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The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia (with teenagers)

I caught my first glimpse of Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences last year as we drove by on our way to see the old center of the city. It was astonishing: massive, futuristic architecture contrasted sharply with everything we had seen so far.

Note: Updated in April 2023.

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The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain.

Shining white in the sun, I wouldn’t be surprised if these buildings cause car accidents; the road along what used to be the River Turia is wide and heavily-trafficked, but we couldn’t resist turning and staring as we passed.

We made a mental note to check it out properly next time we were in the area.

Pinnable image:
Text: City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain. (and the Rachel's Ruminations logo)
Images: above: the garage air vents that look like giant urinals. Below: two of the futuristic buildings, both more or less domes, though one looks like Darth Vader's helmet.

The City of Arts and Sciences

The City of Arts and Sciences is a complex of five buildings and the landscape between them, all designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela. It houses a science museum, a parking garage covered by a landscaped park (called the Umbracle), an aquarium, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (which hosts concerts and other performances), and an IMAX theater.

The buildings extend along about two kilometers of the dry riverbed, perfect for strolling or bicycling and gaping at these complicated but somehow fascinating buildings. One of the buildings—the Palau de les Arts—looks like Darth Vader’s helmet, for example.

The Palau de les arts looks like Darth Vader's helmet: rounded on top, wider at the bottom. It's basically a dome shape, some of it covered by a smooth white covering, some of it showing wide balconies. The IMAX theater is a glass sided half sphere. In front of that is the foot of a very futuristic footbridge and in front of that is a pool with blue water.
In the background, the Palau de les Arts. In front of that, the IMAX theater.

On the day we visited, the place was mostly empty, which gave it a somewhat abandoned, barren atmosphere. Between some of the buildings are large blue shallow pools. Unfortunately, they’re not for swimming, but you can rent a kayak or rowboat and have a paddle. It seemed to me a lost opportunity that the pools weren’t deeper to allow swimming. That would truly attract the crowds in the heat of summer.

The Museum of Sciences

Since we visited with our three teenagers in tow, we chose to visit two of the buildings: the Museum of Sciences and the Oceanográfico.

Looking from a balcony down into a very long hall with a wall of ribs of glass that extend up out of sight above. Below is a group of people, looking very small in that vast space.
inside the Museum of Science.

The Museum of Sciences, housed in a huge, airy space under a soaringly high roof, is very hands-on and child-friendly. Many exhibits invite visitors to try out the concepts that they explain, and here and there are particularly child-centered activity areas, including a sandbox and a playground.

The museum includes all of the exhibits you would expect from a science museum. We liked the top floor best, where we found the dinosaur exhibit, an exhibit about the European space station, and, our favorite, the “Forest of Chromosomes.” This exhibit about genetics offered lots of hands-on ways to learn about our own DNA.

White concrete against a bright blue sky. It's a complex pattern of horizontal ribs and a shape (the roof edge) of points of triangles.
a piece of the exterior of the Museum of Science, looking straight up

Book tickets for the Museum of Science here!

Museum of Sciences: Open daily at 10:00, but the closing time varies by season.


When I say “we” liked it, by the way, I’m talking about my husband and our 18-year-old son. This is the same son who hated the Dalí Theatre-Museum. But he’s a science-y kind of guy, and greatly enjoyed the Museum of Sciences.

The other two teenagers cruised through the museum in about a half an hour. Then, bored, they sat down in the place we’d designated for meeting up in an hour and a half and played on their phones while they waited.

Oh, well. You can’t please everyone all the time.

Check out these tours of the City of Arts and Sciences.

The Oceanográfic (the Aquarium)

After the Museum of Sciences, we moved on to the aquarium. This claims to be the largest aquarium in Europe. Besides the expected fish, it is home to lots of other creatures including dolphins, whales and penguins.

A white bird with a funny beak: a spoonbill, I think. Red eyes.
I was standing about two meters from this bird.

We started with Wetlands, which holds wetlands birds in a dome-shaped open-air cage. Walking down into the cage, no walls or glass separated us from the resident water birds. It was a bit disturbing to see how close the birds let us come. They seemed completely tame; altogether too used to being around people.

A long straight tunnel with round semi-circular glass and water on both sides and above. A few fish are visible and a number of people are walking down the tunnel or have stopped to look at the fish.
the tunnel in the aquarium.

Inside, we most enjoyed a big walk-through tunnel where Atlantic Ocean fish, sharks and other creatures swam on both sides and above us.

We found the Arctic exhibit, on the other hand, upsetting. The beluga whale hovered, almost motionless, in what looked like a much too small tank.

