Valencia is often overlooked by visitors who flock to Madrid and Barcelona or the beach resorts. The America's Cup and Formula 1 race events helped raise the profile of Spain's third largest city, but it remains an undiscovered gem to many foreign travellers. For anyone weary of fighting the crowds, this is definitely a plus.
Named for Roman emperor Valens, the city was founded in 137 BC. Visigoths, Moors, Christian reconquistas, and civil war each left their mark on local history, imparting a distinct culture and language. A thoroughly modern Valencia coexists alongside cherished antiquities and traditions.
Much of this history is colorfully reenacted in the many annual festivals held in every town and village in the region. The brightly costumed rituals and processions that go on for days are almost always accompanied by deafening fireworks displays called mascletàs. Fallas is the biggest of the fiestas, an annual Valencia-wide festival held each year, from early to mid-March. The final week features giant-figured constructions in every neighborhood, daily pyrotechnics, processions with period costumes and marching bands. Bonfires, known as la cremà that consumes the figures on the last night, get so big that fireman hose down the surrounding buildings.
El Carmen (or Carme) is the heart of the old city, filled with buildings dating to Roman and Moorish times and bounded by remnants of the city walls, Torres de Quart to the west, and Porta de Serrans (Torres de Serranos) to the north. Mercat Central (the central marketplace), and Llotja de la Seda (La Lonja), the late Gothic Silk Exchange, are to the south. Plaça de l'Escolania de la Mere de Déu (Plaza Virgin) and Plaça de la Reina are to the east, with the Cathedral and the Micalet (Miguelete) between them. Here, at the center of the old Roman city, the temple of Diana once stood. The district is a warren of narrow twisting streets, glorious medieval architecture, and grand palaces and courtyard gardens, scarcely imagined until glimpsed through an open door. It's hardly a surprise this picturesque area and nearby streets contain so many of Valencia's gay restaurants, cafes and clubs. Russafa (Ruzafa) is another gay district, beyond North Station and the Bull Ring.
After the flood of 1957 the Turia river was redirected, and the old river bed became a long wide park of grass, trees, ponds and bike paths that wraps around Carmen, then continues towards the coast, with sports and leisure facilities. The Bioparc Valencia zoological park is at one end, and the futuristic buildings of Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències are at the other end, with an opera house and perfoming arts center, the museum of science, an IMAX cinema, and an aquarium.
Valencia Airport has a few arrivals direct from North America, but the best deals arrive at Madrid, Barcelona, London, Paris or Zurich, with connections from those cities. Most European and Mediterranean airports have air connections here. Check the low-cost carriers such as Easyjet, Ryan, and Vueling, for cheap special rates to scores of European cities, if you book ahead and travel light.
The modern Metro rapid transit/subway trip takes 30 minutes into downtown for a few euros - but you pay another euro for the rechargeable fare card. Hang onto that - it's needed to exit at your destination station and saves you a euro on your next trip. Taxi cabs, found just outside the arrivals terminal, charge around 20 euros to city center. For car rentals see "Getting around" below.
RENFE at North Station rail has regular and high speed AVE rail connections to/from Madrid, and regular service to northern cities like Barcelona, with connections to the rest of Europe. Regular speed one-way trips cost between 35 and 65 euros, depending on time of day and seat class.
Buses and Coaches arrive at and depart from the Central Bus Station just north of the Turia. Among the bus companies here ALSA will get you to and from Barcelona and towns to the north, or Alicante and points south; Avanza connects with Madrid - in each case for as little as 25 to 35 euros.
Metro subway trains, trams, EMT buses, or short taxi hops will get you to most places easily enough in Valencia. Most of the old city can be covered on foot and many streets are pedestrian-only. During Fallas much of the center is closed to traffic for a week or more. Save the electronic ticket from the airport, it can be recharged. Plastic (Bono) smart cards, either bus-only or combining bus and Metro, can be bought or recharged at tobacco stores or news kiosks - ten trips for about half the normal price, with a one-time initial charge for the card. They allow you to jump on and off buses for up to 60 minutes in any direction for just one fare. Bus drivers accept cash for single trips, without the transfer option. For more information on city and regional public transport, in Valencian, Spanish and English, see EMT.
