How to spend the day visiting the capital of Malta
Valletta is not only the capital of the Maltese archipelago, but it is also the heart of the country. Listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site and European Capital of the Culture for 2018, this little city is a place very rich in history. Get lost in its streets observing the old building characterized by the gallarija (or gardjoli), colourful balconies which have been taken by Arabic architecture, visit a masterpiece such as St. Jhon’s Co-Cathedral shrouded by myths or enjoy the breathtaking view from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, are some of the main attractions not to be missed.
Valletta must-see attractions
1. Strolling around Valletta’s Streets
Built on a hilltop, Valletta is the country’s main attraction and a must for the tourist. One of the most beautiful things to do during the tour is getting lost through its narrow streets and breathing its ancient history. The capital is organised into a large grid with 12 parallel streets, some of them with fantastic harbour’s views. Another distinctive character of Valletta is the gallarija (or gardjoli), a beautiful and colourful balcony of the houses taken by Arabic architecture. The Island has been influenced by different cultures such as Phoenicians, Romans, and Arabs over the centuries.
2. St. John’s Co-Cathedral
The Co-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is Malta’s main attractions, a unique monument of international importance that will leave you speechless. Built between 1572 and 1577, it is one of the largest cathedrals in the world and one of the main examples of Baroque architecture in Europe, embellished by Caravaggio’s paintings and works by Mattia Preti. Like the entire centre of Valletta, the Cathedral is part of the UNESCO world heritage sites, and it was the conventual church of the Order of the Knights of St John for over 200 years.
- Fees: Adults €10, Students or Senior Citizens €7.50, Children under 12 enter free.
- Opening Hours: Monday – Friday 9:30 am to 4:30 pm (ticket office closes at 4 pm), Saturday 9:30 am to 12:30 pm (ticket office closes at noon), Sundays & Public Holidays Closed.
St. John Co-Cathedral is one of the most tourist places in Valletta, so you should try to get there early and visit it during opening hours to avoid the crowd. Remember to observe the dress code since the Co-Cathedral is a religious place.
3. Grand Master’s Palace
Situated between the Old Theatre and Merchant Street in the centre of Valletta, the Grandmaster’s Palace is another popular attraction of the city. Built in 1569, it was initially the residence of the Grand Masters of the Order of Malta and then later the British colonial governors. Nowadays, it serves as the President’s office and the House of Representatives. The visit includes “The Palace Armoury”, one of the world’s most extensive arms collections.
- Fees: Palace €4.66, Armoury €4.70.
- Opening Hours: Monday-Friday (Closed on Thursdays) 10 am – 4 pm, Saturday – Sunday: 9 am – 5 pm.
4. Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
Situated in the centre of Valletta, Upper Barrakka Gardens offer different reasons for being visited. Apart from its picturesque garden where you can rest or eat surrounded by numerous arches, flowers, and fountains, Upper Barrakka Gardens overlook the Grand Harbour. Once at its terrace, you will enjoy a breathtaking view over the Three Cities. Moreover, every day at 12 pm and 4 pm, you can experience the Saluting Battery, a fascinating demonstration where one of the guns at the battery firing a salute.
- Fees: Free.
- Opening Hours: The Upper Barrakka Gardens are open daily from 7 am to 10 pm.
Lower Barrakka Gardens are situated a bit further close to Fort Saint Elmo. It is a fascinating place to visit because of its fantastic view of the Grand Harbour and the Siege Bell War Memorial, known as the “Bell of Valletta”, and the Neoclassical Temple, a monument to Sir Alexander Ball.
Fees: Free. Opening Hours: Like the Upper Barrakka Gardens, the Lower gardens are open from 7 am to 10 pm.
5. Casa Rocca Piccola
This “living museum”, situated in Republic Street, is a noble palace where, since the 16th century, the 9 generations of the Marquis de Piro family (a Maltese noble family) have been living here. The Casa Rocca Piccola is a unique place where you can learn more about the history and the culture of the Maltese aristocracy. For more info and plan your visit, click on Casa Rocca Piccola.
- Fees: only guided tours (on the hour) – €9 for adults and €5 for students (children under 14 are free).
- Opening Hours: Casa Rocca Piccola is open from 10 am to 5 pm every day except Sundays and Public Holidays (the last tour starts at 4 pm).
6. Manoel Theatre
One of the oldest theatres in Europe, Teatru Manoel is an elegant small baroque theatre located in the heart of the city at Old Theatre Street. The National Theatre of Malta was built in 1731 to entertain knights and people, and it worth a quick visit. If you are interested, you can also attend a concert or theatrical performance. Check on the official website of the Theatre for the upcoming events.
- Fees: €5.
