Ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John, you could say Malta has an eclectic past.
This past is evident in Malta’s architecture but nowhere more so than the capital, Valletta.
Valletta rises on Malta’s Mount Sciberras peninsula with impressive bastions, forts and cathedrals. Spectacular views of Valletta are seen from Sliema, the two harbours, and The Three Cities.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980, Valletta’s 320 historical monuments make it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.
Welcome to Valletta!
This Fortress City – Citta’ Umilissima, “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”, is named after Jean Parisot de la Vallette, founder and respected Grand Master of the Order of St John.
After the Great Siege in 1565, the Knights of St John built Valletta as a refuge for injured soldiers.
Spectacular architecture, fascinating history, traditional restaurants, underground bars and a host of unique accommodation make Valletta perfect for paraphernalians to #eat #drink #explore #shop and #stay!
#explore – A self-guided walking tour.
Valletta City Gate & The Triton Fountain.
Built on a grid, Valletta is an easy walking city, although there are some steep inclines and stairs. Beginning your self-guided walking tour at Valletta City Gate will save your legs and with Valletta’s bus terminus adjacent, it’s a central location from all over Malta.
At Valletta’s City Gate, it’s difficult to miss The Triton Fountain. Triton is said to have calmed the sea with the hypnotic tones of his conch shell. Depicted as a merman, Triton was Poseidon’s son, the Greek god of the sea.
There are 3 Tritons holding a large platter protecting the city and giving thanks for the abundant fishing trade.
Designed by Italian, Vincent Apap to blend with the original Kingsgate, The Triton Fountain was completed in 1959. Five years later Kingsgate was demolished and a €61 million investment to redevelop the City Gate was put in place.
Parliament & Opera.
Today entering City Gate, you’ll see a new Parliament building built between 2011 and 2015. The controversial contemporary design was planned to replicate honeycomb, or melite in Maltese, where Malta gets its name.
The people of Malta had other ideas and refer to it as the cheese-grater.
The City Gate project included the modification of the old Opera House, bombed in April 1942 during the Second World War.
Left derelict for a decade, the Opera House was dismantled but the stones were numbered and stored in the hope of reconstruction.
Electoral promises were made by a number of changing governments but the Opera House is now an outdoor cultural venue known as Pjazza Teatru Rjal.
Valletta’s central artery will take you from City Gate to the tip of the peninsula and Fort St Elmo. Following Republic Street and the odd off-shoot, you’ll find many of Valletta’s significant monuments and attractions.
Take a left at South Street to the corner of Old Bakery Street and you’ll find the Malta 5D Show. Here, you’re immersed in Malta’s history and culture through a 3D film with wind, water spray, moving seats and the odd leg tickle.
Back on Republic in the 16th-century Baroque style building of the National Museum of Archaeology, weapons, artefacts and sculptures are displayed.
St John’s Co-Cathedral.
One of the most popular tourist sites in Valletta, St John’s Co-Cathedral, is both museum and cathedral. Priceless works donated by the Grand Masters are still on display today.
Expect to see tapestries, sculptures and the precious work by Caravaggio, “The Beheading of John the Baptist”. St John’s Cathedral’s design and interior are spectacular but, as expected, you won’t be alone.
Open from 09:30, Monday to Saturday it is worth arriving early.
The Library & Palace.
At Republic Square or Pjazza Regina, take in the façade of the National Library. Its the last building erected by the Knights of St John before Malta was ceded to Napolean Bonaparte.
Inside are Malta’s important historical documents including archives of the Knights of St John from their foundation in 1113. Have a copy of your passport on hand to enter or some form of photo ID.
At the open piazza of St George Square, visit The Grand Master’s Palace and Armoury. The seat of Malta’s rulers since the 16th century, the palace is entered through a leafy courtyard.
5 staterooms are open to the public and house frescoes depicting the history of the Knights of St John, intricate tapestries, elegant brocades and regal portraits.
In the armoury, over 4,000 pieces of military hardware join suits of armour worn by grand masters of the order of the Knights of St John.
Fort St Elmo & Museums.
Fort St Elmo, at the tip of the peninsula, saw some of the most intense fighting of 1565’s Great Seige. Some 600 soldiers (many Spanish), 60 armed galley slaves and 150 Knights defended Fort St Elmo for 28 days before falling to the Ottomans.
At the National War Museum housed within Fort St Elmo, Malta’s chronological history from the Bronze age (2,500 BC) to World War 2 includes the details of the Great Seige.
From the National War Museum, The Knights Hospital Museum and St Elmos Bridge are easily accessed.
Take in the panoramic views over Grand Harbour to The Three Cities from St Elmo Bridge then continue to the War Seige Memorial and Lower Barrakka Gardens.
