LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES TO HAVE A GREAT DAY IN VALENCIA

Jul 8, 2024City, Cruises, Europe, Spain0 comments

Valencia is another common port in Spain for cruises in the Mediterranean. As this city is less famous than Barcelona or Malaga, you may be wondering what to see and do there on a short visit.

I recently visited Valencia for the first time and while I enjoyed the city (and can’t wait to get back), there were quite a number of things I wish I had done differently. At the end of this post you can find my recommended itineraries both for a short and full day in Valencia based on my experience.

Read on to learn from my mistakes so YOU can have a perfect day in Valencia!

Valencia's modern Science Museum is reflected in water feature

Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences is a must-see!

So what went wrong on my visit to Valencia?

My visit to Valencia did not go as smoothly as I might have hoped. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a horrible day and I think I got a great first impression of the city. But I just didn’t have as good a time as I could have had.

Valencia is fascinating and definitely worth a visit so any disappointment was based on circumstances and mistakes I made. But what could I have done differently?

First of all, there were two issues that were out of my hands:

1) I just didn’t feel very good.

This is a fact of travelling – no matter how much we look forward to it and how well we plan, sometimes we get sick or just have an off day. On this trip,  I managed to hurt my back while travelling to the cruise and though I slowly felt better as the vacation went on, the first couple of days my back hurt and I didn’t enjoy touring as much as usual.

2) The time in port was (too) short

On my cruise with Norwegian Dawn we visited a total of 8 ports and in most of them had a decent amount of time. But Valencia was the exception – though the ship was in port for 8 hours, we docked very early so that all aboard was at 2 pm, basically just a half day as most sights don’t open until 10 am.

There isn’t much that can be done here (aside of booking a different cruise) but I definitely could have planned better considering the limited time.

Tip 1: Be realistic when planning your time, especially if you have an early departure.

My plans for Valencia

When I first looked into Valencia as a destination, I quickly decided to visit the city’s zoo, Bioparc Valencia, which is one of the best in Europe.

It wasn’t until the cruise had started that I realized that with an all aboard time of 2 pm and the zoo not opening until 10 am i would have less than 3 hours there (the zoo is at some distance and I don’t like to cut it close for missing the ship).

Given that at around €30 the zoo isn’t exactly cheap , I finally decided to give up on my original plan. Unfortunately, I had only a vague idea of what else to do in town so made plenty of mistakes.

Tip 2: If you aren’t sure whether your original plan will work, do prepare a back-up plan instead of a vague idea.

Norwegian Dawn in Valencia's port

Norwegian Dawn docked in Valencia’s port

Getting from the cruise ship to the City of Arts and Sciences

Getting out of the port

Valencia is a container port and as is often the case for commercial ports you are not allowed to walk out but have to take a (free) shuttle which will drop you at the port entrance.

Bright yellow shuttle bus picking up passengers at Valencia's port

Free shuttle taking passengers out of th eport

The shuttle stop was right next to the ship so you couldn’t miss it. Taking the shuttle seemed a bit of a waste, as the ride only took a couple of minutes but as it is obligatory there isn’t any other choice.

Passenger terminal building in Valencia

The shuttle dropped off in front of the passenger terminal building

After just a minute or two we got off the shuttle in front of the passenger terminal. Even though it looked like the town was the other way, I thought we might have to pass through the terminal. However, that is not the case!

Tip 3: There is no need to waste time entering the terminal building after getting off the shuttle bus (unless specifically instructed too).

I would assume that most cruise ships use the commercial port/shuttle as we did. However, I did see a smaller luxury ship docked right next to the terminal. So there is a small chance you can just walk off and save yourself the shuttle ride!

Blue stripe on street with directions to bus stop in Valencia

Directions to the bus routes are clearly shown on the ground

Getting from the port to the City of Arts and Sciences

When I was getting off the ship at 8 am,my first stop was going to be the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies (City of Arts and Sciences).

This modern neighborhood consists of several iconic modern buildings housing a science museum, an aquarium, and various other arts and event venues. After having seen pictures before, I was excited to check out the area.

I really appreciated that the city of Valencia has clearly marked the way from the port to the nearest bus stop. It even tells you which bus route to take to get to the aquarium respectively the city center.

Very helpful and made me feel quite welcome! I wish more cities had something similar.

Unfortunately, the city’s thoughtfulness was wasted on me. While I had brought local currency (Euro) with me, for some reason I did not have any coins or even small bills but only €50 bills.

Now, it is possible that the bus driver would/could have accepted a €50 for my ticket. But I really hate to embarrass myself (something I need to work on), so I chickened out and decided to just walk for now.

This was probably the biggest avoidable mistake I made in Valencia as it turned out to be fairly exhausting and took a lot of time.

I definitely recommend taking the public bus from the port to the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies (or the city center).

Tip 4: Make sure to take local currency, including smaller bills/coins, for bus or entrance tickets!

Tip 5: Take the public bus from the port to your destination

As I did not follow the above tips, walking it was. Now, it is perfectly possible to walk from the port to the City of Arts and Sciences.

