Free Museums on Sundays
Valencia has 22 municipal museums, all of which cost €2 and are free on Sunday. For €6 you can get entry to all of them, lasting for three days. There are numerous other combined-entry tickets around town – get the tourist office to run through the options with you.
Day Trips from Valencia
Synonymous with rice, agriculture and the goodness of Valencian soil, this lagoon and surrounding flatlands sit just south of Valencia city. Long used for rice cultivation, it's the spiritual home of paella and similar dishes. It has important dune and wetland ecosystems and its rural ambience, beaches, birdwatching and rustic restaurants make it a great escape, easily accessed by bus or bike lane.
Just across the river from Valencia itself, Pinedo feels like a suburb, with boats queuing offshore for the city's port. It's a favoured weekend destination for its beach and for lunchtime rice dishes, but don't limit yourself to the waterside restaurants: in our opinion some of the best sit two or three streets back.
An extensive cycle lane and flat terrain make exploring La Albufera by bike a top option. The route heads through Pinedo and to El Saler, with one lane generally running alongside the road, and another lane backing the beach.
Mirador El Pujol
Though no secret, this viewpoint – a boat dock with jetties extending into the principal lagoon of the Albufera – is still a magical place. It's a handy birdwatching spot, but comes into its own at sunset, when it's gloriously romantic, with herons slowly flapping against the reddening sky. You can take boat trips on the lagoon from here, and on some Saturday mornings traditional lateen-sailed fishing craft run regattas. The viewpoint is at Km 9.5 on the CV500; bus 25 to El Palmar stops right here.
They invented Spanish rices here, and locals say that in the old days it was rice for lunch Monday to Saturday and paella on Sundays. Valencians descend in hordes at weekends to eat it. One of the local specialities is rice with duck – the ducks are hunted on the rice paddies, which are flooded in winter. Another typical dish, with non-luxury, working-family origins, is arros amb fesols i naps (rice with beans and turnips).
With long beaches backed by low pine-covered dunes, this Albufera locale is appealingly low-key and has campsites, hotel and hostel accommodation and a line of restaurants. There are boat trips on the lagoon offered from a dock across a bridge over the main bypass road.
The most emblematic of the Albufera settlements, this traditional farming village prides itself as being the birthplace of the Valencian rice dish, and these days every second building seems to be a restaurant serving it: it's ridiculously easy to end up with a quality bellyful. Boat excursions leaving from here typically include a visit to a rice farm as well as a trip on the lagoon. Think €20 for up to four passengers.
Birdwatching is good right across the area – on the main lagoon, smaller marshy wetlands and along the coast. Around 90 bird species regularly nest in the zone and more than 250 others use it as a migratory staging post. The Centro de Interpretación Racó de l'Olla, on the left just after you take the turnoff to El Palmar, has some information on species and a birdwatching area.
- Rice Dishes
- Mirador El Pujol
- Rice is a lunchtime dish, so it makes sense to get here for that, stroll it off in the afternoon, then enjoy the evening birdwatching and spectacular sunset.
- Bring a pair of binoculars even if you're not an avid twitcher.
Take a Break
There are numerous rice restaurants: El Sequer de Tonica is one of our favourites.
Bus lines 14 and 15 reach Pinedo, while the 25 hits El Saler and El Palmar.
Sidebar: Ordering Rice
The Albufera's restaurants all have a fine selection of rice dishes but usually have one or two speciality rices that have to be ordered by phone the day before. This also means that your waiting time might be diminished, as they'll start preparing them before your arrival. Booking ahead at weekends is recommended for all restaurants in the region in any case.
This town's sprawling hilltop castle offers plenty of history and inspiring views. Though much modified over the years, the layers of history here are evident, and the precinct has an appealingly Mediterranean feel, with sun-baked stone, olives and pine trees on the rocky hilltop. In general, there's good, mostly multilingual information throughout.
Above and behind you as you enter, this is the oldest part of the castle, having been an Iberian fortification before being controlled and further fortified by the Carthaginians then Romans. Hannibal took the fortress, and sources say that his Spanish wife Imilce gave birth to the couple's son here. It's a strong bastion, with a Gothic entranceway, medieval battlements and some 20th-century refurbishment.
Ahead of you as you come in the entrance door, the Castillo Mayor is the main part of the castle and stretches away and upwards along the hilltop. It was first fortified by the Romans, who connected it to the Castillo Menor with walls. If you think it's big today, imagine what it must have looked like 300 years ago at full size. Sadly, it was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1748 and never really recovered.
Sala de los Borjas
One of the constructions of the last century, when the fortress was owned by a local paper magnate, this has rooms conserved from the period and, more interestingly, an exhibition on the famous Borja (Borgia) dynasty, particularly the popes. Nearby is another exhibition on castle life (no English) and three sturdy bronze cannons pointing at visitors climbing the principal stairway.
Capilla de Santa María
This pretty Gothic chapel – a 15th-century rebuild – is reached via the doorway of the same name in the upper castle. In its vaulted interior some wall paintings are slightly conserved. Sitting on four feet in the middle is the tomb of Jaime II, count of Urgel and pretender to the Aragonese throne, who died in the dungeon here in 1433.
The lockup where the count of Urgel died is one of the castle's most atmospheric spaces, a vaulted dungeon with thick walls and seemingly little hope of escape. Jaime was only one of a long line of nobles who found themselves detained here during what were turbulent centuries in Aragonese dynastic politics.
Torre de la Fe
Literally the high point of the castle, the Torre de la Fe offers stunning vistas on both sides and was the heart of the upper castle. From here, the spine of the ridge continues to a ruined watchtower.
- Castillo Menor
- Capilla de Santa María
- Torre de la Fe
- The castle is quite exposed to the sun, so take a hat and water. Drinks are available on site.
- If mobility is an issue, save your strength for the castle itself, which has lots of steps, and get a taxi or the tourist train to the entrance.
Take a Break
Sidebar: The Way Up
On your left on the way up is the 18th-century Ermita de San José and, to the right, the lovely Romanesque Iglesia de Sant Feliu (1269), Xàtiva’s oldest church. You’ll also pass by the very battered remains of part of the old Muslim town. Various signposted walks cover the castle hill and environs.
Sidebar: Tourist Train
Taxi is often the easiest approach to the castle if you don't fancy walking up, though a tourist train also trundles up the hill a couple of times a day from the tourist office.
Sagunto, 25km north of Valencia, offers spectacular panoramas over the coast, Balearics and orange groves from its hilltop castle.
The majestically located castle’s long stone walls girdle twin hilltops. Its history began with a thriving Iberian community called (infelicitously, with hindsight) Arse. In 219 BC Hannibal destroyed it, sparking the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome. Rome won, named the town Saguntum and rebuilt it. The Moors gave the castle its current form; it was later embellished by the Christians and fought over in the Peninsular War.
In truth the fortress could do with a major facelift and is currently best for a stroll among the ruins, appreciating the magnificent vistas, rather than learning much history. Don't expect interpretative panels or audio guides, but there is an app you can download with some commentary.
You enter at the eastern hilltop, where the Roman town was located. Around the forum’s excavated ruins you can see the foundations of a Republican temple. From here the Puerta de Almenara leads to the fortified eastern compound.
The western hilltop was the location of Arse, but is covered by 18th-century fortifications. Between the two hilltops, the Museo de Epigrafía is a collection of engraved stones found on the site. Below the castle is an overzealously restored Roman theatre that hosts a worthwhile summer program of performances.
- Puerta de Almenara
- Museo de Epigrafía
- Western Bastion