Ah, Spain! This country has been on my list of places to see for years now, but there was always an excuse not to go there. This year though I finally managed to check it off the list with an epic visit to Valencia. I spent the entire month of May there, together with my wife and our five-year-old son.
I’m here today to report about my entire experience there: how was it to live in Valencia for a month, how much did it cost us and what recommendations I have in terms of things to see.
Even though I am no longer a digital nomad, by the standard definition, I still love to travel and see new places and work in front of my computer, despite aching eyes and growing back pains.
But since I travel with my family, I prefer to take things slow: a month is the perfect amount of time to spend in a new place, in my opinion, as it gives you enough time to enjoy all the goodies, but also find some – or most – of the Cons.
I love to know the whole picture, because I want to relocate from my current country (Romania) sooner or later. Therefore, every new place that I visit is judged based on an ultimate conclusion: would I enjoy living there? That’s why I travel, in the end: to find that perfect spot. So… could Valencia be it?
Why did we choose Valencia?
Spain was a must this year. My family and I spent one month in Budapest for the past two years and although I abso-freakin’-lutely love that city, I decided it’s time to see other parts of the world for a change.
Since it was May and we had to go in Europe, we also needed a place that should be – at least in theory – sunnier and warmer than others because we absolutely hate cold weather.
Also, we decided against the popular Barcelona – which is larger and more expensive and was, at the time of our travel, in some stormy waters with the Catalan independence protests.
I knew deep inside that there was absolutely no danger for us if we decided to go there, but I always choose to play it as safe as possible. Barcelona will still be there next year, so we were in no rush.
We wanted a city large enough to keep us busy for the month, not too touristy and easy to navigate on foot or by using public transportation.
We actually considered Alicante for starters and almost went there, but in the end I had a change of hearts and switched to Valencia, which is just a bit up North, it had raving reviews all over the internet and had one extra major bonus: it was where my blogging friends Kemkem and Federico have their home base and apparently it’s a perfect place for expat life.
Any place that you visit and have friends in is much better than any other place where you’re a total stranger. And so, Valencia was about to become our home for the month of May! Yay!
Where did we stay in Valencia?
Like always, we found our apartment on AirBnb. It had to tick some things on the wish list, high up there being the need for air conditioning units: we had an awful experience getting fried in Budapest with no air conditioning last August and we didn’t want to go through that as well.
We also needed two separate beds, as I am an insanely light sleeper and my son twists and turns in his sleep like a tornado through a wheat field: not a perfect match, especially for somebody who also has to work during the day. And, of course, it had to be as close to the center as possible – since the city center is where you usually want to be, for all the goodies and attractions.
So we ended up getting a two bedroom apartment on a quiet street, just couple of minutes of walking away from the Torres de Quart and several minutes of walking away from the heart of the city. It looked good, too:
As you can notice from the photos above, the apartment was in a good condition and had everything you needed for spending a month (or more) there.
Not super-modern, but still comfortable and nice. It was also really large and the fact that it had 2 bathrooms was a bonus. It also had so much storage space that I completely fell in love with it. At home, we don’t have half the storage space this beautiful apartment had!
We were also extremely lucky with our host, Ines. Although she spoke very little English, we managed to get together really well and she was a truly charming lady, offering us valuable tips on what to see (but especially where to eat) and also treating us every now and then with some homemade Spanish foods.
First impressions and thoughts about Valencia
A more seasoned traveler probably doesn’t have this feeling any more, but in my case, it’s still there. As soon as we walked out of the airport and hopped into the taxi taking us to our new home, I couldn’t stop smiling.
The joy and happiness of me being there with my family was huge. The sun was shining, the buildings our car was passing through were renovated and good looking and there were PALM TREES on the streets! And Orange trees on the sides! With REAL oranges!
For somebody coming from Eastern Europe, where you can only see palm trees on TV (or when you travel), this was huge to me. Pure happiness to see that and to imagine waking up every morning and seeing palm trees everywhere!
But, in the end, it wasn’t all smiles and laughs. Remember when I said earlier that a must have for our AirBnb apartment was the air conditioning unit? Well, it seems that Valencia is not as warm as we had expected it to be in May!
Not only that we have never used the A/C units in the apartment, but also spent most of our days and nights wearing jeans and long sleeves. It was unexpectedly cold and windy – one of the biggest and most unpleasant surprises we had.
But apart from that, I stick to my first impressions: Valencia is a city to keep on smiling in. A city to casually walk down the streets, deciding what tapas bar to choose for your next couple of hours of lazying around, enjoying a good coffee and a snack, people watching and letting stress fly away.
