Spain’s third largest city is arguably one of Europe’s most underrated destinations. It is home to two football teams, great food and weather, incredible beaches, plus a whole host of culture besides. Valencia is a great place for a city break, so here’s your football travel guide to Valencia…
Valencia is an explosive city. If you hear what you think is gunfire and bombs it’s most likely a traca, a random firework display to celebrate anything from weddings to footballing victories. It’s all about the noise, not the pyrotechnics.
Valencia is also home to the famous paella, the magnificent Fallas festival in March, and some seriously space-age architecture. In fact, two of the city’s least exciting structures are probably its football stadiums that house Valencia CF and Levante UD.
Work on Valencia CF’s new stadium has been halted since 2009, with new plans to restart the project. Until then, the club continues to use its 55,000-capacity concrete bowl in the Mestalla district north of the city centre.
What to see and do in Valencia
Valencia is a mash-up of the very old and the very new. The Turia, once a river and now a garden moat around the ancient heart of Valencia, is the hub of outdoors social activity. At its east end lie arguably Valencia’s most famous and ambitious buildings, the City of Arts and Sciences. This collection of otherworldly structures was the brainchild of local architect, Santiago Calatrava, and includes a sea life centre, a science museum, hanging gardens and a theatre.
The city centre cobbles more than two millennia of history in one eclectic heap – first Roman, then Visigoth, Moorish and latterly Christian. The cathedral tower was originally a minaret for the muezzin to issue the call to prayer, and at the fringes of the bustling Carmen district you can scale ancient guard towers and cross centuries-old bridges.
The food’s great. Fresh seafood makes for tasty tapas, and the famous Mercado Central (Central Market) is a brilliant place to explore and test your palate. Be sure to try out the local paella, of course, but also look for orxata (also called horchata), the tiger nut drink and fartons (no giggling at the back), the sweet bread sticks to dip in it. This is the fuel for the party-hungry Valencians.
The best time to visit is March for Las Fallas, which culminates on 19 March, St Joseph’s Day. On this day, each barrio (district) burns their falla, a cartoon-like papier mache model – often depicting a satirical scene – that local teams will have spent a year building. Gradually, the townsfolk bombard their way to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento to burn the last – and grandest – falla before hitting either the hay or a nightclub. I’ve been to three Fallas and it is the best night out.
The beaches in Valencia’s north-east suburbs must be among the best city beaches in Europe, certainly cleaner, wider and less crowded than the more famous sandy stretches of Barcelona.
How to visit Valencia CF
A small disclaimer: I lived in Valencia for nine months and am a Valencia Club de Fútbol fan.
Valencia is Spain’s fifth most successful club after Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid. Its heyday was at the start of the 21st century under Hector Cuper and latterly Rafa Benitez. Between 1999-2004 Los Che won two La Liga titles, one UEFA Cup, one Copa del Rey, one UEFA Super Cup and also lost two Champions League finals. [Continues…]
Valencia CF is now majority owned by Singaporean businessman Peter Lim who brought in Gary Neville for an ill-fated, four-month stint at the club. Valencia CF finished mid-table in 2015-16.
Work began on a 61,500-seater stadium, the Nou Mestalla, in 2007 but stopped in 2009. New plans are afoot but the completion date is not clear. Estadi de Mestalla is walkable from the centre of Valencia, but public transport is so good that either a bus or metro to Aragón station will drop you close to the ground.
How to visit Levante UD
Valencia’s second club is Levante Unión Deportiva, who play at the Estadio Ciudad de Valencia just a couple of kilometres north of Valencia CF. Named after the Valencian beach where the club was formed in 1909 – a full decade before Valencia CF – Levante has always been seen as a working class team. [Continues…]
Unfortunately, Les Granotes (‘The Frogs’ in the Valencian language) finished bottom of La Liga in season 2015-16 so return to La Segunda División after their best spell in the top flight (six consecutive seasons).
The nearest metro station to the ground is Machado.