Valencia is a compact city and it is easy to see all the city’s main attractions in a few days. But if you have a bit more time and want to go deeper into the soul of the city, there is no better way than exploring Valencia’s neighbourhoods individually, wandering through their streets and soaking up their atmosphere. Even in the more touristy districts, like El Carmen, you will find hidden gems. You can take a guided tour or simply follow our suggestions.
Framed by the green ribbon of the Turia Gardens to the north and Calle Caballeros to the south, and stretching between the Quart and Serranos Towers, The Barrio del Carmen in Valencia’s Old Town is often one of the first ports of call for visitors, attracted by its restaurants and nightlife. It is true that you can find a huge diversity of cuisine, and plenty of bars to enjoy an Agua de Valencia or dance the night away, but it may be a bit more difficult to find local voices amongst the tourists at night.
During the day, however, it remains a traditional neighbourhood oozing history and culture. Here you will find the only remains of the medieval city walls: the Serranos and Quart towers, and also a stretch of wall on display at the IVAM, the Valencian Museum of Modern Art. This is one of the top attractions in the city, and one of the best modern art museums in Spain, with permanent collections by Valencian and Spanish artists as well as temporary exhibitions by major international names. Don’t miss this year’s special Ignacio Pinazo exhibition (until September 2017)!
If you prefer urban art, keep your eyes peeled as you wander through the narrow streets of El Carmen, where you will find some great examples. One of the most famous is the mural of a couple kissing found on Calle Moret (dubbed the “street of colours”), a romantic spot where couples now often have their picture taken. The image itself is based on a photo of a couple taken in 2012 at London Bridge Station, and to this date, the identity of the couple remains a mystery… do you know them?
Not far from here, the Centro del Carmen (Calle Museo 2) makes an interesting stop to enjoy contemporary art and culture, with a rotating programme of exhibitions ranging from photography to modern design, as well as different educational activities.
You can also admire the grand mansion houses with hidden patios that line some streets in El Carmen. On Calle Caballeros (the street of horsemen), for example, watch out for the large iron knockers high up on the tall doors that give access to some of these houses, strategically positioned so that cavaliers could knock on the door without having to dismount.
Tucked away behind Calle Caballeros you will find one of Valencia’s greatest treasures. The recently unveiled and restored frescoes of the Church of St Nicholas have been dubbed Valencia’s Sistine Chapel and are a definite must-see. The whole ceiling and apse are covered with extraordinary baroque paintings illustrating the lives of San Nicolas de Bari and San Pedro Martir.
More treasures can be found in the little known museum of the Casa de las Rocas (Calle Roteros 8). Despite its name, this is not a rock museum, but a deeply religious display about the tradition of the Corpus Christi parade which takes place in June. You can see some of the rocas, the elaborate floats used to carry the Holy Host in the procession, as well as the costumes worn by some of the traditional characters who take part in it, like the moma.
And talking about Valencian traditions, there is nothing bigger than the Fallas, and in El Carmen you will find the Asociacion Cultural Fallera Na Jordana, one of the associations that build the spectacular papier-mache sculptures that are burnt in this festival. Na Jordana has often won awards for its falla and the association also organises cultural events throughout the year.
You can also find out more about Valencian traditions at the Museum of Ethnology(Calle Corona 36), which currently has a special exhibition about the colourful costumes worn by the falleras and its evolution through the centuries (open until 30 April 2017).
Finally, if you used to play with toy soldiers as a kid, you will be in heaven at the L’Iber Museo de los Soldaditos de Plomo, the world’s largest toy soldier and historic miniatures museum (open only weekends). Here you will find different displays of hundreds of lead figurines representing not just historic battles and armies, but also everyday scenes and Valencian traditions through the centuries. A truly fascinating glimpse into the past!
Valencia’s Barrio del Carmen will transport you back in time… to your childhood or to medieval times and beyond. Well worth exploring!