More on that later, though. Right now – let’s see what should you do and see in Valencia.
Top things to see and do in Valencia
There are many attractions in the city, but they are – for the most part – nicely grouped together around the center. If you’re not really a big fan of slow travel, you can probably see everything that Valencia has to offer in a week – maybe even less if you do some planning and all the stars in the universe align correctly…
But we took it slow and spent more time than we should’ve in most of these places. Some absolutely awesome, some of them a bit over-hyped, but totally worth it overall.
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Science)
The iconic attraction in Valencia, the thing you see on postcards and t-shirts and stamps and cup holders and everywhere else. This futuristic, sci-fi looking bunch of buildings is indeed jaw-dropping.
We visited this week 7 to 10 days in, and it was again one of those beautiful moments that traveling the world rewards you with. As soon as I got there and saw the huge buildings that seemed to have dropped out of a sci-fi movie, the blue water surrounding them and the absolute perfection of that place, my heart filled with joy.
I know this is the second time I mention it happening in Valencia, but the truth is that I don’t experience this too often. But this place was way too much to handle.
I simply told my wife and son that I need to sit down a bit, look around, take it all in and enjoy the moment. It wasn’t something for the blog, for Instagram, for anybody else but me. The pure happiness of enjoying the moment in a beautiful place.
In the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, apart from walking around and enjoying the surroundings, you can also visit the actual buildings: the Oceanografic is the main attraction in my opinion (the largest aquarium in Europe), followed by the Museum of Science, the Hemispheric (a large and impressive cinema), the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia and the Umbracle which can be visited for free.
If you’re not spending much time in Valencia and you can only choose a place to visit – this is the one. And if you have time, you can also go inside one (or more) of the buildings, but expect to pay a premium for that.
Europe’s biggest aquarium was the first and only building that we actually decided to visit during our stay in Valencia. We originally planned to visit the Science Museum afterwards, but I was a bit disappointed with what the Oceanografic has to offer, and after doing a bit of extra research, decided that the Museum would leave us the same slightly bitter taste.
Now, the place is indeed humongous and well laid out. They also have a dolphinarium with free shows throughout the day and most of the tunnels you go through, surrounded from three sides by exotic fish or sharks are beautiful.
But we did get there with really high expectations after reading all the praise on the internet and hearing some of our friends praise it some more.
We’ve seen similar things in Budapest and Munchen – and for a fraction of the cost – and therefore, we weren’t really impressed. I am talking about the adults here: for my son, it was his first experience of this kind and loved everything, especially the dolphin show (which was short and more of a presentation of the dolphins instead of actual “show” stuff).
So if you’ve seen a bunch of large aquariums in the past, don’t get your hopes too high with the Oceanografic! It’s huge, it’s good, but not as spectacular as some make it sound!
Valencia Bioparc (the zoo)
Another humongous attraction – spread out over 10 acres of land and going away from the traditional method of keeping the animals in cages, Valencia’s Zoo was a pleasant surprise with lots to offer. And simply seeing so much space offered to all the animals there made things even better.
There are actually areas where you can walk around the animals (in the monkey area, for example), but we were unlucky to get there during the animal siesta time, so they were all sleeping and lazying around in trees.
But even so, it was a really pleasant and fun way to spend the day: we enjoyed a large variety of animals and did some exercise too, walking around the huge park.
We also ate there some surprisingly good food (I enjoyed one of the best paellas I had in Valencia, for example, which was highly unexpected for “zoo food”). Plus, the restaurant has a terrace that offers you a view to the animals, so it’s a pretty unique experience as well!
The Turia Park / Gardens
A green oasis that covers no less than 9 kilometers, the Turia Park is the perfect place to spend some of your free time. Our place was just 10 minutes away from this park, so I was lucky enough to be able to go jogging there on several occasions, while also taking our son for some walks and exploring the area.
Since this park is 9 kilometers long (built over the Turia river that had the bad habit of flooding the city), the Turia Gardens has a lot to offer: important attractions (like Gulliver’s playground, also the largest playground for kids), various events taking place here during the weekends and holidays, as well as various sports fields, tracks for joggers and bike riders and much, much more.
This place is clean, huge, looks great and is a joy to walk through. Perfect and free and a must visit, even though exploring it entirely is not a job for one day!
The City Center
Most of the good things that Valencia has to offer are in the walkable city center. Bordered by the Turia Gardens to the north and locked in by the Carrer de Xativa, this is where you will find most of the museums and plazas and restaurants and tourist attractions.