Bicycles may be rented from Valenbisi for a few minutes, or by the hour or the day, from street stands all over town with a swipe of a card (see website for purchase). They're free for the first 30 minutes, so on arrival return it to one of many stands, then take another when moving on, or returning. For longer trips your credit card will be charged. Bikes can also be rented from many rental shops, especially easy to find around Carmen, for just 9-12 euros per day. Show your passport and leave a 50 euro cash or credit card swipe deposit -- returned when you bring back the bike.
Taxis may be hailed in the street, most have meters. Figure from 6 to 12 euros for most hops around the center. Traffic jams are rare except in case of accidents.
Car rentals, available at the airport, can make make day-trips to surrounding countryside and beaches easier, and short-term visitors may use a home country driver's licence. Reserve in advance online, especially in season, to guarantee a car, and for best rates (local companies often beat the big guys for price). Traffic moves well throughout the city (traffic jams are rare to nonexistent), but the streets are a maze, and impatient and aggressive local drivers are irritated by outsiders who slow down to read street names. During fiestas many downtown streets are closed to all traffic, including buses.
Street signs here are usually in Valencian (similar to Catalan) rather than Castillian Spanish - as the community restores the local language to preeminence. Don't be confused by Plaça instead of Plaza, Avinguda for Avenida, or Sant Pere with or instead of San Pedro - they're the same. For less confusion we use the Valencian names you'll see in the streets, but many businesses still use Spanish.
What to do
Fallas, the Nou d'Octubre (October 9) festivities, and celebrations for Three Kings Day, are good times to see the pageantry of Valencia. Els bous al carrer, (running of the bulls events) take place in several nearby towns, notably in Dénia to the south, with bous a la mar when (mostly) young guys run just out of harms way, to jump into the water, hoping the charging animal can't stop.
A lively recent addition to the region's annual festival schedule takes place in Bunyol, a 40-minute train ride away. La Tomatina now attracts 40,000 mostly college-age foreign visitors in August for one of the world's biggest food fights: an hour-long tomato-throwing, T-shirt-ripping melee with tons of ripe fruit -- preceded and followed by international partying in the bars, the streets, and the parks.
A quieter recent celebration took the form of an art exhibition of works by native son Joaquín Sorrolla y Bastida, whose paintings vividly depict traditional Valencian life of a century ago. See New York's Hispanic Society of America and the Museo Sorrolla in Madrid.
Les Festes Moros i Cristians (Moors and Christians festival) in Alcoi, and the "gran Muixeranga" people towers of the Mare de Deu de la Salut festival in Algemesi, are other notable events. For info on other regional celebrations and day trips to surrounding towns, mountains and beaches, find links at the bottom of this page, and see our events and activities pages. The latter includes gay and clothing-optional dunes at Playa de l’Arbre del Gos between Pinnedo and El Saler, and the Sant Llorenç Nude Beach above Cullera.
Two of the most popular pastimes for locals are following the local Valencia CF football (soccer) team, or going to the colloseum-style Plaza de Toros next to North Station. Traditional spectacles of color, costumes, ritual and music, the bull-fights take place during just three periods each year, during religious holiday festivals. As with football, bull-fights are covered on local TV, with commentaries and interviews -- a good alternative for those who can't face the crowds or the smell of blood in the ring. Either way, for curious foreigners, whatever their feelings on the subject, it's a window into another reality.
Currency and Money
Spain’s official currency is the euro. Since the switch-over the once familiar change booths have mostly disappeared except at the airport. Banks will usually change dollars, but most close by 2pm, (open weekdays only). There are ATMs everywhere, so use your debit card for cash with better exchange rates. Check with your home bank before leaving to be sure credit card transactions go smoothly, and to save the ATM charges if your bank has a Valenician network partner. Also, unless you tell your bank you want otherwise, there is a daily cash limit. Having a credit card with a chip (and pin number) can help when buying tickets in machines, and most places check passport ID as they take your card in stores or restaurants.
Media & Resources
Two print magazines can be found in all the gay places around town: Shangay, the big glossy and their smaller listings publication, both in Castillian.
Lambda Valencia also publishes a print and online gay magazine, Full Lambda, in Valencian, and Gay Valencia in both Valencian and Castilian, is another website with gay scene info. This is Valencia-24/7 has more general information in English, on tourist sites, restaurants and nightlife, also with a gay/lesbian section, plus insights into the lives of foreign expats in Valencia. In VLC is another free English-language magazine, with articles and tips on life and what to do in the Communidad - but their gay listings are very outdated.
