From June 2021 until June 2022, I spent a year living in El Carmen, Valencia, one of six neighbourhoods in the Ciutat Vella (Old City), and in my opinion, the most charming.
Situated in the northwestern part of the Old Town, El Carmen has over a thousand years of history, with Roman roots leading to Moorish Kingdoms, a stint as ‘Europe’s largest brothel,’ and a 15th century ‘Golden Age‘ of of wealth, trade, and culture, when the city was one of the most prosperous in Europe.
Unfortunately, after the tragic ‘Valencia Flood‘ of 1957, which resulted in the Turia River being entirely rerouted, El Carmen fell into disrepair, with many of the buildings becoming abandoned and dilapidated.
However, after huge investments by the city council, El Carmen is thriving once more, and if you ask me, it is the beating heart of Valencia.
In this guide, I’m going to share all of the best things to do in El Carmen, from mini houses for cats (yes, really!) to cultural museums, medieval towers, and much more.
All of what you’re about to read is based on my time spent living in El Carmen, so you won’t find any tourist traps here – what you will find are my personal recommendations, hidden gems, and favourite spots in Valencia’s prettiest and most vibrant neighbourhood, Barrio del Carmen.
So, with all that being said, allow me to introduce my favourite part of Valencia – Barrio del Carmen.
16 Best Things to Do in El Carmen, Valencia
El Carmen at a glance
As I mentioned in the introduction, El Carmen is one of six neighbourhoods in the Old Town of Valencia (the others are El Mercat, El Pilar, La Seu, La Xerea, and Sant Francesc).
El Carmen thrives on contrast, with medieval architecture meeting whimsical street art, Gothic palaces coexisting with unassuming cervecerías, and vibrant shopping streets neighbouring peaceful, hidden alleyways.
El Carmen is a home for history buffs, culture vultures, and bohemian souls, and dotted along its narrow streets you will find tapas joints, wine bars, independent boutiques, art galleries, jazz bars, history museums, and so much more.
It might seem small, but there is so much to discover in El Carmen (I lived there for a year and didn’t get around to everything!), so be sure to save this article or make some notes as you go, because there’s going to be a lot to take in!
Good to know: El Carmen’s boundaries are roughly defined as being Calle Serranos to the east, Caballeros to the south, Guillem de Castro to the west, and the Turia Riverbed to the north – however, if a great attraction is just one street away from being considered part of El Carmen, I’ve included it anyway, because it would be criminal not to!
Things to do in El Carmen
Admire the street art
One of my favourite things to do in El Carmen is to simply wander around and admire the street art, of which there is plenty – El Carmen is like an open-air museum for street art lovers!
The colourful street art of El Carmen is ever-changing, and is often satirical and reflective of popular culture or societal issues. It reflects the neighbourhood’s bohemian and artistic atmosphere, and is an essential part of its cultural identity, attracting both local and international artists.
To get a deeper understanding of El Carmen’s street art, I recommend booking a Valencia street art tour like this one.
I took a street art tour in Belgrade, Serbia, and to this day it’s one of the most interesting walking tours I’ve been on!
Whether you decide to take a Valencia street art tour or not, don’t miss ‘El Beso’ by Luis Lonjedo (you can find it on Calle de los Colores), one of the most famous works in Valencia!
Visit a House for Cats!
At 9 Calle Museo, you will find one of El Carmen’s many curiosities – a tiny house for cats!
Built into an unassuming wall, the facade features a traditional Valencian tiled roof, miniature fountain, windows with curtains and pictures of kitties behind them, and a dark doorway that local cats can pass through into the garden behind.
El Carmen’s House of Cats will only take a moment to see, but it’s just such an odd and cute part of El Carmen, you have to see it!
IVAM, or the Valencian Institute of Modern Art, is a renowned cultural institution in Valencia, dedicated to contemporary art.
Established in 1986, IVAM houses both permanent collections and rotating exhibitions, making it a vital hub for art education and cultural engagement.
With a commitment to research, community outreach, and architectural excellence, IVAM stands as a significant pillar of Valencia’s cultural heritage, drawing art enthusiasts from around the world.
IVAM is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm (8:00 pm on Fridays). You can plan your visit here. Entrance is 5 EUR or free Wednesdays between 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm and all day Sunday.
Portal de la Valldigna
Embedded within an ancient Muslim wall, this gateway once served as an entrance to the medieval city, nestled amidst the residences of noble families.
Dating back to 1400, it features a stunning arch. In 1678, the owner of adjacent houses acquired the upper section, expanding their residence over the arch. The unique fusion of the arch and the house was meticulously restored in 1965.