There would be a lot to write about each of these attractions, but I’ll have more articles dedicated to them in the future. Until then, I’ll leave you with some photos and the important names: the Plaza de la Virgen, with its beautiful fountain, the Cathedral and beautiful buildings around; the Plaza de la Reina with the nearby restaurants and gates and parks, as well as the Plaza Redona (the round plaza), and all the way to the well known Mercat Central (the central market – one of the main attractions), the Bullring and the City Hall near the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
There is a ton of awesomeness scattered here and you will always have something new and beautiful to discover – and the photos above only manage to barely scratch the surface.
And although touristy, it’s not a lot more expensive than the rest of the city (although some places are) – and as a result, there are many good places to eat at and shops to at least visit…
The bonus is, in my opinion, that the entire area is walkable and relatively easy to tick off the list in an afternoon (although I’d recommend having an entire day to spend here).
I wasn’t expecting such a large and beautiful beach in Valencia. Not very close to our apartment (or the city center) and relatively difficult to get to using public transportation (we had to take the metro for a few stops, then switch to the tram for a couple more), the beach has some amazing, soft sand and stretches out to infinity.
The water is beautiful and there are lots of nice restaurants to eat at, but they are more expensive (you have to pay for that view, right?)
We only went to the beach twice during our month-long stay, mostly because of the unexpectedly cold weather and especially the wind. It wasn’t very popular when we went, but towards the end of the month, there were more tourists there – a sign that the good weather was about to come.
The water was warm enough to take a bath, but not really pleasant either. So the month if May is definitely not the best time to visit Valencia if you want to enjoy the beaches and the water. But fortunately, there’s so much more to enjoy!
What we ate in Valencia
I love to eat and try new stuff and one of my main pleasures when traveling is to test the local cuisine. And we did plenty of that during our stay in Valencia!
You probably know that Spain has a solid tapas culture: small, bite-sized dishes usually served in bars together with drinks. My idea of tapas was getting a million different things and grabbing a bite from each, but the truth is that their price adds up fast and you end up paying for tapas more than you would for a full course meal at a restaurant. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it’s not. Here are some of the tapas we have tried:
I was a bit surprised to see how unhealthy most of the food served in restaurants and tapas bars actually is. Extremely greasy, salted and usually fried, it was truly surprising to me.
Especially since most of the people I saw there were very fit and half the size I was expecting them to be judging from all that unhealthy (but delicious!) food available to them.
Another surprising thing was that we ate the best pizza that we have ever tasted – and all happened during our stay in Valencia. Of course, this came as a bonus from fellow blogger Kemkem’s husband Federico, a lovely Italian guy who knows his pizzas and who had time to find the absolute best pizzerias in the city. (Pro tip: They seem to be everywhere!)
Eating at a restaurant in Valencia is rarely cheaper than 10 Euros per person – the price of the Menu del Dia (Menu of the day) in most restaurants, while 15 Euros is the safer bet.
Of course, it can easily go up a lot, especially if you’re in the more touristy areas, where a single dish can cost up to 30 Euros and even more.
For example, here is our daily menu at a small vegetarian restaurant we found nearby: it had soup, a hearty main course and dessert (which disappeared before I had time to snap a photo):
We also went to a different type of tapas place during our stay – 100 Montaditos – which serves bocadillos, which are small sandwiches that you can mix and match.
100 Montaditos has a menu of 100 different sandwiches and goodies to eat and we did try several of those during one of their special days when every sandwich on the menu is priced at 1 Euro (on Wednesdays and Sundays).
I wasn’t particularly impressed by these bocadillos – even though some were indeed tasty, you end up eating a lot of bread… so not really that fun. Maybe the not-so-amazing quality was a result of the low prices, but it was definitely an experience that didn’t encourage me to try more bocadillos from other places.
I was also extremely surprised to find out that there’s China Town in Valencia, offering some of the cheapest food in the city. Huge portions too – and delicious! I am still smiling when I remember the looks on our faces when we saw the huge portions brought in after we ordered:
As a conclusion regarding the food in Valencia, I can say that it is absolutely delicious, although mostly unhealthy. I am confident that I would end up doubling my weight if I were to live in Valenica (unless I learn the secrets of the locals for keeping fit). And all in all, for the most part, I wasn’t impressed that much by it.
Of course, I am not really a big fan of seafood and fish – which represents an important part of the diet in Valencia and that’s what would probably make it more delicious than in other places (and certainly healthier).
So even though I wasn’t particularly impressed with the food that Valencia has to offer, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad – especially for somebody who can appreciate seafood and fish more than I do.
How much did it cost us to spend one month in Valencia?
