Spanish Road Trip

Travel Spain: Valencia to Malaga

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If you love paella, oranges, and amazing architecture, then you’ll want to add Valencia to your road trip to Spain.

There is a lot to like about Valencia with its fabulous beaches, tasty seafood dishes, and Las Fallas, one of Spain’s amazing festivals held every March.

Las Fallas is a vibrant and colourful festival that runs for 5-days from 15-19 March. It marks the beginning of Spring and honours their patron St Joseph.

However, the festival is loud with a powerful fireworks display that takes place every day at 2 pm in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. On the last night up to 400 outdoor art displays are set ablaze wowing the huge crowds gathered.

So much fun and enjoyment. Book your Airbnb early because this is one of the busiest times in Valencia.

We arrived in Valencia following our adventurous drive from Zaragoza. Passing by the Sagunto Castle high up on the hill with breathtaking views of the coastline.

There’s nothing quite like reaching the crest of a hill to have the sun shining in a vivid blue sky. It’s so uplifting.

Getting to Valencia from Barcelona

Valencia from Barcelona will take you three hours by fast train or four hours by car on toll roads. But if you’re thinking of booking a flight, forget it, the prices are ridiculously expensive.

The drive from Barcelona, along the Mediterranean coast, under blue skies, is the best way to enjoy the trip. Especially if you aren’t the one driving.

You’ll find Valencia is a lot cheaper to stay in than Barcelona, apart from during the Las Fallas festival. Knowing tips like this will help stretch your travel budget.

And remember if you need a Visa to enter Spain, iVisa is your best option as it’s an online service.


What to See in Valencia in a Day

If you have planned only one day in Valencia, we would suggest avoiding Saturdays, Sundays or a public holiday as the Valencians love to spend time in their city.

For us, three days would be a minimum, especially on a road trip around Spain. It gives you time to unwind and enjoy the best of Valencia.

What are the top attractions in Valencia?

Architecture of Valencia
Architecture of Valencia

We love history and we love architecture so it was a pleasant surprise to see the stunning old buildings and the fabulous new architecture of Valencia.

We started off exploring the old part of the city.

La Lonja de la Seda

One area of Valencia not to miss is the group of buildings of La Lonja de la Seda:

  • Sala de Contratación
  • Pavilion of the Consulate
  • Oil Exchange

La Lonja de la Seda was made a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1996.

During the 15th to 16th centuries, Valencia’s wealth came from trading silk. And like Seville, Valencia’s wealth as a trading port made the city prosper.

Go inside the Sala de Contratación (Contract Hall) which is a “gothic masterpiece” of Europe with twisted columns and decorations.

And nearby is the Church of St Nicolas where visitors come to view the fresco adorning the ceiling and walls of the church.

And across from the La Lonja de la Seda is the central market.

Mercado Central, Valencia

Window and Glass building
Valencia Mercado Central, Spain

We always love to find the local market of a village, town or city to see what produce is on offer in a new region.

But it’s also the market building that gets our attention too.

The Central Market of Valencia was completed in 1928 in a style called Valencian Art Nouveau. This is a style highlighted by iron and glass.

Once inside, the number of stalls is expansive as it covers an area of 8,000 sqm, one of the largest in Europe.

So have your camera ready for the impressive dome allowing light to enter the market. The roof was the integral part of a competition back in 1910.

And before you leave this area, next to the Central Market, is Santos Juanes church built over a mosque in 1240.

Jardi del Turia and Ancient Gates of Valencia

Twin towers
Ancient Gate, Valencia

When visiting Europe, a lot of the old cities are built near rivers or ports which were important for trading. And Valencia was no different.
The towers of the old city, are impressive gates that once protected the Turia river.
So why did Valencia create a Park from its river?
Valencia was constantly flooded and after the flood in 1957, the Turia river was diverted.  The dried riverbed of Turia was repurposed as a park.
How long is the Turia Riverbed Park?
Opened in 1986, the Turia Riverbed Park runs from the Cabecera Park in the west along the nine kilometres to the east finishing at the City of Arts and Sciences.
This impressive park is at first a little daunting as you walk along the brick-walled embankment looming near you. You somehow expecting a great rush of water to come barreling down upon you.
But you soon start to relax as you enjoy the landscaped palm trees and grassy areas all around you. The bordering museums and monuments of Valencia historical city looking down on you.
With 18 bridges (old and new) crossing over the park, your walk becomes a history lesson.
You can exit at the Serranos Towers, a gate in the old city walls. Or keep walking to the incredible building of the City of Arts and Sciences.

