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Last updated 4 February 2020
What to do in Valletta Malta
Like most of Malta, Valletta has been strongly influenced by a variety of cultures and nationalities. Most significant was the impact of the Knights from the Order of St John who were given ownership of the city in 1530. The British also had a significant impact, one that can still be seen today.
Built on a hill, between two harbours, the city has fortified giant walls to protect it from those who wanted to conquer it. The walls still contain many tunnels and air-raid shelters that were built and utilised during World War Two.
Modern Valletta is the heart of Maltese commercial activity, and yet it remains at the heart of the Maltese community and provides a cultural anchor. This UNESCO heritage-listed city is located on the Grand Harbour. At 55 metres deep, it is one of the deepest in the Meditteranean and the most important to Malta.
The city is blessed with incredible architecture and opulence as a result of the Knight’s reign. Money was no object for them, and they built a city worthy of their nobility.
Valletta is one of the most visited cities in Malta. Here’s a list of the best things to see and do in Valletta.
How to spend 24 hours in Valletta
Walk the streets and the laneways
The centre of Valletta is organised into a large grid formation with 12 parallel streets, many of which provide views of the harbour. Built on a hilltop, the streets can be reasonably steep and many still contain the original stone steps, built to help the Knights in their heavy armour ascend the hill. These steps are made from the hardest stone on the island, allowing them to stand the test (and feet) of time.
Whilst there are so many must-see attractions in Valletta, walking the streets to get a feel for the history is really important. We highly recommend doing this early in the visit as it helps with the understanding of all the history. To help us understand this more, we took this tour of the historical centre of Valletta. Having a great local guide made a huge difference.
Don’t miss Republic Street, the main street in Valletta. Here and in Merchant St, you’ll find craftsmen stores, particularly jewellers. Republic Street is also packed full of cafes and restaurants and it’s the main location for many of the must-see attractions in Valletta.
Tip: Every Sunday a large market takes place in Republic Street.
Admire the unique gallerias
The gallerias, an important and unique design feature in traditional Maltese buildings, captured my attention immediately, as we drove along. For something so prominent (they are literally on every second building in Valletta), there is very little authentic research to support why they were introduced. Much of the information found on gallerias is conflicting.
Some will argue that they became extra rooms, allowed for the breezes to come into the home and also identify social classes. Whatever their origin, they are stunning parts of the Valletta cityscape, with the Maltese government now acknowledging their importance by building protective legislation around their preservation and assisting with grants to restore and retain.
Explore the history of Valletta
The inner-city streets are full of great stories and buildings to match. St George’s Square, the Parliament buildings and the Manoel Theatre are all worthy of visits. The ruins of the Old Opera House also add an aura of older Roman times.
Visit Casa Rocca Piccola
In the centre of one of Valletta’s oldest streets is a glimpse into the grand life of nobility. Casa Rocca Piccola is still owned by the most current generation of the de Piro family, having been held by them since the 16th century. This is a living museum, with it still being the home of the 9th Marquis de Piro, who on occasion conducts private tours. In a grand gesture, their home is open for public viewing.
Public guided tours are offered, giving a glimpse inside this noble home. It’s opulent from the moment you walk in, especially the dining rooms, covered in silverware and crystal glasses. Original 16th-century furniture is still found decorating the many rooms including a bedroom and library. A courtyard garden sits immediately outside one of the dining rooms, complete with resident Macaw parrot.
What you need to know about Casa Rocca Piccola
- 74 Republic St, Valletta
- Open every day except Sunday and public holidays
- Opening times 10 am – 5 pm
- 5-minute walk from Valletta bus station
- Guided tours happen every hour and last 45 minutes
- English guides run the tours
- Private tours may be booked with the Marquis and Marchioness de Piro
- Mostly wheelchair accessible
- An onsite restaurant La Giara is open for lunch and dinner (except Tuesday and Sunday evenings)
Opened in 2019, several rooms within the palace have been renovated and are now available for booking. To stay at the Casa Roca Piccola B&B, click here for more details.
Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
Plan your morning and afternoon activities around the midday gun salute, the Saluting Battery, that takes place each day at noon. We made our way to the Upper Barrakka Gardens for the best seat in the house and a magnificent view over the harbour.
