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Valencia: Virtual tour of this Spanish city

by Lydia Schrandt for USA TODAY 10Best

Equal parts historic and innovative, Valencia charms with its varied architecture, walkable old quarter, sun-kissed beaches and a calendar filled with travel-worthy events.

The futuristic City of Arts and Sciences, designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava, comprises Europe’s biggest aquarium, a digital 3D cinema, science museum, opera house and a garden.

The city also has a charming historic district – one of the largest in Europe. The Plaza of the Virgin (Plaza de la Virgen) in the heart of the historic city center dates back to Roman times.

Paella originates in Valencia. While you’ll find variations on the dish at restaurants throughout Spain, the traditional version contains chicken, rabbit, green beans, lima beans and sweet paprika.

La Albufera Lagoon is known for its rich soil and rice production. City dwellers flock to Albufera Natural Park for beaches, birdwatching, cycling and rural restaurants specializing in rice dishes.

Sun-seeking travelers will find three beaches within a short distance of the city center, with more than two miles of sand to spread out on.

The Gothic exterior of the Church of San Nicolás de Bari and San Pedro Mártir hides a magnificent Baroque interior. It’s considered the “Sistine Chapel” of Valencia.

If there’s one crop more synonymous with Valencia than rice, it’s oranges. The climate offers ideal conditions for growing citrus, and the region produces 70 percent of Spain’s oranges for export.

The City Hall Plaza (Plaza del Ayuntamiento) makes an excellent starting spot for walking tours of the old city center.

Valencia’s newest green space, Central Park (Parque Central), was designed by American landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson. The innovative park occupies the grounds of a former railway station.

While there are several claimants to the Holy Grail – the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper – the Valencia Cathedral is among them. Visitors can see the vessel on display in the Chapel of the Holy Chalice.

Plaza Redonda, one of Valencia’s more unusual plazas, was built in 1840 by Salvador Escrig Melchor. The circular-shaped "square" is surrounded by craft shops and tapas bars.

Photo courtesy of David Rota / Visit Valéncia

If you find yourself walking though the historic district along Carrer del Museu, keep an eye out for one of Valencia’s most charming façades, The House of Cats.

Centuries ago, getting into the city meant passing through one of twelve monumental gates. Only two remain: the Torres de Quart to the west and the Torres de Serranos (pictured) to the north.

The Mercado Central, located in a stunning modernist building, houses 1,200 stalls selling fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses, spices, nuts and seafood.

During the Fallas of Valencia festival, local artists create giant Fallas, or monumental caricature pieces, that frequently offer commentary on social issues.

On the final night of the Fallas festivities, each Falla is lit on fire and reduced to ashes – a tradition known as the Cremà.

Turia Gardens, one of the largest urban parks in Spain, runs through the city for nearly six miles. The park was built atop a former riverbed after the Turia River’s course was altered.

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