Valencia’s Old Town: A Guide to Ciutat Vella & the El Carmen Area

Valencia is Spain’s third largest city, and the Old Town is at the heart of this city with a rich artistic heritage. It’s a great place for admiring historic buildings, grabbing some tapas from local neighborhood restaurants, and getting a taste of Valencia’s lively nightlife scene.

On this page, I’ve written a comprehensive guide on what to do, where to stay, and where to eat in Valencia’s Old Town. This will give you a good idea of what you can expect from this popular district in Valencia.

About Valencia’s Old Town

Valencia has a history stretching over 2000 years back, and has been home to Roman, Visigoth and Muslim settlements. The city center is also sometimes referred to as ‘Casco Antiguo’ or ‘Ciutat Vella’, both of which are Spanish translations of ‘old town’.

In Roman times the Old Town was a walled city, and there are hints of the Muslims’ influence on the city, starting with the layout of the Old Town, which is uniquely laid out in the shape of a star. It is easily walkable, and a stroll around the alleys is indeed the best way to enjoy the lively atmosphere of this district.

In the Old Town, you’ll find several public squares, many restaurants and cafes, and also most of Valencia’s main tourist attractions. The Valencia Cathedral, Lonja de la Seda, and Central Market can all be found here.

Barrio El Carmen

El Carmen is a charming neighborhood that’s part of Valencia’s Old Town. It’s named after the Carmen Calzado convent and the square beside it. This area is well-known for its wealth of street art and graffiti, which is fun to look for when you stroll through its maze of streets.

There are many historical buildings in El Carmen. One of the most notable is the Serrano and Quart Towers, which were once the old city gates. Other places worth a visit are the San Nicolás Church with detailed frescoes, and Valencian Ethnology Museum.

El Carmen is also the best place for nightlife in Valencia. Although it’s a bustling place at all times of the day, it’s especially lively at night. Streets and squares are filled with locals and tourists alike, and you’ll find many bars, clubs and restaurants where you can grab dinner or drinks.

Things to Do in the Old Town

Valencia’s Old Town offers some of the best things to do in the city. There are many sightseeing opportunities with such as cathedrals, churches and markets, and also many nightlife spots and restaurants where you can enjoy traditional Valencian cuisine.

Here, I list 6 of the best things to do so that you’ll have a good idea about what’s there in order to build a fun itinerary.

Get a Taste of Local Life at the Central Market

Valencia’s Central Market, or Mercado Central, is located in the El Carmen neighborhood opposite Lonja de la Seda. It’s one of Europe’s oldest and largest indoor markets, with over 1000 market stalls selling everything from fish, meat, jamón to the famous Valencian oranges and local wines.

Even if you don’t plan to buy any produce, Mercado Central is definitely worth a visit just to experience local life, and marvel at its architecture. The market is built with ceramics, colored glass and detailed metalwork, with a 30 meters high glass dome.

Join a Paella Cooking Class

As Valencia is the birthplace of origin for the popular paella dish, it should be no surprise that paella cooking classes are a popular activity in the Old Town.

With this class, you can visit Mercado Central to pick out ingredients before learning to cook, making the experience all the more authentic. Otherwise, another option gives you the chance to learn to make paella in a genuine Spanish farmhouse, less than an hour from the city center.

Marvel at the Valencia Cathedral

The Valencia Cathedral is located in between Plaza del Virgen and Plaza de la Reina, the Old Town’s main square. The cathedral was built in the 13th century, on the site of a Roman temple that was later converted into a mosque. It’s an impressive building, combining many different architectural styles.

There’s a lot to see at the cathedral – it has a museum which is home to famous art pieces from artists Maella and Goya, and there’s also a Miguelete tower where you can climb 206 steps to get a great view of the city.

Discover the Old Town with a Walking Tour

If you’d like to quickly get your bearings of the city center and its key locations, a walking tour of Valencia is the best way to do so.

Here, you can book a daily walking tour that takes you through Valencia’s main landmarks like the Central Market, main squares, Valencia Cathedral, silk market, and more. The tour takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes, with small group sizes of up to 15 only.

Visit the La Long de la Seda Silk Exchange

Another one of Valencia’s major attractions is La Londe la Seda, or Llotja de la Seda, the city’s silk market. It’s one of Europes most famous gothic monuments, and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Built in the 13th century after the previous silk market wasn’t enough to accommodate traders, this complex is a big one consisting 3 buildings over 2,000 square meters, and a charming patio with orange trees. It’s nearby Mercado Central, so drop by after you visit the market!

Experience Valencia’s Nightlife with a Pub Crawl

The Old Town is the best place for nightlife in Valencia, with many bars to be found behind the Valencia Cathedral in El Carmen.

If you want to save time researching nightlife spots, joining a pub crawl is a good way to find the best nightlife spots, and make some friends in the process. Some hostels offer pub crawls of their own, or you can also check out this one, which takes you to 4 bars, 1 club, with plenty of drinking games in between 🙂

The Best Restaurants & Must-Eat Foods

There are many restaurants scattered around Valencia’s Old Town serving everything from typical Italian fare like pasta and pizza to local specialties like Valencian paella.