City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias)

White shell building
Museum of Arts and Science
It’s not often you are blown away by what you see. Well maybe more likely for us Kiwis (New Zealanders) travelling Europe.
One of those wow moments was seeing Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences.
Made up of currently eight buildings, this architecture leaves you clicking more photos than you intended.
The building is made up of:
  • L’Hemisfèric (Planetarium)
  • Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe (science museum)
  • L’Umbracle (landscape walk)
  • L’Oceanogràfic (aquarium)
  • Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (opera house)
  • Montolivet Bridge
  • Assut de l’Or Bridge
  • L’Àgora (event centre)

We enjoyed wandering this area before returning to the old city.

Walk the Ciutat Vella

Booking an Airbnb within the city of Valencia is how to see the many plazas with historical buildings of Valencia. And you get to dine at one of the many cafes and restaurants.

Plaza de la Reina

Cathedral of Valencia
Plaza de la Reina and Valencia Cathedral

When you need a break, the Plaza de la Reina has plenty of cafes and restaurants to enjoy in elegant buildings.

At its north end, you can visit the impressive Valencia Cathedral. And at the south end, Iglesia de Santa Catalina.

Plaza de la Virgen

People enjoying cafes
Enjoying lunch at the Plaza de la Virgen, Valencia

One of our favourites places was the Plaza de la Virgen which has been here since Roman times. The interior of the Basílica de la Virgen de Los Desamparados was an artwork of beauty.

The interior certainly had us mesmerised as the detail was so exquisite.

The Plaza’s other favourite is the iconic fountain of Neptune surrounded by eight naked women. Always popular for a photo.

Fountain of Neptune

Four landmarks to visit here are:

  • Cathedral of Santa Maria (Valencia Cathedral)
  • Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados
  • Palace of the Generalitat
  • Fuente del Turia

If you venture back here in the evening, the atmosphere is uplifting and the lighting beautiful.

Plaza del Ayuntamiento

City Hall, Valencia
City Hall, Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia

The main square in Valencia which holds the Las Fallas festival has two magnificent administrative buildings:

  • Valencia City Hall
  • Central Post Office

You can sit and rest your feet near the fountain or browse the popular brand stores if in the mood for some shopping.

Share a dish of Paella

If waiting until 10 pm for dinner is not your thing, our suggestion is to enjoy a dish of Paella at around 2.30 pm, lunchtime in Spain.

After taking in the morning sights, a long lunch eating an original dish of Valencia, Paella, is a must.

Then you can walk off your meal with a stroll beside one of Valencia’s beaches or drive further along the coast.

Enjoy the beaches of Costa Blanca

Building friendships with homeowners when housesitting around Europe is the bonus of invites to visit when passing by. So, when two homeowners heard we were travelling in Spain, we got invites to stop at their holiday homes.

Leaving Valencia we stopped for a beach lunch with Chris and Donna joining them to walk Oliva, Theo and Cooper, the dogs we looked after in November 2018.

The drive along the coast is intermingled with high rise apartments to small villages.

If you stop at Denia you can get a ferry to the island of Ibiza (2 hours) or Palma (5 hours). Otherwise, you can explore the coves with dazzling blue water inviting you in for a swim.

Spend a Day at Alicante

Alicante is a busy seaside city with the medieval Arab fortress of Santa Barbara watching over the city. If you have the energy, an early morning walk up to the Castle of Santa Barbara will give you panoramic views of the city and sea. You can then return by elevator to Postiguet Beach.

You can then take a stroll down the marble-tiled promenade and find breakfast before continuing to the sea.

Alicante is a busy place for the summer holidays but in the winter season, the slower pace allows time to relax to the rhythm of Spain.

Stop for the night at Murcia

A good friend from New Zealand who played cricket with Terry now lives in Murcia. We chose to stay a night near the city in one of the seaside-golf resorts, popular with people choosing a lifestyle of sun and sea.

A stop in the centre of the old city first was to visit Murcia’s Cathedral built in Baroque style over an old Moorish mosque. Stunning architecture and a climb up the bell tower will give you views of the city.

Stop for lunch at Cartagena

Roman Theatre, Cartegena

You know a place is popular when cruise ships add it to the itinerary. Thankfully the day we visited Cartagena, we were able to enjoy our walk through the beautiful old town.

It was the Carthaginians who founded the port city around 220 B.C and the Romans who enjoyed the lifestyle if this idyllic city.

The impressive Palacio Consistoria (Cartegena’s town hall) is a must before wandering down the blue tile Calle Mayor with shops and cafes.

But it is the 2,000-year-old Roman Theatre found beneath the ruins of an old cathedral which offers great views.

Relax at Mojacar beach

Mojacar Tower with Ben and Elaine, Bailey and Snoop

An invitation from another of our lovely homeowners had us stopping for a couple of nights at Mojacar.

