Planning a trip to Valletta?
Despite being one of the smallest cities in Europe, Valletta is packed with history and architectural wonders. In fact, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and if you want to see all of the main attractions, you’ll need at least a day.
In this guide, I share some important information about the Maltese capital. I also recommend the best things to do in Valletta. So, let’s dive right in!
Table of Contents
A bit about Valletta
Valletta was founded by the Knights of St. John, a Catholic military order, in the 16th century.
Following the Great Siege of 1565, when the Knights successfully repelled an Ottoman invasion, Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette decided to build a new fortified city on the Sciberras Peninsula to better protect Malta from future attacks.
The construction of Valletta began in 1566 and was completed in 1571. The Knights established their headquarters in the new city, which soon became the capital of Malta (the title was previously held by Mdina).
Today, Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular tourist destination, known for its rich history, stunning architecture, and Mediterranean charm.
In addition to its historical attractions, Valletta also has a vibrant dining and nightlife scene, with many restaurants, bars, and cafes serving up delicious Mediterranean cuisine.
How to get to Valletta
Wherever you’re staying in Malta, there’s probably a direct bus to Valletta. The journey will typically take 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the traffic.
If you’re staying in Bugibba (St. Paul’s Bay) or Mellieha, the bus trip to Valletta can take up to 90 minutes.
The buses stop right outside Valletta’s main gate. You can check out the Triton Fountain before heading into the city.
If you’re driving to Valletta, parking may be a problem. Most of the parking bays within the city are reserved for residents only.
However, there are a few car parks outside the city. There’s also a park and ride in Floriana.
If you head to Valletta during major events, like Carnival or Notte Bianca, these car parks might be full.
Best things to do in Valletta
You need at least a full day in Valletta to see the main highlights. Let’s look at some of the best things to do in the city.
1. Stroll through the Lower Barrakka Gardens
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 hub (known as Spazju Kreativ) and plays host to several exhibitions and events all year round. The building houses a cinema, a 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 on the official website.
3. Go on a coffee crawl
If there’s one thing that Valletta is not short of, it’s quaint little cafes (and churches!). You’ll find several places on the city’s charming squares and narrow streets where you can enjoy a nice coffee and just watch the world go by.
Some of my favourite places include Caffe Cordina, which has been around since the 1800s and has beautiful ornate interiors, and Lot Sixty One, a little corner cafe that serves amazing coffee brewed with fresh beans.
4. Visit the Museum of Archaeology
The National Museum of Archaeology boasts a wealth of prehistoric artefacts found at ancient 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 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. Opposite this building you’ll find the the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, which was built in 1576 and serves as the parish church of the Italian community in Malta.
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’s 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 of the Grand Harbour
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 summer 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? 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 sea.
From here, 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 attempt 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, it was one of the first buildings to be erected in the city.
For many years, this Baroque palace served as the official residence of Grandmasters. Nowadays, it houses the President’s office.
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 lined 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. See the treasures at St. John’s 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 dark 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.
I highly recommend booking a ghost tour of Valletta. You get to discover the city’s darker side and listen to some of the most infamous ghost stories on the island.
15. Walk up to 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. Take a tour of 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.
The museum is located in a traditional townhouse on Republic Street.
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. Enjoy a local snack at the Museum Cafe
The Museum Cafe is a little snack bar on Melita Street that serves a variety of local dishes and traditional pastries.
You can try some delicious pastizzi, or gorge on a hearty ftira.
This cafe tends to get really busy at lunch time, so try to head there a bit earlier. Alternatively, you can get your snack to go.
21. Get lost in the quiet side streets
Republic Street and Merchants Street are usually packed with tourists. If you want to avoid the crowds, venture into quiet streets on the fringes of the city.
Plus, these alleys are possibly more picturesque than the main streets!
Some pretty places to check out include St. Ursula’s Street, St. Lucia’s Street, and Old Mint Street.
22. 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 see.
The public toilet on Strait Street looks like a glamorous cabaret venue, with neon lights and fancy interiors that 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.
Frequently asked questions about Valletta
In this guide, I tried to cover everything you need to know about Valletta, including how to get there and things to do. However, you might still have some questions. Let’s answer some of them.
Is Valletta worth a visit?
Yes, visiting Valletta is one of the best things to do in Malta.
The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and hosts a wealth of historical buildings, including Baroque palaces and churches.
Is one day in Valletta enough?
Yes, but you’ll need a full day in the city, not just a morning or afternoon.
Is Valletta a walkable city?
Yes, it’s a very compact city, so you can easily walk to all the main attractions.
However, you’ll want to wear a good pair of walking shoes. The city is very hilly and the ground is a little uneven in some places.
Also, only small parts of the city are pedestrianized, so you’ll want to watch out for cars while walking through the streets.
What top attractions are a must-see in Valletta?
There are many must-see attractions in Valletta. These include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, The Grandmaster’s Palace, and Fort St. Elmo.
Recommended Valletta tours
As we have seen, there are plenty of amazing things to do in Valletta. However, you might prefer to explore the city with a local guide.
Here are some highly-rated tours of Valletta.
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