A big empty expanse of blue water behind a large glass. A small child in silhouette looks at the whale through the glass. The whale is white and sits at the surface of the water, seemingly looking down at the child.
a beluga whale in the Arctic exhibit.

The dolphin show went over well with our teenagers, but raises ethical questions of its own, of course. Should dolphins be kept in pools like this, even if the pool is quite big? Could it be harmful to have performers ride them, holding on to their dorsal fins? How humane is the training the dolphins have undergone to learn the tricks involved in the show?

You might also enjoy these other articles about places in Spain:

The narration for the show was entirely in Spanish and I could only pick up fragments. It seemed designed to educate, but the show contradicted that message by mostly being about entertainment: flips and synchronized swimming, for example.

A row of five dolphins perch on the edge of the pool next to each other, their tails raised above the water behind them.
dolphins performing.

The teenagers all liked the aquarium, though our foster son (14 years old) was really only interested in getting a selfie with a shark. Once we found the sharks and he got his selfie, he’d had enough. Later, the dolphin show, our last stop, caught his interest again.

Book tickets to the Oceanográfic here!

Oceanográfic: Open daily from 10:00 all year, but open later in the busy summer season.

Other sights in the City of Arts and Sciences

I can’t report on the other parts of the City of Arts and Sciences. I assume an IMAX theater (the Hemisfèric) is much like an IMAX theater anywhere else. Since we had spent so much already for the five of us to visit the Museum of Sciences and the aquarium, we decided not to spend more for a show there, or at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía either.

Book tickets for the Hemisfèric IMAX Theater here!

Hemisferic: Opens at 10:00 every day. Movies start on the hour.

A roof that is more of a net than a roof makes a high arch above the space. IN the foreground is a blue mosaic structure that I think is a vent from the garage below. Around it are flowers and shrubs and behind it are a number of tall palm trees.
one end of the Umbracle.

We walked by the Umbracle on the way to our car, which we had parked under the Umbracle in the parking garage. It looked pleasant, planted with palm trees. It’s a long, raised, landscaped garden and walkway and includes a sculpture garden. Apparently, you can get good views of the rest of the City of Arts and Sciences from up there. The kids enjoyed my observation that the sides of the Umbracle look like a row of urinals for giants. We didn’t investigate further because by that time the kids had had enough, so we just headed home.

A row of vents going a long way into the distance. They are all covered in blue mosaic and look, as I said in the text, like large urinals.
one side of the Umbracle, also known (by us) as the urinals for giants.

If the prices are out of range for you, admiring the buildings is free and certainly worth doing. As far as I could tell, the Umbracle is also free. All of it, I suspect, would be most pleasant for a stroll in the late afternoon or early morning.

Getting to the City of Arts and Sciences: From Cabanyal Station take bus 1. From North Station take bus 35 or metro line 3 or 5. Get off at Alameda and walk 15 minutes. If you have access to a bicycle, the City of Arts and Sciences is accessible via the bike path that follows the dried riverbed of the Turia, which has become a long park through the city.

Book your Valencia accommodations here!

Have you visited the City of Arts and Sciences? What did you think? Add a comment below.


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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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The architecture really is astounding and its futuristic look would really make you do a double take! The walk-through tunnel reminded me of the Atlanta, Georgia Aquarium that we visited in September with our grandson. We spend a long time just standing therein the tunnel, mesmerized by the sea-life, including 2 whale sharks (so enormous) swimming around and overhead. We have yet to visit Valencia but when we do I’d love to City of Arts and Sciences.

Rachel, I would love to visit the City of Arts & Sciences! It looks like such an amazing collection of buildings and exhibits. Thx so much for sharing.

I like the architecture, but my immediate thought was – how odd to find this in a Spanish city. Then again, every city needs/wants modern buildings for art museums, etc. I’m not sure that I would spend the 30 Euros to go inside, but I would wander around outside and visit the Umbracle. Early morning would be perfect for photos, I think. Yes, they do look like urinals! 🙂 Thanks for co-hosting this week. #TPThursday

I remember my daughter visited Valencia when she was a teenager (18 years old) and she loved this city. It is a very modern looking city compared to others in Spain. I would love to visit here and see the museums and art galleries.

I loved this place when I visited last year. I didn’t enter the structures though. That would be something I would have to do on a future visit. Seems like your teenagers are hard to please. What they enjoy?

Thanks for the refresher, Rachel. We visited The City of Arts and Sciences from the outside only, and had a blast just admiring the viewpoints and taking lots of architectural pictures. This area and the greenway are two reasons I want to go back to Valencia soon. It’s unusual for Spain to have the bike and walking trails.