Last Updated on 23/04/2022 by secretmoona
Thinking of visiting Malta and wondering what to do? Here are some of the best things to do in Valletta.
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Valletta is Malta’s capital as well as the economic and administrative centre of the small island country. This beautiful walled city is a fantastic Mediterranean city, rich in history. Exploring the town is rewarding both culturally and historically. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is packed with baroque architecture: palaces, museums, and churches are amongst the 300 tourist monuments you could visit while in Valletta.
It is fantastic to see how this small city, one of the smallest European capitals, has retained its history while remaining a fun destination.
Whether you are planning to explore the archipelago on a long trip or just a short break, visiting Valletta is essential to the success of your stay. Read this article for the best things to do in Valletta.
Things to do in Valletta, Malta
Admire the Triton Fountain
Triton Fountain is the first thing you see before entering the walled city of Valletta since it is located right outside the city gate. As its name indicates, it represents three Tritons holding up a large plate. The fountain is impressive in size and structure and offers good photo opportunities. It is pretty both day and night.
There are stalls nearby selling snacks as well as the city’s bus terminal. In the opposite direction from the city’s walls, you have the Malta Memorial, a commemorative monument for soldiers who lost their lives during WWII.
Wander along the City Gate
Your visit to the capital begins with the imposing City Gate, inaugurated in 1964 following the island’s independence from the United Kingdom. It has since been demolished and re-built. The Knights of St John, a Catholic Military Order, erected the walls to defend Christianity in the 16th century against the Turcs. The walled city was then called Valletta in honour of the French Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette, who commissioned the construction of the fortress.
The bus terminal now occupies the site of the old gate, and the Triton Fountain is located in the centre. The square around the fountain has also been transformed into a pedestrian zone.
The gate marks the start of Republic Street, Valletta’s main street that goes to Fort Saint Elmo, at the opposite end of the town. The Parliament and Royal Opera House are close to the city gate so you could visit them as well.
Get lost in the streets of Valletta
The ultimate thing to do in Valletta? Stroll through its pretty streets! Walking down the streets of a town is the best way to discover its secrets. In Valletta, you always come across an exciting building to admire, a lovely shop to explore, stone stairs leading somewhere exciting, or a little detail on a building facade like the Bow Windows with lots of history. Taking the time to wander around the city, aimlessly and without a map, is something I always do and recommend.
Start your walk at the city entrance and be amazed by the large walls and the majestic Triton Fountain. Malta’s fascinating multicultural past remains. It’s not often that you find a red “Royal Mail” mailbox in a medieval town with Arabic influence!
The Maltese capital is not very big, so you can walk all its streets in a short time and won’t risk getting lost! Plus, interestingly, the streets of Valletta are made of nine streets long and 11 streets wide. Note that the city is hilly, so wear comfortable shoes and take breaks during your little walk.
Info: Have you noticed that the steps of the stairs in Valletta are tiny? It was designed that way to avoid the knights having to make too much effort when climbing the steps.
Wander the Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens
While in Valletta, you can’t miss the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens. Although small in size, these gardens are the most beautiful green spaces in the city. They offer magnificent panorama views and ideal locations for relaxing and admiring the sunset.
Out of the two, the Upper Barrakka Gardens was my favourite. Lovely benches were facing the sea, a small fountain, well-maintained flowerbeds, and a view of the Three Cities and the Grand Harbour (Sanglea, Cospicua and Vittoriosa). Although we missed it, every day at noon, you can witness the firing of cannons from the Saluting Battery.
Look up to admire the gallarija, Malta’s balconies
It is impossible to miss the magnificent and colourful wooden balconies adorning the front of the capital’s houses. The local language’s bright and sculpted wooden terraces (or gallarija) are part of Malta’s heritage. While wandering the streets of Valletta, you will come across two types of balconies: stone open balconies or closed wooden balconies. Wooden balconies became popular in the late 17th century, the first appearing in the Grand Master’s Palace.
