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Top things to do in Valletta, Malta plus city guide

It’s 7:15 am, and we’re standing on the bow of the Silhouette, excited for a glimpse of Valletta, Malta’s capital city. The sea is calm, and, as the sun creeps higher in the sky our cruise ship slowly glides into Valletta’s Grand Harbour. And it’s stunning.

The Grand Harbour, Malta
The Grand Harbour, Malta

The rising sun paints the sixteenth-century bastion walls gold, and the first historic buildings we see are interspersed with honey-coloured domes, spires and arches. Valletta is steeped in history and it’s incredibly easy on the eye.

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About Valletta, Malta

The small city of Valletta covers an area of less than one square kilometre, and the city’s grid system makes it easy to get around on foot. In fact, it’s small enough that you can fit all the best things to do in Valletta into one day, which is what we did on our cruise. This was our second visit to the city after spending a few days on the island a couple of years before and I was excited to be returning.

Valletta takes its name from its founder, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette and owes its existence to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. This medieval Catholic military order controlled Malta for 268 years and created Valletta as a fortified city to provide refuge for injured soldiers and pilgrims during the 16th-century Crusades.

The Knights’ control of Malta ended when Napoleon captured the island in 1798. The island then became a British protectorate in 1800 before gaining independence when British rule ended in 1964.

The Grand Harbour, Malta
The Grand Harbour, Malta

Is Valletta, Malta, worth visiting?

My answer to this question is an emphatic “Yes!” Valletta is well worth visiting with a long list of things to see and do.

The beautiful city of Valletta is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, packed with history, culture, museums and churches. There’s also a vibrant food scene with many restaurants, bars and cafes to enjoy. Valletta was European capital of culture in 2018.

I’ve been lucky to visit Valletta twice. The first time was during a longer trip to Malta and then I later visited for a day trip during a cruise. I enjoyed exploring Valletta just as much the second time around, although only spending a day there was a bit of a tease. However, you can still see all Valletta’s best things to do in one day.

The best things to do in Valletta, Malta

If you’re planning to visit Malta, here are my recommendations for the best things to do in Valletta whether you have just one day or a week on the island.

Upper Barrakka Gardens

Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta, Malta
Upper Barrakka Gardens

The Upper Barrakka Gardens are public garden in Valletta, Malta, with a stunning panoramic view of the Grand Harbour. It’s located on the upper tier of Saints Peter and Paul Bastion, a large, two-tiered bulwark built in the 1560s. The 20-storey Upper Barrakka Lift will save you the knee-crunching hike up the steep 280 steps that lead to the Upper Gardens. Costing just €1 for the return trip, it’s worth every cent!.

Along with the nearby Lower Barrakka Gardens, the Upper Barrakka Gardens were designed to provide recreation to the Knights of the Order of Saint John. Following the end of the French occupation of Malta in 1800, the gardens were opened to the public.

This is one of the best places for enjoying the panoramic views across one of the world’s deepest natural harbours. You can also see the famous saluting battery from here. Go just before midday or 1600 hrs and watch the cannons being prepared for the salute on Valletta’s historic ramparts. 

Auberge de Castille

The Auberge de Castille was built in the 1740s and is where the Knights would have lived when they weren’t serving in the hospitals of Malta. This historic building’s imposing Baroque architecture makes it one of Malta’s finest buildings, featuring ornate columns, trophies of arms, and a bronze bust of Grand Master Manuel Pinto da Fonseca.

You’ll find the Auberge at the highest point of Valletta in Castile Place, close to the Upper Barrakka Gardens and overlooking the Grand Harbour.

The Great Siege Monument

Great Siege Monument, Valletta
The Great Siege Monument

The Great Siege Monument has been described as “one of the most emblematic sculptures on the island”. This bronze monument commemorates the Great Siege of 1565, when the Ottoman Empire invaded Malta. The Knights, helped by 2,000 foot soldiers and 400 Maltese men, women and children, defeated the Turks in one of the fiercest battles in history.

The Neoclassical sculpture was created by Antonio Sciortino and features three bronze figures symbolising Faith, Fortitude, and Civilisation. The male figure in the centre represents Fortitude, or Valour, and is flanked by two female figures. One of these, Faith, holds a papal tiara while the other, Civilisation, has a mask of the Roman goddess of Wisdom, Minerva,.

The monument was inaugurated in 1927 and can be found on Great Siege Square, near Saint John’s Co-Cathedral on Valletta’s main road, Republic Street.

Malta and WWII

Malta has close links with the UK and played a crucial role in the Mediterranean campaign during World War II. Churchill described Malta as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” due to its strategic importance for the North Africa front.

During the Siege of Malta, the island was bombed over 3000 times in two years, but the population held firm and resisted invasion. The Maltese people were rewarded for their bravery when George VI awarded the entire island the George Cross.