We were reckless during our stay in Valencia in terms of spending. We ate out constantly and barely used the nice kitchen that we had in our apartment.
This is something that we rarely do, but also something that’s difficult not to do when there are so many inviting restaurants around you and you spend an entire day away from home, exploring the city. You will eventually go hungry and getting back home to cook no longer sounds that fun.
We also visited more attractions than we normally do and the prices for these family-aimed areas are not low. The Oceanograpfic itself is extremely pricey (we paid 82 Euros for our family of three), just like the Zoo and everything else. Fortunately, there are free entry days in all museums on Sundays – but this also means that they’re a bit more crowded.
We also paid a lot for our accommodation – the biggest amount spent for a place since we started traveling and we could’ve kept the costs a lot lower here as well if we were to choose a place without air conditioning (and maybe with just a bedroom and a couch instead).
But I was afraid the weather was going to be too hot to handle, so I ended up paying a lot more for accommodation. And even though it was a really good place with no real complaints on my side, it was 1,423 Euros – which is quite a lot, no matter how you put it.
We also learned that for a similar apartment you should expect to pay around 600 Euros on a long term contract… but it really was the best thing we could find for our dates.
For everything else (food, entertainment, visiting the places in Valencia and gifts to bring home), we paid a total of 1,532 Euros. I usually keep track of costs based on the categories that we spend money on (food, eating out, entertainment etc) but I was too lazy to do it in Valencia. However, most of the amount was spent on food and eating out.
All in all, for spending an entire month in Valencia, we ended up paying 2955 Euros. It’s a large chunk of money and more than I am comfortable to pay (or afford to, if we’d be talking about doing it monthly), but it could’ve been much worse.
An interesting thing about these costs is that I always had the impression – and I am sure it’s not just my mind playing tricks on me – that everything is more expensive in Spain than it is back at home in Romania or in the Budapest I love so much.
However, accommodation costs aside, we spent almost as much as we did in Budapest when we lived there for a month but without eating out as much and splurging on so many occasions.
The costs were also similar to what we’re paying back home if we’re not adding the money we’ve spent on accommodation and attractions… so Valencia is, in the end, surprisingly or not, not VERY expensive, as you have the feeling when you first get there, or even at the end of the month, before doing the math.
Is Valencia worth it?
Valencia is a beautiful city. It’s vibrant, it’s colorful, it’s alive and the people there are absolutely amazing: always relaxed and smiling, polite and helful. But Valencia is not perfect.
Even more so for our family. We couldn’t live there long term and I will explain why – it’s purely personal and it wouldn’t apply for most of the people on this planet. But it just wouldn’t work for us and it wouldn’t be fair to say otherwise just to keep the positives piling up.
Our biggest problem with Valencia is the way the people there live their lives. Or, better said, it is us who have a problem and live like it’s the 1800s, ha!
You see, we are morning persons and we sleep early. We wake up sometime between 6 to 7 AM and our son starts his sleeping routine at 7 PM and by 8 he’s sleeping. We also fall asleep before 11 PM, usually at around 10.
With most of the people living in Spain, things are really different. Days start at 10-11, then the siesta times come when everything but restaurants close between 1 to 4 (while many of the restaurants only open during this time).
There’s a bit of work done afterwards, up until 7 at most, when restaurants open their doors once more. From what I saw, people in Valencia start going out at around 9PM and I have no idea how long they stay out.
As a result, we were often walking around in an empty city, with all its shops closed – and when they opened, we were at home sleeping. We were rarely able to eat out in the evening simply because our son goes to bed when restaurants open. The streets are also a bit noisy during the night, although they usually stop at around 11 PM.
But we should completely change our way of living and sleeping and eating and doing things if we were to move there (and not be the odd ones out). And this would be the biggest problem and the main con with Valencia and Spain in general.
Of course, this is a problem just for us and I believe that 99% of the people considering moving to Valencia or going there wouldn’t consider it a Con.
For them, Valencia is a much better choice, offering affordable living and eating, beautiful streets and places to see, lots of ways to spend their free time and there’s always a fiesta of sorts happening somewhere.
I personally believe that Valencia is extremely well suited for a younger audience, for people looking to have fun and enjoy life – and maybe not as much for families with kids – at least not long term. Because short to mid term, it is still great no matter how you put it.
And even for us, with our strange schedule, there were a lot of things to do and we were still able to experience all the local flavors and attractions without going out of our ways.
As a conclusion, I’ll write what I told my wife a few days after leaving Valencia behind: Valencia is beautiful. The people there are beautiful. But I wouldn’t live there for the rest of my life.
[Update notice: This article was originally published in October 2018 and updated in October 2019]