They are primarily made in red, bright red, yellow, deep blue and exotic purple, the colour of the balconies matching those of the front doors. However, some are in green, considered a “status” colour brought to the island by the British.
The galleries are perhaps the best example of the North African influence on Maltese architecture. The windows resemble mashrabiya (known as muxrabija on the island), a covered balcony used in the Arabic world which allows people to see out without being seen.
Lunch in a typical Maltese restaurant
Valletta is full of small restaurants, each more attractive than the next. Therefore, it is the perfect opportunity to taste Maltese cuisine, similar to Italian cuisine with some Arabic influences. The majority of restaurants can be found on Merchant Street, St Lucy Street, or Strait Street.
While Merchant Street has the most choices, including ‘is-Suq tal-Belt’ Food Court with lots of international cuisines, St Lucy Street and Strait Street are the best options when looking for somewhere to drink.
Do not hesitate to try out some of the archipelago’s unique dishes, including rabbit stew, Pastizzi, a turnover stuffed with cheese or peas, etc.
Discover some of Valletta’s many museums
Malta has a unique cultural heritage. More than 7,000 years of history were shaped by the people who occupied it: Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Sicilians, French Normans and finally, the British. The country took its independence from the British only in 1964. Visiting one of Valletta’s many museums is a must to understand the history of Valletta and the nation.
Among the many museums in the city, there are, to name a few, the National Museum of Archeology, the National War Museum, the Grandmasters’ Palace and the National Museum of Fine Arts.
If you only have to visit one museum, visit the Grand Masters Palace. Completed in 1571, the palace was one of the first buildings to be constructed in the old city as it was the first official residence of the founder of the town.
The Malta Pass allows you to have free entrance to the museums and other cultural attractions.
Discover Malta’s many churches
Strolling through the streets of Valletta, you will be able to see the importance of Christianism in Malta. Numerous sculptures of saints and virgins adorn the facade of houses and buildings everywhere you go. It is said that Malta has one church for each day of the year. So, you will be spoiled for choice with more than 25 churches and chapels in Valletta alone. With their Baroque-style facade, some of these churches seem plain looking, but the interiors are often marvellous.
The most impressive one is St John’s Co-Cathedral. The baroque cathedral was built between 1572 and 1577 in homage to the Patron, Saint St John the Baptist. St John’s Co-Cathedral should be on top of your things to do on Valletta list. The gold, intricate decoration covering each corner of the cathedral and ornate marble floors and impressive frescoes will leave you speechless.
Cruise the Grand Harbour
Getting on a boat to cruise around the Grand Harbour is one of the best things to do in Valletta. After all, Valletta is surrounded by water. There are many options like the public ferries that take people from Sliema to Valletta or Valletta to the Three Cities (€1.50 one way/€2.80 return). You can also opt to travel on authentic Maltese dgħajsa, another traditional wooden fishing boat. A one way trip on these boats costs €2 to the Three Cities or €8 for a 30-minute tour around the harbour.
For a more extended cruise to see Valletta from the sea, you can take a 90-minute tour from Valletta’s two harbours (Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour). The cost is approximately €15.
Check out Valletta Waterfront
The historical Valletta Waterfront is an excellent place to venture to, especially in the high of summer. Ships have docked on the waterfront for centuries, and the baroque warehouses were once used as storage by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem.
After a revamp a few years ago, the waterfront boasts a few restaurants and shops. Stroll the promenade and grab a drink while watching the cruise ships docking or enjoying the views over the Three Cities. The waterfront is where the ferries from other cities and giant cruise ships elsewhere in the world dock.
Tip: Use the elevator from the Upper Barrakka Gardens to reach the docks. We got scammed taking a 5 mins taxi that cost us €10.
Shop along Republic Street
Republic Street is the main street In Valletta and stretches from the City gate to Fort St Elmo. Therefore, it will be impossible to stroll down the streets of Valletta without walking down this street. This might be why it is so busy as all the other roads lead to it.
