I want to preface my 48-hour guide to Valencia by asserting that 48 hours in Valencia is far from enough. A week, or indeed a lifetime, would be preferable.

This is one of the most liveable cities I’ve ever experienced, not least because of a plush, subterranean park (which pre 1969 was once the site of a now-drained river) which rings the city, forming the undercurrent (I need a Pulitzer for this) of residential life.

Anyway, 48 hours is what I had to play with – so here’s how I spent mine, and how you could spend yours.

Valencia: Where to Stay

For a Solo Stay: Ad Hoc Monumental

In my experience, there are a few key factors that make or break the accommodation on your solo travels. One is a central location – this is ever more necessary as a solo because you have no one to share the cost of a cab with, plus from a safety perspective it’s reassuring to know you don’t have far to travel and there are always crowds about. Another is affordability, because the single supplement means solos are quite often forced to spend twice as much on accommodation when prices are based on two sharing a room. Ad Hoc Monumental, located just steps away from the Valencia Cathedral, offers both these vital things – plus a 24-hour front desk and concierge (again, reassuring). Aesthetic wise, it’s a charming 19th century hotel with period features like high ceilings and exposed brick walls. Each room has its own private balcony (as perfect for Instagram moments as it is for people-watching). With an on-site restaurant and free wifi, it was the perfect location for my stay.

Where: Calle de Boix, 4, 46003 Valencia

Cost: Double rooms start at €100, depending on occupancy.

What to Do

For A Cultural Fix: City of Arts and Sciences

Most city skylines consist of rows of office buildings, but Valencia offers something unique, in the form of the City of Arts and Sciences, a cultural and architectural complex which is considered the city’s key tourist attraction (particularly at the moment, as the city is currently the World Design Capital for 2022). Most impressive is the Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium, but there’s also the Reina Sofía Palace of the Arts, an opera centre, and the Ágora, a vast multipurpose space often used for conferences.

Where: Av. del Professor López Piñero, 7, 46013 València

For Architectural Insights: Old City Walking Tour

This was one of the best walking tours I’ve ever been on. While I’d spent the previous day admiring Valencia’s architecture, this tour – titled Essential Valencia and its World Heritage Sites and booked via the Visit Valencia tourism office – really opened me up to what made it special. The guide explained the materials used, the architectural styles and concepts at play around the Old City, where the blend of architectural styles includes early Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, and Gothic. We learnt about the tension between the concept of ‘functionalism’ – which saw property developers tearing down hard-to-maintain historic buildings – and ‘modernism’ which saw innovative architects and city planners prioritising the preservation of historic landmarks, integrating and honouring what’s already there. He also explained the city’s historic context in a way that felt animated and engaging. I learnt a lot, and I felt thoroughly engaged from beginning to end.

For a Day at the Beach: La Malvarrosa

Valencia genuinely has everything – and you bet that includes a beach. There are many to choose from: white-sanded expanses that are so vast that they seldom get crowded, even during the busy season. The popular La Malvarrosa beach near the marina is well-serviced by local restaurants (see below to read about the seaside paella spot I visited nearby). If you had more than 48 hours – and, as I say, I truly struggled with the time limits of this assignment – I’d head off to spend a day at the Albufera Natural Park, where you can enjoy a natural beach. Pack a picnic of bocadillos and beer – there’s not much around to buy supplies – and head off to spend the day there.

Where to Eat

For a Michelin Star Dining Experience: Canalla Bistro

I died and went to heaven at Canalla Bistro by Ricard Camarena – ‘Canalla’ being the Spanish word for ‘scoundrel’, Ricard Camarena being one of Valencia’s most famous chefs – enjoying the seasonal tasting menu of the fusion Mexican-Japanese-New York cuisine. Which, considering I don’t generally love tasting menus (overstimulating) or indeed fusion cuisine (for more or less the same reason), was quite the feat. Whatever Ricard did, it worked – whether it was the Peking duck nigiri, or the pork and vegetables gyozas in a ponzu sauce. I was also a big fan of the drinks, enjoying the extra spicy green chilli margarita, plus, as someone sober curious (I tend to limit myself to one alcoholic drink while dining solo, before switching to alcohol-free options), I loved the special kombucha section on the menu, with five different varieties. The pumpkin, citrus and ginger spiced one I tried was delicious – dare I say even a rival to the perfectly-mixed margarita.

Where: Carrer del Mestre Josep Serrano, 5, 46005 Valencia

For traditional Valencian paella: Restaurante Balandret

Valencia is the birthplace of paella – meaning it would quite literally be rude not to. At Restaurante Balandret, a stylish spot on the seafront near the La Malvarrosa beach, I enjoyed a ‘Paella Valenciana’ – the most traditional form of this dish. It was a savoury, rosemary-flavoured dish which contained rabbit, chicken, snails (these were a surprise), plus seasonal vegetables – artichoke, green beans and more-ish white beans. Somehow, I cleared my plate – an impressive feat, considering this came after a calamari starter (served with the unusual but delicious addition of curried mayonnaise) and a codfish croquette.

Where: Restaurante Balandret, Passeig de Neptú, 20, 46011, Valencia

For a One-of-a-Kind Market Experience 

Foodies will adore Valencia’s Central Market, the largest in Europe, which sells everything from artisan olives and chopped fresh fruit cups to raw poultry. It’s housed in a vast, Art Nouveau building completed in 1928, which gives an air of immense grandeur to the public market, infusing the local food shopping experience with a feast for the eyes, too. There’s also a tapas bar created by local celebrity chef Ricard Camarena, who rumour has it can sometimes be spotted wandering around the market to source his ingredients in person.

Where: Plaça de la Ciutat de Bruges, s/n, 46001 València