Most travelers make it to Valencia sooner or later. The reasons might vary from the classical Mediterranean cuisine and simple Spanish dishes the city generously offers to its visitors to the world known Santiago Calatrava's City of Arts and Sciences. Whatever the reasons, Valencia is a lovely city, fashionable and trendy, just perfect for a budget break. There are plenty of places to visit and things to do in Valencia, any many of them are aligned along the Turia Riverbed.
|Looking over the Turia Gardens|
One of the best itineraries Valencia has to offer are the Turia Gardens. Some of the city’s greatest cultural attractions are placed along these spectacular gardens that seem to have something to offer to both activity-seekers and culture-seekers. Turia Gardens stretch for about 8km, crossing the city from the City of Arts and Sciences to Bioparc, the new zoo, and they are the largest urban gardens in Spain.
Aside from the beautiful promenades of flowers, parks, ponds and fountains, the Turia Gardens have tons of sports facilities, including bike lanes, running tracks, football fields, rollerskating areas, a giant chess board, a skateboarding zone and a rugby field. Valencia is an incredibly health conscious city and you will see people of all ages practicing yoga, Tai Chi, jogging, riding bikes, and doing gymnastics throughout the park. You can join them and take advantage of the free activities the city offers.
|Fearless skaters in front of Palacio de la Musica|
The gardens are very popular with dog walkers, but in spite of that, stray cats made the riverbed their home, and they can be spotted in trees or sleeping in the grass, fat, happy and free, as people leave them cat food in the places where they know the little fellows hang around.
The park is safe for everybody and at times you will see policemen on horseback doing their rounds. During the summer months, a ferries wheel and other children orientated attractions are installed and medieval markets are organized every now and then just next to the Calatrava Bridge.
|Everybody is taking a walk in the Turia Gardens|
The Turia Gardens are very pleasant to walk through, but because of their vastness, they are best explored by bike. Valenbisi bike sharing scheme makes it easy and cheap to rent a bike and explore the city. The docking stations are spread all over the city, many of them being placed along the shores of the Turia Gardens.
10 free or almost free cultural attractions along the Turia Gardens
Turia Gardens can be accessed from the steps nearby the nineteen bridges that cross the old riverbed. Some of these bridges are more than 5 centuries old; however, the most famous of them all is the Calatrava Bridge (Puente de Calatrava), which the Valencians call Puente de la Peineta (‘little comb’), because it looks like the combs falleras wear in their hair. Nevertheless, my all time favorite is the Flowers Bridge (Puente de las Flores), covered in thousands of flowerpots that change shape and color according to the season.
The City of Arts and Sciences
On one end of the Turia Gardens, situated pretty close to the sea, is the City of Arts and Sciences, one of the most imaginative millennium projects and a truly mind-blowing futuristic complex made out of white tiles and surrounded by blue waters. Described as a city within a city and designed by the local architect Santiago Calatrava, this open space is meant to be discovered by walking. While the six buildings comprising the complex - Oceanographic, Hemesferic, Principe Felipe Science Museum, Reina Sofia Concert Hall, Umbracle and Agora - charge a pretty expensive entrance fee, walking around the complex is free of charge and you can explore it at your own pace.
The Fallero Museum
Just next to the City of Arts and Science is the Fallero Museum, housing the collection of ninots (colorful sarcastic cardboard and wooden figures) that each year, one per year since 1934, have been spared (not burned during the Las Fallas March festivities). There is also a collection of posters announcing the Fallas festivities, typical garments and a series of photographs related to the subject. Entry is free on weekends and public holidays. On weekdays the admission price is 2€. Some discounts are available.
The Gulliver Park
If you are really tired you can tour the Turia Gardens on a cute looking little train and the youngsters can have fun in the Gulliver Park, featuring the giant figure of Jonathan Swift's beloved character, Gulliver, attached to the ground by the Lilliputians.