Iconic red British telephone and post boxes are still used on the island today which made us feel quite at home!

Explore Valletta’s streets

Valletta Street with balconies
Valletta Street with balconies

A stroll through Valletta’s quiet, narrow streets gives you a taste of everyday life on Malta and an opportunity to meet some interesting characters. The small city centre is very pedestrian-friendly, and the cobbled Valletta streets will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

The straight streets, grid layout and wide piazzas mean that Valletta is very easy to explore on your own.

Alternatively, you could join a Valletta walking tour to discover some of the city’s main attractions and hidden gems with a local expert. This four-hour walking tour of Valletta will lead you past baroque palaces and beautiful medieval buildings with their traditional balconies.

You’ll enjoy the breathtaking views from Upper Barrakka Gardens while your expert guide tells you tales of the Knights of Malta, and you can also add on an optional tour of St John’s Co-Cathedral. Read More: Things You Should Know Before Visiting Malta

St John’s Co-Cathedral and Carvaggio paintings

St. John’s Co-Cathedral Valletta, Malta
St. John’s Co-Cathedral Valletta, Malta

St. John’s Co-Cathedral is one of Valletta’s two cathedrals and was commissioned by the Order of the Knights of St John in the late 1500s. It was originally known as the Roman Catholic Conventual Church of Saint John before being designated a co-cathedral in the 1820s.

The interior of St John’s was redecorated in the 17th century. It became one of Europe’s finest examples of high Baroque architecture, with intricately carved stone walls and an elaborate vaulted ceiling. The co-cathedral is also worth visiting to see The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, painted by Caravaggio in 1608. This is considered one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces and is the only painting signed by him.

You’ll also find more works of art in the St. John’s Co-Cathedral Museum next door, including Flemish Tapestries designed by Peter Paul Rubens and paintings of the Grand Masters.

Valletta City Gate and new parliament building

City Gate guards the entrance to the walled city of Valletta, Malta, and the gate you see today is actually the fifth one on that site. The original gate in the city walls was built in the mid-16th century during the reign of Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette, who gave his name to the city.

The present City Gate gate was built between 2011 and 2014. It marks the beginning of Republic Street, the main road in Valletta that leads all the way along to Fort Saint Elmo.

Nearby, you’ll also find the new Parliament House, which was completed in 2015 to a rather controversial modern design by Renzo Piano. The unusual cladding is meant to represent honeycombs, as the name Malta is derived from Melite, meaning honey.

Harbour cruise

Valletta Harbour
Valletta Harbour, Malta

A Valletta harbour cruise is the best way to see the city from a different angle while avoiding the tourist crowds. This Valletta harbour cruise in a traditional Maltese boat will take you on a 1.5-hour trip around Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour. You’ll see forts, creeks and marinas while your expert guide regales you with tales of Valletta’s history from the Great Siege of Malta to the Second World War. 

Or you could sail from the nearby town of Sliema on a 1.5-hour sightseeing cruise around Valletta. Accompanied by a local expert, your boat trip will take you past the historic Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua and around Valletta’s two natural harbours.

Valletta Waterfront

The Waterfront, Valletta, Malta
Valletta Waterfront

Valletta Waterfront is a promenade that leads along a redeveloped waterfront featuring buildings originally built as stores and warehouses in the 18th century. Nowadays, the area is a popular stop for cruise ships and is filled with bars, shops and restaurants. It also hosts regular concerts and events.

The Valletta waterfront offers some of the best views across the harbour, and it’s a great place to enjoy a meal or just wander and check out the views.

The Lascaris War Rooms

The Lascaris War Rooms are a complex of underground tunnels and chambers built by the British during World War II to house the War Headquarters. After the war, NATO used the rooms until 1977, and the complex is now a public museum.

The museum’s collection contains authentic WWII equipment, and you can either explore the rooms on your own or join a guided tour to learn more about Operation Husky and Malta’s World War II history. The tour is not included in your entrance fee and is an extra cost.

Website: Lascaris War Rooms

Address: Lascaris Ditch Valletta, VLT 2000, Malta

Opening Hours: 10 am to 4.30 pm, Monday to Saturday

Entry: Adults (16+) €14, concessions and family tickets available

The Triton fountain, Valletta
The Triton fountain, Valletta

National War Museum at Fort St Elmo

Fort Saint Elmo is a star-shaped fortress on the Sciberras Peninsula between Marsamxett Harbour and Grand Harbour. It played a crucial role in the 1565 Great Siege of Malta, helping to hold back the Ottoman Armada for a month before finally surrendering. The fort also helped defend Malta during World War II and was the site of the island’s first aerial bombardment in June 1940.