The street is packed with clothing, shoes, jewellery or souvenir shops, restaurants and, of course, some of the city’s main attractions.
Things to do and see in/around Valletta
If you are still looking for other things to do in Valletta or around the city, here are some options to include in your plans.
The Three Cities
The Three Cities seen from the Upper Barrakka Gardens are the first fortified cities in Malta. They are known as Senglea (Isla), Birgu (Vittoriosa) and Bormla (Cospicua). During the construction of Valletta’s fortress, the knights of St John were based in Vittoriosa.
The architecture is older than in Valletta but similar, so there is a lot to see and explore. The waterfront alone, lined with yachts, is excellent to visit.
Explore St Julian’s
St Julian’s (San Giljan) is one of the most popular cities in Malta for tourists. The lovely coastal town is another must-see destination, especially the Paceville neighbourhood, to experience the island’s nightlife. The district has many hotels, hence why it is popular with tourists. The area is full of life at nighttime, with locals and tourists enjoying themselves in the many restaurants, bars and clubs.
In St Julian’s, you have one of the island’s most famous seaside resorts, Spinola Bay. It is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll by the sea. The beaches offer many activities other than sunbathing, including windsurfing and swimming in the outdoor pool. You can also take up a driving course in St George’s Bay.
Discover the fishing village of Marsaxlokk
The charming fishing village of Marsaxlokk is one of the top things to see in Valletta. The town’s name comes from “Marsa”, which means ‘harbour’ and “xlokk”, the Maltese word for ‘southeast’. The architecture of Marsaxlokk remained authentic without high rise or modern buildings.
The colourful luzzu, and small traditional Maltese boats, built according to the Phoenician tradition, make the town charming. These pretty boats painted with different colours have an interesting detail on their bows: the eye of Osiris. The pair of eyes means to protect fishermen against bad weather at sea and bring them luck.
The town is lovely to walk around, especially the harbour dotted with the colourful luzzu, plenty of restaurants with delicious food to eat. If you happen to be there on a Sunday, you will be able to shop at the largest market in the archipelago.
Practical information for your visit to Valletta
Getting to Valletta
The Maltese archipelago is located south of Sicily in the heart of the Mediterranean between Sicily and Tunisia. Malta International Airport is located less than 10km from Valletta. We flew with British Airways, but you can choose other airlines like Air Malta or Ryanair.
Getting around Valletta
Valletta is small and can be explored mainly on foot. Traffic inside the city is limited due to the city’s narrow and steep streets, which are sometimes made up of stairs. In addition, the majority of the main roads are pedestrianised.
Getting to Valletta by bus is easy and inexpensive. However, all buses and taxis stop at the city’s entrance gate. Bus fares are set to €1.50 per trip in winter and €2 in summer. Taxis operate at a fixed rate of €20. Bolt taxis are also cheap. We practically used Bolt to get around most places as it was sometimes cheaper and quicker for our group to get to some areas.
From other cities in Malta i.e. Marsaxlokk, Mdina or Sliema, you can reach Valletta by bus or ferries.
Where to stay in Valletta
We opted to stay in St Julian’s mainly because our preferred hotel (Hyatt Regency) was there.
Being the capital of Malta, Valletta will, of course, have lots of great hotels to choose from. However, they may be on the high side, price wide, due to being in a prime location. Here are some options.
Weather in Valletta in March
Valletta, and Malta, generally is a great destinations all year round. We visited end of March. The island sees warmer temperatures; however, we were less lucky. Nonetheless, we had some periods of sunshine, and the city wasn’t overcrowded with tourists.
In my option, Spring and early summer are the best time to visit the archipelago. You will avoid hot weather, a horde of tourists, and expensive airfare and accommodation.
Have you visited Valletta? Do you have any tips to make the most of any trip to Valletta or Malta?