The buzzing nightlife and narrow, winding streets filled with wine and tapas bars in Valencia's Old Town will be happily familiar to fans of Barcelona. But only Valencia has the 86-acre City of Arts and Sciences, which contains a science museum, a marine park, and L'Hemisfèric, a planetarium that resembles an enormous blinking eye.
The essentials: The Valencia Cathedral is home to an agate chalice rumored to be the Holy Grail; climb the bell tower's 207 steps for sweeping city views. In nearby Mercado Central, an Art Nouveau–style indoor market, you can find everything from Valencia oranges to jamón Serrano (like prosciutto, only Spanish).
Where to eat: Paella was invented in Valencia, and one of the city's most famous paella houses is century-old La Pepica on Malvarrosa Beach; a quieter alternative in Old Town is La Riuá, which serves 15 types of the saffron-infused rice dish.
Where to stay: At the Hotel Neptuno, next door to Valencia's yachting marina, amenities include plasma TVs, a roof deck, and a relaxed vibe at the beachfront terrace bar (double rooms from $223; hotelneptunovalencia.com).
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