The 10 Best Things to Do in Valletta
You’re going to Malta and plan to visit Valletta, its beautiful capital city? Great choice, you will love it for sure!
In order to help you make the most out of your stay in one of the smallest European capitals, I have prepared a list of the 10 best things to do in Valletta.
In addition to the must-see attractions, I will give you itineraries to visit the city in 1, 2 or 3 days as well as a list of the best accommodations depending on your budget.
Now, it’s time to immerse yourself in the rich history of Valletta and the famous Order of the Knights Hospitallers.
- The 10 Best Things to Do in Valletta
- Visit Valletta: The 10 Must-See Attractions and Points of Interest
- 1. St. John’s Co-Cathedral
- 2. Grand Master’s Palace
- 3. Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
- 4. Republic Street and Merchant Street
- 5. The Casa Rocca Piccola
- 6. Teatru Manoel
- 7. The National Museum of Archaeology
- 8. National Museum of Fine Arts
- 9. The Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum
- 10. The Three Cities
- How many days to visit Valletta?
- 1 day in Valletta
- 2 days in Valletta
- 3 days in Valletta
- Where to stay in Valletta
- Where to eat in Valletta
- My impression of Valletta
- Valletta tourist map
- You’re traveling in Malta? These articles will help you!
- Visit Valletta: The 10 Must-See Attractions and Points of Interest
Visit Valletta: The 10 Must-See Attractions and Points of Interest
1. St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Let’s start your visit to Valletta with a masterpiece of Baroque art: St. John’s Co-Cathedral.
Its somewhat simple facade hides a breathtaking interior. At first glance, there is so much things to see that it’s even a bit confusing. When I walked in, I didn’t know what to look at first!
The marble floor decorated with coat of arms houses the Knights of the Order tombs. The vault is entirely covered with frescoes depicting the life of St. John the Baptist.
You can also discover the eight chapels, each dedicated to one of the languages of the Order and richly decorated. And as if that wasn’t enough to dazzle you, the pillars and walls are all covered with magnificent golden decorations! Lastly, you will have the opportunity to admire some of Caravaggio’s paintings.
In order to get in, you need to follow the dress-code: shawls are distributed inside to cover your arms and legs. Ladies are not allowed to wear high heels because they could damage the precious floor. Anyway, it’s not a very good idea to wear high heels to walk in the cobbled alleys of Valletta!
You can find all the information you need to visit the cathedral on the official website.
2. Grand Master’s Palace
The Grand Master’s Palace is the second major tourist attraction of Valletta.
As its name suggest, it was originally the Grand Masters of the Order of Malta’s residence. Nowadays, the palace houses the President of Malta Office. It’s actually quite surprising that, although housing one of the highest authorities of the country, the palace can be visited freely.
From the start, you will be surprised by the beautiful courtyards with fountains and statues: a bit of shade is more than welcome during the hot days.
Inside the palace, you will have access to the State Rooms, which includes the Council Chamber and its magnificent drapes made by the Gobelins manufactory.
You can also visit the official dining room, the Supreme Council Hall and the Page’s Waiting Room (the grand master had 16 servants!). Finally you can discover the ambassador’s room, the former Grand Master’s audience chamber. Today, Maltese presidents still welcome foreign guests here.
In the part of the palace that used to be stables, you can also visit the armoury: it houses an impressive collection of weapons and armors. All of them are authentic and were used by the Knights and Grand Masters of the Order of Malta. When a knight died, his armour became the property of the order. That explains why there are so many to admire today!
I visited the Royal Armoury of Turin, in Italy, 2 months before and I was particularly thrilled. This one is also really worth a look if you are in Malta! Nearly 5000 armors, crossbows, muskets and swords are exposed. They really shows the visitor how heavy was the military equipment and gives you a glimpse of what war was at that time.
The price is 12€ for about 2 hours of visit.
3. Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
Every day at noon, you can hear cannon shots in Valletta. This may surprise you at first, but don’t worry, there is no need to go back to the Armoury to arm yourself, the situation is under control!
What you can do however, is head to Upper Barrakka Gardens, a garden located in the centre of Valletta to attend one of the capital’s major attractions.
Overlooking Grand Harbour, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, with its numerous arches, benches and flower beds offers a breathtaking view over the Three Cities.
It’s a very pleasant place to rest a bit during the day. Finding a bit of greenery and shade during the hot Maltese summer feels good!
Below the gardens, you will find the Saluting Battery. Once used to greet foreign ships, the cannons have been restored to bring a bit of folklore to your visit of the city. A salvo is fired every day at 12:00, by people in historic costumes.
You may suspect that if there are Upper Gardens, there must be Lower Gardens as well. You’re right!
The Lower Barrakka Gardens, is a bit further along the seashore, close to Fort Saint Elmo.