Fort St. Elmo is now home to Malta’s National War Museum, covering 7000 years of military history from the Bronze Age to the 20th century. You can see military armour dating back to the days of the Order of St John, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘Husky’ Jeep and Malta’s George Cross.

As we passed Fort St Elmo and walked back along the quiet quay, fishermen were casting lines for their lunch, and some Mods buzzed past on their Lambrettas. Valletta has a chilled, Sunday vibe that’s very relaxing. 

>>>Book tickets for the National War Museum

Address: Mediterranean Street, St. Elmo Place, Il-Belt Valletta, Malta

Opening Hours: 10 am to 6 pm daily

Grand Master’s Palace

You’ll find the Grandmaster’s Palace overlooking St. George’s Square in central Valletta. The Knights of St John built the palace for their Grand Masters, who ruled Malta between 1530 and 1798. Later, it served as the Governor’s Palace during the British period and the island’s first constitutional palace between 1921 and 2015.

The simple and austere Mannerist style of the palace’s exterior contrasts with the ornate Palace state rooms and decorations inside. These include a series of wall paintings portraying the Great Siege of 1955 and an elaborate set of French Gobelins tapestries. 

The Palace Armoury, or at least part of the original armoury, is still housed here in its original building and has been open as a museum since 1860. It’s one of the largest collections of arms in the world today. 

The Grand Master’s Palace is currently closed for restoration.

The War Letters

The War Letters on the Grand Palace, Valletta, Malta
Placques on the Grand Palace, Malta

Just a short walk from the Grand Master’s Palace, you’ll find wall plaque reproductions of two letters sent to the Maltese people during World War II.

The first is a letter from King George VI, who awarded the George Cross to the people of “the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history”.

The second plaque is a reproduction of a letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the USA during the Second World War. He wrote that the people of Malta, “in the cause of freedom and justice and decency throughout the world, have rendered valorous service far above and beyond the call of duty.”

Marsaxlokk Market

If you have enough time in Valletta, it’s worth making the short trip from Valletta to the bustling Marsaxlokk Market, which takes place each Sunday. As well as the fascinating Sunday fish market, it’s a good place to buy clothing, traditional handicrafts and souvenirs.

Even if you don’t want to go shopping, this is the perfect place for people-watching while you relax with breakfast or a coffee.

Bus 82 and Bus 85 will take you to Marsaxlokk Market from Valletta bus station. Early in the morning, the market is a great spot to catch the sunrise and watch the fishermen returning from sea, or you could arrive late in the day to avoid the crowds.

Explore the food of Valletta, Malta

Cafè Cordina, Valletta
Cafè Cordina, Valletta

Valletta has many bars, cafes and restaurants to choose from, and the prices are pretty reasonable. Except on weekends, you don’t generally need to book in advance, but if there’s a restaurant you really want to try, advance booking is a good idea. 

The options range from cosy family-run restaurants like Cafe Minas, where you can tuck into authentic Maltese food in a quiet side street location, to the elegant Michelin Guide-listed Harbour Club, where you can enjoy delicious seasonal and local cuisine from their terrace overlooking the Grand Harbour. 

Or why not join a guided Valletta food tour to learn about the culture and history of Malta while sampling delicious regional food and drink. This three-hour walking tour will take you to various Valletta landmarks and show you some of the influences that have shaped the city. Your expert guide will also share tips on where to shop and eat in Valletta, and you’ll try some authentic traditional Maltese specialities along the way.

The National Maritime Museum

Malta’s island location has given it a rich sea-faring history that you can explore in the National Maritime Museum, Malta’s largest museum.

The museum opened in 1988 and now has a collection of over 20,000 artefacts charting the island’s 7000-year maritime history. Some notable exhibits include the world’s largest known Roman anchor, weighing 4 tonnes, the figurehead of the Napoleonic-era HMS Hibernia and more than 60 traditional Maltese boats. The National Maritime Museum in Malta is currently closed for an extensive redevelopment project.

Guide to visiting Valletta, Malta

If you’re planning to visit Malta, here’s all you need to know about how to get there, when to visit and where to stay.

How to get to Valletta, Malta

Flights to Malta

Flights to Malta are available from a wide range of UK airports, with many of them offering direct flights. Check flights to Malta on Skyscanner.

Transfers from Malta Airport to Valletta

Despite being the capital of Malta, Valletta doesn’t have its own airport. The only airport on the island is Malta International Airport, around 8km from Valletta.

The cheapest way to reach Valletta from Malta International Airport is to take the X4 Birzebbuga – Valletta bus, which only costs a few euros. A taxi will cost you around €20, or you can book seats on a shared shuttle bus for about €7 per person, one way.

Taking the bus to Valletta

Buses are the only form of public transport in Malta, and most bus routes run to and from Valletta. Bus fares are generally between €1.50 and €2, and you can also buy great value multi-day tickets if you want to explore more of the area around Valletta. Visit the Malta Public Transport website for more details.

