My best friend Erin and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Valencia, Spain for the first time in early December 2019. I was invited to be a panelist at Tur4All’s First International Congress on Accessible Cruise Destinations, and it was the perfect site choice as a popular port of call for cruises in the Mediterranean. Although the weather wasn’t great during our stay, we did have a couple of days to do some sightseeing, and to explore what this gorgeous Spanish city had to offer wheelchair users. I’m happy to say that it’s one of the most wheelchair accessible European cities I’ve ever visited, and I know I have to go back! Here’s what you need to know if you’re a wheelchair user planning on visiting Valencia.
Arriving into Valencia
Erin and I did not fly into Valencia, but I wanted to at least provide you with accessibility information from the airport’s website. You can request support service for persons with reduced mobility on the Aena website at least 2.5 hours in advance. To guarantee the service can be provided, it is recommended to request the assistance at least 48 hours before your departure time. Aena also places a telephone helpline at your disposal which will attend your reduced mobility needs 24 hours a day: Telephone (+34) 913 211 000.
For more information on wheelchair accessibility services at the Valencia airport, you can visit the Aena website.
Erin and I arrived into Valencia on a direct high-speed AVE train from Madrid. If you’re taking any RENFE train, you’ll check in with the orange-clad Atendo folks at least an hour prior to departure. About 20-30 minutes before your train departs, You’ll be escorted to your train by a member of the Atendo staff, who will also put down a ramp for you to board the train. Upon arrival at the Valencia Sorollo train station, a member of Atendo will be waiting for you to put down a ramp so you can disembark the train. They will also escort you to the train station exit, or take you to the information desk where you can ask for assistance in making transportation arrangements. The station isn’t huge like Madrid’s Puerto Atocha, but it does have a few stores, places to eat, and accessible bathrooms.
Getting Around Valencia
Erin and I rode the bus in Valencia a couple of times, and it was very easy. The first time we did it, we went with a local resident who was part of the conference we were attending. She showed us the ropes! The buses have two wheelchair spaces, and most have automatic ramps that extend from the floor of the bus. If it’s not working, there is a manual backup, which we had to use on a very rainy day when the automatic ramp was being glitchy. For our particular rides, Erin’s fare was €3.00 and I had a reduced fare of €1.50.
For more information, you can visit the EMT Valencia website.
Even though our Valencia Metro ride was pretty short, I was thrilled with it. The Valencia Metro has the smallest gap between the train and the platform that I’ve ever seen. Almost all stations are fully accessible, with very few exceptions. You must buy a ticket based on the geographical zone where you want to travel and have it validated both at the entry and the exit. The website says that the companions of wheelchair users can travel for free, but we were in a rush and it wasn’t clear how we could get this free companion ticket.
For more information and maps, as well as a list of stations with accessible platforms, visit the MetroValencia website.
Valencia has more than one wheelchair accessible taxi company, but we were in a unique situation that they were tough to come by during our stay. There were probably two dozen wheelchair users attending our conference, so they were mostly booked up taking people to and from the airport, the train station, and other places. The one time that we requested one without a reservation, we had to wait an hour for the taxi to arrive. This may be different for other people at a different time without an accessible conference to navigate around. Either way, I would always highly suggest reserving one either yourself or through your hotel concierge whenever possible, especially if you have to be at a certain place at a certain time.
Valencia was incredibly easy to explore in my Whill Ci power chair. The sidewalks were wide and in really good condition, and curb cuts were at every intersection with totally smooth transitions. Mind you, I can only comment on the tourist centers and not the local neighborhoods outside of the city center. I was also surprised to note that more than 50% of the restaurants and stores had flat entry or a ramp. This is a rarity in Europe, so I was really excited to see this. The only cobblestones I encountered were in the oldest part of town, and even then, they weren’t all that bad. Our hotel was a good distance away from the main attractions, but if you stay in a more central location, you may not even need a taxi or public transportation to see the main sights.
Where to Stay
Because I was in Valencia as part of the conference, I did not choose my hotel. However, the conference organizers could not have selected a better place for accessibility! Along with many other wheelchair users, I stayed at the Ilunion Valencia 4 (the Ilunion Valencia 3 is connected), and the rest of the wheelchair users from out-of-town stayed at the Ilunion Aqua 4, which is in a much more central location.
These hotels are owned and operated by ILUNION, the brand of the ONCE Social Group companies, a unique company that is committed to integrating people with disabilities into the workforce and to providing accessible tourism for all. Over 40% of their staff have some type of disability. when I arrived, I was immediately impressed by the fact that part of the reception desk was lowered with a wheelchair symbol, and that they had an accessible bathroom in the lobby.
The room I stayed in wasn’t huge, but I had enough room to maneuver. The beds are adjustable in height, which I hadn’t seen before, even in an American hotel. The fold-down chair in the shower is fully adjustable from side to side and in height as well. Even one of the two grab bars next to the toilet is height adjustable. In the dining area, there is a table reserved for wheelchair users with four legs at the corners instead of the central leg, which makes it much easier to roll under.
Accessible Things to Do
1. City of Arts and Sciences. You can’t visit Valencia without seeing the City of Arts and Sciences. This ultra-modern scientific and cultural complex – known in Spanish as la Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias – is the largest in Europe, and its striking buildings are fast becoming symbols of the city. Set in an expansive area of just under two kilometres in the former bed of the River Turia, the group of six futuristic structures – most of them designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava – has a seemingly endless capacity for entertaining and stimulating the mind. There’s a lot to see and do inside, so you’ll need to plan your visit carefully if time is short.