Smaller than its big brother, it is especially worth a look for 2 things:
- The small neoclassical temple, dedicated to Alexander Ball, the gentleman who led the Maltese in war against the French.
- The Siege Bell War Memorial, often simply called “The Bell” is a very photogenic monument, with the sea and the Three Cities in the background.
4. Republic Street and Merchant Street
During your visit to Valletta, you shouldn’t miss the 2 main shopping streets.
Republic and Merchant streets are the best places to find souvenir shops with magnets, postcards, “I love Malta” t-shirts and Malta’s iconic souvenir: a knight of the Order of Malta figurine. Yes, in case you’re wondering, I do have one of these in my living room now!
While walking along the street, you will also find a lot of jewellers: Maltese craftsmen are renowned for their gold and silver filigree. Some of the works are particularly impressive.
In Republic Street, there are numerous cafes and restaurants with terraces: perfect for your lunch break! You will also be able to see some monuments like St Francis of Assisi Church, the Church of Saint Barbara or the Parliament (The Grand Master Palace I told you about earlier).
Still in Republic Street, there is a big local market that takes place every Sunday morning. You should go early to avoid the crowds!
5. The Casa Rocca Piccola
The Casa Rocca Piccola is the only palace in Valletta that is still inhabited. Since the XVI century, 9 generations of Marquis de Piro have been living here.
The owner has opened a part of his house to the public in order to share and spread the history and culture of a Maltese aristocratic family. You will be able to visit about 12 rooms of the palace and discover the private collections of the Marquis as well as objects of the daily life of the past centuries.
At the end of the visit, you will go to the air raid shelters dug during the Second World War.
There are only guided tours (no free visit) in English, which take about 1 hour. You can even book a private tour with the Marquis (obviously more expensive).
Find all the information you need to plan your visit on the official website.
6. Teatru Manoel
Built in 1731 to entertain the knights and the population, the Maltese national theatre or “Teatru Manoel” is one of the oldest in Europe.
This small but pretty theatre is worth a look for its elegant baroque hall with its impressive golden chandelier. You can also see an exhibition about the history of the theatre.
You can visit it (with audio guide if you want), attend a concert or a theatrical performance.
If you want more info about the theatre, you can go on the official website. There, you can also book your tickets for one of the shows.
7. The National Museum of Archaeology
The National Museum of Archaeology is located in the Auberge de Provence. Built in 1571, at the same time as the city, it housed the Provençal-speaking knights.
The museum is quite small but very complete and well done. It gives a good idea of Malta’s history from the Neolithic period (5000 BC) up to the Tarxien phase (2500 BC). It presents a collection of objects of all kinds from prehistoric and megalithic temples discovered on the island such as pottery and statuettes.
Don’t miss the 2 most famous statuettes: “the Sleeping Lady” and the “Venus of Malta”.
8. National Museum of Fine Arts
The National Museum of Fine Arts houses an important collection of sculptures, paintings, furniture and objects associated with the knights of the order of Malta. They practically all come from the Grand Masters Palace or one of the various knights’ auberges.
You will find notable works of Mattia Preti, a knight who also painted the frescoes on the vault of St. John’s Co-Cathedral.
Don’t miss: the section of the museum dedicate to the weapons, costumes and coats of arms of the knights!
As the museum is too old and small, it’s being relocated to the “Auberge d’Italie” for the “Valletta, European Capital of Culture in 2018” Event. The new museum, named MUZA, is scheduled to open in 2018.
9. The Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum
The Fort St Elmo was built in 1552 by the knights to protect Valletta harbours. Historically, it’s especially known for one of the most tragic event that happened in Malta: “The Great Siege”. For more than 30 days, the turks besieged and bombed the fort. When it was captured, almost all the defenders were killed (1500 men).
A few centuries later, during World War II, it still acted as a major defensive infrastructure and was bombed by the Italian Royal Air Force.
Today, in addition of being an important memorial site for Maltese people, the Fort St Elmo hosts the National War Museum. If you’re interested in Malta’s war history, it’s the place to visit!
In the museum you can discover one of the 3 planes used to defend Malta against Italy. It’s the only one that wasn’t destroyed! You can also admire the George Cross, awarded by the English King George VI to all Maltese people for their courage.
The view over the sea from the fort is a must see.
10. The Three Cities
You have seen them from the Upper Barraka Garden, it is now time to go visit the Three Cities!
To go there, take the lift down from the garden (going down is free, going back up is also free if you show your Three Cities boat ticket), cross the street and continue on the left. You will arrive on the boat departure location.
A round trip to the three Cities costs 2.80€ and takes about 10 minutes one way with the ferry. You can also opt for a traditional boat trip that lasts a little longer and is a bit more expensive.
