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To Carmen or not to Carmen?

When it comes to Carmen, all of the tourist information outlets on Valencia mimic each other like a broken record. You will be immediately herded off to Carmen as "the vibrant and bustling heart of Valencian nightlife". The truth is much more complex.

Carmen is a bit of everything...

While Carmen can amaze, it can also disappoint. It depends on what you like. They say that Carmen has a bit of everything. It is true. The Valencian gay scene is in Carmen only. So are the jazz bars, the punk hangouts, the reggae bars, the truly bohemian cafes, and other curious underground venues.

... a bit, that is.

However, for some things a bit of everything is just that - a bit. The rock scene, for example, is much stronger in the student area of Blasco Ibanez. The R&B is pumping on Wednesdays in Aragon. And as for the pop / mainstream (read: what most people look for), Carmen is pretty much the worst option. The few mainstream venues are too small, too stuffed, too expensive and too pretentious, fuelled by the left-right conflict that rages in Carmen (and, some say, give it its character).

As a result many confused travellers end up judging the whole of Valencian nightlife by their experience of Carmen, assuming that the rest is the same as Carmen but less. Having seen the nightlife of London, new York, Tokyo or Moscow, they may decide that Valencia is a bit...weird. Well, Valencia has other kinds of nightlife too, just not in Carmen.

Carmen is not the best and the biggest

Often branded "the heart of Valencian nightlife", sometimes Carmen gets the false publicity of being the best and the biggest of Valencia. The publications that give that kind of advice are simply too lazy and too busy selling hotel rooms and car rentals.

Carmen is not in the hierarchy and much less at the top of it. Ask any local mainstream big-time clubber and they never go to Carmen. In terms of nightlife Valencia is not a centralized city where you can see "the best and the biggest" all in one place, you really have to choose between many options, finding what appeals to your idea of nightlife. Carmen is just one of those options, not a leader in any way, but rather a stand-alone weird and wonderful creature which will fascinate many but also appaul many. Carmen has a very specific taste and will not suit everyone, and for some it is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, when informed of this the just question coming from a foreigner is "but where else?". Someone to who Carmen doesn't really appeal is still stuck there for the lack of information, not aware that his/her ideal of nightlife was right under the nose. We attempt to fill in this gap on this website.

Carmen is fascinating...but it's not for everyone.

Carmen has a lot of unique qualities to offer and will remain the favourite of many a traveller. The diversity, the bohemia, the quirk and the charisma here induce a whole caleidoscope of experiences. Someone who likes the underground, the alternative, the subcultures will love it. Someone who likes to explore, to stumble randomly upon something unique will adore it. Carmen is where the ambiences have the most personality and it is where you can meet some of the most unusual people in Valencia.

Carmen is not the place where fashion rules, glamour shines, flesh glimmers and thousands of bodies swing in suggestion amongst the bright lights of nightlife. There a few places here that aspire to be such but in all fairness, in comparison to some of Valencia's other areas, they should just give up trying. Valencia has plenty of those places but they are not in Carmen. Carmen is where you talk to a stranger at the bar or dive into the pagan subcultures who won't give a damn about conventional looks.

Carmen is not about big - it's about small

Forget a large venue pumping with huge crowds and light shows. Carmen is pretty much all pubs or disco-bars that are almost pubs. A lot of it is small, overstuffed, rustic and underground. This is Old Town to the bone, not Ibiza. Pubbing here is great. Dancing is complicated - although Carmen has some of the most unusual music in Valencia to dance to, it might not be to everyone's taste and in any case the venues will be stuffed to the limit.

Carmen is challenging

It is not easy to navigate. If you like heading towards bright lights and finding a heaving party city, Carmen will disappoint severely. Here you have to search, to scrape, to hunt, to sniff out, to dive into the maze of the backstreets. Don't trust the Calle Caballeros - it is not Carmen. Hopefully this will be a little easier with our map.

Carmen closes early

And last but not least, the nights in Carmen are short. Anal vecinos (neighbours) have caused a strict enforcement of licenses, although you can't really blame them once you see the havoc wrecked on the streets of Carmen at night. The bulk of nightlife - the pubs - close at 2am promptly. And that's taking into account that the bars don't start filling up until midnight! This is a total anti-climax since any respectable Spaniard will only have had one or two drink by then.

Thus commences the confused wander of crowds after 2am. They finally stuff the remaining disco-bars to the limit. Those will close at 4am. Although the crowds still fill the streets until 4am, somehow the air has a bit of a bed time nosedive in it.

Carmen has nowhere to go after that unless you are gay (Venial) or you just want to keep drinking in a pub-like ambience (Calcutta).

Unless you are well into your alternative ambience and would like to visit Mitjanit, Radio City, Bigornia or Pinball, you will be well advised to leave the agonizing Carmen at 2 am for one of the other areas.

Carmen is not the Queen of Valencian nightlife

The problem of Carmen is not Carmen itself but rather the publicity it gets - as a universal make-everyone-happy the best of Valencia whatever your taste. If Carmen was seen as simply one unique option in the row of many, it would no longer deceive and disappoint, truly satisfying those who opt for this particular option out of choice, not out of mass herding.

So what is Carmen really? Carmen is no more and no less than the alternative centre of Valencia. If you like the subcultures, come here. if you don't - go elsewhere.

By definition, the alternative is an alternative to something, to mainstream, i.e. there will also be a number of people who will not opt for the alternative. They may well have a better time somewhere else than Carmen. We want everyone to enjoy Valencia, that's why this article has been written.


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