Actually, the views here are a reason just to visit the gardens, if the timing isn’t on your side for the Saluting Battery. The views are amazing and really establish in a quick glance, the level of fortifications in the city, and the importance of maintaining a defensive barrier to protect the city. You can see across to many of the forts and the cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.
Tip: It pays to get here about 15 minutes prior to midday to enable you to get a great viewing spot just above the cannons.
Getting here early allows you to watch the ceremony of setting up the cannons in readiness for the firing. This is a process that has only recently been reinstated following a period of cease-firelasting half a century. For hundreds and hundreds of years, this area was used to protect the city from naval assault, and in later years, the gun salute was used to herald the entrance of important naval ships and their dignitaries into the harbour.
The traditional firing of the cannons and the official ceremony is undertaken by members of the Malta Heritage Society, who are fully dressed in British military attire.
The gardens themselves were built by the Knights to provide a spot for respite from both their everyday life and also the heat. With large, looming columns around the perimeter, there is more than a touch of Roman influence here. Flowers and other trees soften the sandstone look. The gardens themselves are a great place to take respite from the summer heat.
Tip: There’s no protection from the sun out here on the stone deck so ensure you have a hat and some water, particularly in the summer heat.
On the lower area, on top of the St Christopher Bastion, lies the Lower Barrakka Gardens. The Memorial Siege Bell is located here also.
What you need to know about the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
- Located at Saint Ursula St (entrance is at the end of the street)
- The gardens are open daily from 7 am until 10 pm and are free to access
- The gun salute happens every day at noon and 4 pm
- Guided tours are also available
- The museum located behind the Saluting Battery shows how it operated in the 1800s
- There is a lift! If you have mobility issues or just need a quick way of getting from the Grand Harbour to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, take the lift.
St Johns Co-Cathedral
A visit to the St Johns Co-Cathedral is an absolute must in Valletta. This church commenced being built in 1571 and completed six years later. At this time, it was a plain church, with minimal decoration. Whilst it remains simplistic on the outside, in the late 16th century, Baroque architecture was introduced transforming this cathedral into one of the most ornate and opulent buildings I have ever seen. Leave yourself enough time for this visit. It’s truly a masterpiece and vividly shows the wealth of the Knights.
Italian artist Mattia Preti has become synonymous with this cathedral and his artwork is integral to its historical importance. Whilst the vaulted ceilings and walls are adorned with his work, it is the seemingly three-dimensional aspects that bring the murals to life. Much of the walls are covered in stone hand carvings and gilded with 24-carat gold. There are eight chapels inside, each decorated differently to acknowledge the various patron saints.
With a myriad of colours, patterns and textures, the marbled floors hold my gaze. Here, traditional Maltese tiles are entwined with the marble tombstones of centuries of Knights, priests and nobility.
Need to know about visiting St Johns Co-Cathedral
- Located in Saint John’s St, Valletta
- Open every day except Sunday and public holidays
- Monday – Friday 9.30 am – 4.30 pm
- Saturday 9.30 am – 12.30 pm
- Go early to avoid the crowds
- There is a strict dress code. All arms and legs must be covered. No high heels. You are walking on ancient, fragile stone floors here. Flat and soft shoes are the most appropriate.
- The adjoining museum contains incredible tapestries, painting and artwork that belonged to the Grandmasters.
- Check the website for entrance prices and other details
The Grandmaster’s Palace sits with St Johns Co-Cathedral as the two most visited attractions in all of Malta. The Grandmaster’s Palace sits in the middle of St George’s Square at the end of Republic St. the palace was the home for many of the Knights of Malta back in the 16th century. Today, the building contains the office of the President of Malta and a museum, having been rebuilt after being severely damaged in World War Two.
Like many of the buildings built for the Knights, the exterior is quite plain. The exquisite beauty is hidden away inside. More Baroque artwork and architecture can be seen inside, similar to the cathedral. There is plenty of gold and large, elaborate paintings.
A tour of the Grandmaster’s Palace gives access to State Rooms, the official dining room and the Ambassador’s Room. There’s also the Supreme council Hall and various other rooms all depicting the life of the Knights.
If you are interested in military history, you can visit the armoury, where weapons used by the Knights and the Grandmaster can be viewed.
