Maybe it was because I had so few expectations or little time to think about it, but Valencia won my heart by storm. The Spanish seaside town literally had everything I could have wished for: parks, great cafes to work and read in, passionate artists who are up for talking to strangers (me), a lively street life, awesome food – and a chill atmosphere. There’s a sense of freedom in the air which may come from its Southern location but I hadn’t felt that in a while, so spending four days there in winter fuelled my batteries on so many levels.

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If you like pretty old buildings and happen to be a little tired of Paris, then Valencia is for you. I could barely stop myself from photographing just about every building in the old town because each had such a unique feel to it.

Finished in 1998, the City of Arts and Sciences is the new kid in town and the complete and stylish opposite the little alleys of the city centre. Located near the harbor, the area is used for large concerts, marathons and other sport events.

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Some of the highlights include a planetarium, an interactive museum of science, a stunning opera house, a suspension bridge – and the L’Oceanogràfic. I hadn’t visited an aquarium in years (the last time must have been Sea Life in Baltimore…) and the colours blew me away: An underwater restaurant will get you the most spectacular of views (little Nemos et al), real sharks will first scare and then amaze you – and there’s also the possibility of “camping” underneath a tunnel with sharks swimming above you. How bloody cool is that? The aquarium is also devoted to sustainability and to making the oceans better, healthier places.

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Two seconds after I stepped into the concept and gift store Gnomo, I fell head over heels for Paula Bonet‘s illustrations. Over the days that followed, I kept mentioning her name and almost everyone knew her. She started illustrating during her studies here, then moved to Barcelona and quite literally made it, although I’m not sure any artist ever sees it quite like that.

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Then there’s Espai Tactel, a design studio and art gallery that is run by two extremely devoted and extremely charming guys. They recommended the Galeria Luis Adelantado to me – which I also loved a lot – and I then bumped into them again the next day for another opening. One thing that struck me as highly unusual was how passionate all these people are, I’ve never quite sensed that before in a first visit. The people I met so love what they do, they happily take their time and explain the concept to people and they cultivate their passions as much as they can, even if it doesn’t pay the bills.

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Food & Drink

There’s quite the staggering amount of cool cafes in Valencia where inspiration and concentration flow just like caffeine, which is a handy combination when your deadlines also don’t stay at home. Dulce de Lece is one of them. The patisserie has two branches in Valencia and excels at the minimalist, airy and flowery look that we all (am I right?) love so much.

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Ubik Cafe is like no other: The guys behind the library/book shop/bar offer regular workshops, art classes, readings and gigs (on Sunday mornings, what a way to cure a hangover, people!). It’s a real cultural institution that buzzes with life, energy and fantastic draft beer. Both these cafes are located in the Ruzafa district where – thanks to its young crowd, street art and cool shops – I ended up spending the most time.

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Different stalls at Mercado Central serve the freshest of fruits, vegetables, specialist coffees, fruit shakes, paellas and drinks. It’s also a buzzing hub for business people, locals, young evening crowds and tourists alike. If you’re there, definitely watch out for the Retrogusto coffeemates, they really know how to do that perfect brew, and I brought some bags of fresh coffee home with me.

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The Paellas at La Riua are to die for, but here’s the deal: There are so many great places and I also had excellent lunch at Canalla Bistro by Ricard Camarena, who is a bit like Spain’s Jamie Oliver. I told him that, and he laughed it off but it’s oh so true!

One thing that made me burst with laughter was La Conservera in Ruzafa, a restaurant that serves gourmet fish – from cans. I didn’t have the guts to try it out but its reputation speaks for itself and the interior reminded me of a fish shop next to the harbour – with added cool.

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Las Mas Bonita is a seaside cafe and brunch heaven with, wait for it, an ocean view. Sit outside under palm trees, sip a freshly made smoothie, munch an avocado toast and watch locals, tourists and young families pass by.

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I didn’t plan on doing a lot of shopping, but then I did. I already told you about Gnomo, but KAUF Vintage had me stock up on some boyfriend shirts and woolen jumpers for very reasonable prices compared to Berlin. Again, Paula Bonet’s work was featured on the walls, right next to hip bikes and photos of foggy mountain sceneries. At the end, I could barely close my suitcase because of all the clothes and books and the flight attendant was that close to making me pay for overweight luggage. Whoops.

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Valencia’s Turia park is a paradise for anyone who likes to soak up some fresh air and maybe stay in shape a little. My new favourite way of exploring a city (if it’s not London or New York) is renting a bike and just riding places without paying too much attention to a map or any “recommended routes”. I prefer surprises and maybe even getting a bit lost. There are numerous and very convenient bike rental stores all over the city (I got mine from Valencia Bikes and they were incredibly friendly and helpful!), so you’ll have an easy time riding all the way from Turia park to the port and beach.

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Valencia, I will so be back soon and I strongly recommend you ladies check it out for yourselves.

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Thank you so much Tourism Valencia and Eva for giving me such a unique impression of your city
and for turning this stay into one of my favourite trips ever.