- Opening Hours: Mondays to Fridays: 09:30 to 16:30 (last entry), Saturdays: 10:00 to 14:00 (last entry).
7. The National Museum of Archaeology
Even though quite small, the National Museum is the right place to learn more about Malta’s history. Housed in Auberge de Provence (an example of exquisite Baroque architecture built in 1571) at Republic Street, the Museum exhibits an excellent range of artefacts dating back to Malta’s Neolithic period (5000 BC) up to the Phoenician Period (400 BC). For more info, check the official website of Malta Heritage.
- Fees: €5.00.
- Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 9 am – 5 pm (January to September); Monday to Sunday: 9 am – 6 pm (October to December). Closed on 24, 25 & 31 December, 1 January & Good Friday.
8. National Museum of Fine Arts
This Museum is housed in a beautiful palace that was originally a residence for the Knights of Malta in South Street of Valletta. Its collection represents important works of Maltese art from the 12th century to the 20th century. It is the best selection of Baroque art masterpieces on the island. For more information, check the official page of the museum, which Heritage Malta manages.
- Fees: €5.00.
- Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm (4.30 pm last admission).
9. The Fort St. Elmo and the National War Museum
Thanks to many years of restoration, this fantastic piece of Malta’s history is open to tourists who want to learn more about the battles on the island, such as the Great Siege of 1565. Located on the seaward shore of Valletta, the Fort had an essential role in protecting the approach to Malta’s main harbours.
Inside the Fort, we can find Malta’s National War Museum, which displays military memorabilia from the British period, focusing on World War II.
- Fees: €10.00 Adult (18 to 59 years), €7.50 Youths (12 to 17 years and local students), €7.50 Senior citizens (60 years and over), €5.50 Children (6 to 11 years) Free Infants (1 to 5 years).
- Opening Times: 1st October – 31st March from 9 am to 5 pm (last admission at 4:30 pm); 1st April – 30th September from 9 am to 6 pm (last entry at 5:30 pm). Closed 24, 25 and 31st December, 1st January, Good Friday.
10. Visit Caffè Cordina and try local food
Located in an old palazzo in the bustling Republic Street of Valletta, Caffe Cordina is not a simple cafeteria – restaurant where to eat or sip a drink, but it is an institution. Founded in 1837, Caffè Cordina has a long history behind it, and the elegant ceiling gives you an idea of the historical place you are visiting.
During your visit to the capital Valletta while you are strolling around, don’t miss to try some typical local food such as bruschetta, pastizzi or salad. Check here to see the list of the best restaurants in Valletta.
11. Valletta’s Churches
Apart from the marvellous St. John Co-Cathedral, Valletta boasts over 25 churches with much beautiful architecture and interior décor. All of them have a great history behind, and they are a testament to the centuries-old ingrained Catholic faith of the Maltese.
- Our top five churches in Valletta.
12. Valletta Waterfront
The beautiful baroque buildings along the Marsamxett Harbor were commissioned in the 18th century by Grand Master Pinto for storing goods such as grain, vegetables or fish. Nowadays, the Valletta Waterfront is a nice place where you can walk and find restaurants, bars, clubs, and the worldwide known Hard Rock Cafè. If you want more information about Valletta Waterfront, click here.
Other attractions after visiting Valletta
Usually, if you want to visit the main attractions of Valletta without rushing (also considering the quite limited opening hours), you need a whole day. Anyway, if you have only a day and you’d like to link the visit of Malta’s capital with other attractions, The Three cities and Floriana are the closest and most comfortable to reach.
13. The Three Cities
Once you’ve visited Valletta, go to the Upper Barrakka Gardens and take the lift for heading to the jetty located only 5 minutes walk from the lift itself and where the ferry will bring you to three cities. Senglea (L’Isla), Cospicua (Bormla), and Birgu (Vittoriosa) are just situated in front of the Maltese capital and walking through its alleys is like to back in time. Here you can breathe the ancient history of Malta and visit beautiful places such as Gardijola Gardens, St. Lawrence’s Church, the Inquisitor’s palace or Fort Saint Angelo.
Fees: Adult: Single: € 1.50, Return: € 2.80. Children Single: € 0.50, Return: € 0.90 (Adult Night Single: € 1.75, Return: € 3.30. Night Service Commences @ 19.30) Weekly pass valid for 7 consecutive days with unrestricted use on the purchased route € 10.00. Ferry Schedule: click here.
- Strolling through the Three Cities
Floriana is the city located just outside the walls of Valletta (next to the main bus terminal). Its development is linked to the defensive needs of Valletta: in fact, it arose in the early eighteenth century between the second walls of Valletta, the Floriana Lines, from which it takes its name, and the walls of the capital. The visit through its attractions and beautiful narrow alleys takes around a couple of hours.
- What to see in Floriana.
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