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The sci-fi wonder of Valencia's opera house

Valencia, Spain, is home to some incredible architecture, not least the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. Here's a look inside.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

It's a spaceship. I'm sure of it. Aliens landed here in Spain and didn't want to leave because the food's so good. Can't blame them. On closer inspection, it seems to be an actual building, but certainly not like any I've ever seen. There are gentle curves on what look like floating panels far too large to lack support. Wait, there are portholes. Definitely a spaceship. A spaceship with signs about… opera? Surely aliens would be more into EDM.

I finally get around to the front, if such a structure could claim to have one, and decide it looks more like a helmet. Something Darth Vader would wear to a particularly stern wedding. Then I see the sign: Palau de les Arts. Thanks to Google I'm a polyglot, so I can translate that from Valencian into "Palace of Arts." So rather then a spaceship (allegedly), it's one of the most impressive concert halls in the world, and I've been to several.

As luck would have it, there's a tour leaving right as I walk up. Turns out, amazingly, the inside is just as beautiful as the outside.

Palace of sound

The Palau, or to go by its full name, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, was designed by world-famous architect Santiago Calatrava, who was born in Valencia. In the US his most famous buildings are probably New York's Oculus train station and the Milwaukee Art Museum. The Palau opened in 2005, and is still the tallest opera house in the world. A mix of concrete, ceramic and metal inside and out, it has four auditoriums and multiple spaces for gathering during intermission or for other events. The Sala Principal, which translates literally as "Main Hall," seats 1,412, while the Auditori, used primarily for symphonic concerts and movie premieres, seats 1,490. The smaller Martí i Soler Theatre and Aula Magistral hall each seat around 400.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

The tour brings us all over the Palau, taking a circuitous route that seems to maximize what we get to see while minimizing the time needed. We visit each of the halls, ending with the magnificent Sala Principal. 

There's an organic flow to the spaces of the Palau. The Auditorium's ceiling is reminiscent of a rib cage, while the walkways outside the Sala Principal seem as if carved from a shell. Calatrava's projects may be notorious for going over budget, and being maintenance nightmares, but damn can he design a building.

City of Arts and Sciences

The Palau is not an isolated piece of incredible architecture. It's situated in the City of Arts and Sciences, a reclaimed riverbed that is also home to several other amazing buildings, gardens, and shallow pools. The hemispherical L'Hemisfèric houses an Imax theater. The science museum's building looks like a real-life version of Battlestar Galactica's Cylon Resurrection Ship. The purple Ágora is an event space, and the wavy Oceanogràfic is, fittingly, an aquarium.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

It's the type of area you'd want every city to have. A gorgeous public space enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. At night, the buildings light up inside and out for a stunning display.

As far as the Palau goes, you can get a ticket for whatever opera is being performed, or for various smaller-scale concerts in one of the other halls. Or, if you're not a big opera fan, there are several tours throughout the day most days.

As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world, including nuclear submarinesmassive aircraft carriersmedieval castles, epic 10,000 mile road trips, and more. Check out Tech Treks for all his tours and adventures.

He wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel about city-size submarines, along with a sequel. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and his YouTube channel.