Here, I describe 3 of the best places for food in Valencia’s Old Town, where you can taste some of the most popular dishes – paella, tapas and fideua.

Tapas at Los Escalones de la Lonja

A good place to try tapas in Valencia is Los Escalones de la Lonja, a small restaurant located on a side street right next to La Lonja de la Seda. There, you can dine al fresco with a unique view of the Silk Exchange’s gargoyles looking over you.

Some of the most popular tapas there include ham croquettes, patatas bravas, padron peppers, and generously sized prawns. The restaurant also serves homemade sangria with fresh Valencian oranges and other fruit – perfect to wash down the tapas with 🙂

Paella at Restaurante Navarro

Another popular dish to try in Valencia is paella, which was originally cooked in giant pans in the open air near rice paddies in the 18th century. Seafood paella is a common sight, but in Valencia you’ll find the traditional version cooked with chicken, rabbit and garrafó beans.

To have your fill of paella, head to Restaurante Navarro, located near the main square and 2 minutes away from Xativa metro station. There, you can try paella Valenciana, along with other versions like seafood, lobster or vegetarian paella. The place is quite busy, so making a reservation ahead is best.

Fideua at Restaurante El Encuentro

Although most people coming to Spain know about paella, you’ve probably never heard of paella’s “cousin”, fideua. It started as a traditional fisherman’s dish, made with short and thin pasta noodles instead of rice, along with seafood such as shrimp, squid, and monkfish.

A good place for fideua is Restaurante El Encuentro, located on a side street just about a 5-minute walk away from Mercado Central. The restaurant also has other Spanish and Mediterranean dishes, which you can enjoy together with a wide selection of local wines.

Where to Stay, from Budget to Luxury

There are many choices for centrally located accommodation in Valencia’s Old Town, which are within walking distance of the city’s main attractions. To help you decide where to stay, I’ve listed a some of Valencia’s best hotels in the city center, based on budget.

Budget: San Lorenzo Hotel Boutique

San Lorenzo Hotel is a small, budget boutique hotel, located in the city center, just a few minutes’ walk away from Valencia Cathedral. It used to be a monks’ residence in he early 20th century, and has been renovated in 2015 to become the hotel it is today.

The rooms are bright and spacious, and spotlessly clean throughout. It’s a hotel worth considering for families, as there are larger rooms that accommodate up to five.

Mid-range: Hotel One Shot Palacio Reina Victoria 04

Hotel One Shot Palacio Reina Victoria 04 is a historic place  – it’s the city’s oldest hotel, and has welcomed a few celebrities including Ernest Hemingway, who started writing one of his novels there in 1925. It has since been newly renovated with a contemporary design in 2016.

The hotel just 5 minutes’ walk away from Valencia Cathedral, and just a 5-10 minute walk to the Colon metro station. If you fancy a room with a beautiful view of the city, try asking for a room with a balcony!

Luxury: Caro Hotel

Caro Hotel is a centrally located hotel, and a great choice for history buffs. The hotel uniquely combines modern design with interesting, historical details like 13th century Arabic walls, mosaic from the 2nd century and more, so you can sleep with a piece of history in your room!

The hotel has a bar with a quiet terrace where you can kick back with a drink, as well as an in-house restaurant, Sucede, which has been awarded a Michelin star. You won’t even have to go far to taste some of Valencia’s best cuisine 🙂

How to Get There from the Airport

There are three ways you can get to Valencia city center from the airport – by bus, metro, or taxi. The most convenient way is by taxi as you can get dropped off directly at your destination, and the most budget-friendly way is the bus, though it has the longest travel time.

By Bus

From the airport, you can take bus no. 150 to Valencia city center. A one-way journey costs only 1.50 EUR, and the journey will take about 25-30 minutes depending on traffic conditions. However, it is worth noting that  there is no bus service on Sundays, and there may be quite a wait between buses.

By Metro

From the airport, you can take lines 3 or 5 (green or red) to Xativa metro station. A one-way journey will cost 4.90 EUR including a 1 EUR fee for the metro card, and you’ll reach the city center in about 25 minutes.

By Taxi

You can also take an airport taxi to get directly to Valencia city center. The journey should cost around 21-23 EUR during the day, but can go up to 27 EUR at night, on weekends, and during public holidays. With normal traffic, you should get to the city center in 20 minutes.

Valencia City Center Map

Conclusion & Summary

Valencia’s Old Town is a great place with plenty to offer for everyone – there are many historical attractions including UNESCO World Heritage sites, cooking classes, as well as plenty of nightlife spots perfect for night owls.

There are also plenty of unique and centrally located accommodation options for all budgets, where you can truly immerse yourself in the history of this city. Lastly, there’s no lack of food options in this part of town, so you can have a feast trying to pick your favorite paella Valenciana joint.

Hope this helps you make the most out of your visit to Valencia 🙂

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