The writer Dominique Lapierre wrote a novel based on the city of Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) entitled “City of Joy.” I have never been to Kolkata. . . but from my travels, if I were to extend that moniker to any city that we’ve visited, it would have to be Valencia, Spain. It just oozes joy. There is an unfettered enthusiasm the Valencianos have for their culture and their lifestyle that permeates the entire city. We found it a delightful and an easy city to stay for a while and thought we’d share with you some of our reasons why . . .
Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city, but it’s only a fraction of the size of the larger and more popular cities of Madrid and Barcelona. With a population of less than 800,000 in the city proper, and about 1.7 million in the great metro area, it’s a big city that somehow still manages to feel small and intimate.
Valencia was named the World Design Capital of the year in 2022 for its creative architectural wonders. It is an eclectic mix of architectural styles - Romanesque, Moorish, Gothic, even Art Nouveau - and you can chart its history simply by strolling the city streets. You will find a couple of amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites; a 13th century Gothic cathedral (which was once a Roman temple and later a mosque) and an exquisite building which used to house the Silk Exchange.
Yet this city is more than just cobblestone streets and amazing architecture . . . it is also a city that is rich in green spaces. There are numerous parks from the Royal Gardens to the Botanical Garden, but the most famous is Turia Garden, which was once the riverbed of the river Turia. It winds 9km (5.6 miles) through the city and has orange trees, fountains, sport fields, playgrounds, walking and bicycle paths, and beautiful gardens. On any day you’ll find Valenciano’s and tourists alike riding bikes, walking, or playing on the The Gulliver Park playground. The Turia Garden is also home to the City of Arts and Sciences - a large entertainment complex that includes a planetarium, a science museum, the largest ocean aquarium in Europe, an opera house and performing-arts center, an IMAX Cinema, and much more.
Valencia is a wonderful city for cycling. It has over 150km (95miles) of cycle lanes, 40 bicycle-priority streets, and is almost completely flat. There are numerous bike rental companies just within the historic center. Rental prices are very moderate, and the historic center is a great starting point wherever your cycling journey takes you.
Valencia is the No. 1 city for expats to live and work abroad, according to a survey of more than 12,000 respondents from InterNations, an online expat community with more than 4.5 million global members. Among expats, Valencia earns the top spot for being “a safe place with an excellent climate, a vibrant nightlife and culture, a pleasant urban environment and great travel opportunities” while still being “fairly affordable,” says InterNations founder Malte Zeeck. It also ranks No. 1 for having the happiest expats worldwide.
The food scene in Valencia is excellent . . . it is, after all, the birthplace of Paella. Ernest Hemingway had a bond with Valencia and mentions it in his work, The Sun Also Rises. There is a passage where he writes about La Pepica - a now famous restaurant - as having the best paella in the world. So, we followed his recommendation, and walked to the beach (where the restaurant is located) and had a fantastic meal of seafood Paella. Valencia easily has one of the best markets we’ve seen anywhere in Europe. Whether it’s local seafood, produce, freshly baked breads, wine, or sweet treats, the Mercado is a one-stop shopping experience with all the hustle and bustle you’d expect from a European market.
Our first visit to Valencia was magical, and we fell in love with the city. So, this time, because we are very open to finding a European city or town to call home, we decided to give it a second look and see if it still ignited the same feelings in us as before. We are pleased to report that the magic is still alive. We just can’t help but feel an affinity with this “City of Joy”.