For the official city tourist website, see Valencia.es, in eight languages.
For local accommodations, plus locations and website links to the businesses listed below, see our map & listings tab. For rural escapes to mountain village retreats around Valencia, see our activities tab.
Going out - cafes & bars
Spain famously runs on different time from elsewhere in Europe. Businesses usually close at 2 pm and may not reopen for two or three hours, as people head home or go to the cafes. In the heat of summer this is sensible. After reopening the stores stay open until 8 or 9pm, so dinner between 9pm and midnight is the norm. Families with small children, who in other countries would have long been in bed, spend relaxed evenings together around outdoor tables late into the night. As afternoon cafes close around midnight some nightclubs aren't yet rolling up the steel shutters.
These many terrazas have outdoor tables that bars and restaurants spread around the neighborhood plazas and along sidewalks. One of the great pleasures of Spanish social life, they provide tourists with gathering places in the small squares and narrow streets of El Carmen, and many stay open all afternoon. Outside downtown tourist areas a beer or copa de vino usually costs only $1.75 or so. Plaça de la Seu, one of the grandest and most popular, has an impressive atmosphere but the cuisine here is mostly middling. Grab a coffee, ice cream, beer, or an orxata (horchata) in summer; or thick hot chocolate in winter - then venture deeper into Carmen for better food in the back streets.
Comic Café (Sueca, 33, Russafa), cozy 8am-2am multi-cultural cafe, breakfast through evening copas, sidewalk tables, mostly gay men.
La Boba y el Gato Rancio (Cuba 59, Russafa), gay party bar, mostly guys, street terrace, theme nights, shows, films and videos, art/photography exhibits.
The Muse (Ruaya 48), gay and lesbian cocktail and copas lounge north of the Turia, DJ sets, evening warm up bar for the nearby Deseo 54 dance club.
Pekado (Plaça Vicente Iborra 9) means sin or at least peccadillo. Food, named for various vices, served by charming and hunky staff. After dinner, weekend cabaret shows and drag performances.
Pub la Seu (Centelles 40), afternoon gay cafe in Russafa, similar to their old place at La Seu, evening wine and cocktails music bar.
Q Art (Guillem de Castro 80), long-time Torres de Quart gay cafe/bar, casual atmosphere, amusingly kitchy decor, cute/and friendly bar staff, shows most nights. Future uncertain with new 2016 management - if closed walk to Cross, Bubu or Nuncadigono, all nearby.
Trapezzio Cafe (Plaça Music Lopez Chavarri, 2), center of Carmen, open 9am weekdays, (5pm weekends), terrace seating on plaza. Open throughout afternoons, into the evening; great first stop to peruse gay magazines and maps over coffee, drinks, and/or tapas.
Turangalila (Maestro Rodrigo 13), dinner/showbars, meals daily except Sunday, drag espectaculos Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Dietrich (Barcelona 65, Museros), dinner and cabaret show bar, northern suburb of Valencia, with drag, live flamenco, belly dancers, Vegas/Soul music song and dance numbers.
CLOSED: 33 Lounge (Sant Dionis 8), restaurant/ 1950's-style jazz, bossa, music and cocktail lounge; ADN Pub (Angel Custodio, 10), small gay/mixed cockatails and dance club in Carmen; Codigo G (Tomasos 14, Russafa), Friday/Saturday mixed dance club: So and Go (Sagunt 10), weekend gay dance club/ bar, theme parties, shows.
Going out - cafes
Several cafes in, or within a few blocs of Carmen, comfortably include gay folk among their customers, especially after midnight on weekends when these streets begin to teem.
Bar Pilar | La Casa de las Clochinas (del Moro Zeit, 13, Plaça Tossal), tiny bar with sidewalk tables, fresh-steamed mussels, squid, habas, grilled artichokes and other tapas, plus some of the city's best bravas; beer and wine. Very popular - go early or make a reservation.
Café de las Horas (del Comte d'Almodóvar 1), small gay-friendly cafe in Plaça de la Verge, Parisian Baroque-style, tapas and cocktails.