These days, the arch goes mostly unnoticed by tourists passing through, but it’s a beautiful place to stop and take a photo (and this street is always very quiet as well).
If you’re interested in Valencia’s medieval history, you may enjoy this 2-hour medieval walking tour, which will take you to several of the landmarks on this list and provide you with a much deeper understanding of Valencia’s historical centre. At just over 10 EUR, it’s a bargain.
Museu de Prehistòria de València
The Museu de Prehistòria de València is a hidden gem dedicated to preserving and showcasing the prehistoric heritage of the Valencian Community.
With a rich collection of prehistoric artifacts, including tools, pottery, and weapons, the museum offers a window into the region’s ancient civilisations.
Beyond its exhibitions, the museum engages in significant archaeological research and collaborates with international teams to unearth archaeological sites in the area, which is pretty cool if you ask me!
The Museu de Prehistòria de València plays a crucial role in preserving and sharing the early history and culture of Valencia’s prehistoric past, so if history is your thing, don’t forget to pay it a visit.
The Museu de Prehistòria de València is open Tuesdays – Sundays from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. It is free to enter. You can plan your visit here.
Embark on a scavenger hunt
One of my favourite memories of Valencia is embarking on a scavenger hunt with Ethan, where we used an app to navigate through the old town solving riddles, learning legends, and seeing the best of what El Carmen and Valencia Old Town generally has to offer.
Not only was it super fun solving the various clues, but we also learnt a lot along the way, as well as discovering some hidden gems that we didn’t know about before playing the game. It also got pretty competitive as we were on a time limit – cue lots of bickering!
The company we used was called Secret City Trails, and you can read my review of the whole experience here, or book the experience here.
Casa Museu Benlliure
Another of El Carmen’s museums, Casa Museu Benlliure is dedicated to the illustrious Benlliure family, notably the renowned Spanish painter José Benlliure.
Housed in the family’s historic residence, the museum showcases the works of José Benlliure and his brothers, Mariano and Blas, alongside an array of the family’s personal artifacts, creating an ethnographic museum within the gallery.
The well-preserved living spaces transport visitors to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, offering a fascinating glimpse into the family’s artistic contributions and daily life.
Casa Museu Benlliure also hosts temporary exhibitions, educational programs, and cultural events, making it a must-visit destination for those interested in Valencia’s rich cultural heritage.
Casa Museu Benlliure is open for visitors Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm, and Sundays and bank holidays, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. It is closed on Mondays. Entrance fee is 2 EUR. See their Facebook page for more information.
El Carmen is a foodie’s paradise (I’ll be writing a guide to El Carmen’s best restaurants soon, so watch this space!), and some of my favourite Valencian restaurants are located here.
The best tapas restaurants in El Carmen (at least, in my opinion) are Tasca El Botijo, El Molinón, and Bodega La Rentaora (be sure to read my Valencian food guide so you know what to order!).
If you’re looking for a sit down meal, my favourite restaurants in El Carmen are Thai Mongkut, AmaMi, and Jamón Jamón.
Want to make it extra special?
Why not book this Old Town walking tour that includes a 10-course tapas meal and wine pairing in an 11th century historical monument?
If you’re a fan of independent boutiques, El Carmen is a shopper’s paradise.
While you won’t find high street chain stores here, what you will find are vintage clothes stores, boutiques selling handmade jewellery and other crafts, secondhand book stores, and other quirky offerings.
There aren’t tonnes of shops in El Carmen, but you can easily spend a couple of hours discovering what’s on offer.
Shops I particularly recommend in El Carmen are El Doctor Sax – Beat & Books for rare books, COPERNIA for handmade garments and accessories (the workshop is in the store itself!), and Tamala for all your hippie essentials.
Casa de les Roques
The Museu del Corpus-Casa de les Roques is a captivating museum dedicated to the renowned Corpus Christi festival, and the elaborate wooden sculptures (roques) that take centre stage during the Corpus Christi processions.
These sculptures hold deep historical and religious significance, and the museum’s exhibits offer a glimpse into the meticulous craftsmanship and cultural heritage associated with them, as well as the various costumes, banners, and religious artifacts that feature in the processions.
Casa de les Roques is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm and Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm. It is closed on Mondays.
Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart
The formidable Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart, once played a pivotal role in Valencia’s history.
In days of old, these gates, which were part of the medieval city walls, sealed the city when night fell, and those who missed the curfew were left to spend the night in the open!
Of the original twelve gates, these are the last surviving complete examples. The Torres de Serranos, the city’s main entry point, also served as a prison over the centuries, while the Torres de Quart’s facade shows evidence of the numerous assaults on the city.