Bookaway is a good option to pre-book transfers and buses.

Travelling to Valletta by Ferry

You can also reach Valletta by ferry from the nearby island of Gozo, which can take around 45 minutes on the high-speed ferry service.

Valletta Buildings

Where to stay in Valletta

You’ll be spoiled for choice when looking for accommodation in Valletta, Malta. The city centre has hotels and apartments to suit every budget!

Budget accommodation in Valletta

If you prefer to stay in an apartment, you’ll find some great options for budget accommodation in Valletta. SallyPort City Pads offers elegant, air-conditioned self-catering apartments, each with its own fully equipped kitchen, flat-screen cable TV and free WiFi, together with a modern bathroom and walk-in rain shower.

You’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants and shops near the apartments, and the Presidential Palace and National Archaeological Museum are just a short walk away.

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Valletta? Check rates and availability

Mid-range accommodation in Valletta

The centrally-located Casa Reale Boutique Hotel is a great mid-range hotel in Valletta. Each room has a flat-screen TV and air-conditioning, plus a shower room with complimentary toiletries, and some rooms also have a balcony with city views.

There are plenty of great places to eat nearby, and City Gate is less than 5 minutes’ walk away. Link

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Valletta? Check rates and availability

Luxury accommodation in Valletta

The 4-star Embassy Valletta Hotel is an excellent option if you’re looking for a luxury hotel in Valletta. Every room is fully equipped with air-con, flat-screen TV with cable channels, complimentary toiletries and a separate seating area. The hotel offers free WiFi and has a fitness centre, outdoor swimming pool and restaurant.

The hotel’s central location makes it ideal for exploring Valletta, with the Upper Barrakka Gardens less than a 10-minute walk away. 

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Valletta? Check rates and availability

When is the best time to Visit Malta?

Valletta Buildings1

Malta’s position in the Mediterranean Sea gives it a gorgeous, warm climate all year round. The summers are hot and dry, with average daily temperatures reaching 28-32°C and very little rain.

Mild winter temperatures make Malta a great option for out-of-season travel. Daily average temperatures are around 15-17°C between December and February.

Spring and early summer are ideal times to visit Malta, as the weather isn’t too hot and there are fewer tourists than in the main summer season. If you love hot weather, you should see 12 hours of hot sunshine each day throughout summer. 

Is Valletta worth visiting?

Absolutely yes, Valletta is worth visiting if you love history and Mediterranean islands. We spent one day exploring Valletta during our cruise and a week on the island on another visit.

The island of Malta is saturated with history and I’d love to return to delve more into its vibrant past and spend time relaxing and enjoying its food, wine and hospitality. And, of course, there’s the island of Gozo to explore too. 

Spending one day in Valletta from your cruise ship is just long enough to provide a taste of this fascinating city. You’ll undoubtedly want to return and explore the city properly and immerse yourself in Malta’s rich history.

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Valletta? Check rates and availability

Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises UK for hosting me on my first cruise. As always, good, bad or otherwise, views and opinions are entirely my own.

Read More: Things you should know before visiting Malta


Sunday 18th of December 2022

I am hoping to visit Malta this spring. The architecture looks fabulous! I can't wait to discover it for myself. You're not joking about the history! As well as Valetta, I'm planning a visit to Ġgantija,the megalithic temple complex on Gozo. It looks fascinating.

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 20th of December 2022

I think you'll love Malta, there's so much history there and yes the architecture is stunning. I haven't been to Gozo so I look forward to any blogs you create.

Travelbunny Highlights 2013 | The Travelbunny

Monday 30th of December 2013

[…] Cruises as a #destinationblogger visiting Kotor and Budva in Montenegro, Matera in Italy, Corfu and Valletta in Malta.  The ship, Silhouette, was a destination in herself and warranted a thorough exploration […]


Tuesday 17th of December 2013

Nice one Suzanne. You keep adding destinations to our 'possibles' list. Just not enough time do visit them all.

Suzanne Courtney

Tuesday 17th of December 2013

Ha ha - I know the feeling Dave :)

Setting Sail with Celebrity Cruises | The Travelbunny

Tuesday 17th of December 2013

[…] Dubrovnik I visited Kotor and Budva in Montenegro, Matera in Italy, the island of Corfu and finally Valletta in Malta.  Five destinations in five days without taking another flight.  Clever huh?  Actually […]

Anne Woodyard (@MusicandMarkets)

Saturday 14th of December 2013

Gorgeous photos and intriguing prose - thanks! Malta's been on our wish list for years now... someday!

Suzanne Courtney

Sunday 15th of December 2013

Thank you - I have a lot of 'somedays' on my travel list too :)

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