Cafe Sant Jaume (Caballeros 51, at Sant Jaume), carved wood ceilings, student, gay, artist cafe, pleasant outdoor seating beneath expansive trees, good views of all who pass by in Plaça Tossal.
Café Lisboa (Doctor Collado, 9), copas and tapas, popular mixed bar, terrace tables in the shade of a very large old olive tree near Mercat Central.
Ca Revolta (Santa Teressa 8), very Valencian cafe/bar and community center in Carmen, between Plaça del Tossal and el Mercat, live music, theater, film screenings, photography and art exhibits; poetry readings, and dance performances.
Chocolatería Valor (Plaça de la Reina 20), rich thick dark hot drinking chocolates of many varieties, gelatos, teas, coffees, tables on Plaça de la Reina with views of La Seu.
Horchateria de Santa Catalina (Plaça de Santa Caterina, 6), ornate tile-decorated traditional Valencian cafe in Plaça de la Reina, classic style orxata (horchata) de chufa, chocolatería, fartons, pastries, restaurant food and drinks. The famous Horchatería El Siglo across the way closed in late 2014.
La Lola (subida del Toledano 8) Mediterranean and "nueva cocina española" platos and tapas, DJs, live jazz and flamenco nights.
La Utileana (Pl Picadero de Dos Aguas, 3), good, inepensive, basic traditional Valencian food and wine, beer; daily and seasonal specials, outdoor seating on C/ San Andres at rear entrance. Near Ajuntament. Arrive by 2pm or wait in line.
Neboa Restaurant (Plaça Vicent Iborra 4), Mediterranean cuisine, chef's daily specials from the marketplace.
Valencians' preference has long been for traditional local fare (paella, tapas, pechugas, mariscos, and Jamón serrano or ibérico, for example), with the occasional shawarma, pizza, Chinese, or American fast food. Recently things have been changing with more international vegetarian and natural foods restaurants popping up, mostly downtown.
Al Adwaq (Carrer de la Nau, 16) and nearby Al Munia (Bonaire 18), two traditional Morrocan restaurants close to Plaça d'Alfons el Magnànimo. Traditional soups, stews, meat and vegetarian options, lunch specials at good prices, dinner.
Al-Balansíya (Paseo de las Facultades, 3), Arab/Morrocan restaurant, hummus, baba ganoush, chicken tayin, lunch, dinner.
Atmosphére (Moro Zeit 6), home-cooked international fare at French Institute off Tossal Square. Morning coffee and croissants from 8am; daily menu from Thai wok to Mexican fajitas, quiches, rich desserts and cakes, bright interior patio. French-language cinema each Wednesday.
Cafe de Paris (Cabelleros 30), inexpensive Franco-Valencian entrees and tapas, good wine, charming French & Spanish-speaking gay waiters.
Grupo Copenhagen -three upscale vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Russafa and Carmen, each with its own culinary style, all with beautiful food presentations: Copenhagen (Literato Azorín 8); Malmö (Sueca 46); and Oslo (Catalans 8, off Plaça Negret). Scandinavian minimalist settings, innovative and tasty natural foods cuisine, lunch specials, dinner, full bar.
Herbolario Navarro (San Vicente Mártir, 63), healthy cafe/take-out empanadas, soups, lunch specials, juices and teas near Plaça Ajuntament, in largest of 12-store natural foods chain; nut butters, seeds, kifir/yogurt, tofu, seitan, fresh/bottled juices, fruits and veggies, whole grains and baked goods; herbs, oils and supplements of all kinds - since 1771!
Kimpira Gourmet Bio Restaurant (Convento San Francisco, 5), gourmet vegetarian/vegan organic food and wines near Plaça Ajuntament; daily specials, set lunch at 13 euros.
Kokura (Pere i Borrega 10), wide variety of Japanese Makisushi, rice and noodles, yakitoris, kushiagues, temporas, soups, beer and wine.
La Luna (San Ramon 23), inexpensive, tasty Spanish and International vegetarian-only fare in Carmen; daily set lunch specials at just 8 euros, soups, fresh juices.
La Pappardella (Bordadores 5), pasta, piadine and other Italian fare near the Seu, lunch and dinner, popular with Italians who live here.
Mimmo Cantina (Dr Sanchis Bergon 24), Italian chef, home-cooked traditional recipes, Italian-style bar with light lunches, large terrace, by the Turia.
