What to do in the Three cities of Malta
Sitting directly opposite Valletta and alongside the Grand Harbour are The Three Cities. Collectively, Cospicua, Senglea and Vittoriosa make up The Three Cities, one of the oldest areas of Malta. It was here that the Knights of St John first settled, and as such many of the buildings and forts are older than what you would find in the nation’s capital.
Despite being so close to Valletta it carries none of the hype nor the traffic (vehicular and pedestrian) of its neighbour. Here, the laneways give way to locals going about their business. The streets are peaceful and full of wonderful buildings, stone steps and hidden alleyways, many leading down to the water.
The doors are pretty amazing here too.
Most of Cospicua has been rebuilt as it was damaged greatly in World War Two. Cospicua is a double-walled city built around a dockyard constructed by the Knights in 1776. The dockyard has continued to play a very important role throughout the history of this city. Today, the dockyards are being restored, bringing back to life the former glory of this area.
The fortifications of the city, known as the Santa Margherita Lines and Cottonera Lines remain intact, if not in need of some maintenance and restoration in parts. It’s amazing that these survived the bombings.
St Helen’s Gate seen below forms part of the Santa Margherita Lines.
Senglea also suffered great damage during World War Two, with approximately 75% of all buildings destroyed. Senglea is one of the best places to take in the views of Valletta.
Right on the end of the peninsula is the Ġnien il-Gardjola (gardens) and the stone guard’s entry, Il-Gardjola. Years ago this served as part of the military’s defence of the harbour. Like many of the gardens in Malta, these have a lot of stone and concrete and sit above one of the city’s many forts.
From the Il-Gardjola though, the views across the harbour to Valletta make it a worthy stop.
Vittoriosa, right on the end of the peninsula opposite Valletta has had an important role in the Maltese military history. It had strategic importance for many of the invaders who wanted possession of Malta.
This city also has a healthy selection of beautiful buildings and gates that have been formed into the fortified walls.
Saint Angelo Fort has long protected the city and the harbour from invasion, and the entrance to this fortified city is via the Couvre Porte, a gate in the walls. It was certainly a difficult place to get into. Tours can be conducted through the fort and once again, it provides a wonderful view across the harbour.
The Notre Dame Gate is the main gate of the second line of defence, the Cottonera Lines.
The St Lawrence Parish Church, once used by the Knights dominates the street on the waterfront.
There are also plenty of spots to walk in and around the walls that were also once used as shelters during World War Two.
Where to eat
Eating along the water is something we love to do. Don Berto‘s resides up on the upper deck of the building that lines the waterfront at Vittoriosa. The views of the very expensive yachts in the foreground set the tone for a relaxed lunch.
Don Berto’s feels more modern, less traditional which is supported by a more extensive menu than we had been used to in Malta. In saying this, the food was still of very good quality and great value.
A unique way to get around
After walking around for a while we decided to get onboard with the Rolling Geeks a small tour company using electric buggies to navigate the small streets. Apart from it being quite fun, taking a tour like this is useful for many reasons.
- A lot of areas in The Three Cities are not signposted in any way making it difficult for visitors to find.
- They drive themselves!
- They are fully licensed and fully insured.
- The tour concept is totally unique. Because of the close proximity of the streets and the lack of traffic, it is served easily by the buggies.
- Buggies are environmentally friendly.
- GPS guides stored in the buggy’s iPads guide passengers along a pre-determined route with explanations of all sights explained along the way.
- The iPad will also give you tips eg “you are at the [name of sight], you should get out here and look at the view”
- You can take their advice or simply keep on going. The roads are quiet so it is easy to find places to pull over and park.
- Maximum speed is 23 km/hour
The route is 18km. If you drive without stopping at all, the trip will take around 1.5 hours. Most people will usually take much longer though.
You can’t get lost due to the pre-determined route. The buggy will drive you around a set route and knows where to return you. The admin team of Rolling Geeks always know where you are and can communicate with you if help is required.
A briefing is provided prior to taking the buggy out and someone from Rolling Geeks will drive behind you for about 1km just to make sure you have the hang of it all. A drivers license is required to hire the vehicle.
Everyone gets a bottle of water to take with you which is a thoughtful addition, especially during the hotter months.
Where to stay
There are many places to stay in the central areas of Malta. We stayed at the Hilton Malta, providing easy access to everywhere we wanted to go, as well as being a great hotel.
How to get to the Three Cities Malta
The Three Cities are serviced by the public bus system which is probably the easiest way to get there. For bus timetables use the journey planner.
The Three Cities are made for walking around so unless you want to try out the Rolling Geeks, your feet will be your best option.