehistoria on a weekend

The city’s archeology museum is free to visit on weekends and features varied exhibits on everything from cave art to Pre-Roman Iberian culture. 

Get granular at the Museo del Arroz

One of Valencia's more unusual things to do is to visit one of its most underrated museums, the Museo del Arroz, or Rice Museum, to learn more about paella’s main ingredient. The museum is free to visit on a Sunday and showcases exhibits on the history of rice production around Valencia. Housed inside an old rice factory, it comes complete with a fascinating (and functional) antique rice-sorting machine. The rest of the week, entrance only costs €2, so it’s still a great place to visit for those on a budget.

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