Need to know about the Grandmaster’s Palace
- Located in St George’s Square, Valletta
- Open Monday – Friday 10 am – 4.30pm
- Open Saturday-Sunday 9 am – 4.30pm
- Closed 24,25, 31 December, 1 January and Good Friday
- Note the Palace may close at short notice as a result of Presidential activity
This ancient theatre is another stunning example of the Baroque elegance built by the Knights. Built in 1731, it was built for their entertainment, but also for the people of Malta. Whilst tours can be taken, attending a performance in one of Europe’s oldest theatres would be an experience like no other.
For performances and to book tickets, go to the official website of the Teatru Manoel.
It’s easy to get caught up in the streets and laneways of the old Valletta city. If you do have time, getting down onto the Valletta waterfront is so worthwhile. Gentrification has seen the former warehouses of the waterfront rejuvenated. Now, it’s a great place to hang out and is frequented by locals. If you love having a meal by the water, this spot is perfect.
Where to eat in Valletta
One of Valletta’s up and coming restaurants, with a great reputation. Food is an extremely important part of Maltese culture and they all celebrate its inclusion in their daily routine. Lunch can be a relaxed affair, spending hours over traditional food and wine. If you have the ability to slow down for a little in your day, lunchtime is definitely the time to do it. It also gets you out of the hot sun for a few hours.
Butter beans, with garlic, are brought to the table as antipasti to share, whilst we make our food decisions. Service here is swift without being officious. Our waiter was happy to explain the menu to us and explained the specials several times, such was the variety of items to choose from.
A daily special of spicy aubergine soup takes the fancy of my husband, and along with the ever-present fresh bread, makes a tasty start to lunch.
Bread is eaten simply with olive oil, salt and pepper. Butter was still served with the bread but it seems to be to placate the tourist (especially British) market. We were happy to eat it the traditional way, especially when their olive oils are such great quality.
There is a strong Italian influence on the menu here, which we are drawn to on this day. However, traditional options involving rabbit, fish and other seafood are also available. We’ve got a week here, so we are keen to spread ourselves around the food options. A risotto cooked simply with smoked haddock and spinach was cooked to perfection, with just the right amount of liquid being retained in the dish.
Paired with a cold glass of Pinot Grigio, my freshly made ravioli with fresh peas, mint and ricotta was light and super tasty.
8, 9 South St, Il-Belt
Rubino is one of those traditional Maltese restaurants that you just can’t miss. Family run, the menu is extensive and has a great selection of local food. Like all food servings in Malta, portions are large, so consider ordering an entree size. Service is warm and helpful and the atmosphere inside the restaurant makes you want to stay and linger.
Flaky, golden pastry enclosing traditional fillings of pea or ricotta are a must-eat when in Malta. Like most things these days, modern touches have been made to the traditional pastizzi, meaning you can just about find any type of filling. The size of the pastizzi also differs depending on where you are and who is making them. Beware the cheap imitation and always search out who is making them the traditional way.
They must be light and flaky and be filled with super tasty fillings.
Located on Republic Street, this cafe is worthy of a visit if only for the beautiful ceiling inside. If you have time, however, it’s the perfect place for a nostalgic morning tea with lots of delectable Maltese bakery items, including the local speciality, pastizzi.
244 Republic St
Getting to Valletta
Valletta by air
Malta International Airport is located ten kilometres from Valletta. Many airlines, including low-cost airlines, fly regularly to Malta from the United Kingdom and Europe. The majority of European locations are within a three-hour flight.
Car rental locations are found at the airport and are the easiest place in Malta to rent from.
Note that whilst the airport is only a short distance from Valletta, traffic in Malta is significant. Delays, particularly at peak hour are common. This should be factored into any driving plans.
Tip: If you are renting a car, be sure to get airconditioning. It gets hot in Malta, even hotter in cars, and the cars are smelly from fumes. Winding down your window is not a good option.
Buses operate from the airport to Valletta, via route X1. This bus service operates from early in the morning until late at night. Like all of the bus service in Malta, tickets are inexpensive.
Taxis also operate from the airport.
