Valencia: A City on the Mediterranean That You Can Afford

I love Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city. Many folks overlook its charms in favor of Madrid, Barcelona, and the Moorish cities of the south. But if I were to choose one location for full- or part-time living in Spain, I think my heart would be set on Valencia.

For around $2,000 a month, including rent of a chic, centrally located apartment, I could embrace the arts, stroll the beaches, eat out often (and well), and I would be perfectly placed to explore the rest of Europe, too.

Let me explain…

First, it’s easy to love its location. Valencia sits right on the Mediterranean, with long, urban beaches lined with cute little restaurants, hotels, and cafés.

That seaside location means a mild climate, too. Sure, late summer can be a bit humid, and midwinter a bit damp and chilly…but for a full eight months a year Valencia enjoys a sunny, mild climate, where shirt-sleeves or a light jacket are all you need. (I’ve strolled here in February in open-toed shoes and a summer skirt.)

Valencia proper has just over 800,000 people, with about 1.5 million in the urban area. This isn’t small, but it’s still half the size of Barcelona and a quarter the size of Madrid… For me, Valencia is a very manageable size, yet with all the amenities you’d expect from a big city. Those include an international airport (which you can reach on public transport); convenient rail and bus connections; plenty of shopping; ample city parks; and cultural resources that include museums, a City of Arts and Sciences, and Europe’s largest oceanarium.

The food, too, is delectable—not exactly surprising, given that Valencia is home to paella, Spain’s most famous dish. If you like to cook your own meals, don’t miss Valencia’s Central Market, which is one of the best traditional markets I’ve found. The Valencia region is one of the gardens of Spain, and fresh, local fruits and vegetables will be on display at very reasonable prices. You can also pick up some seafood, fresh veggies, and a bottle of the local wine (Valencia makes both red and white) to put together a feast.

On top of all that, Valencia has one of the largest and best-preserved historic centers in Europe. But it’s no museum set piece—the center is home to nearly 30,000 people and is filled with shops and cafés, making it one of my favorite places to stroll.

Spain’s third largest city, Valencia, has all the charm and amenities of Madrid and Barcelona, with a smaller price tag.

And though the city does have nice art and science museums, what really stands out is its music. Valencia has a long tradition in classical music including Spanish operetta, zarzuela, though really you’ll find a little bit of everything here. It’s a center for music teaching and research, as well as performing. Boston’s Berklee College of Music—the largest independent college of music in the world—maintains a campus here in Valencia, for instance. The main concert halls are in central Valencia, easy walking distance from many residential neighborhoods.

One concert I particularly enjoyed here was a showcase for two young Valencia-trained sopranos. It took place in one of the smaller concert halls in Valencia’s arts complex. They performed classical arias and some zarzuela. Cost for my ticket? A very reasonable $17.

Valencia is in fact, seriously affordable. Day-to-day costs are reasonable—a filling lunch special, including a beer or wine, will run about $12. And when I was there last summer, the going rent for two-bedroom apartments in excellent neighborhoods was €450 a month—that’s only about $510 a month with today’s strong dollar. You can buy apartments in these same upscale, convenient neighborhoods starting from about $115,000. You’d easily pay twice as much or more to live in a similar place in Madrid or Barcelona.

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