Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game
Valencia is Spain’s fourth football metropolis after Madrid, Barcelona and Seville. With a long, beach-lined Med seafront, a party-centric young populace and world-renowned contemporary attractions, Valencia is a Barcelona in miniature, an underrated destination for any discerning football traveller.
Flagship club Valencia CF broke the Madrid-Barça monopoly on the title in the early 2000s. Regular performers in the Champions League thanks to frequent top-four finishes, Valencia CF (‘Los Che’) often share top-flight status with unsung city rivals, Levante.
But while modest Levante have upgraded their stadium significantly, Valencia’s attempt to move out of theirs became a millstone, and both club and city have moved down the pecking order in footballing terms.
The passion remains high, though, the fiery Mestalla straight out of the golden era of European football, hemmed in by residential buildings and raucous bars. Dissatisfaction with the club’s ownership has fanned more flames in recent seasons, but cup silverware in 2019 and new stadium plans in 2022 have silenced a few Che malcontents.
Over the decades, derbies between the two rivals have been few and far between, given Levante’s patchwork history and near permanent second-flight status for much of the immediate post-war period. The pair groundshared the Mestalla while Levante’s new stadium was being built in the late 1960s.
The Mestalla had, in fact, been opened with a derby between the two clubs in 1923. As well as occasional internationals, it served as convenient cup-final venue when the opponents were Real Madrid and Barcelona.
This was where, for better or worse, Spain were based for their group matches at the 1982 World Cup. It was here that Gerry Armstrong famously scored the only goal of the game for Northern Ireland to beat the hosts.
Considering Levante are always the underdogs, their record in the Derbi Valenciano is reasonable, though two of their victories came in the 1960s. Much was made of the cup clash in January 1999, as it came after decades of the two missing each other in the league. Valencia won 3-0, and went on to win the trophy.
Levante had the edge when they hit a best-ever run of form in the autumn of 2012. The Frogs even won twice in a calendar year, 2014, by which time the Bats of Valencia had been taken over by Singaporean businessman Peter Lim. Great players have since come and gone – Rodrigo, Ferran Torres – and the club still loses money hand over fist.
Both clubs are within a short taxi journey of each other, east and north-east of the city centre. Valencia’s proposed new stadium, a long saga of financial shortcomings, is now a going concern at last. A presentation in June 2022 revealed a 70,000-capacity Nou Mestalla, whose third ring could be added later, ensuring an initial size of 49,000.
The project would move the flagship club across to Benicalap, a few kilometres north-west of the Mestalla on Avenida de las Cortes Valencianas, but still within the city’s swift tram network.
Manolo, meanwhile, the portly fan you see banging his big Spain drum at World Cups, has already sold up his bar by the Mestalla and hung up his beret. As and when Valencia CF can clear a whole mess of logistics and bureaucracy, a new era can really begin.
Arriving in town, local transport and timings
Valencia’s Manises Airport is 8km (5 miles) west of the city centre, in Zone B of the metro network and served by lines 3 and 5. Allow 15mins (single €2.10) to town. A standard single in Zone A is otherwise €1.50, with T1, T2 and T3 passes for 1-3 days (€4-€9.70), valid for the ten-line metro network and buses.
Valencia’s train hub, Estació del Nord, is by Xàtiva metro station. High-speed AVE trains from Madrid (journey time just under 2hrs) and Barcelona (journey time just under 3hrs) come into Joaquín Sorolla, by Jesús metro – the two stations are a short stroll from each other.
You’ll need public transport to reach both stadiums but the city centre is compact and walkable. Note that street signs are presented in local Valenciano, similar to Catalan, although the Spanish version of names is also generally given – in most cases, they’re close enough to work out.
Direct Taxi Valencia (+34 96 007 7705) can be booked online. The journey from airport to town should cost around €16 plus a €3.50 airport supplement.
Where to Drink
The best pubs and bars for football fans
Nightlife is concentrated in two or three main hubs. The most traditional is the Barrio del Carmen, or El Carme, a tangle of narrow streets in the Old Town, particularly between Plaça del Tossal and Plaça del Doctor Collado.
That’s where you find The Lounge (C/del Estamenyeria Vella 2), a pub-like cervecería and sports bar pulling pints of Paulaner, Amstel, Guinness and Murphy’s. and screening action.
Further up, Beers & Travels on Plaça de Manises concentrates more on the 66 varieties of ales and lagers expertly collated, from Abadía de Scourmont to Zeta. Over on Carrer de Sant Tomás, the Viking Mama Beer House, opened on the eve of the pandemic, survived to serve plentiful European beers on tap and hulking burgers suitably named after Scandinavian gods, surrounded by sports action on five screens.
Further round the city centre in the grander area of Cánovas, on and off main avenue, the Gran Via del Marqués de Túria, you find more pubs appealing to a younger, more international crowd such as St Patrick’s with its ten screens for sport, live music and games room, and the more local-oriented La Pinta Bodega.
The other side of the Gran Via is the trendier zone of Ruzafa/Russafa, where you find hostelries such as Liverpool (Carrer de Sueca 74), with its seven screens and pub golf, hiding among the cocktail bars and contemporary galleries. Venues tend to be open later, 3.30am, say, but focused on the weekend.
Also lively is Benimaclet, between Valencia’s and Levante’s grounds, and the main student quarter. Drinks promotions abound, although the crowd is distinctly in their early twenties. Sport-friendly destinations include Tony’s Beer Tavern and the Old Trafford Bar Valencia, on and off Avenida del Primat Reig.
In summer, the action moves down to the long beachfront, around Mediterani, Platja les Arenes and Platja Malva-rosa transport stops. Here, ambitious local Saint Martins pub group have set up the Irish-style Market Bar, tucked in from the seafront on Carrer Marino Sirera, putting up big screens for match action and plentiful standard international beers.
Where to stay
The best hotels for the stadiums and city centre
The nearest hotels to the Mestalla are pretty upscale: the five-star Westin Valencia, with its pool, gym and spa, and the Silken Puerta Valencia a little further away, where comfortable four-star rooms sit behind Javier Mariscal’s distinctive façade.
With the city centre so close, you can easily stay at a cheaper spot in town and still get to and from the match in no time – although there’s little around Levante’s ground, if that’s the match you’re interested in.
Around main Plaça de l’Ajuntament, the Hostal Venecia belies its two-star status with three classes of room and 24-hour reception. Nearby Hostal Moratín is more basic but does a job if you just need a bed and a shower.
For chic and boutique, Only YOU Valencia is the local branch of a Spanish mini-chain for the discerning urban traveller. One Shot Mercat 09 does boutique on a (relative) budget, combining functionality with a rooftop pool (open April-Oct) and seasonal restaurant. A few steps from Plaça de l’Ajuntament, it takes its name from the city’s main market also nearby – there are two other One Shot branches in town.
Also by the central square, mid-range Mediterráneo Valencia provides reliable comfort and not only cots but strollers for families. The other side of Carrer de Xátiva, the smart Conqueridor also caters to families but is still equipped with a sauna, gym and lounge bar.
Right by Nord station, the Zenit on Carrer de Bailén feels cool and contemporary, with its own gym and restaurant.