It was early morning when I hopped on my rental bike and rolled slowly through the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. I was half trying to follow the route I’d drawn on my map and half entranced by the beauty of what lay before me.
With its blissfully warm climate, compact scale and 80km-stretch of dedicated cycle tracks that run from the city to the beach, Valencia is the perfect city for exploring by bicycle.
Picking up speed and cutting through little side streets. I found myself in Plaza de la Virgen. I stopped to feel the spray of the fountain cool my face, to smell the zesty oranges that hung from the trees. This was Valencia after all.
I whizzed along Carrer de la Pau (Peace Street), one of the city’s main arteries, craning my neck to look at the Modernist buildings that house high-end fashion boutiques. A gentle rumble floated through the air as shopkeepers chatted and proudly opened their stores.
As so frequently happened for the rest of the day, a wide and inviting cycle track appeared from nowhere and beckoned me to follow it. There were other cyclists of all ages, couples and families, cycling up and down on rental bikes, and solo riders with fancy fold-up bikes in full business suits on their way to work. Not a bad commute, I thought.
The cycle track led me away from the city, with traffic lights that stopped the traffic to let us cyclists effortlessly follow the route across busy roads. It struck me how easy it all was to explore the flat terrain and to avoid ever needing to cycle on the road.
One of the most spectacular sights in Valencia is the lush Túria Park, which gently winds its way from the city down to the beach. As the 18 bridges that arch their way over the park hint, Túria Park was once Túria River, but it was re-routed after it burst its banks in 1957, wreaking havoc across the city and killing eighty-one people in the process.
Filled with footpaths, cycle tracks, sports areas, children’s play zones, water features and picnic spots, it is now one of the largest and most impressive urban green spaces in Spain.
Túria Park is also the location of Valencia’s most visited attraction: the iconic City of Arts and Sciences. With sweeping curves, gleaming glass and turquoise water pools, these extraterrestrial-looking venues were designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela and are inspired by the beauty of nature and the quest for knowledge.
The Hemesferic structure is the centrepiece and contains an IMAX Cinema, planetarium and laserium. It has a vast surface area of 13,000 m² and its design resembles a giant eye, hence the nickname: “the eye of knowledge”. The equally impressive Prince Felipe Science museum is designed to look like a gargantuan whale skeleton and the Oceanogràfic, which is the largest aquarium in Europe, looks like a sinuous, blossoming waterlily.
Though each of the venues are worth a visit, it was the Oceanogràfic that I found most thrilling. With some 500 marine species, you can’t help but feel like a child again as you walk through the underwater tunnels with sharks gliding silently above.
There are also dolphins, one-toothed walruses and smiling manatees, which you get so close to as they playfully splash about that you can actually smell them and hear them breathing. My personal favourites were the brainless deep-sea jellyfish, which avoid being eaten by predators by flashing strobes of multicoloured light through their bodies like light-sabre warning signals.
Much as the river once did, the cycle paths flow their way to the sea, where they meet billionaires’ yachts in the marina and the expansive sands of the city’s eight glorious beaches. Paseo Maritimo is an idyllic promenade that hugs the ivory sands and is perfect for cycling. Flanked by Mediterranean views on one side and a myriad of seafood restaurants, cafes and bars on the other, you just need to let the colourful surroundings guide you until you see somewhere you’d like to stop off for tapas and paella.
Don’t miss the classic ‘Valencian paella’ at the legendary La Pepica restaurant for a taste of proper paella like it was originally made here in Valencia – with chicken, rabbit and green beans instead of seafood. Or if you do crave a seafood feast, simply ask for the ‘Pepica paella’, which comes with fresh and ready-peeled shellfish – the perfect way to refuel for your cycle back to the city.
Whether you’re an experienced biker or a novice rider travelling with young children, rent a bike and get involved – there’s no better way to see the city!
Ben stayed at the four-star Hotel Vincci Mercat in the centre of the city and rented his bike from Solution Bike Rentals. Visit the official tourist board website to find out more about the bike-friendly city of Valencia.
- Ben Holbrook