Sheran Fweets (Av del Port 109), home-style Indian/Pakistani food, good quality at low prices in simple settings, meat or vegetarian meals, lunch specials at 8 euros. No alcohol but good chai and various lassis.
Taj Mahal (Dr Manuel Candela 20), full range of traditional Indian meals, meat and vegetarian, full bar; also South and East Asian grocery store with prepared and bulk foods, spices, fruits and vegetables (two doors down).
San Tommaso (Corretgeria, 39), good, authentic Italian food and wines at reasonable prices in Carmen, lunchtime specials, sidewalk tables.
Note on tipping: unless at an international establishment, where staff are accustomed to American ways, leave a bit less than at home. Reckon on 10% of bill, to split the difference.
Going out - men-only & sex clubs
Bubu (Botánico 7), Tuesday - Saturday men's video music bar in Extramurs near the Botanic Gardens; popular with bears, drag shows, special parties - was Botanic Bears.
Cross (Juan de Mena 7), men's cruise bar near Torres de Quart, visitors and locals, weekend shows, special theme parties.
Hòmens Sexbar (Alacant, 11), men's bar and sex playspaces near the bull ring, daily from 3pm-3:30am. Cabins, glory holes, slings, dark room, maze, porn videos, naked nights, erotic strippers and live sex shows.
Moratín 7 (Moratín 7), men's bar just off the Ayuntamiento, mixed ages and types, hustlers.
Nuncadigono (del Turia 22), early (from 3pm-4am Wed-Sun) cruise bar near Torres de Quart, leather and fetish guys. 100-percent chico territory with cabins, maze, slings, showers, darkroom sex and steamy videos to set the mood; underwear nights, plus naked parties every Thursday.
Oh La La Sex Bar (Dr Monserrat, 28), Wednesday-Sunday 8pm-3am, all night Friday/Saturday gay sex bar near Torres de Quart; beer, wine, whisky, cocktails and snacks, under-30 discounts.
CLOSED: Dakota Bar (Placa Margarita Vall Daura 1, near Pl La Reina), country-western theme men's pub, bear and leather crowd.
Going out - Dancing & Afterhours
Discos hereabouts open late and don't really get going until around 3am. Look for flyers around for discounts on cover charges.
Club Fetish (San Vicente 386), Club Social COC after-hours gay club in Jesús neighborhood, Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays from 6:30am.
Deseo 54 Disco (Pepita 2) biggest gay dance club in town, just beyond the Turia, two floors Thursdays through Saturdays from 1am, constantly changing concept parties and DJs. Mainly guys, sometimes men-only dark-room events. Dress to impress weekends, Thursday younger more casual crowd, Sundays midnight "tea-dance."
La 3 (Padre Porta, 2), mostly straight but hip mixed crowd, Indie-Electronic, Dubstep, Grime, Hip Hop dance club, periodic gay party nights.
MiniClub (Av. Blasco Ibañez 111), Saturday night/Sunday morning afterhours mainstream dance club, Tech-House and Techno in two rooms. Lou does parties here, along with summertime pool parties at Wonderwall Music Resort in Gandia, to the south of Valencia. See their twitter page for updates.
On hot summer nights many people head for the long wide beach that entends northward from the harbor, easily accessible by metro during the day, but requiring a taxi by 2 am when the throng arrives. It's a young and seemingly "straight" crowd that spills out of seasonal dance clubs here, onto the sand. But defining lines blur easily here as the weekend partying extends into dawn-time hours.
For some guys saunas are the main attraction, and Valencia has four.
Sauna-Gym Centre (Lluís Vives 7, at de la Pau), new steam/sauna facilities at the center, gym, bar, snacks, cabins with beds, porn videos.
Sauna Magnus (Avingda del Port 27), Pases Group, spa, steam and dry saunas, large pool, Jacuzzis, video lounge, dark room, maze, cruise spaces and cabins, voyeur zone.
Sauna Olimpic (Vivons 15), Pases Group, steam and dry saunas, Jacuzzis, cruising area, dark room, cabins, maze and video lounge.
Thermas Romeo (Pintor Gisbert 5), independent bathhouse, dry sauna, steam, bar, cabins, video lounge, and professional massage, rentboys.
For more about the Valencia region, see our Guide Magazine archives: