Situated on Malta’s Grand Harbour, Birgu is a great place to visit if you want to avoid crowded attractions. This old 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, from exploring quiet alleys to travelling back in time at the city’s fort and palaces.
In this post, we’ll look at how to spend an amazing day in Birgu. Let’s dive in!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are two other churches next to St. Lawrence – the Oratory of St. Joseph and the Oratory of the Holy Cross.
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.
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.
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.
Recommended Birgu Tours
Looking for amazing tours of Birgu and the Three Cities. Here are my top recommendations.
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