Hands-on culture in Valencia

by Adam Jacot de Boinod

A trip to Valencia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. Here's how to get the best from this fabulously futuristic attraction

Take a walk under the ocean
If you’re hitting all the attractions in one day, the Oceanogràfic is the best place to start. The huge aquarium is home to shoals and shoals of fish as well as rays, jellyfish, sharks, dolphins, belugas, flamingos and lots more besides. Your aquatic journey will take you through the world’s oceans from the Mediterranean to the Antarctic. Wander amongst the sharks through underwater tunnels, admire the tiny seahorses and look the adorable belugas in the eye. Find out if there are any talks or shows at the ticket booth so you don’t miss anything on the day. And if you’re desperate to see the dolphins, check the dophinarium is open before you go in; it’s sometimes closed, especially in low season. An Animalia Passport will give you special access to the dolphins and sea lions at weekends. 
Now for the science bit…
At the Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe you can squidge, shout and sniff your way around the exhibitions, revelling in the knowledge that the curators won’t bat an eyelid. Most of the exhibitions are fully interactive and octogenarians are likely to have just as much fun as eight-year-olds. Watch tiny chicks emerging from their eggs, make your own tornado and find out more about recycling. After all that, head to the Marvel Comic exhibition and help your superheroes banish their enemies, while you learn more about magnetism and electricity. If you have young children, don’t miss the brilliant play area at the entrance of the exhibitions. Play seasons are free and last an hour. 
Catch your breath
Half spaceship, half eyeball, the huge Hemisfèric houses an IMAX cinema, which shows a range of family-friendly films. If you’re on a day trip, come here to give your feet a well-deserved break after walking around the Oceanogràfic or the Museo de las Ciencias. When you arrive, you’re given a set of headphones so you can watch the film in your preferred language. All films have an English option. 
Take in a show
Most visitors agree that the Palacio de las Artes Reina Sofía is the most impressive of all Santiago Calatrava’s buildings, so no wonder it’s become one of the city’s best-loved landmarks. The building houses four concert halls for the performing arts, but with its swooping curves and porthole windows, it looks more like a glorious alien cruise ship or a glamorous stormtrooper’s helmet. It’s beautiful, barmy and bold, and it really can’t fail to spark your imagination. There's a packed programme of operas, chamber music and ballet concerts. Entrance to the building and performances is not included in a day pass.
Wander down the walkway
The Umbracle is a covered walkway, punctuated with sculptures by contemporary artists, such as Yoko Ono and Miquel Navarro. It’s a great place to catch your breath after walking around the exhibitions or taking in a film. Stop for a while and relax on the deliciously cool tiled benches. The plants and trees you’ll see around you are typical of the Valencia region. 
See it for free!
You don’t have to pay to wander through the Umbracle or around the outside of the buildings, so if you’re on a budget, don’t miss out. You can walk to the complex from the city centre along the old river bed, now the Jardines del Turia. For the best views, stroll along the walkway on the right of the first building you come to, the Palacio de las Artes Reina Sofía, walk through the Umbracle, then head down the steps to admire the sparkling gel-blue pools around the Museo de las Ciencias. 
Where to eat
There are three main restaurants in L'Oceanografic. You can eat with the fishes in the spectacular underwater Submarino Restaurant (€40), sit outside the beach-hut style Océanos Restaurant (€15), or heard to the Tabarca Hamburger Bar (€10). There’s also a little café in L'Hemisfèric that sells sandwiches themed around the films (€4.50). Or buy a picnic lunch across the road in Carrefour and eat it in the Umbracle under the shady palms.


Getting there
Ryanair, easyJet and Iberia all fly from the UK to Valencia…
Where to stay
Budget: Hôme has two hostels in the city. The one on Calle La Lonja has a roof terrace.  
Mid-range: the sleek Chill Art Hotel Jardín Botánico is in the heart of lively Barrio del Carmen.
High-end: Vincci Palace has a gorgeous façade and elegant contemporary rooms.