Valletta, the capital of the small Mediterranean island of Malta, has one of the highest concentrations of hitorical sights in the world. In this post we cover our top 10 attractions for the capital and our tips and tricks to get the best out of seeing them. (Revised November 2019)
Valletta, a UNESCO world heritage site and former European Capital of Culture in 2018, is one of the smallest and most compact capital cities in the world. It boasts around 300 days sunshine a year and has a history going back to 1565. However, much of Malta’s history predates even this. In addition to the history the city offers theatres, arts, monuments, museums and shops. So is the city worth a visit? In our opinion, yes, and here are our Top 10 Attractions in Valletta, in no order of preference, to show why.
The City’s History
Valletta has 320 historical monuments squeezed into 80 hectares of land making it the most concentrated historic area in the world. The building of the city, primarily of golden limestone, started in 1565 across a narrow promentary with stunning natural harbours on either side. So perhaps unsurprisingly it is a fortress city. It also sits behind massive walls and is built on a grid system, so its easy to find your way around. Its main street, Triq Ir-Repubblika is dominated by palaces and the cathedral. You can also visit www.visitmalta.com for lots more history.
1 St Johns Co-Cathedral
The Cathedral dates from 1578 and is much more impressive inside than out. Its co-cathedral status is because it shares it with the cathedral of St Paul in the old capital of L-Imdina. By far the stand out attraction inside is undoubtedly Caravaggio’s painting of the beheading St John the Baptist. The opening hours are currently 09.30 to 16.30 Monday to Friday. Also, it is open on a Saturday morning but closed on a Sunday. Entrance costs are €10 per person.
2 Palace of the Grand Masters
The building was the residence of the Grand Master of the Knights of St John for more than 200 years. It was built by the same architect as the Co-Cathedral of St John at around the same time and consequently is also very ornate. If you want to pay the €10 combined entrance fee for the palace and armoury then you can happily lose a few hours. Alternatively, different prices apply to see the palace and the armoury but the combined ticket offers better value for money. The palace can be closed when the Maltese Parliament is in session so its worth checking with the local tourist office. It would be best to do this in advance of travelling any distance to avoid a wasted journey.
Related Reading: How to See the Best of Malta
3 Auberges of the Langues
These grand lodging houses (Inns or Auberges) of the Knights of St John are architectually stunning. Each branch or ‘langues’ (tongue) had its own lodge. Unfortunately, most are closed to the public as they are now Government offices. However, they are still well worth a look from the outside. The best examples are found on Plaza Kastilja.
4 National Museums
Museums are not really our cup of tea when the sun is shining, as it does a lot in Malta. However, if you are into history then the National Museum of Archaeology and the National Museum of Fine Arts are well worth a visit if this is what you are after.
5 Upper Barrakka Gardens
The gardens are really well maintained and have great views over the Grand Harbour towards the 3 Cities area. They are well worth a visit, at dusk particularly, to enjoy the sunset. The elevator in the gardens takes you down to the terminal for the ferry crossing to the 3 Cities so its worth spending some time in the gardens when coming or going from the ferry. The gardens sit above the Saluting Battery and so if you have the time its worth getting there by either 12.00 or 16.00 when the guns fire. You can also arrange guided tours for a fee. Details are on the web page.
6 The 3 Cities Area
Make sure you allow at least half a day to vist the 3 Cities area, across the Grand Harbour from the centre of Valletta. Take the elevator from Upper Barrakka Gardens down to the ferry point. (The lift on the way back up is free as the cost is included in your ferry ticket – it would normally be €1.00). If you are staying in the Sliema area you will first need to take the ferry across to Valletta.
Related Reading: Gozo in a Day from Valletta
The 3 Cities area is packed with history and outstanding architecture. Many of the narrow side streets are quiet and relatively free from cars and in our experience tourist numbers were fairly low as well. It is well worth an aimless wander. Fortunately it is small enough to ensure you wont get terribly lost as you are never far from the water. Allow a good 3 hours to see a bit of both L’isla and Il Birgu. If you have the time also check out the area of Kalkara.
If you dont fancy the walking when in the 3 Cities check out www.rolling-geeks.com. They provide self drive small electric cars (more like golf buggies) for hire with built in GPS / sat navs that guide you around the main sights in the 3 Cities area. They claim that in under 3 hours you can see 3 of the richest historical cities in Malta. Prices will be on their website.
7 A Harbour Cruise
A range of cruise companies leave from the waterfront at Sliema including Captain Morgan and Luzza & Latini. Prices can be negotiated close to departure times if boats are not full. So if you are happy not to buy your tickets in advance you can get a discount. As a result we got the price dropped from €15.00 to €10.00 per person (current full price is 16 euros). The cruise itself lasts around 90 minutes and takes in a number of the creeks. Drinks and local snacks can be bought on board at reasonable prices. Be sure and take a camera as there are plenty of great photo opportunities from the boat and it is a terrific way of getting a better understanding of the coastline.
8 Stroll the Waterfront
There are miles of well maintained promenade in Valletta and the surrounding area and they are usually busy both day and night. This is a great place for people watching. There are plenty of places to stop for a drink or something to eat and soak up the atmosphere. If you are near one of the marinas make sure take some time to have a look at the boats, These are usually crowded and packed with super expensive large super yachts.
9 Enjoy a Local Cafe
You will find Valletta is packed with Cafes and they play a large part in creating the atmosphere in the city. So, you are spoilt for choice as there are many to choose from in the city centre. Cafe Cordina on Masrah Ir-Repubblika is said to be the most famous. It does have a great location on a square, although it is also likely to be the most expensive. Check the menu first before sitting if you are tempted! Unfortunately its not value for money for us but there are plenty of others at more reasonable prices, but each to their own.
10 The Triton Fountain and City Gate
Last but not least you should check out the Triton Fountain at the city gates which has recently been refurbished. It provides a grand entrance to the city. It then takes you into Freedom Square and on to Triq Ir-Repibblika, the main street which runs straight from one end of the city to the other. As a result, this is a handy starting point for a walk. Follow the route and you’ll pass the Cathedral and Grand Masters Palace on the right hand side after a few hundred yards. If you have travelled by bus to Valletta this will be your entry point as the bus terminal lies close to the city gate.
There are so many things to do packed into Valletta it is difficult to choose only 10 to give a flavour of the place. The city is small and you can easily manageable on foot if you are reasonably fit. Hopefully these will provide a starting point if you decide to visit. Enjoy if you do. If you want to explore the island further then you might also like our articles on The Best of Malta in 7 Days and Gozo in a Day from Valletta
Looking for More?
If you are looking for some further reading then below you’ll find more of our articles on Malta. For related reading check out the Tag links as well at the bottom of the page.
More Reading on Malta
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