Valencia – 14 Tips for Sustainable Tourism and Luxury Travel in 2024
The holy grail is in Valencia? When I heard this, the Indiana Jones in me directed our choice of destination after leaving Malaga in early January 2023. Now, there are plenty of other charms, as you will find out below, not least in the matter of sustainable tourism where Valencia has asserted itself on many fronts.
The city has an impressive track record in terms of food, with paella headlining the show in its birthplace. In my mind, it’s worth coming for the Horchata (a non-alcoholic drink made from tiger nuts), another Valencia creation. You have a fabulous cathedral, a vibrant old town, amazing beaches, a string of great museums, and then a remarkable architectural treat. A chance to walk in a futuristic landscape where giant buildings, shaped like exaggerated animal body structures, dominate the skyline, creating a visual fiesta like no other. The City of Arts and Sciences allows you to see yourself as a cast member of the Bladerunner movie and makes this coastal metropolis stand apart.
Valencia embraces both tradition and innovation, and with sustainability as a way of life, it’s no wonder the city has seen several awards and recognitions during the last few years. Still, the spirit in town signals further advancement, not content with current triumphs.
Valencia takes pole position on sustainable tourism
Once I started researching Valencia’s sustainable tourism strategy and achievements, it didn’t take long until I realised I’d found a frontrunner, racing towards a greener future. Case in point, the city uses the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as guides to specific targets. Valencia became the first global destination to calculate the carbon footprint associated with tourism activities, and also for certifying its water usage. A recent project employs blockchain technology to measure emissions in real-time to better understand where to improve.
Tech solutions can be a boon for sustainable tourism and Valencia has the know-how. In fact, the city earned the European Capital of Smart Tourism designation in 2022. In reality, this means full digitalisation of tickets, guides, and maps, easy to download to your phone for a frictionless experience. Other examples include live chat with the tourist office, printing out tourists cards on digital kiosks, and environmentally friendly IT infrastructure.
Green spaces are aplenty, you have almost five million square meters to choose from, including the Turia Gardens, and of course 20 kilometres of shoreline with European Blue Flag certification (well-managed beaches with excellent water quality). To get around, you have public transport options with the Valencia Tourist Card, and over 160 kilometres of bike lanes. We walked the entire time we were there and found it pedestrian friendly.
With all the above, it’s only logical Valencia is the European Green Capital of 2024. Awarded by the European Commission, it’s a testament to improvements to the environment and increased life quality for both locals and tourists. The only question is; when’s our next visit? For the lucky ones heading over, here are some tips for where to stay, eat, and what to do in Valenica. And as always regarding our sustainable tourism guides, no place is 100% sustainable. We highlight hotels, restaurants, etc that are doing positive things on their sustainability journey, whether it be on the environmental, social or cultural dimension. Enjoy!
Sustainable guide for Hotels in Valencia
Hotel Valencia Oceanic Affiliated by Meliá
With a great location next to the Oceanographic Park, the Oceanic also sports views of the City of Arts and Sciences with its iconic buildings. The hotel has earned level 3 on Booking.com’s green rating, which means significant sustainability investments. Focus areas include reducing single-use plastic in all its forms, organic food, water and energy efficiency, as well as providing financial support for local artists and guides.
Ilunion Aqua 4
Near the Turia gardens, the Ilunion features contemporary design, high ceilings, large open spaces and glass panels to bring in the famed Valencian light. Foodies rejoice, because there is a Michelin star restaurant on the 9th floor, aptly named Vertical Restaurant. The hotel has a level 3 sustainability rating on Booking.com with special mention of recycling efforts, locally produced food, and 100% renewable energy.
Housed in an impressive Modernist building, you find this five-star hotel in the heart of the city, near the historic quarter. All rooms are in art déco style, some with private jacuzzis. A large wellness spa will keep you relaxed as you enjoy the nearby attractions. The hotel has renewable energy, local community support, and a Bioscore certification, level 3 on Booking.com and the Green Leader designation from TripAdvisor.
Culture in Valencia
With a name like that, it’s easy to remember. The Carme Contemporary Culture Centre is situated in the heart of the charming and colourful El Carmen neighbourhood. Parts of the centre reside in an old monastery (Nuestra Señora del Carmen de València Royal), the inner courtyard of which is striking. It houses wide ranging installations in different formats, including paintings, exhibitions, statues and design. We fell in love with the works of Jamie Hayon. His large sculptures with their vivid colours and quirky forms have us discussing the pieces more than 6 months after seeing them.
National Ceramics Museum
Ceramics is a huge deal in Valencia, with a history going back over 7000 years. Where better to learn about it than this opulent palace museum? Delicate pottery and exquisite tiles narrate stories of the city’s past. The collection spans centuries, featuring ceramics from various periods, including Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The exhibitions also delve into the social and economic importance of ceramics in Valencia’s past. On the lower floors, don’t miss the fabulous galleries, staircases and ceilings. Find the museum near the Central Market and La Lonja (silk exchange, see more under Sights).
