What to visit in Valleta?
Updated: May 9
Valletta, the Maltese capital, has been off the tourist map for several years. Golden stone buildings, ornate churches, colourful balconies, and sparkling seas. It is only 1km by 600m in size and it contains so much historic architecture that UNESCO has designated the entire city as a World Heritage Site. This sixteenth-century city has been beautifully preserved, with a view of the sea at the end of every cobbled street. Valletta gained attention after being named the Europan Capital of Culture in 2018. Still, it remains relatively unknown, which is good news for visitors seeking a less crowded experience of a great European capital.
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What not to miss?
A boat trip around the peninsula
Valletta is surrounded by water, and taking a boat trip around the peninsula is one of the best things to do in Valletta. The journey takes no more than five minutes, but the scenery is breathtaking. To see Valletta in the best light, visit the Three Cities in the morning and Sliema around sunset.
There are numerous options, but the quickest and cheapest are the public ferries, which transport people to Sliema from the north side of the city and the Three Cities from the south for €1.50 one way/€2.80 return.
Malta is filled with massive domed churches, the most impressive of which is St John's Co-Cathedral. While not appearing too flashy from the outside - the inside tells a different story. The cathedral has nine chapels, one for each of the Knights of Saint John's eight orders and one for Our Lady of Philermos, the Order's patron saint. Every surface is coated and glowing with gold. The ceilings are frescoed, the floors are made of delicate marble, and the walls are richly decorated with intricate gold-plated carvings.
Beware! Visitors must cover their knees and shoulders, and high heels are not permitted due to the risk of damaging the marble floors.
Views from the Barrakka Gardens
Visit the Barrakka Gardens for one of Valletta's best views. We suggest visiting both the upper and the lower parts of the gardens, but both are located on the east side of the peninsula and offer panoramic views of the harbor. The Upper Barrakka Gardens were originally built in 1661 as an exercise ground for the Knights of St John's Italian division. They are surrounded by arches and used to have a roof, but after the French invaded Malta, they were turned into a public garden with flowers, sculptures, and shady areas. There's also a café where you can unwind with a drink. If you go at 12 or 4 p.m., you can see the cannons firing from the Saluting Battery beneath the gardens. The cannons were originally used to welcome ships into the harbor, but they have been restored and are now operational. Alternatively, the calmer Lower Barrakka Gardens are similar to the Upper Gardens, with the same arches and a Greek-style mini temple.
Streets of Valetta
In a city like Valletta, a walk through the city is highly recommended before visiting the major landmarks. A planned walking tour, or a careless stroll about - the streets of Valetta will not disappoint! As you approach the City Gate, a break in the massive stone fortifications, you should have a sense of what kind of place Valletta is. The historic center is visible once you cross the bridge over the deep trench and pass some of Valletta's modern additions. Begin your journey by strolling down Republic Street, the city's major street. The city recedes to your left and right, down steep streets to the harbors on either side. With lines of colorful balconies protruding from sandstone houses, these streets have some of Valletta's most iconic street views. Make sure not to miss the Republic Square before continuing on to St George's Square, the city's main square, where the past leaders and the current president of Malta reside.
Fort St Elmo
Fort St Elmo was constructed at the peninsula's tip to protect the harbors on either side of Valletta. While the fort was crucial during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, it suffered extensive damage over the years and was only recently properly restored. After exploring the exterior of the fort, go inside to the National War Museum. This popular museum delves into Malta's extensive military history, with a focus on the country's role in World Wars I and II.
What else to visit?
Visiting for more than 1-2 days? We have some great suggestions to explore if Valetta becomes too crowded!
The three cities
Make sure to visit the Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua which are just across the harbour. The Knights of Saint John were based here while building Valletta, so the buildings are older than those in the city but have a similar style, with colourful doors, flower tubs, wrought ironwork, and narrow streets. Each of the Three Cities has a unique mix of forts, bastions, and churches to explore, as well as stunning views of Valletta across the harbour. There's also a more modern waterfront promenade where you can admire the superyachts moored in the harbour and enjoy a sunset beer or glass of wine at one of the marina's bars or restaurants.
Gozo and Camino
While Valletta is situated on the main island of Malta, the islands of Gozo and Comino should not be overlooked. Both of these islands are quite different from what you've experienced so far in Valetta, and they're best visited as part of an all-day boat cruise. While cruising through the Mediterranean waters, you'll get to see Malta's classic coastline and its many breathtaking cliffs.
On the uninhabited island of Camino, swim, snorkel, or dive in the incredibly clear waters of Blue Lagoon or Crystal Lagoon. Gozo, on the other hand, is quite different, with its rugged and rural landscape. It's best to head to Victoria to explore its narrow streets and climb the massive citadel that looms over the city.