Situated at opposite ends of El Carmen, these towers, constructed a century apart, offer distinct architectural allure and you can walk from one to another in just a few minutes.
You can climb to the top of both towers (it’s free!) and enjoy incredible panoramic views of Valencia.
The CCCC, or to give it its proper name, the Centre del Carme Cultura Contemporània, is a cultural institution in El Carmen dedicated to contemporary art and culture.
It explores the intersections of art, technology, and culture, and hosts a wide range of exhibitions, performances, and workshops around contemporary issues and artistic trends. The CCCC is an essential hub for art enthusiasts and a vibrant part of Valencia’s cultural landscape.
You can find information about current exhibitions here.
El Carmen is home to some of the best nightlife in Valencia, from dingy shot bars to live music venues, discotecas, sports pubs, and more.
I’m going to share my recommendations on where to find the best of El Carmen nightlife in another post, but if you head to Plaça del Tossal and the surrounding streets, you’re sure to find a lively atmosphere.
Church of San Nicolás de Bari and San Pedro Mártir
With stunning artwork that experts have referred to as the ‘Valencian Sistine Chapel,’ the Church of San Nicolás de Bari and San Pedro Mártir is well-deserving of a place on your Valencia itinerary.
Dating back to the 13th century, its unassuming exterior is home to a series of magnificent frescoes that were painted by local artist Antonio Palomino in the 18th century.
An extensive restoration project in the 21st century brought the frescoes back to their former glory, and although you may well walk right past it (as I have, many times!), the Church of San Nicolás is definitely somewhere worth stepping inside.
Entrance to the church costs 10 EUR and comes with a free audio guide. You can get your tickets here.
Drink Agua de Valencia
Agua de Valencia is a cocktail hailing from – you’ve guessed it – Valencia!
Made using freshly-squeezed Valencian oranges, vodka, gin, and a splash of Cava, Agua de Valencia (literally ‘water of Valencia’) is a refreshing cocktail that is perfect on a hot summer’s day.
For a good Agua de Valencia, I recommend El Cafetin, Cafe de las Horas (a few steps outside of El Carmen, but close enough), or L’Ermita.
You can also check out my Agua de Valencia recipe if you fancy making some yourself!
Museo de Soldaditos de Plomo L’Iber
The Museo de Soldaditos de Plomo L’Iber is an unusual museum dedicated to the world of lead toy soldiers!
This unique museum houses an extensive collection of miniature figurines – the largest in the world in fact, with over 95,000 pieces on display!
From ancient civilisations to modern conflicts, the intricate details of these tiny soldiers and their historical context is really quite remarkable.
Founded by collector D. Álvaro Noguera Giménez, the museum actually only houses a small part of the private collection that he gathered over the course of his life – just imagine that!
The Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday between 11:00 am – 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm, and Sundays from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. It is closed on Mondays. Entrance is 8 EUR. You can find more information on their website.
Valencia tours I recommend in El Carmen
My favourite way to enjoy a new city is by doing a tour, and the platform I always use is GetYourGuide.
I’ve carefully reviewed all of the 200+ GetYourGuide tours in Valencia, and here are the El Carmen tours that I recommend, based on value for money, relevancy, and ratings:
This Historical Valencia Walking Tour (Central market, post office, main square, Plaza Redonda, bullfighting ring and more).
This San Nicolas Church Entry and Audio Guide
This Medieval Walking Tour (Silk Exchange, Plaza de la Virgen, Medieval gates)
This Valencia World Heritage Sites Tour (Silk Exchange, Water Tribunal, Fallas)
This Old Town Walking Tour followed by 10-course Tapas & Wine
This Valencia Street Art Tour
El Carmen Valencia | Final Thoughts
I hope that this guide to El Carmen Valencia has provided you with plenty of things to see and do during your time in this beautiful Spanish city!
While there is certainly more to Valencia than just El Carmen (it really is a tiny area, after all), this charming neighbourhood is the soul of the city, and no trip to Valencia is complete without spending some time here, soaking up the bohemian vibe and allowing it to steal your heart.
That’s all I’ve got for today, but as always if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section below!
If you’re planning a trip to Valencia, you may find these other articles helpful:
Port Saplaya, the Little Venice of Valencia
Discover El Palmar, Valencia – Home of Paella
Las Fallas Valencia – A Survival Guide
Montanejos Hot Springs – A Stunning Day Trip From Valencia
Until next time,
If you liked this article and would like to support my work, please click the button above to donate a couple of bucks and buy me a coffee. The ad revenue that I receive on this website is minimal, so support from my readers enables me to keep creating content that you (hopefully!) love to read.