Russafa, the SoHo of Valencia, Spain


Yep, the signs are definitely there – the fashionable skinny glasses, the cool trainers, vintage threads for the girls, chin whiskers for the lads. Spain’s third largest city, known for both its ancient monuments and cutting-edge modern architecture, its paella and its oranges, its fabulous fallas festival and its sunny nearby beaches – yes, here in Valencia, too, the hipsters have planted their flag, and the neighbourhood of Russafa (as it’s spelled in Catalan; in Spanish it’s Ruzafa) has become their stronghold. Founded as a country estate by a Moorish ruler, Russafa was an independent town until the 1870s and today lies just five minutes outside the historic centre, the Barrio del Carme. Having undergone a renaissance in recent years, it’s become a hotbed of dining, shopping, and cultural activity, especially of the more alternative sort, so the type of people who helped revive El Carme not so long ago are now moving here to escape the tourists. And the resulting mix of young creatives, the older folks who’ve been here forever, the African immigrants down at the public telephone centres and the Chinese market vendors is one of the great things about the neighbourhood these days. It is, as they say in Spain, un buen rollo – a good scene.

It’s a delightful blend of old and new, and not an in-your-face one. On a typical weekday it’s a pleasure to stroll along the leafy streets, hearing the cries of the vendors as you pass by the public market with its colourful exterior – maybe pop in and buy some fruit to snack on as you stroll. Just across from it, check out the neighbourhood’s main church – historically Baroque, yes, since it was built in the 15th century, but fairly restrained for all that: the Iglesia de San Valero, and dubbed the “cathedral of Russafa.” Stop for a cup of expresso at your choice of three café-bookstores: Ubik (Carrer del Literat Azorín 13) with second-hand titles; Slaughterhouse (Calle Denia 22), where wine and art exhibition are also in the mix; and Cosecha Roja (Calle Sevilla 20), specialising in detective novels. For a more interactive approach to local culture, check out Color Elefante (Sevilla 26) and Sporting Club Russafa (Sevilla 5), cultural centres with art expositions, concert performances, and more. Over on Calle Cádiz 25, Caroline Concept Store is packed with the funky, the offbeat, and the provocative.

At mealtime, the choices between these grand pastel and ocre façades are both extensive and varied. Just a quick sampling: fab gourmet burgers in Mediterránea de Hamburguesas (Calle Suecia 45); tapas with a twist from a Michelin-starred chef served in chic surroundings at Canalla Bistro (Calle Maestro José Serrano 5); sushi and vegetarian amid minimalist mod at Copenhagen (Carrer del Literat Azorín 8); rice and meat dishes  with a creative touch at Ghaada (Plaça del Baró de Cortés 17); French Breton cuisine at La Galette (Doctor Serrano 17); and Entrevins for seafood (Calle Reina Doña María 3). Afterward, The Russafa night rocks, whether it’s jazz jam sessions en Café Mercedes (Sueca 27), electronica at Le Club (Carrer Cuba 8), and indy vibes at Excuse Me? (Carrer dels Tomassos 12). Let’s face it: this is a loooong way from Abd Allah al-Balansi’s farm…

Useful Facts:

  • Valencia has a bit over 800,000 inhabitants, of which some 25,000 live in Russafa.
  • The climate is of course as Mediterranean as it gets, with mild winters and hot, humid summers.
  • Flights from the UK, from the USA
  • More info:

image | Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez