Jane Mitchell, MumAbroad’s Associate Director, reminisces about family-friendly trips to Valencia. Although it’s often overlooked in favour of Barcelona or Madrid, Valencia has plenty going for it. Spain’s third-largest city offers a wealth of great activities indoors and out for children of all ages, wide sandy beaches, striking architecture and plenty of choice of good restaurants to suit both adults and kids.
The first time we went to Valencia was in December 2011. We stayed for 2 or 3 nights; I don’t remember exactly. We went with our daughter who was 7 at the time and our son who was 4. We ‘left behind’ our youngest son who was just over a year old. We made a conscious decision that in these few days our 2 oldest children would get all of our attention; something that had been lacking for them with a baby in the house.
We chose Valencia as we could drive easily from Barcelona and I had heard that La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) was great. A friend recommended a hotel just a 5-minute walk from there. I didn’t shop around for accommodation; we wanted to be close to the Science Museum and I trusted her recommendation. We took the family package at Hotel Primus which was in fact 2 double rooms with an adjoining door. The rooms were large, modern, and spotlessly clean. The kids were ecstatic – the beds were huge and they had a tv in their room. We were pretty happy to have them close by but with a wall and door between us!
The trip was a great success. We spent one whole day at the Oceanografíc and the next day we went to the Museo de las Ciencias for a couple of hours, watched a film in 3D about dinosaurs at the Hemèsferic and had fish at a restaurant by the beach. One evening we had fabulous tapas in Casa Montaña in Cabanyal, a barrio just in front of Paseo Marítimo. It was a great trip.
Fast forward 5 and a half years. Our teenage daughter had a trip planned to England for 2 weeks with her school over the Easter break and we were wondering what to do with our boys, then 9 and 6. Conscious of the fact that our daughter would not be happy if she missed out on exploring a new city we decided on Valencia again as it had been tried and tested and as she had already been we felt she couldn’t really complain. Thinking this trip would be pretty much a carbon copy of our last trip to Valencia I went straight to the website of Hotel Primus to book our accommodation. I guess prices have gone up in the past 5 years but also our trip was just before Easter weekend so prices were extra high for that reason. I had a rethink and decided that it would be a good idea to make the historic centre our base this time.
We stayed for 3 nights in Ad Hoc Carmen, a charming, family-friendly hotel not even 5 minutes walk from the cathedral. We had a family room for 4 which was a double room with an ensuite bathroom and some stairs which took you up to another double room, also ensuite. The kids loved the novelty of a hotel room with stairs and of course, again were happy with a tv in their room. It seems that there are some things that just don’t change! The staff at the reception desk were super friendly as were the cleaning ladies we met. The location was great – in the heart of the historic town but in a quiet side street. We really enjoyed walking out of the hotel and finding good restaurants and cafés on our doorstep. There is no restaurant in the hotel but Panadria just around the corner offers Ad Hoc Carmen guests a 10% discount if they eat breakfast there.
The first evening we went to Birlibirloque, a gastro bar serving great tapas and good wine by the glass. We had a tasting menu which was 5 tapas and a dessert for 19€ per person. The food was very good – we had tataki de atún, salpicón de pulpo, buñuelos de bacalao, canelón de pollo and cerdo ibérico a la brasa followed by cheesecake and chocolate mouse. All fairly standard on local menus but all delicious. The boys had had a small pizza a little earlier so at the restaurant they were happily munching on crisps and some patatas bravas. When you ask for patatas bravas you know you are going to get deep-fried potatoes of some description but you never know in what shape or size. These bravas were huge and reminded us of lego building blocks.
The following morning we walked along Jardín del Turia starting at Pont de Fusta all the way along to La Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias. I think it would have been a 30-40 minute walk without stopping but we stopped at the biggest telaraña (climbing frame in the shape of a spider’s web ) I have ever seen and again at Parque Gulliver (children climb & slide on a massive play structure of the character Gulliver) along the way. Our youngest would have stayed at Gulliver’s all day if he could have but it was very hot (there was very little shade) and it was getting busy so we decided to move on.
By the time we arrived at the Science Museum, we were in need of sustenance. The food in the café looked awful – unappetizing bocadillos and ensaladas – so we tried their Italian restaurant. We had a combination of salad, pasta and pizza which was all edible but expensive for what it was. I wouldn’t recommend it. We then spent a couple of hours in the Museum before heading to see a film at the Hèmisferic. Our 6 year old wanted to play so loved excavating dinosaur bones and moving bricks by wheelbarrow and crane in the play area for younger children. It’s quite a hands-on museum and our 9-year-old was more interested in the experiments that were on offer.
In the evening we had dinner at El Rodamon de Russafa, owned by an Italian and his Catalan wife. The menu invites you to take a gastronomic trip around the world. We had calamar frito al curry y lima, atún marinado con humus, teriyaki de Ibérico and ensalada marroquí de naranja. The food was simply delicious – one of my favourite meals of all times. The children had mini-hamburguesas de Angus and croquetas de jamón. They were equally as happy with their choice. We shared – or more like devoured – cremoso de queso y galleta and brownie de chocolate con helado for dessert. Each savoury dish we had was under 10€ and each dessert less than 5€.
Day 2 we followed the same route along Jardín del Turia but this time on bicycles. We hired bikes from Passion Bike situated just around the corner from our hotel. Owned by another Italian (it seems Italians gravitate towards other Italians!) this was a popular and very busy little bike hire shop. To avoid disappointment best to book your bikes the day before, particularly if have children, as they have a limited number of smaller bikes. We managed to persuade the boys to ride right past the parks and we headed straight for the port. Then we cycled all the way along Paseo Marítimo, passed Playa Malvarrosa and Playa de la Patacona to eat paella in a restaurant that had been recommended by friends. We opted for the traditional Paella Valenciana (with chicken and rabbit).
There had been quite a bit of moaning on the way to the restaurant (the children were hot and hungry and it took us longer to get to the restaurant than we had anticipated) so to return to the hotel we opted to take a shorter route through the city. We cycled along the main bicycle paths along Avenida de los Naranjos, down Calle Ramon Llull, then right onto Avenida de Blasco Ibanez and then down to Jardín del Turia via Avenida d’Aragò.
Cycling along Paseo Marítimo had been crowded and uncomfortable while the route we took back through the city was really enjoyable. There were very few cyclists, the cycle paths were set apart from the cars in most places and the streets were spacious and tree-lined so fairly shady. We had eaten a very late lunch so dinner that evening was an ice cream sitting by the fountain in Plaza de la Virgen, just around the corner from our hotel. We all went to bed early, happy and exhausted.
It’s 5 years since our last trip to Valencia and it’s in my mind to go back. The boys will enjoy the Science Museum for a few more years and the films at the Hemèsferic are interesting enough for teens and adults to appreciate as well. There are still things on my to-do list including visiting the Palacio de las Artes Reina Sofía and seeing views of the city from the top of Torres de Serranos, one of the twelve gates that formed part of the ancient city wall. And as the children are getting older hopefully they will appreciate the wonderful choice of cuisine too.
Discover family services and activities in our Valencia Guide
Watch an interview about Relocating to Valencia with Laurence Lemoine, founder of Valencia Expat Services