Staying down at Mojacar beach was definitely off the beaten track with its sandy white beaches and local seafood restaurants.

But hidden from the beach is the hillside pueblo of Mojacar. Here you can wander the Moorish old town with its spectacular views or check out the local weekly market.

Lane in Mojaca

Mojacar is easily accessible from Alicante and Malaga, as the drive is only 2.5 hours away on either side.

Stay in Frigiliana, a Pueblo Blanco village

White Pueblos of Frigiliana

Frigiliana was an unexpected stop for us where we got to spend a month in this beautiful town, lapping up the winter sun.

Our Airbnb was a beautiful apartment with views across the groves of fruit and within the town close to local restaurants.

Thankfully Frigiliana was an improvement on the small village we had originally booked for the month. We arrived to find the village was as the base of the Sierra Nevada, it was cold, without natural light and nothing like the Airbnb photo.

So after some negotiation, yes between Maura and Terry, we decided to cut our losses and return to the coastline, find some wifi and hunt down a place to stay.

Frigiliana was our home for the winter month of February.

Places to Visit from Frigiliana

Our winter retreat Frigiliana meant we could have plenty of day trips to visit lesser-known places of Spain.

The Caves of Nerja were inhabited from about 25,000 BC and are a series of caverns. Nature has carved out a natural amphitheatre where concerts are performed.

El Acebuchal is a small village near Frigiliana which was abandoned during the Spanish civil war. The village was an ancient mule-trading route between Nerja and Granada.  But it’s no ghost town because, in 1988, families of the villagers returned to restore the village.

You can now enjoy a peaceful Airbnb while enjoying nearby mountainous walks or delicious lunch at the tavern.

However, the drive down to the village is a steep, gravel, single-lane road.

El Caminito del Rey (The King’s Little Pathway) is a walkway along the steep wall of the El Chorro gorge. It was built in 1921 and inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII to give access between the two hydroelectric plants at Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls.

Not for the faint-hearted, this cliff walk is nearly 8kms walked in one direction. But the scenery is breathtaking. Because it is popular, you’ll need to book at least a month in advance.

La Herradura is a relaxed seaside town along the coast from Nerja. You can enjoy the local markets, pedestrian shopping or find your way to the Punta de la Mona. Now a lighthouse, it was once a coastal watchtower.

Frigiliana town is also worthy of a day exploring the Moorish old quarter and artist galleries, dotted along the narrow streets decorated with ceramic mosaics.

And just over an hour’s drive from Frigiliana is the famous city of Granada.

Is Granada Worth A Visit?

Stone buildings
Alhambra of Granada, Spain

Our first trip to Granada was as young travellers in the 80s so to be returning 30 years later was exciting.

You’d think having been there in our twenties we would have remembered more about the visit.

Maybe it was the Spanish heat or the strong beers to quench the thirst, but returning 30 years later, confirmed Granada is worth visiting.

What is Granada famous for?

It has to be the spectacular architecture of the Alhambra of Granada.

Driving to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada is where the historical city of Granada is found.

The Alhambra was a Moorish fortress from the Nasrid dynasty which ruled the Iberian Peninsula from 1230 until 1492. It then became a royal court for Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.

There is plenty of car parking at the Alhambra and it’s only a short walk to the entrance. Make sure to book your tickets online well in advance of your visit.

Gardens of the Alhambra

We started our visit wandering the gardens first with its exquisite pools and fountains. The fauna amongst the different garden beds is a tranquil setting with views across to the royal palace.

From the gardens, the walk across the bridge to the palace, seeing the towers, is impressive. This is what we remember. The beauty of centuries of history.

Wandering the Towers of Alhambra

To see inside the palace of the Alhambra, you will need a separate ticket for entry. It’s something you won’t regret, but it’s not the only impressive part of the structure.

One of the best places for views at the Alhambra is to walk the walls and climb the towers. Here you can view the complexity of the fortress, as well as a view across to the city of Granada.

For us, we had to recreate our photo of the 80s.

Man sitting on a stone bench
Terry – 1980s reprieve from the heat
Man sitting
Terry – still backpacking in 2020

From the Alhambra, we wandered down into the old town of Granada for views back to the fortress. There are some great viewpoints from the river or higher up.

You can also walk through the old spice lane to an amazing cathedral.

And if you park at the Alhambra car park, allow enough time and energy to walk back up to the Alhambra car park.

See the Best of Malaga

View of Malaga
Port of Malaga from the Castle

Not only do road trips give you access to amazing places off the beaten track, but staying longer in one place also has its benefits. Slow travel means no rush, more time and immersion of life as a local.