Before even setting foot in Valletta, Malta’s capital city impresses with its skyline. Built during the rule of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as Knights Hospitaller, the city is mainly Baroque in style with elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical, and Modern architecture giving it a puzzle piece design that somehow works.
Officially recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980, it is also the European Capital City of Culture 2018. From the sparkling views across The Grand Harbour to the richly decorated balconies – Valletta is a city easy to fall in love with.
Malta is known for its warm climate due to its location in the Mediterranean Sea, but you’ll want to avoid the summer months unless you enjoy crowds, high temperatures, and humidity. August is traditionally the hottest month and January the coldest. In September and October, you are likely to be treated to a fabulous lightning storm.
Most people arriving in Malta do so via Malta International Airport (MLA), located about 8.5 kilometres (or 14 minutes by car) from the city centre. Several cruise itineraries include the Maltese Islands, and you can also get to the island via a ferry, direct from several Mediterranean ports.
What You Can See
Unlike other European capitals, which grew from small settlements into towns and cities, Valletta was built on a grid system. It’s parallel roads, which crisscross at right angles, together with its small size make it an easy city to explore on foot. There is plenty to see and do – from museums to soaking up the Mediterranean vibe.
The famous Grand Harbour is at the heart of much of Malta’s history and one of the best ways to enjoy it is in a traditional dghajsa. These small colourful wooden boats (now supplemented with a motor) used to ferry sailors between ship and shore. Boats leave from Customs House (Customs House, Lascaris Wharf, VLT 1920), next to the Valletta Waterfront.
The Knights of Malta’s main church, St John’s Co-Cathedral (St John Street, VLT 1156) might look plain on the outside, but inside, the interior is stunning, with gold, marble, and paint throughout. Even the floor is impressive, made up of colourful marble tombs.
The Grand Master’s Palace (Palace Square, VLT 1191) was once the home of the Grand Masters of the Knights of St John. Today it is home to the House of Representatives of Malta and the office of the President of the Republic of Malta. You can visit the State Apartments and the Armoury.
Archaeology fans will want to head to the National Museum of Archaeology (Auberge de Provence, Republic Street, VLT 1112). Inside you’ll find originals from the first temples built and the Goddess of Fertility.
The Lascaris War Rooms (Lascaris Ditch, VLT 2000) are a small but interesting museum. The defence of Malta, during the Second World War, was conducted from the underground complex of tunnels and chambers, which housed the War Headquarters
What You Can Eat and Drink
Maltese cooking is a mix of cuisines and styles from those who at one time or another called Malta their own. Meals are rustic and based on the season, full of fresh and local ingredients. You’ll find everything from fresh seafood to tender rabbit on the menu. And no matter what you choose, you can be assured that your meal will be huge. Small portions don’t exist in Malta.
Guzé Bistro (Old Bakery Street 22, VLT 1459) is located in a 400-year old building that was once home to architect Francesco Buonamici. One of the principal architects appointed by the Knights of St. John to work on Valletta’s bastions, Francesco’s “home” is the perfect balance between modern and classic, with fresh sorbet well worth leaving room for.
Established in 1837, Caffe Cordina (Caffe Cordina 244/5, Republic Street, VLT 1114) is somewhere you visit not just for the traditional Maltese sweet delicacies. The building’s unique vaulted ceiling, embellished with paintings by the renowned Maltese painter Giuseppe Cali, is reason enough to step inside.
Keep your eyes peeled for one of the many dates kiosks, which sell the traditional imqaret – a delicious deep-fried pastry filled with spiced dates.
Where You Can Sleep
You will find a selection of hotels, from five-star boutique hotels to inexpensive guesthouses. There are even some self-catering options located in traditional Maltese houses dating back to the time of the Knights of Malta.
If you are looking to stay somewhere historical, then you can’t go wrong with Casa Ellul (Old Theatre Street 81, VLT 1429). As their website points out, “Although the precise date of Casa Ellul’s construction is not known, it was sometime around 1830 when an earlier building dating to Hospitaller times was demolished to make way for this new group of houses.” Situated just opposite the Carmelite Church in Old Theatre Street the boutique hotel is a favourite.
Centrally located with friendly and helpful staff, the Osborne Hotel (South Street 50, VLT 1101) can make a great base to come back to after a day exploring. And if you need a bit of relaxation, then head to the rooftop pool – while not big, it does offer a welcome dip.
Located in a 400-year old building, Palazzo Prince D’Orange Luxury Suites (316 St. Paul’s Street, VLT 1211) is a bed and breakfast hotel, restored to a luxury standard. There is a pleasant terrace on the roof, and (some) suites feature balconies overlooking the old city and harbour.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Valletta.
Travel Tips and Local Blogs
For more travel tips and suggestions, have a look at these local blogs and resources.
The official website of the Valletta Local Council Administration is small and much of the information is in Maltese. However, there is an excellent section in English on the history of the city and photos that will help you get your bearings.
The official tourism portal for Malta, this site is full of helpful tips, background information, and even contains an events list. The website also has an online travel planner for you to use.
David, originally from Ireland, and Daniela have created How to Malta as a first-hand guide for visitors to Malta. You’ll find everything you need to know from buses to bars, and everything in-between.
Originally beginning as an expat blog before having a revamp in 2013, The Stroke Blog is a travel and lifestyle blog with some amazing photography. Not everything on the blog is about Malta but the parts that are, are quite useful.
Malta InsideOut is an online magazine blog, with posts from Malta insiders on tips, experiences, knowledge, and insights on living, working, playing, and holidaying in Malta. There’s an enormous amount of information here but well worth digging into.
Novels set in the Maltese Islands, to get you in the mood: Death in Malta, Man on Fire, Ironware, The Sword and The Scimitar, Ricasoli Soldier: a novel inspired by true events, Sword-Lily: The Last Days of the Knights of Malta – 1798, Convoy, Sword and Scimitar, Pedestal: the Malta Convoy of August 1942
Last Updated On: August 2nd 2016