Limited time in Spain? Can only choose one more city to visit and you want to go to the beach? Everyone seems to be talking about how beautiful Barcelona is yet you are still intrigued by the paella and playa in Valencia. Which city do you choose? Both cities have their own regional dialect and unique history.
Valencia is closer to Madrid and less expensive. Some of the best paella in the world can be found there. I made the mistake of trying paella in Barcelona and Sevilla and was blown away when I finally tasted the traditional dish where it was born. Valencian paella is cooked specially for the individual or table in a shallow, steel pan. Traditional Valencian paella is made with rice, chicken, rabbit and vegetables. I am now considering buying my own paella pan and attempting to master this dish myself.
Valencia has many beaches but the main beach, Malvarrosa, is only a short bus ride from the city center. It is big, busy, with soft yellow sand, and a boardwalk lined with restaurants. By June, the water is the perfect temperature. Valencia is also known for its modern architectural marvel as The City of Arts and Sciences. There the buildings are like something out of a 1960s sci-fi film. We went to the club, L'umbracle, situated within The City of Arts and Sciences that has two dance floors, lounge areas and a view of the Museum of Arts and Sciences, which is especially cool to see light up at night.
Although Valencia has an old city center with ancient Roman roots and a 13th century, gothic cathedral, its monumental attractions cannot compare to what you will find in Barcelona. In Barcelona, there is Guadi's masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia. It is a massive architectural undertaking, 132 years in the making with an anticipated twelve more to go. The outside of the church has an almost melting, candle-like appearance and is carved with modern-style sculptures of religious icons and biblical scenes. The inside is like no other church in the world, with pillars that reach up to the high ceiling and branch out like trees. If you climb the tower, you have a view of not only Barcelona, but of the ongoing construction of the church itself. If you walk up the hill to the Gaudi designed Park Güell, you can see a view of the Barcelona and La Sagrada Familia from afar.
Aside from Gaudian architecture, Barcelona's Gothic Quarter is filled with Ancient Roman ruins, medieval buildings and two main cathedrals. In addition the main street, La Rambla, stretches through the Gothic quarter and is host to many restaurants and shops and the Picasso Museum is only a few blocks away. It is important to be aware of Barcelona's tragic history in the Spanish Civil War. As you walk through the streets take note that the Barcelona you witness today is far different from the way it was not long ago under Franco's regime. Barcelona had to recover from the bombs dropped during the Spanish Civil War that destroyed much of the city and killed over 1,000 people. The city lost many citizens to the war as well as afterward, when those suspected of government sabotage disappeared into the night without a trace.
On a lighter note, Barcelona also has a beach! It is an artificial beach, smaller than those in Valencia and the sand is rougher as it is imported from Egypt, but it is a beach nonetheless! Therefore, if you are short on time and money and just want to relax on the shore and eat paella, go to Valencia. But if you want to visit a city with countless historic monuments, an ongoing architectural phenomenon and exceptional nightlife that is home to a beach as well, you cannot miss visiting Barcelona!