Waterfront & Gardens.
Lower Barrakka Gardens, with its sweeping Grand Harbour views, is an ideal spot to grab a beer from the garden’s café and take a moment on a park bench.
On your way to Upper Barrakka Gardens stop in at Lascaris War rooms. Anyone interested in the Second World War will be fascinated by this series of underground tunnels and chambers where Malta conducted its defence.
A 40-minute multi-lingual audio guide takes you through the tunnels and Malta’s past.
At Upper Barrakka Gardens you’re at Valletta’s highest point. Views are fabulous, as expected, and within the gardens, memorials to prominent Maltese and foreign dignitaries are found.
Barrakka lift, in the gardens, takes you down to the Valletta Waterfront. Housed within 18th-century vaults, a concentration of cafés, bars and restaurants can be found to enjoy a sundowner at the end of your day.
It’s here where the cruise liners come in and where you can catch a ferry across to The Three cities.
#eat – Traditional Maltese Cuisine.
All of this exploring works up an appetite and you’ll have no trouble satisfying it in Valletta.
From bakeries and cafés offering pastizzi (small parcels of flakey pastry wrapped peas or ricotta cheese – yum!) to traditional kitchens with rustic octopus stew, fresh mussels, rabbit and pork, Valletta has all palates covered.
La Pira Maltese Kitchen. (35 Merchants Street. Ph: +356 2722 0232. Open Mon-Fri 09:00 – 20:30, Sat 09:00 – 16:00)
This family owned and run restaurant is housed in a 300-year-old building. Paul La Pira is joined by his brother, son, nephew and family friends to deliver traditional Maltese dishes.
Don’t go past the rabbit. This is an old family recipe of rich moreish flavours you’ll still be craving long after scraping the plate clean. Pair with a delicious local Delicata or Marsovin rosé and the smile won’t leave your face.
Other recommendations are the Maltese octopus stew, Gozo cheese ravioli and Lampuki when in season. Lampuki or Lampuka is Mahi-Mahi and the season lasts from mid-August to December.
Paul La Pira recommends only enjoying this delicious fish in season.
Caffé Cordina (244 Republic Street @ Pjazza Regina. Ph: +356 2123 4385. Open from 08:00 am daily)
Come for coffee, stay for pastizzi and take home Maltese delicacies. In 1837, the Cordina family began baking their traditional sweets in a small outlet in Bormla.
A bold relocation in 1944 by the late Cesare Cordina began Caffé Cordina’s evolution to what you see today.
Steps from the Grand Masters Palace in what was originally the Treasury of the Order of the Knights of St John, Caffé Cordina’s iconic location in Pjazza Regina now includes a bar, restaurant, tea rooms, pasticceria, coffee bar and gelateria.
Dine inside under vaulted ceilings painted by Maltese artist, Guiseppe Cali, depicting scenes from Malta’s history. The courtyard is flanked by historic architecture where you’re welcome to dine alfresco.
#drink – Underground.
Legligin Wine Bar (119 Saint Lucia Street. Ph: +356 2122 1699. Open Tues – Sat 1 pm – 1 am, Sun & Mon 6 pm – 1 am)
In a cosy room accommodating just a few tables, Legligin Wine Bar is the ideal location to sample Malta’s wines. Owner, operator and wine lover, Chris, has compiled an extensive list.
Legligin loosely translates to “guzzler”, “guzzling”, “guzzle” – you get the picture, so it’s fortunate there’s also a menu of small plates. The Mediterranean tasting menu at €25 – €30 offers 9 tasty local treats.
Legligin is an intimate space that fills quickly so ensure you make a reservation.
Valletta’s former Red Light District, Strait Street has seen a transformation. Centuries-old buildings have been converted to spacious ground level restaurants, small underground bars and multi-level establishments.
A few are open through the day but head to Strait Street at sunset when it really comes alive.
Trabuxu Wine Bar (2 Strait Street. Ph: +356 2122 3036. Open Tues – Sat 7 pm til late)
Local and international wines are served in this 400-year-old vaulted cellar. Popular with the post-theatre and concert crowd, it pays to arrive early or plan ahead and make a reservation.
There’s not a lot of room inside so the crowd spills out on the steps. Complementing the wine list are platters, fondue and nibbles.
StrEat Whisky Bar & Bistro (Strait Street. Ph: +356 7778 7328. Open from noon until at least 1 am daily)
StrEat is a subterranean venue with tables also on the street. As you’d imagine, whisky is the hero at StrEat with around 200 varieties.