It is easy to find and feels perfectly safe but it isn’t especially scenic or interesting and a bit of a waste of time and effort. All in all, it took me about 40 minutes to get from the terminal at the port to the entrance to the aquarium.

Oceanografic Valencia before opening hours

No need to get there before opening

Visiting the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia

The aquarium, Oceanografic, was the first part of the science park I got to. To my disappointment, the entire plaza was still locked off as it was before 10 am.

Tip 6: Some of the buildings are inaccessible prior to opening so getting to the City of Arts and Sciences around 10 am is plenty early enough.

I had been vaguely considering visiting the Science Museum or the Aquarium as part of my day. However, reviews were mixed so I hadn’t planned it properly as the zoo sounded better.

Still, in hindsight I wish I had chosen one of the attractions in the City of Arts and Sciences and spent my day there instead of running all over town.

Tip 7: Consider visiting only City of Arts and Sciences OR the old town if you have limited time.

Caixa Forum, Valencia

Early in the morning it was very quiet here

I would maybe/probably have paid to enter the aquarium but as it wasn’t going to open for another hour or so, I didn’t just want to wait and walked on to see more of the iconic modern buildings.

Caixa Forum, Valencia

Caixa Forum reminds me of a fish jumping out of water

One advantage of being here early was that there weren’t too many people so it was easier to take photos. And this modern cityscape is great for taking photos!

Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies, Valencia

The reflections in the surrounding pools make for great pictures

Key for getting great pictures with incredible reflections is a dry day without much wind. As soon as the water in the pools ripples, the reflections disappear.

I was lucky though and the water was completely smooth so acted as a perfect mirror.

L'Hemisferic, Valencia

Even more cool buildings

The Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies was bigger/had more buildings than I had originally expected and I really loved seeing it.

A definite must-see in Valencia in my opinion. I just wish I had spent more time there (including an inside visit to one of the venues) instead of dragging myself further.

Queen Sofia Palace of Arts, Valencia

Right next to the modern buildings you will find a garden/park

Getting from the City of Arts and Sciences to old town

When I was planning my trip, I always read to take the bus between the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies and the old town of Valencia. While this isn’t a bad idea (especially if it is hot or you have little time), I actually felt that walking between the two areas was quite pleasant.

This section is definitely a better one for a walk than the beginning between port and Aquarium.

Anyway, I still had not been able to get any coins/small bills so the bus wasn’t an option. Luckily, I did enjoy the walk here, starting in the garden right behind des Les Arts Building.

Park with path shaded by tall trees in Valencia

You can stroll through a park to get to downtown Valencia

Basically, you walk through gardens and a park, with plenty of shade and a chance to see locals and tourists alike walk their dogs, exercise, or just enjoy some time outside.

Low building with public restrooms at park

Public bathroom in park

The walk through the park had two bonus points for me. First, there was a public bathroom right when I was starting to worry about it.

I know it is not glamourous but finding a rest room when you need it (or not) does make a huge difference on how your day goes! This one was located on the left side of the park going towards the city center, more or less across from the Palau de la Musica.

The second surprise is a bit more scenic… Not sure if it is just me or not, but when I hear Valencia there are two things I think of: Pallea and…

Tree with oranges on it

ORANGES!

If you live in a warmer climate, a tree with oranges may not be anything special for you. But coming from Northern Europe, seeing oranges (or lemons) on a tree still comes as a huge surprise.

There are few things that make me think Vacation and Mediterranean than orange trees. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see these trees – it is the little things that count and make a trip special!

Tip 8: It is a bit corny but appreciate the little things even if not everything is going like you planned. A day doesn’t have to be perfect to be memorable.

Placa de la Reina, Valencia

Valencia’s downtown area is very pleasant

Valencia Old Town

From the Les Arts building it took me about 50 minutes to walk all the way to Placa de la Reina, next to Valencia’s Cathedral.

On the way I went into a stationery store to make a small purchase as I still only had a large €50 bill. But even here they wouldn’t accept it! However, the lady at the counter was nice enough to put the notebook I wanted to the side and tell me to try later in the day as she would have more change by then.

My plan for downtown Valencia was to get an idea of the city (managed that) and to visit the cathedral. But again, having not pre-planned proved to be a bit of a problem.

Long line of tourists waiting to buy entrance tickets for Valencia's Cathedral

Apparently, Valencia’s Cathedral is quite popular

Tip 9: If you plan to visit the Cathedral of Valencia, try to get there early in the day or be prepared to wait for a while.

When I finally got to the cathedral the line was so long! The Cathedral is generally open from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm and a visit (including audio guide) is €9. As far as I can tell, there is no way to buy tickets ahead of time online so getting them in person on the day is the best option.

By now, it was getting close to 11 am and I was starting to get a bit nervous about getting back in time. I still wasn’t sure whether taking the bus back would work out and it had taken me close to 2.5 hours to make my way here. It was also getting quite warm by this time and my back was hurting.

