Despite being one of the smallest capital cities in Europe, Valletta is packed with history and architectural wonders. In fact, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Whether you want to visit Valletta’s beautiful Baroque palaces and churches, explore Malta‘s colourful past, or immerse yourself in the local art and culture scene, I highly recommend spending at least a full day in the city.
Here are some of the best things to do in Valletta (recommended by a local).
Tip: If you have a keen interest in history and architecture, check out this 3-hour walking tour of Valletta to learn more about the city’s beautiful buildings and Malta’s fascinating history.
1. Stroll through the Lower Barrakka Gardens
This peaceful spot is often overlooked by tourists. If you’re in Valletta on a warm day and need to find some shade, head to the Lower Barrakka Gardens. There’s a wee kiosk next to the entrance, so you can grab a cold drink and sit on a shaded bench.
On a not-so-hot day, you can enjoy a nice stroll through the Lower Barrakka Gardens. Located right on the bastions overlooking the Grand Harbour, the gardens offer stunning views over the entire port and the Three Cities.
2. Attend an exhibition at St. James Cavalier
This 16th-century fort is a cultural centre, known as Spazju Kreativ, and plays host to several exhibitions and cultural programs all year round. The fort houses a cinema, theatre and various art galleries and music rooms.
If you enjoy contemporary art, pop into St. James Cavalier to see what’s on. You can also find a full list of events and exhibitions here.
3. Enjoy a coffee at Prego
This is my favourite coffee shop in Valletta. Located close to the city’s main entrance, Prego is an authentic Maltese cafe with decor that has remained unchanged since the 1960s. As soon as you step inside, you feel transported back in time.
The coffee here is amazing. They even have a selection of traditional snacks, including pastizzi.
4. Explore the early history of Malta at the Museum of Archaeology
The National Museum of Archaeology boasts a wealth of prehistoric artefacts found at ancient religious sites across Malta and Gozo. Some of these artefacts, which include tools and sculptures, date from 5000BC.
The museum is housed in a stunning Baroque building, known as Auberge de Provence, which was one of the several palaces built by the Knights of Malta in the 16th century.
5. Pop into the various churches
Valletta is home to over 25 churches. Yep, that’s a lot of churches for a city that’s just 0.8 square kilometres. The oldest church in Valletta is that of Our Lady of Victory, which stands on the very same place where the foundation stone of the city was laid. Meanwhile, the beautiful Carmelite Church has a magnificent oval dome that dominates the city skyline, making it the tallest building in Valletta.
Another interesting religious site in Valletta is the Greek Catholic Church of Our Lady of Damascus. This church was completely destroyed during the Second World War, but was rebuilt a few years later. An old icon of Our Lady of Damascus, which was brought to Malta from Rhodes in the 16th century, survived the bombing raids over Valletta. The icon now hangs proudly in the church.
6. Watch a performance at Manoel Theatre
Built in the 1700s, Manoel Theatre (known locally as Teatru Manoel) is one of the oldest-working theatres in Europe. It is famous for its impressive oval-shaped auditorium, with a stunning painted ceiling and beautifully decorated wooden theatre boxes. The theatre has retained many of its original architectural features.
Teatru Manoel hosts a variety of events, including concerts, dance performances and drama plays.
7. Take in the stunning views from the Upper Barrakka Gardens
Twinned with the Lower Barrakka Gardens, the Upper Barrakka Gardens treat visitors to staggering views over the Grand Harbour. The gardens are a popular Valletta attraction, so the viewpoint can get very crowded during the busy months.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens sit above the Saluting Battery. For 500 years, the cannons protected the city against naval attacks. Today, the cannons are fired daily at midday. You can watch the midday gun salute from the gardens.
8. Visit the National War Museum
Recently refurbished, the National War Museum pays tribute to Malta’s important role during the two world wars. The Grand Harbour was used as a naval base during British rule in Malta, and consequently the entire area, including Valletta, was heavily bombed during the Second World War.
The museum is housed in Fort St. Elmo, which has also been restored recently. It contains a collection of items relating to both world wars and Malta’s military history, as well as a photographic exhibition that depicts the hardships faced by the local population during the Second World War.
9. Walk along Valletta’s coastline
Want to escape the crowds in Valletta and do something different? Go for a walk along the city’s coastline. A set of stairs on Mediterranean Street, right opposite the Mediterranean Conference Centre, takes you down to the coast.