Valletta by car
Much of the centre of Valletta is pedestrianised. Where it isn’t, the streets are narrow and old, and the city really isn’t set up for huge numbers of vehicular traffic. Whilst you can still enter the city, you are driving to Valletta, we recommend parking your vehicle on the outside of the city walls.
The city charges for parking within the city limits. Cameras are installed at the entry points to the city and record the number plate of the vehicle.
If you can leave your car parked at your hotel and just use public transport that would be the preferred option. If you do need parking, check out this article.
Valletta by ferry
Valletta is located on the water so catching a ferry is also a good choice. Ferries depart from Sliema and also from Senglea (across the Grand Harbour). From Vittoriosa, local boatsmen can take you across the harbour on a small wooden boat like a gondola. They are a fun way to see the city.
How to get around in Valletta
If you are not staying in Valletta, the easiest way to get to Valletta is by public transport. Valletta is the transport hub for all of Malta so buses operate regularly and are inexpensive. Getting around Valletta itself is easily accessible on foot. Despite Maltese traffic being generally crazy, the streets of Valletta are relatively quiet with the centre being pedestrianised.
There are a few hills and sometimes walking on the cobbles can be challenging so it is best to wear comfortable walking shoes. The city centre operates in a grid of streets, all of which eventually lead to the water.
Bus route 133 allows for visitors to move around inside the city walls. Like many of the world’s cities, Valletta now has a ride-sharing ebike program. Charges for using are reasonable. For more information see Tallinja Bikes.
Electric taxis also operate in Valletta.
Where to stay in Valletta
We stayed at the Hilton Malta, about 30 minutes away in St Julians. This allowed us easy access to all other parts of the island. Despite Valletta being the capital city of Malta, there are surprisingly few major hotels right in the city.
I highly recommend spending at least one week in Malta and making sure you have access to public transport or even a hire car. Using Valletta or St Julians as a base means you are generally only 30 minutes to an hour (traffic depending) from the major locations and points of interest. Once you have made the decision on where to stay, knowing what to do in Valletta is the easy part.
One of only a few five-star hotels in the city of Valletta, it is located on prime waterfront land, making it a premium offering here in the city. All of the must-see attractions and things to do in Valletta are in close proximity. With views across the harbour, it’s the perfect piece of luxury for your holiday in Malta.
The list of facilities at the hotel is in line with its luxurious appointments. Swimming pools, spas, private beach and sundecks provide the best opportunity for relaxing. On top of all the in-room luxury, there is a water park, chauffeur service, valet parking and even a courtesy car to drive guests into the city centre.
Flagged as the best five-star hotel in Valletta, the prices certainly support this claim. Located in the heart of Valletta and near the city walls, it boasts views of the Grand Harbour and the city. This 16th-century hotel sits on a large area of landscaped gardens. Entrance is via City Gate.
There are three restaurants, two bars and 136 rooms. There is free wifi and an airport shuttle available, along with onsite parking.
If you’ve been impressed with the buildings of Valletta and the impressive Baroque-style architecture and artwork, the Palais LeBrun is the hotel for you. Dating back to 1606, it was one of the earliest homes in the city, later becoming home to a Knight.
Also the home of A former Maltese Prime Minister, it was renovated in 2018 to bring it into line with modern standards. It is now one of the best luxury hotels in Valletta.
Tours in Valletta
- Learn about Malta’s WWII history: 1940-1942 siege
- Visit key war sites and monuments including Siege Bell
- Learn about how the locals went about their lives during the war
- Visit the National War Museum
- Personal guide
- Cruise both of Valletta’s harbours
- Explore Valletta’s creeks
- Listen to commentary describing the rich past of the Maltese capital city
- Get a different perspective of Valletta and the Three Cities from the water
- Includes hotel pickup
Malta travel guides
We still find travel resources like these useful. All may be purchased online.
- Lonely Planet Malta & Gozo (Travel Guide)
- DK Eyewitness Malta Travel Guide
- Inside Guides Explore Malta
More Malta Reading
- What to see in Malta – the perfect itinerary for a short stay
- Things to do in Gozo – why you should include this special island in your Maltese itinerary
- The Three Cities of Malta – Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea
- Hilton Malta – A great 5-star hotel in Malta
- More Malta attractions: the southern cities of Marsaxlokk, Dingli, Mdina and the Blue Grotto