City of Arts and Sciences
As a sci-fi fan, I admit this section of town had a coolness factor that went beyond most of what I have experienced in terms of architecture. The collection of futuristic cultural institutions occupies the area of Turia Gardens closest to the harbour. The buildings, designed by Valancia born super-architect Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, are equal parts transcendent wonderland and animal physiology. Revel in the museums, art, planetarium, aquarium, lush gardens, and opera house, the latter resembling a space ship ready to take off. Photogenic to be sure, but there is no substitute for seeing the spectacle in person. Walk among them to truly experience this marvel.
The City of Arts and Sciences is more than architectural masterpieces; it’s a testimony to Valencia’s commitment to innovation, sustainability, and a passion for the arts. The past mingles with the future, showing how big dreams become reality.
Sustainability tips for Restaurant and Food Experiences in Valencia
Paella anyone? Yes, with the famous rice dish born here, it is a must eat. But, order one from the traditional places who serves the authentic version. We got a tip for a place frequented by locals, Café Museu, opposite to the CCCC. Make sure you go on a Sunday. Naturally, there is plenty more to offer in terms of gastronomy. Surrounding Valencia, you find the Huerta, 120 square kilometres of farms that supply Valancian markets and restaurants. This availability of local and seasonal produce helped propel the city to Capital of Sustainable Food in 2017.
A personal favourite of mine is the above mentioned Horchata drink. Enjoy it at Mercat de Colon, a beautiful art nouveau building brimming with cosy cafes and restaurants.
Mercat Central (Central Market)
The culinary soul of Valencia and a feast for the senses. Fish, meat, vegetables, and fruit in an explosion of colours, aromas and flavours pull you in. Maral and I walked in hungry and bought sardines, olives, jamón, cheese, Valencian orange juice and desserts. If you have the slightest interest in food, this is a must. The market is all about supporting local producers, proud to indicate the origin of their produce and their sustainable practices. And it’s massive, with a soaring dome, stained glass windows and labyrinthine aisles.
Beyond the vast array of ingredients, Mercat Central is a haven for food enthusiasts featuring an endless selection of mouthwatering options at the charming eateries. With its central location, it’s close to everything, so grab a bite and a drink before you continue your exploration of this fascinating city.
Ricard Camarena Restaurant
Fine dining with 2 Michelin stars and a Green star for a commitment to sustainable gastronomy. Chef Ricard Camarena, known for his green activism, produces dishes with its foundation in local vegetables, letting nothing go to waste. They harvest produce the same day from the restaurant’s own garden, less than 8 kilometres away. That’s hyper-local!
An upscale, Scandi-style eatery which serves up vegetarian and vegan innovations. It’s located in the trendy Ruzafa neighbourhood, and has an ever-changing menu where what’s in season sets the agenda. Expect organic and local produce.
Sustainable Tourism Sights in Valencia
Cathedral of Valencia
Few countries have churches like Spain, and Valencia has a breathtaking masterpiece of its own. Consecrated in 1238, it has a predominant Gothic architectural style but you will spot Renaissance, Baroque and Romanesque features as well. It has a bell tower to climb which we recommend for the city views and the exercise. Early in the article I promised you the holy grail and here it comes. In a secluded chapel, the chalice sits behind a protective glass.
I couldn’t believe it at first, but after extensive research, it appears a vast number of Christian historians around the world point to it as the most viable candidate. The holy grail is, of course, the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper. The same from the Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. How did it end up in Valencia? Many theories exist. The short version is that St. Peter took it to Rome where much later a Vatican solider brought it to Spain, where it made its way to Valencia.
Such a great idea for an urban park. Turia is laid out on an old river bed and crisscrossed by walking and cycling paths, ornate bridges, and cultural structures in the form of the City of Arts and Sciences. The space is 9 kilometres long and gives the city a green lung right in the centre. Go for a walk and find yourself in a serene mood, the palm trees, fountains and ponds working their magic. Different sections of the park represent various ecosystems around the world. Other notable features are the links to the fortified walls along the ancient town, like the Serranos Tower, which is also a splendid viewpoint.
Once we hit Valencia, La Lonja was our first sight on the agenda. UNESCO recognises the wonderful Gothic building as a World Heritage site. Dating back to the 15th century, it’s a reminder of Valencia’s mercantile era, serving as a lively silk exchange. Your neck will feel the pain as you twist and turn to catch the elegant arches and columns that create spaciousness and a feeling of opulence. They used the upper floors as prison facilities and in the basement there’s a chapel for the Immaculate Conception. Find it near the Central Market and enter via a courtyard lined with orange trees.
Valencia’s relentless pace towards a sustainable tourism sector
Thanks to a concerted effort to develop into a smart city, Valencia is sure to receive a lot more headlines in the years to become. With a thought out strategy for sustainable tourism, it also has the potential to handle the influx of tourists without compromising on what makes this dynamic city green and great. UNESCO heritage sites, authentic and proud food culture, the Mediterranean climate, and a can do attitude – a potent mix that has made more travellers, digital nomads and bon vivants take notice. Maybe Valencia has taken a sip from the holy grail and found a way to combine popularity with sustainable tourism?
Have you been to Valencia? What did you like best about it? Let us know in the comment section! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and benefit from tips, interviews, and inspirational examples of sustainable travel.