How to travel there?
Malta International Airport is located 9 kilometers south of Valletta. The X4 bus, which costs €2 one way and stops just outside the city gates, will take you there in about 35 minutes. Alternatively, it takes 20 minutes by taxi or shared transfer to get into the city. Taxis from the airport to Valletta cost a flat rate of €20.
If you're coming from another part of Malta, the island has a good bus network and ferries from Sliema and the Three Cities. There's also a high-speed car ferry that takes 1 hour 45 minutes to get from Valletta to Pozzallo in southern Sicily. If you're visiting Valletta on a cruise, the port is only a 10-minute walk away from the city gates.
When to travel there?
We suggest visiting Malta in either April, May or June. And here is our justification for it.
This is usually the time of year when you have the best weather. It's mostly sunny, temperatures are rising, and May is traditionally the month when swimmers flock to the beaches. You avoid the tourist peak season (July-September), which means Malta is less crowded, you can get better deals on flights, hotels, and rental cars, and you avoid the 30+ °C (86+ °F) temperatures and potential heat waves. You get to see Malta and Gozo at their most beautiful. Summers are hot and dry, so the islands will be much greener at this time of year. Ideal for exploring the countryside or the many places to visit in Malta.
Malta is a relatively inexpensive destination when compared to the rest of Europe. However, during the summer, hotels and vacation rentals, flights, and rental cars are all in high demand. If you come at a different time of year, you'll find lower prices on these travel necessities. Throughout the year, the prices for attractions, activities, and dining out remain constant.
If you stay in moderately priced hotels and do not overspend on souvenirs and regular expensive meals, then 30 to 50eur/person/day will be enough. If you are coming in the summer months, you should plan 50-70eur/person/day. However, it is not rare that a person can spend up to 150eur per day in Valetta.
To conclude, with careful planning and without overspending Valetta can be a budget destination, however, with cross-island boat trips, breathtaking hotels, and fine dining - expect to spend over 100eur a day.
Where to eat?
Valletta has a good selection of restaurants, but it can get busy in the evenings, so book a table in advance for dinner. Ambrosia on Archbishops Street is a friendly, welcoming restaurant with a Slow Food ethos that uses local, seasonal ingredients to create traditional Maltese specialties like rabbit and slow-cooked pork belly.
Because Valletta is so close to Sicily, there are many Italian options. Sotto Pinsa Romana serves authentic Roman-style pizza with a wide range of toppings and gluten-free bases. And Papannis, tucked away down a side street, serves home-cooked Italian fare like lobster and crab ravioli.
Caffe Cordina is a Maltese institution that has served coffee, cakes, and Maltese specialties on its shady terrace since 1837. Naan Bar serves tasty Indian cuisine, including gluten-free and vegetarian options. And, for a quick bite or to stock up on supplies, visit the Is-Suq Tal-Belt food court and market.
One of the first things you'll notice about the Maltese when you visit their island is that they enjoy fireworks. This catholic country has numerous religious holidays and feasts, each of which is celebrated with a spectacular firework display. Furthermore, Malta hosts a firework festival throughout the spring. Find a comfortable spot on the beach and take in the spectacular display of colorful explosions.
Isle of MTV
Since 2007, Malta has hosted the Isle of MTV music festival every year. Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta, the Scissor Sisters, Snoop Dogg, Nelly Furtado, and Jason Derulo have all performed at the festival. Regardless of the big names, every concert is completely free to the public. In recent years, attendance has topped 50,000, making Isle of MTV one of Europe's largest music festivals. The popular summer event is held in Floriana, a fortified town near the island's capital, Valletta.
Birgu is a fortified town that exemplifies Maltese architecture and spirit. Birgufest began as a way to highlight the town's beauty and cultural history, but it has evolved into much more. Along with live music, medieval re-enactments, art exhibitions, and food stalls, the event is also a light festival. At night, fluorescent lanterns and soft candlelight illuminate Birgu's stone streets, creating an unfathomably romantic atmosphere in which to stroll. The Birgu waterfront is especially captivating this time of year, with the dark sea reflecting the glow of its historic buildings.
This is the end of our article on Valetta, and we hope you will visit this lovely city soon! It is a small town in comparison to other European capitals, which is what we like about it! It's a pleasure to walk around this ancient city, which is full of interesting places to visit. There's something new to discover around every corner. If you're interested in knowing about other European destinations like Bilbao, Seville, and Dubrovnik - do not forget to follow us @thewalkingparrot to be always updated on the new releases.