The Concert Hall - Palau de la Musica
One of the top attractions of the Turia Gardens is the beautiful concert hall, Palau de la Música. Opened in 1987, it is considered one of the best concert halls in Europe. Free concerts of the local orchestra are held on Sunday mornings and on selected evenings of the week. An enormous glass dome covers its entrance and just outside, in the beautiful palm tree garden so popular with skateboarders, cascading fountains leap up and down into a pool, making this a favorite spot for parents and children for sailing remote-controlled model boats. In the evenings, classical music is played in the park, while the fountains wobble a colorful dance.
The Fine Arts Museums San Pio V
The Fine Arts Museum is situated just on the shores of the Turia Gardens, in a beautiful 18th century Baroque palace with blue turrets. The museum is one of the most outstanding painting archives in Spain and houses Spain’s most significant collection of 19th-century painting after the Prado museum in Madrid. The Fine Arts Museum San Pio V is renowned for its collections of primitive Valencian painters, although there are also works by El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo and Goya. The Fine Arts Museum also exhibits sculptures by Mariano Benlliure and some interesting archeological pieces. Next to the museum are the Royal Gardens, definitely worth a visit. Both the museum and the gardens are free of charge all year long.
The Serranos Towers
The imposing 14th century Serranos Towers are considered to be the largest Gothic city gateway in all of Europe. They were once the main entrance to the city and part of what was then the city wall. The Serranos Towers were initially built for defense purposes, but mainly they were and still are used today for ceremonies on many festive and solemn occasions. During their long history, the towers provisionally served as a prison for knights and noblemen and during the Spanish Civil War were used as a repository of artworks from the Prado Museum when it was evacuated. Entry is free on weekends and public holidays. On weekdays the admission price is 2€. Some discounts are available.
Jose Benlliure Museum
José Benlliure Museum was formerly the residence of the wealthy Benlliure family, a family of artists that gave the world both the sculptor Mariano Benlliure and his brother, the painter José Benlliure. Just as you enter, you find yourself in a traditional Valencian house, with beautiful tiles and old furniture. Then the visit moves on to the spectacular landscaped gardens with shaded seating areas and ceramics, and on the other side of the gardens you can visit José Benlliure's workshop, my favorite part of the whole museum. Entry is free on weekends and public holidays. On weekdays the admission price is 2€. Some discounts are available.
|The Turia Gardens near Bioparc|
The Museum of Contemporary Art
Valencian Museum of Contemporary Art (IVAM) is one of Spain's most famous art galleries. It actively promotes the work of local artists and contains both permanent and temporary exhibitions of high quality. Entry is free on Sundays. On weekdays the admission price is 2€. Some discounts are available.
On the other extreme of the Turia Gardens is the Bioparc, a new generation zoo, strongly committed to sustainability and conservation. The wild habitats that have been recreated - the Savannah, Madagascar and Equatorial Africa - and visitors can enjoy, practically without barriers, spectacular landscapes in which different species co-exist as they would in nature. They usually sell discounted tickets in September.
|The inhabitants of Bioparc|
How the Turia Gardens became the largest urban gardens in Spain
But Turia Gardens were not always the spectacular gardens we can visit today. Turia was the river that crossed Valencia from the remotest of time until... the recent years. The history of Valencia is closely related to the river that gave it life and prosperity throughout the centuries, a river that magically transformed into a massive and beautiful garden.
|Weird looking trees in the Turia Gardens|
On October 14, 1957, the River Turia burst its banks and flooded big part of the city of Valencia. Some of the most attractive and central streets like Calle La Paz and Calle Las Barcas were submerged in water up to 2.5m. Small inscriptions can still be seen today on the buildings saying ‘the water came up to here’. This was not the first flood Valencia had suffered, but it was the most devastating.
For safety reasons, the government took the decision to divert the Turia River southwards. A great debate took place whether to build a motorway in the now empty riverbed, but the people of Valencia united and protested and hopefully managed to stop the authorities from such a dreadful deed. Eventually, throughout the following decades the riverbed was turned into the magnificent garden that is today and offers numerous possibilities for walking, and sightseeing to visitors and residents. A city break in Valencia lets you not only get to know the history of the great flood but also to enjoy the river as it is today, making it the experience of a lifetime.
The green ribbon is the Turia Gardens. The blue one is the new riverbed.
What's your favorite park or garden?
Photos via Flickr Creative Commons