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A Local’s Guide to Birgu: Best Things to Do & More

Situated on Malta’s Grand Harbour, Birgu is a great place to visit if you want to avoid the crowds.

This fortified city is often overlooked by tourists, as it is surpassed in popularity by Mdina, Valletta and other historical places in Malta.

However, there are plenty of things to do in Birgu. You can explore the city’s fort and churches, or simply wander through its quaint alleys and enjoy a nice meal by the sea.

In this post, we’ll look at how to spend an amazing day in Birgu. Let’s dive in!

A little bit about Birgu

Birgu, also known as Vittoriosa, is a fortified city located in the southeastern part of Malta, overlooking the Grand Harbour.

It is one of the oldest and most historic cities on the island and served as the capital of Malta during the rule of the Knights of St. John in the 16th century.

Birgu as seen from Valletta.
Birgu as seen from Valletta. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Today, Birgu is a bustling multicultural city, known for its rich cultural heritage, beautiful architecture, and stunning waterfront views.

Birgu is one of the Three Cities, a group of fortified cities on the Grand Harbour which are also known as Cottonera. The other two cities are Isla (or Senglea) and Bormla (Cospicua).

How to get to Birgu

Unless you’re renting a car, the easiest way to get to Birgu is by taking a bus from Valletta. You’ll need to get on bus no. 2 or 3.

Alternatively, you could get the ferry from Valletta to the Three Cities.

Where to stay in Birgu

Thinking of spending a couple of days in Birgu?

I highly recommend staying at Palazzo Bettina, a 4-star boutique hotel right next to the Birgu parish church and square.

This 17th-century palace had lain abandoned for decades, before it was finally renovated into an elegant hotel with 13 beautifully furnished rooms.

In the past, it served as a convent, a British military hospital, and a property used by Malta’s first saint: Dun Ġorġ Preca.

The hotel has a lovely rooftop area, with a pool, jacuzzi, and stunning views over the harbour.

There’s also a cozy courtyard, where you can enjoy a romantic drink or just wind down with a book.

Palazzo Bettina Birgu Malta Hotels
The cozy courtyard at Palazzo Bettina. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

My husband and I spent a weekend here, and we loved it. The staff were very attentive and the hotel was super clean and quiet.

Best things to do in Birgu

Whether you’re interested in Maltese history or just want to take photos of pretty alleys, here are some of the most amazing things to do in Birgu (plus recommended attractions).

1. Wander around Fort St. Angelo

Fort St. Angelo is Birgu’s star attraction. Located at the heart of the Grand Harbour, this bastioned fort was originally a medieval castle. It was rebuilt by the Order of Saint John during the 1500s.

Fort St. Angelo played a key role during the Great Siege of Malta of 1565, and later during the Second World War.

Fort St. Angelo | Birgu, Malta
Fort St. Angelo. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Today, Fort St. Angelo offers visitors an immersive experience through Maltese history. It highlights the strategic importance of the fort and the Grand Harbour throughout the centuries.

You can also enjoy beautiful views of the harbour and surrounding towns.

2. Venture into the Inquisitor’s Palace

Another must-see in Birgu is the Inquisitor’s Palace. This imposing building was originally built to serve as the Civil Law Courts of the Order of St John.

In the 16th century, the Knights turned the palace into a prison complex and the private residence of the inquisitor. During the British rule in Malta, the palace served as a military hospital.

Nowadays, the Inquisitor’s Palace walks visitors through the history of the Roman Inquisition in Malta. It also houses the National Museum of Ethnography.

Besides admiring the beautiful architectural features of the palace, you can also see the room that once served as the inquisitor’s private chambers, as well as the inquisitor’s private chapel and the tribunal chamber.

If you’re feeling brave, you can check out the torture chambers and step inside the small prison cells.

3. See the old gates

Being a fortified city, Birgu is surrounded by large defensive walls and a rock-hewn ditch, which has recently been turned into a garden. Originally, Birgu had four gates, three of which survive.

The Advanced Gate, Birgu.
The Advanced Gate. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Each gate dates back to the 18th century. The Couvre Porte Gate, the Advanced Gate and the Gate of Provence feature interesting engravings and Latin inscriptions.

4. Visit the Malta Maritime Museum

Housed in the former Royal Navy Bakery, the Malta Maritime Museum traces the island’s naval history from prehistoric times to the present day (that’s 7000 years of history!).

The museum has a collection of over 20,000 artifacts, making it the largest museum on the island.

Some of the most interesting artifacts at the museum include a 1950s marine steam engine, the figurehead of the Napoleonic gun ship HMS Hibernia, and the largest known Roman anchor in the world.

5. Explore Birgu’s quaint alleys

The heart of Birgu is made up of a maze of alleys with traditional Maltese houses.

If you’re an avid photographer, you’ll definitely come across several photo opportunities while exploring the streets of Birgu – colourful balconies, windows and walls lined with flower pots, and the occasional stray cat.

The Knights of St. John in Malta built several auberges in Birgu. Each building represented a linguistic division of the Order and served has headquarters.

Auberge de France in Birgu
Auberge de France. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Some of these auberges have survived and are open to the public. For instance, the Auberge de France serves as the town hall, while the Auberge d’Angleterre houses the local health centre.

6. Pop into the Sicolo-Norman House

The beautiful Sicolo Norman House is my favourite site in Birgu.

Nestled within the winding streets of Birgu, this fascinating building dates back to the 12th century and features a variety of architectural styles, including Romanesque and Gothic elements.

It is believed to be the oldest standing structure in Birgu.