So even though it was disappointing not to see the inside of the Cathedral after specifically walking all that way, I decided against getting in line.

I am sure I would have enjoyed a visit but it was just too much hassle and I didn’t want to have to rush back.

A definite plus of going inside the castle area (instead of just taking in the view from outside) is that here you will find both a bathroom and a small café.

I got myself a soda which was on the pricey side but hit the spot after the long, hot walk.

Interior of Iglesia de Santa Caterina, Valencia, with light streaming through windows

Gibralfaro’s main draw are the views

Instead I decided to walk on a bit and explore the downtown area. Luckily, just minutes from the Cathedral I found another church that looked interesting and required neither a ticket nor waiting in line.

The Eglesia de Santa Catalina Martir is a church in the Gothic style erected on the site of a former mosque. It has an impressive bell tower which I though skipped (my back was pretty bad by that time).

Though I am sure it was not as spectacular as the Cathedral, it was a serene place to rest and reflect for a couple of minutes. 

Tip 10: If your original plan does not work out, see if you can find some alternate activity/replacement. It may surprise you how memorable this can be. Being flexible is key to having a great trip.

Bus stop next to port in Valencia

Bus Stop near Valencia Port

Return to Valencia’s port

I am sure there is plenty more to see in Valencia’s old town, but I had neither a clear idea of what nor really the time (or energy).

As it was about 11 am now, I decided to head back to the ship. My first stop was again at the stationery store in order to finally get that €50 bill broken into smaller bills/coins. And it worked! The lady at the counter didn’t seem all the way happy (I must have taken all the change she had) but I was happy to finally have money I could actually use.

I then traced back my steps a bit along C. de la Pau to Jardins de la Glorieta as I had seen a lot of bus stops near that park. And it was indeed fairly easy to find the correct stop for Bus Line 4.

Looking at Google Maps now, there are several bus routes that would take you in the right direction, but #4 is what I went for.

I had been a bit worried about taking the bus but it proofed to be easy. You can buy the inexpensive ticket from the driver when entering – and he had a lot of change so might even have been able to take the €50 to start with.

The bus itself was modern and clean and the ride smooth enough. It did take a bit longer than I would have expected though (about 20 minutes) as it took some detours through a residential area.

View from bus stop back to port in Valencia

From the bus stop it is about a 5 minute walk to the plaza in front of the terminal building where the shuttle bus will pick you up for the return trip to your ship. It is exceedingly easy as you can again just follow the blue markings on the pavement!

I got back on the ship a little past 12 pm, so would have had more time but I was happy enough to be able to lie down for a bit and rest my back!

Recommended itinerary for a visit to Valencia

Though I had a nice enough day, I would do things differently next time. Based on my experience, I have come up with a couple of alternate itinerary recommendations for your day in Valencia:

If you have only a short time in Port

If your visit – like mine – is on the shorter side, I would recommend you concentrate on either the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies OR downtown Valencia. My personal recommendation would be for the City of Arts and Sciences as it is a more unique experience but it will depend on your personal taste:

Variation A – City of Arts and Sciences

Start your excursion around 9 am

Take bus line 95 near the port to the Oceanografic

Explore the various buildings and nearby park at the City of Arts and Sciences

Visit either the Aquarium or the Science Museum or both.

Variation B – Downtown Valencia

Start your excursion around 9 am

Take bus line 4 to the city center

Explore the downtown area

Tour the Cathedral as soon as it opens up

Spend your time soaking up the atmosphere of Valencia’s squares, parks, and sights before returning by bus

Reflecting pool with trees next to modern buildings

Can you see me? (In the mirror)

If you have a full day in port

If you have more time than me, you can definitely visit both downtown and the City of Arts and Sciences for the ultimate Valencia experience.

This itinerary will also work if you are an efficient traveler and get sights checked off quickly – travel styles vary and not everyone needs as much time as me!

I recommend starting with the downtown area as it is further from the port and working your way back to the modern part as it is closer.

All of Valencia

Start your excursion around 8:30 to 9 am

Take bus line 4 near the port to the City Center

Explore the city center and get a first impression of town

Tour the Cathedral right when it opens at 10:30 am

Walk along C de la Pau and the park from the city center to the City of Arts and Sciences (about one hour) or take the bus to save time and effort

Explore the various buildings and nearby park at the City of Arts and Sciences

If you have a full day and still enough time, you could visit the Aquarium or the Science Museum

Take the bus to return to port in good time for your ship departure

Conclusion

Valencia is a fascinating city and a great destination on a cruise. The city seemed very friendly and welcoming and was easy to navigate.

There is plenty to see and do so if you don’t have a lot of time you may have to choose what you want to see most. Both the City of Sciences and the downtown area are definitely worth a visit.

Avoid my mistakes and you are sure to have a blast with the exciting mix of old and new Valencia has to offer!

City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia

Hi, I am Kitty and I love to travel! Welcome to my blog, where I share all I have learned on my trips - good and bad - to help you have a better, cheaper, and more perfect vacation!

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