Should you visit Valencia or Barcelona on your next trip?
Barcelona and Valencia: two Mediterranean cities with their own character. One, a popular destination since the 1992 Olympics. The other, a destination that is fostering a solid reputation lately, not so crowded by tourists yet.
Should you visit one or the other? Which one will match your travel goals and interests best? We get you covered! Today we are comparing them from a traveler point of view, to help you decide
What to take into account when deciding between a Barcelona or Valencia holiday:
If there’s a reason to visit Barcelona, that’s to see the modernist buildings and more specifically the works of Antoni Gaudi. Built in the early 1900’s, they came completely out of the box, with their vibrant colors, exuberant shapes and innovative engineering solutions. Buildings such as Casa Batllo, La Pedrera and specially the Sagrada Familia Church will blow your mind.
Instead, the architect that has given Valencia a distinct personality is much more modern: Santiago Calatrava was born in 1951 in Benimamet, a subburb of Valencia city. Between 1991-2006 he took in the project of the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, a cultural ensemble along the Turia river in Valencia that surprises for its white slim lines, so characteristic of Calatrava’s contemporary architecture.
Both cities have remarkable Gothic architecture examples, specially churches. I’d like to quickly mention the Cathedral of Valencia with the Miquelet tower, and the church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona. But there’s many more that will delight any lover of the Middle Ages.
Valencia is a party city. It was the center of the bakalao techno music in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and its night clubs were famous. But Valentians have always loved to party, and that shows in their most important festival of the year: the Falles.
Celebrated around March 19, St. Joseph day, the locals set up giant papier maché, cardboard and wood puppets caricaturizing local politicians and personalities and mocking events from the year news. For 5 entire days and their nights, here’s processions, people dresses up in the traditional dresses to walk around the city, there’s the noisiest loudest fireworks and firecrackers… and it all ends burning the puppets during the last celebration night: it’s the Cremà.
Barcelona loves parties and festivals too, but we are more laid back. Our noisiest night is Saint John’s eve, on June 23rd, but it’s not even close to the Fallas fire heat. We also get an exciting portion of fireworks during the Correfoc during La Mercè festival – and yes, that could compare… except our fire run only lasts for a couple of hours.
But any local will tell you that the most beautiful festival in Barcelona happens on April 23rd: Saint George’s day, patron saint of Catalonia. That day, men offer red roses to the ladies, and ladies give books back. The streets are lined up with stalls of people selling roses and books all over the place. Such a beautiful day.
Valencia is the craddle of paella. Do I need to say anything else? To eat one of the most emblematic dishes of Spain, Valencia is the place to go. Although… you might be disappointed: Valencians claim that outside of their region paella has been distorted. The real paella is not the seafood paella people eats everywhere else. The real thing has no seafood in it: it’s got rabbit, chicken and beans. Snails are optional.
Valencia is also famous for their horchata, a vegetable milk made of tiger nut that is drunk mostly in the Summer. In Valencia they dip a pastry called “fartons” in it. You can find nice horchata in Barcelona… often in cafes owned by Valencian immigrants.
So what should you eat in Barcelona? Come in the winter and join a calçotada: a green onion barbecue that will get your hands dirty with black ashes and your face greasy from the delicious romesco sauce the onions are dipped in. End it with crema catalana, the Catalan creme brulee for dessert.
Or go fancy and get a reservation in one of the high end restaurants of the world-famous chefs, the Adrià and the Roca brothers and their students. Techno-emotional, molecular, deconstructed cuisine anyone?
Barcelona beats Valencia when talking about Art Museums. There’s a Picasso Museum, a Miro Foundation and the Dali Museum is a mere 1.5 hour drive outside of Barcelona. Plus the MNAC museum is an impressive facility displaying the Catalan art from the last 1000 years. Its collection of Romanesque frescos is a treasure, unique in the world.
Valencia has its Museu de les Belles Arts, though, and although not as big as the Barcelona MNAC, it’s a great place to get to see works of the Valencian impressionist painter Sorolla,as well as masters such as Van Dyck, Murillo, Velázquez, El Greco and Goya.
But where Valencia stands out is with its Museum of Sciences. Its surprising collections go from an exhibit about ants to areas where to experience zero gravity or to learn about chromosomes. Barcelona has a smaller science museum called Cosmocaixa.
And what city has better beaches, Barcelona or Valencia?
People say Valencia is the beach of Madrid. That’s an insider joke, of course. Madrid, the capital of Spain, is inland and it evidently has no natural beach. Except of course the urban beach they set up every Summer along the Manzanares river… Valencia is just 4 hours drive from Madrid, so guess where most Madridians go for the Summer?
Valencia has 4 emblematic urban beaches: Las Arenas, La Malva-Rosa, La Patacona and Alboraia. The last two technically in the suburbs, but close enough to Valencia city and very well connected with public transportation. The seaside towns around Valencia offer very popular long beaches of golden sand. A great Summer plan is to rent one of the beautiful vacation rentals in Javea, so you can enjoy its natural beaches and have all the attractions of Valencia within 1.5 hours – perfect for a day trip!
Barcelona features almost 5km (3 miles) of urban beaches. And while it’s not a famous beach destination, locals and tourist alike love to go there for sunbathing, swimming and eating in the many restaurants by the water.
Outside of Barcelona there are popular beach resorts as close as the chic Sitges, the rocky Costa Brava and the family friendly Costa Daurada.
What about you? Are you a Valencia or Barcelona person?
Where will your next holiday be?
RESEARCHING FOR A TRIP IS TIME-CONSUMING...
Need more inspiration?
Our 100% FREE Barcelona Collection will give you everything you need to organize the trip of your lifetime to Barcelona.
BEST INSIDER TIPS FROM THE PROS!