The ferry will take you to Vittoriosa (also called Birgu in Maltese), one of the Three Cities, along with Senglea and Cospicua. They all offer magnificent views over Valletta and can easily be visited on foot.
Here are the best places to see in each city:
- In Vittoriosa : The Fort St. Angelo, the Inquisitor’s palace, the maritime museum and the Collegiate Church of Saint Lawrence
- In Senglea : go to one of the most beautiful viewpoint on Valletta, the Safe Heaven gardens, located at the tip of the city.
- A Cospicua, explore its small streets as you please.
How many days to visit Valletta?
In 2 days in Valletta, you will have the time to see most of the must-see attractions I have mentioned in this article.
And if you would like to visit absolutely every points of interest, I suggest you to stay 3 days in town.
If you don’t want to change hotel during your trip to Malta, you can even stay for a longer time and spend a week in the city! Then, do day trips from Valletta to the other touristic places such as Mdina, Rabat, Blue Grotto or even take a boat to Comino.
1 day in Valletta
Here is an itinerary for a day in Valletta:
- Visit the St. John’s Co-Cathedral
- Take a walk and do some shopping in Republic Street and Merchant Street
- Go to Barrakka Upper Gardens at noon
- Visit the Grand Master’s Palace and the armoury
- Go to the Barrakka Lower Gardens.
2 days in Valletta
In addition to the first day presented above, you can do the following for your 2nd day in Valletta:
- Discover the lifestyle of the Maltese aristocracy with a visit to Casa Rocca Piccola
- Immerse yourself in the island’s tumultuous history by visiting Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum
- Lunch break
- Visit the Three Cities in the afternoon.
3 days in Valletta
If you have 3 days to visit Valletta, you can do the following, in addition to the previous days mentioned above:
- Go to the Teatru Manoel
- Visit the National Museum of Archaeology
- In the afternoon, you can for example take the ferry to Sliema, the starting point of a nice seaside walk. It is also the perfect place for shopping, with many shopping malls and boutiques.
Other options for your 3rd day in Valletta are:
- A day trip to Comino island
- Half a day in Mdina + Rabat
- Half a day in Blue Grotto and around.
Where to stay in Valletta
- Private Room : Located 300 metres away from Fort St Elmo and 700 meters from the Upper Barrakka gardens. Comfortable double room from 75€, breakfast included. Strong points: the excellent location, the hospitality and kindness of the host, the calm.
- Grand Harbour Hôtel: Hotel with traditional architecture, located in the heart of downtown Valletta, only 100 meters away from the Upper Barraka Gardens. Standard double room from 90€ per night or view sea + Three Cities view for 110€, breakfast included. Strong points: ideal location, magnificent view, roof terrace.
- Tano’s Boutique guesthouse: Hotel located in the center of Valletta, very close to all the best places to visit. Spacious and bright double room from 115€ per night. Strong points: the central location, the calm, the terrace on the roof for breakfast. The best value for money in town!
- Grand Hôtel Excelsior: 5* Hotel located on the waterfront, the view is stunning! Very nice rooms starting at 170€ per night. Strong points: The swimming pool, jacuzzi, free parking, the amazing breakfast and many other things that will make your stay in Valletta truly exceptional. My favourite place to stay in Valletta!
- Hôtel Phoenicia Malta: Luxury hotel located on City Gate square. Spacious, bright and tastefully decorated double room from 349€, breakfast at 17€. Strong points: the infinity pool with view on the port, the huge garden, the place and the free private parking. It’s simply the best hotel in Valletta, if you can afford it.
Where to eat in Valletta
- Beati Paoli Restaurant: Located on Saint-Paul Street. Small restaurant with traditional cuisine, the dishes are copious and delicious. The staff is very friendly. Good time guaranteed!
- Rubino: Located on Old Bakery Street. Typical home cooking with fresh and local products. The dishes are very tasty and copious. Home made desserts. One of the best place to taste local Maltese cuisine in Valletta.
- Dimitri Cafe: Located on Saint-Paul Street. A very small restaurant with simple and local cuisine. Everything is home made, even the bread! Wide choice of well cooked fresh fish dishes. The owner is adorable and the prices more than fair. Note that the restaurant doesn’t accept credit card, you are warned!
My impression of Valletta
Compared to other European capitals, Valletta is a very small town and that’s what I love about it! It’s extremely pleasant to walk around this ancient city, full of interesting places to visit. There really are really things to discover around every corner.
I was particularly impressed by the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the interior is truly breathtaking!
The views from Upper and Lower Barrakka gardens are also amazing, and well, needless to say that a bit of greenery and shade in Malta are always welcome.
And you, how many days are you planning to spend in Valletta? What do you plan to visit?
Valletta tourist map
Malta travel Guides
- Buy the Lonely Planet Malta guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
- Buy the DK Eyewitness Malta guide on Amazon.com or on Amazon.co.uk
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