Inside the vast Oceanografic building you’ll find Europe’s largest aquarium. The long, rectangular building is the Prince Felipe Museum of Sciences, with interactive, hands-on permanent exhibits that promise to be both fun and educational for all ages. L’Hemisfèric, known as the ‘eye of the city’, is an audio-visual space featuring an IMAX cinema and planetarium. The grand Palau de les Arts is the city’s first purpose-built opera venue. The huge blue Agora is now expected to be used as a multipurpose event space.
Prices for entry range from just a few euros for some of the temporary art exhibits to upwards of €20 per person for the aquarium. Due to time constraints, Erin and I were only able to visit the Science Museum, where we received discounted admission. Wheelchair accessibility was excellent, as there were plenty of elevators and ramps. While I would have liked to visit the other buildings, I can only presume that the accessibility is probably great there as well.
2 . Turia Park. The Turia Gardens is a public park of 110 hectares in central Valencia bordering the City of Arts and Sciences, and it is the largest purely urban garden of Spain. In order to prevent the flooding that the city periodically suffered from, the river Turia was diverted, vacating a large swath of land that crossed the city from west to east, surrounding the historic center. It has now been turned into parks and gardens with various sports and leisure areas. Having a length of 9 km from “el Parque de Cabecera” to the Oceanographic, The Turia Gardens (former riverbed) is today the most visited park in the city of Valencia. Ideal for children, Gulliver Park is located in the old Turia River. The big attraction is the protagonist of the story “Gulliver’s Travels” upon his arrival at Lilliput. The entrance is free.
3. St. Mary’s Cathedral. Valencia Cathedral sits at the heart of the old town of Valencia – an area called El Carmen. The Cathedral links two of El Carmen’s most iconic plazas – Plaza del la Reina and Plaza del Virgen. The Cathedral itself is an impressive structure that spans a variety of architecture styles, including baroque, Romanesque and gothic. There is a chapel of the Cathedral called Santo Caliz Chapel. Inside the chapel you can find a Holy Chalice that, according to tradition, was used by Christ during the Last Supper (i.e. the Holy Grail). Inside the Saint Francis Borja Chapel you will find a famous painting by Goya. There is a ramp in the front of the cathedral; just beware it’s slippery when it’s raining.
4. La Lonja Silk Exchange. Built between 1482 and 1533, this group of buildings was originally used for trading in silk (hence its name, the Silk Exchange) and it has always been a centre for commerce. It is a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture. The grandiose Sala de Contratación (Contract or Trading Hall), in particular, illustrates the power and wealth of a major Mediterranean mercantile city in the 15th and 16th centuries. There are three clearly defined sections and a garden or “orange patio.” The Torreón is the second section of the building while on the ground floor there is a small chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. The two upper floors were used as a prison for those who reneged on their debts.
The exchange can be reached by using an electric lift located on the side of the building. Unfortunately, you will have to send someone inside to notify the lift operator. My power wheelchair is only 39 inches long, and it was a tight fit. Keep this in mind if you have a wheelchair that is longer than this. If you try to enter the main hall to the left after going through the orange patio, you will have a 2 inch lip to overcome. However, if you go straight ahead and enter through the chapel, it will be a much lower and smoother entry.
5. Central Market. The Mercado Central or Central Market of Valencia is one of the oldest markets still in use in Europe and has been declared a ”Heritage of Cultural Interest” site by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. After about ten years of work it was inaugurated in the course of 1928 and decades later, in 2010, it was completely renovated. It’s a popular spot among tourists as well as locals, as it’s the perfect location to immerse yourself in the heart of local culture and to get lost in its numerous aisles filled with local products.
The impressive 8,160 square metre structure is home to 900 stands, selling some of the area’s freshest and finest food. You’ll find seasonal fruit and vegetables, plenty of fresh fish, cold meats, cheeses, baked goods, olives and lots of wine. Keep in mind that this is a true food market, and there are no restaurants or places to sit down and eat. Some places will let you sample their wares, but this is a place for buying food and taking it elsewhere. Many stands do make sandwiches or other small meals for takeaway. One side of the market has a flat entry and the other side has ramps up to the entrance.
I speak fluent Spanish, so visiting any city in Spain is easy for me. However, Erin only knows a few words and phrases, and she was having a hard time finding people who spoke good English outside of the hotels and larger stores. You may want to brush up on a few basic Spanish words and phrases, or have the Google Translate app handy on your phone.
Traffic in Valencia is absolutely terrible. The hotel where we had to stay was about an hour’s drive each way to and from the conference location on the water. Distance wise, it was only a few kilometers, but it was all surface streets with bad traffic. Depending on where you have to go and at what time of day, try to leave an extremely good cushion of time, even with public transportation. The Metro system is good, but not as robust as it is in larger cities, so that may not always be an option for you to avoid traffic.
The locals are extremely warm and friendly. Erin and I had an incredible lunch at a small local restaurant called Rebir, and it was so much better than eating at a chain or a larger/fancier place. Food anywhere in Spain is amazing, but the service and experience at a smaller restaurant is truly special. The one we visited even had an accessible bathroom! try not to eat in a rush. Meals in Spain are an experience, not a function. Plan on taking your time and enjoying every minute.
Valencia is famous for its oranges. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of orange trees all over the city. However, these are purely for looks! They are bitter oranges (naranja ágria), and not edible. If you pluck one and try to eat it, it will send you straight to the bathroom. Stick to local oranges sold at markets or in stores selling locally made orange products. I’m a fan of the orange marmalade myself.