Try a bespoke whisky tasting or their Laphroig-twisted cocktails. A regular Whisky Sour comes smoked using Laphroig 10-year-old. A Pina Colada gets the peaty treatment with Laphroig added to the rum, coconut and pineapple juice.
Sunday to Thursday from 4- 8 pm avail 2 for 1 cocktails and take your pick from a great selection of small plates or big meaty ones on the bistro menu.
#shop – Maltese creations.
Mdina Glass (14 Merchants Street. Ph: +356 2122 6488. Open from 10 am daily)
From humble beginnings in 1968, Mdina Glass has grown into a highly recognised ‘made in Malta’ brand.
Still individually crafting each design, the continual development of artisan skills and innovative techniques has kept Mdina Glass at the forefront of the industry.
Offering a range of vases, plates, lanterns, goblets and ornaments from traditional to striking contemporary designs, Mdina Glass has a something to suit all budgets.
Take home this award-winning glassware from their Merchants Street and Valetta Waterfront stores or have them ship it for you.
Mediterranean Ceramics (42 Pinto Wharf. Valletta Waterfront. Ph: +356 9920 1055)
Reviving Malta’s craft in ceramics, David and Brian Grima bring over 20 years of experience in the earthenware industry to their Mediterranean Ceramics venture.
The studio offers bespoke hand-painted designs on volcanic stone.
A product perfect for kitchens, bars, and tables, with its resistance to staining and treatment against solar fading. Individually designed tabletops, kitchen counters, bars, tiling, plates and sculptures are made in-house and shipped to your home.
With extra time in Valletta, you could design and create your own at their weekend workshops.
Charles & Ron (58D Republic Street. Ph: +356 2124 0184)
Charles & Ron are widely known in the fashion industry, regularly featuring at European and New York fashion weeks.
With the essence of Malta and a Mediterranean lifestyle, Charles & Ron’s creations are fun, bright and contemporary.
#stay – In the heart of the capital.
Casa La Pira (239 St Ursula Street. +356 9944 6146)
Located on the corner of St Ursula and St Lucia pedestrian street, this modest accommodation offers 7 studios. With city views, some with balconies, Casa Lapira is your home away from home in Malta’s capital.
Casa Lapira is owned and operated by Paul La Pira and his family from La Pira Maltese Kitchen. Casa Lapira has been lovingly restored taking care to maintain classic features.
Maltese floor tiles, exposed beams and custom art installations project Casa Lapira’s unique personality.
Studios feature kitchenettes, ensuites, king beds and free wi-fi. Airport transfers are possible but with Valletta at your doorstep, you may not want to leave, especially when private dining at La Pira Maltese Kitchen is on offer.
The Saint John (176 Merchants Street. Ph: +356 2124 3243)
A 21 room (including 2 suites) conversion from 17th-century merchant’s residence and shop to boutique accommodation welcomes you at The Saint John.
Original architectural features are highlighted throughout including the traditional wooden balconies or gallarja.
Inside rooms, chic decor combines with the latest technology. Whether in Valletta for business or pleasure, The Saint John offers distinctive accommodation in the heart of Malta’s capital.
Check Malta’s Immigration website here and see if your city is listed in the countries offering direct flights to Malta International Airport.
Australia, USA and most of Africa, Asia and the Middle East will have at least one stopover.
Emirates Airline flies daily to Malta via a one-hour stopover in Cyprus.
If you’re an organised traveller, you can purchase an ExplorePlus travel card online and it can be posted to you at home or sent to your accommodation in Valletta.
Should you not be quite that organised, pop into the Sales and Information office in the arrivals hall at Malta International and collect one there.
The ExplorePlus travel card provides unlimited public transport for 7 days including direct services from the airport to Valletta.
Taxis from the airport are plentiful. Register your destination at the booth, pay the fare and be allocated a driver.
While in Valletta, book taxis through eCabs (+356 21383838) or Malta Taxi Service (+356 2099 0808 firstname.lastname@example.org).
When to go.
Travelling to Malta during a glorious European summer is ideal if you’re happy to share the experience with thousands of like-minded travellers.
Accommodation can be scarce unless you’ve booked far in advance and prices reflect availability. Should it be possible to travel outside the high season, it’s highly recommended.
April/ May and October/ November may not have you in the core of the swimming and sunbaking season but the timing is ideal for exploring, visiting museums, and getting to know the locals.
Malta’s largest Wi-Fi network, Melita WiFi, has more than 75,000 hot spots around Malta. Search and log on to MelitaWiFi and you can get 10GB for €10. For further info follow this link.
Malta’s fascinating history, Mediterranean culture, local produce and generous people are all evident on arrival. All of this is condensed into Valletta’s beautiful streets. Exploring Valletta: it’s a thing we love….
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