Valencia

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Valencia is where paella first simmered over a wood fire. It's a vibrant, friendly, mildly chaotic place with two outstanding fine-arts museums, an accessible old quarter, Europe's newest cultural and scientific complex – and an exciting nightlife scene.

Ono (Tel 96 328 19 02; Calle San Vicente Mártir 22; per hr €3.50; h10am-10pm) Internet access. Regional tourist office (Tel 96 398 64 22; Calle Paz 48; h9am-2.30pm & 4.30-8pm Mon-Fri) Turismo Valencia (VLC) tourist office (Tel 96 315 39 31; http://www.turisvalencia.es/) Plaza de la Reina (Plaza de la Reina 19; h9am-7pm Mon-Sat, 10am-2pm Sun); Train Station (h9am-7pm Mon-Sat, 10am-2pm Sun)

You’ll see Valencia’s best face by simply wandering around the Barrio del Carmen, strolling the Jardines del Turia (in what was once the city’s river) or people-watching in one of the city’s many plazas.

Valencia’s Romanesque-Gothic-baroque- Renaissance Catedral (admission with audioguide €4; h10am-5.30pm/6.30pm Mon-Sat, 2-5.30pm Sun) is a one-off compendium of centuries of architectural history and home to the Capilla del Santo Cáliz, a chapel containing what they say is the Holy Grail.

The stunning Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts & Sciences; Tel reservations 902 10 00 31; http://www.cac.es/; Autovía a El Saler; combined ticket for all 3 attractions €30.60) is a complex of museums including the L’Oceanográfic aquarium (admission €23.30; h10am-6pm/8pm Sep–mid-Jul, 10am-midnight mid-Jul–Aug), the Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe (admission €7.50; h10am-7pm/9pm) interactive science museum, L’Hemisfèric (admission €7.50) planetarium and IMAX theatre and L’Umbracle covered garden. Also here is the shimmering, beetle-like Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (Tel 902 20 23 83; http://www.lesarts.com/; Autovía a El Saler) performing arts centre. Bus 35 goes from Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

Stretch your towel on broad Playa de la Malvarrosa, which runs into Playa de las Arenas, each bordered by the Paseo Marítimo promenade and a string of restaurants. One block back, lively bars and discos thump out the beat in summer. Take bus 1, 2 or 19, or the high-speed tram from Pont de Fusta or the Benimaclet Metro junction.

La Tastaolletes (Tel 96 392 18 62; Calle Salvador Giner 6; tapas €5-9, mains €8-10; hTue-Sat & dinner Mon) This tiny place does a creative range of vegetarian tapas using quality prime ingredients.

L’Hamadríada (Tel 96 326 08 91; http://www.hamadriada.com/; Plaza Vicente Iborra 3; midday menú €10; hlunch daily, dinner Wed-Sat) Down a blind alley, this slim white rectangle of a place does an innovative midday menú, perfectly simmered rice dishes that change daily and great meat grills. La Utielana (Tel 96 352 94 14; Plaza Picadero dos Aguas 3; meals around €15; hlunch & dinner Mon-Fri, lunch Sat) Tucked away off Calle Prócida,

La Utielana packs in the crowds, drawn by wholesome fare and exceptional value for money.

At weekends, locals flock to Las Arenas, just north of the port, where a long line of restaurants overlooking the beach serve up paella. La Pepica (Tel 96 371 03 66; Playa de Levante 6; mains €8-20) is one of the locals’ favourites.

The Barrio del Carmen, university area (around Avenidas de Aragón and Blasco Ibáñez), the area around the Mercado de Abastos and, in summer, the new port area and Malvarrosa are all jumping with bars and clubs.

Café San Jaume (Tel 96 391 24 01; Calle Caballeros 51) This is a stalwart of Carmen’s bar scene, with lots of room upstairs and a particularly fine terrace.

Cafe-Bar Negrito (Plaza del Negrito) At this bar, which traditionally attracts a more leftwing, intellectual clientele, the crowd spills out onto the square.

Xino Xano (Calle Alta 28) The genial owner, a well-known DJ in his own right, picks from his collection of dub, reggae and funk.

Metro line 5 connects the airport, downtown and port. Valencia has an integrated bus, tram and metro network. Tourist offices stock maps for both services. The high-speed tram leaves from the FGV tram station, 500m north of the cathedral, at the Pont de Fusta. This is a pleasant way to get to the beach, the paella restaurants of Las Arenas and the port.