While the cultural, academic, and artistic pull of Madrid and Barcelona can seem all-encompassing, Valencia undoubtedly has the attractions to match the two larger cities in these areas, if not the same reputation. This is only a good thing, as it means you’ll get to see some of the best galleries, museums, and wildlife exhibits on the continent without throngs of tourists blocking your view.
The cultural heart of Valencia is The City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències in the local language), a large complex in the centre of Turia Gardens. The area contains a whole host of different attractions, all designed by two of the best architects in Spain, making sure that even strolling through the complex is a unique experience. If you’re a culture vulture, a science geek, or just love to learn new things, then The City of Arts and Sciences is the ideal place for you to spend a day or two.
What is The City of Arts and Sciences?
The City of Arts and Sciences Valencia is a collection of cultural and educational organisations all in one complex, right in the heart of Valencia. It’s considered one of the ‘Twelve Treasures of Spain’, and is home to everything from an opera house to an aquarium. Not only are all these attractions in proximity to one another, but they were designed by renowned architects and are visually stunning, both during the day and at night.
You can do the entire complex within a day, but most recommend a two or three day visit to really take it all in.
What are the Different Buildings in The City of Arts and Sciences?
The complex currently has eight structures, each with their own unique use. Five of these structures are cultural attractions, whereas the other three are architectural wonders.
L’Hemisferic is a planetarium, an IMAX cinema, and a laserium. The structure resembles a giant eye. It was the first building in the complex to be completed and is right in the heart of The City of Arts and Sciences, and is surrounded by a small man-made lake. It’s the ideal place to spend a few hours, especially if you’re unfortunate enough to be in Valencia on one of the few rainy days the city sees.
Museu de les Ciencies Principe Felipe is Valencia’s premier science museum. Opened at the turn of the millennium, it’s designed to look like a whale’s skeleton, and has 26,000 square metres of exhibition space. This is the perfect place for the knowledge hungry, especially children, with a tonne of interactive exhibits about everything from gravity to human DNA sequencing.
L’Oceanografic Valencia is a large, open-air aquarium and wetland. The structure at the heart of this Valencia aquarium was designed in the shape of a water lily, and each building in represents different aquatic environments, from the Mediterranean to the Antarctic. There are over five hundred species homed here too – when you visit, you’ll be able to spot dolphins, starfish, and even penguins.
Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia is one for the more refined Valencia tourist: this opera house and performing arts centre has four separate halls in it, the largest of which has 1,470 seats. While it’s a treat to simply walk around and admire the amazing structure, having the chance to see some sort of event in this astounding venue is something special, so if you can snag a ticket for something, we’d highly recommend doing so.
L’Agora is the final venue in The City of Arts and Sciences Valencia, and is a large event space that can hold over six thousand people. The large, glass roof shines as night falls over Valencia, but during the day it’s just as impressive to look at.
There are three other architectural wonders in the complex:
L’Umbracle is an open structure that covers a whole host of plants native to Valencia, as well as some others. There are numerous works of art in an outdoor gallery that runs through the structure, and the plants are all colour-coded by season, so when they bloom they do so emphatically.
Montolivet Bridge and Assut de l’Or Bridge are both bridges that cross the complex, allowing pedestrians to get in from the street and the surrounding Turia Gardens. The Assut de l’Or Bridge is actually the highest point in the city, and gives great views of all of Valencia, especially L’Oceanografic Valencia.
Ticket prices for events at Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia and L’Agora vary, but the other three main buildings in the complex have set rates. General admission to L’Hemisferic and the Science Museum costs EUR 8 (GBP 6) each, and for Valencia’s best aquarium, L’Oceanografic Valencia, its EUR 31.30 (GBP 26). You can combine two of them too: a combined ticket for L’Henisferic and The Science Museum costs EUR 12 (GBP 9), and for L’Oceanografic and one of the others it’s EUR 32.80 (GBP 27).
Food and Drink
With a busy day of walking and learning, you’ll probably need to stop off to get fed and watered during your trip to The City of Arts and Sciences. L’Oceanografic, L’Umbracle, and The Science Museum all have restaurants and cafes serving up sandwiches and more local treats, as well as hot and cold drinks.
The Science Museum is home to a cafeteria in Calle Menor that stays open as long as the museum is, and a restaurant named Trattoria, specialising in Italian food. The Canteen in L’Umbracle is designed for larger groups who have brought their own food. In L’Oceanografic Valencia, Submarino restaurant serves lunch and dinner, mostly Mediterranean cuisine. They have a special vegetarian menu, too, as well as a Tasting Menu for EUR 50 per person (GBP 45).
Other Things to Know about The City of Arts and Sciences
Located in the heart of Turia Park, The City of Arts and Sciences isn’t just the premier cultural and educational destination in Valencia, but also one of the most stunning places to simply walk around and look at. Even if you don’t fancy museums and galleries, we’d highly recommend heading there for sunrise or sunset so you can see the wonderfully designed buildings at their best.
The City of Arts and Sciences was also used as a location to film series three of Westworld, the tenth series of the rebooted Doctor Who, and was an inspiration for many scenes in Gran Turismo 6. The futuristic architecture meant it was also selected for use in a new adaptation of Brave New World.