The Sicolo-Norman House in Birgu.
The Sicolo-Norman House in Birgu. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

This old house has been restored with love and patience by its current owner. The door is often open so passers-by can pop in and see the house.

7. Walk along the sea front

One of the best things to do in Birgu is to go for a walk along the city’s waterfront.

If you walk along the entire perimeter, you get to see two very different sides – the world-class marina with large, luxury yachts, and the more authentic part of the city, with traditional boats and local fishermen sitting along the shore.

Il-Mandragg, Birgu
Il-Mandragg, Birgu. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Start your walk from the Birgu Waterfront. As you approach Fort St. Angelo, you’ll come across a wee alley on your right that leads to the other side of Birgu.

The area on this side of the harbour is known as il-Mandragg, and from here get some lovely views of the neighbouring town of Kalkara.

View of Kalkara from Birgu.
View of Kalkara from Birgu. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

This is a popular swimming spot among locals. If you decide to go for a dip, make sure to remain within the bathing lines as small boats are constantly sailing in and out of the bay.

8. Visit the churches

Like many other places in Malta, Birgu is home to several churches, each having its own story and charm.

St. Lawrence’s Church is one of the largest and oldest churches in Malta. It was built in the late 1600s and features several paintings from different eras.

The Church of St. Lawrence in Birgu
The Church of St. Lawrence in Birgu. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

There are two other churches next to St. Lawrence – the Oratory of St. Joseph and the Oratory of the Holy Cross.

The Oratory of St. Joseph in Birgu.
The Oratory of St. Joseph in Birgu. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Other churches in the area include the Church of St Anne, St. Philip Church and Annunciation Church.

9. Check out the views from the ramparts

While walking around Birgu, make sure to head down to the ramparts on Triq Emanuel Attard Bezzina (right above il-Mandragg).

Here, you can enjoy stunning views over the Grand Harbour.

Birgu Belvedere | Things to do in Birgu
Birgu Belvedere. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

If you need a wee rest, head to the Birgu Belvedere, a nice and quiet viewpoint with benches.

10. Enjoy a coffee at the square

Victory Square is the social hub of Birgu. This is where locals meet up for a drink, and throughout the year the square hosts various events.

A 18th century monument stands in the middle of the square and commemorates the Great Siege of 1656.

Birgu's main square
Birgu’s main square. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

On one side of the square, you’ll find an old crucifix in a small niche. This marks the place where prisoners were publicly executed during the rule of the Order of St. John.

Victory Square is teeming with cafes where you can enjoy a light lunch and a nice drink.

11. Have lunch at the waterfront

The Birgu waterfront is the perfect place to indulge in delicious Mediterranean food. There are several restaurants and bars in this area, all of them with outdoor seating.

One of my favourite places on the waterfront is Mykonos by Yiamas. This Greek restaurant is technically in Cospicua (Birgu’s neighbouring city), but it’s a stone’s throw from the Church of St. Lawrence.

They serve some amazing food here, including salads and gyros.

This place also offers unobstructed views of the Senglea fortifications on the other side of the marina.

Senglea fortications
The Senglea fortifications. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

The waterfront is also a great place to just chill with a drink. For example, Cargo does a happy hour on cocktails.

After lunch, you can go for a nice stroll along the marina. If you fancy something sweet, go to Sotto Zero (next to the Church of St. Lawrence, for some delicious homemade ice-cream.

12. Go for a nice stroll through the Birgu Ditch Gardens

The Birgu Ditch Gardens are a little green oasis in a largely urban area. In the summer months, they offer some respite from the heat – and the crowds.

To get to the gardens, go through the Gate of Provence and then the Advanced Gate. Here, you’ll find a nice old building which houses the Malta at War Museum.

Look for a set of steps that take to the foot of the fortifications. Then, simply follow the path through the gardens.

The Birgu Ditch Gardens
The Birgu Ditch Gardens. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Eventually, you’ll end up at il-Mandragg, and you can make your way back into Birgu by walking along the seafront.

13. Grab a unique souvenir from the Birgu Flea Market

If you love bric-a-brac and antiques, you must check out the Birgu flea market. It takes place every Tuesday and Sunday, in an open area known as Fuq il-Fortina.

It’s actually a car boot sale, with locals setting up makeshift stalls right outside their vehicles. You’ll find all sorts of things, from tea sets and ornaments to old tools and second-hand clothes.

You’ll want to get there early in the morning, as many vendor start packing up well before noon.

After the market, you can head to Cafe Riche for brunch.

This iconic cafe place has a cozy outdoor courtyard and serves a variety of snacks, including bagels and salads.

14. Grab some homemade goodies

Next to the Church of St. Lawrence, you’ll find a vault-like shop that sells a vast selection of local produce, including coffee, herbs, sweets, wine, and olive oil.

Many of these products are made in Gozo. You’ll also find a selection of gifts, including mugs and coasters.

The people who work here are very helpful, so if you’re looking for something in particular, just let them know!

15. Venture into the streets at night

And finally on this list of best things to do in Birgu – explore the city at night!

The streets are so magical in the night, with lanterns casting a gentle glow over the stone facades.

Additionally, Birgu is home to some very intriguing ghost legends. In fact, I recommend joining a ghost walk at night (I’ve done it three times!).

Top attractions in Birgu

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the amazing things to do in Birgu?

Here’s a summary of the main attractions:

The Malta Maritime Museum.
The Malta Maritime Museum. Photo by Daniela Frendo.

Want to explore the best things to do in Birgu with a local guide? Here are some highly-rates Birgu tours:

This post contains affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission on any purchases made through the links in the post at no extra cost to you.

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