Follow the path on your left and head towards the Breakwater Bridge, where you can just sit down and enjoy the view or carry on walking along the coast (the path from here on is called Boat Street).
Only do this walk if the sea is relatively calm. Some parts of pathway are very close to the water and the waves in this area can get pretty high.
10. Have a wee rest in Hastings Gardens
Located on St. John’s bastion at the main Valletta gate, the quiet Hastings Gardens is a great place for a wee rest before leaving the city and getting back on the busy Maltese roads. The gardens also offer beautiful views of Floriana, Marsamxett Harbour and Manoel Island.
11. Explore the Grandmaster’s Palace
The Grandmaster’s Palace is one of the most significant buildings in Valletta. Dating back to the 1500s, this impressive palace was one of the first buildings erected in Valletta. For many years, it served as the official residence of Grandmasters. Nowadays it serves as the President’s Office and the House of Representatives.
Some parts of the palace, including the the Throne Room and the Palace Armoury, are open to the public. Make sure to check out the impressive frescoes that depict scenes from the Great Siege of 1565, and the colourful 300-year-old tapestries.
12. Go bar-hopping in Strait Street
Formerly a red light district, this long narrow street in Valletta is nowadays brimming with cosy taverns and quirky bars. Most of these places have outdoor seating, so you can enjoy a nice glass of wine or a craft beer in one of the most atmospheric streets in Valletta.
One not-to-miss wine bar is Trabuxu on Strait Street, which is located in a 400-year-old vaulted cellar and serves a wide selection of wine and cheeses.
13. Admire priceless masterpieces at the Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral is possibly Valletta’s most popular attraction. Built by the Order of St. John in the 16th century, it harbours a wealth of priceless masterpieces, the most famous being The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio.
The Cathedral Museum houses a wonderful collection of 17th-century Flemish tapestries, as well as other interesting art pieces.
14. Venture into the darker side of the city
Enjoy ghost tours? The walls of the city have so many stories to tell, including tales of love, mystery and gruesome murders.
Go on a ghost tour of Valletta to discover the city’s darker side and listen to some of the most infamous ghost stories on the island (including a legend about a red-headed vampire).
15. Go up the Siege Bell War Memorial
The Siege Bell War Memorial, which overlooks the Grand Harbour, was built to commemorate the lives lost during the Second World War. The monument consists of a belfry and a bronze catafalque which symbolises the burial of an unknown soldier at sea. The bell rings every day at noon.
The memorial offers panoramic views of the breakwater and the Grand Harbour. You can also take photos of this impressive monument from the Lower Barrakka Gardens.
16. Get a glimpse of Maltese aristocracy at Casa Rocca Piccola
Casa Rocca Piccola is a lavish 16th-century palace owned and inhabited by a noble Maltese family. Parts of the palace are open to the public, including the bomb shelters and the palace’s stunning Art Nouveau dining room.
The palace also features a variety of historic objects used by the aristocracy in different eras, like a golden sedan chair, as well as a collection of old paintings.
17. Check out the Toy Museum
I love this wee museum in Valletta. Opened in the late 1990s, Valletta’s Toy Museum houses a private collection of toys from the 20th century, including matchbox cars, model planes, train sets and dolls.
18. Walk through the Lascaris War Rooms
The Lascaris War Rooms are a network of tunnels and chambers which served as the War Headquarters during the Second World War. The rooms were later used by NATO. Nowadays they serve as a museum and house two WW2 war tanks.
19. Take photos of Valletta from Great Siege Road
Great Siege Road runs along the bastions overlooking Marsamxett Harbour. From here, you can enjoy views of Manoel Island and Sliema.
If you want to take some nice photos of Valletta, stop near St. Andrew’s Bastion. Here you get a beautiful view of the Pro-Cathedral’s spire and the beautiful dome of the Carmelite Church towering over a cluster of limestone buildings dotted with colourful balconies.
20. Use the public loo on Strait Street!
Yep, that’s right – you must take a wee in the public toilet on Strait Street. This is possibly the cleanest and quirkiest public restroom you’ll ever use.
The public toilet on Strait Street looks like a glamorous cabaret venue – the neon lights and fancy interior allude to the street’s red light district days. The restroom attendant is dressed in a suit, blending in with the theme of the place.
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