Things to Do in Valletta
The former capital of Malta, this historic hilltop settlement—known as the Silent City—features honey-hued palazzos and centuries-old buildings. The town center, a knot of shady and quiet streets, is shielded from the hubbub and traffic of the outside world by thick walls that date back to between the 16th and 18th centuries.
The most famous of Malta’s cave complexes, the Blue Grotto is a series of nine caves whose rocky sides glow green, purple, and orange according to their mineral content. Surrounding the caves are some of the clearest, brightest cobalt-blue waters imaginable. The natural wonder got its name from British soldiers stationed in Malta in the 1950s who thought the caves were reminiscent of the Blue Grotto off the Italian island of Capri.
Perched on eastern Valletta’s harbor walls, Upper Barrakka Gardens is one of the city’s top attractions. Created in 1661, the shaded gardens center on a fountain, statues, and colonnaded terraces that command views over Malta’s Grand Harbour.
Stretching along Grand Harbour, below the fortified city and opposite the Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua, the beautifully restored Valletta Waterfront (Pinto Wharf) is the grand frontage of Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Right next to the cruise port, it’s the gateway to Valletta and the rest of Malta.
Malta is famous for the lavish scale of its many churches (there are 25 in Valletta alone, but few live up to the grandeur of the neo-classical Mosta Dome. Its self-supporting dome measures 121 ft (37 m in diameter and is 220 ft (67 m high, with every inch of the interior covered in gilt, frescoes, and marble flooring.
Behind the misleadingly plain baroque facade of St. John's Co-Cathedral (Kon-Katidral ta' San Gwann) hides one of Europe's most spectacular churches, built by the Knights of St. John following their defeat of the Ottoman Turks in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Today, this important religious site is one of Malta’s most visited attractions.
Located around a bay on Malta’s south coast, Marsaxlokk has starred in thousands of postcards and many a film. Check out the colorful traditional boats in this photogenic little town, and be sure to sample some fresh seafood.
The Knights of St. John became the toast of a grateful Europe after their triumph in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, in which they repelled Ottoman invaders. Valletta’s magnificent Grandmaster's Palace in Valletta reflects the knights’ heroic standing and the wealth lavished upon them. Construction began in 1571 on the palace to house the supreme head of the Knights of St. John.
Situated on an abandoned WW2 airfield, Ta’ Qali Crafts Village occupies a series of seemingly ramshackle Nissan huts that offer some of the best selection of authentic Maltese crafts found on Malta. It’s the place to find delicate filigree silverware, handmade lace, hand-blown glass, leather, linen and cheery painted ceramics, all created by local artisans.
These romantic, landscaped gardens have recently been revamped and sit prettily on the edge of Valletta’s ramparts. They offer wonderful birds-eye views east to the entrance to the Grand Harbor and south to Fort St Angelo and the Three Cities of Vittorioso, Senglea and Cospicua and their more famous counterparts, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, are a few minutes’ stroll away on the south-west point of the ramparts. Among the flowers, splashing fountains and palm trees providing solace and shade in the gardens is a Neo-classical monument to Sir Alexander Ball, the first British Governor of Malta, who was appointed in 1813. A number of commemorative plaques mark the walkways, celebrating – among others – the 50th anniversary of the European Union in 2007 and the Prague Spring of 1968.
Accessible from Barriera Wharf along the seafront, the limestone colonnades of the Siege Bell Memorial stand just below Lower Barrakka Gardens. The 10-ton bronze bell commemorates the 7,000 people who died in the two-year Siege of Malta, which ended in 1942, and it was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1992 to mark the 50th anniversary of the siege. Her father King George V awarded the entire Maltese nation the George Cross – the UK’s highest military accolade – in honor of their bravery during the war.
More Things to Do in Valletta
Widely regarded as Valletta’s most beautiful building, the Auberge de Castille sits near the city’s waterfront and serves as the Office of the Prime Minister of Malta. While the rectangular 18h-century building isn’t open to the public, visitors come to admire its glorious baroque facade.
San Anton Gardens are among the most beautiful of the few public parks in Malta. They surround an ornate palazzo built by Grand Master of the Knights of St John, Antoine de Paule, as his summer residence in 1636 – it’s now the official residence of the Maltese President. The gardens were bequeathed to the public in 1882.
Set at the tip of Valletta’s old town, where it guards Marsamxett and the Grand Harbour, the star-shaped Fort St. Elmo earned its place in history during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 when the Knights of St. John repelled Ottoman invaders. It withstood further attacks, notably during World War II, and now holds the National War Museum.
Situated on the outskirts of Siggiewi, the Malta Falconry Centre is the only place of its kind in the country. The center breeds native species of birds of prey with the goal of re-introducing them—and the ancient art of falconry—to the island nation.
The Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the only known prehistoric underground temple in the world, used between 4000 BC and 2500 BC, is remarkably well preserved. Located in the Maltese town of Paola, it’s the most impressive of the archipelago’s many Neolithic remains and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Situated near Valletta, the Tarxien Temples are one of Malta’s most important archaeological relics. The UNESCO-listed site consists of four crumbled temple structures dating from between 3,600 and 2,500 BC, and is notable for its prehistoric art, such as carved reliefs.
This grouping of three historic cities—Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua—look out to Valletta across the Grand Harbour. Originally enclosed by a line of fortification constructed by the Knights of St. John in the 16th century, the dockside neighborhoods were the knights’ base from 1530 until the Valletta’s founding in 1570. Today, the cities provide a scenic backdrop to the Grand Harbour.
This miniature stately home was built in the 1680s for a Knight of St John and has subsequently been occupied by many aristocratic Maltese families. Today it is open daily for guided tours that showcase both the architectural development of the mansion and the archive of fabulous wealth held by the current owner, the Marquis de Piro.
Malta’s oldest prehistoric site, the massive limestone cave complex at Għar Dalam provides evidence of human occupation of Malta during the Neolithic era. Archaeologists believe that the first human settlers came to the caves from mainland Europe via a land bridge; in fact, there were still people living here in 1911 when excavations started.
Housed in an 16th-century baroque mansion in Valletta, the National Museum of Archaeology offers a window into Malta’s ancient past. Its collections span everything from early tools to temple altars from some of the island’s Neolithic, Tarxien, and Phoenician archaeological sites, making it a huge draw for history buffs.
Buried deep underneath the Upper Barracca Gardens in the heart of Valletta’s atmospheric old town, the Lascaris War Rooms are secreted away in a warren of subterranean manmade tunnels and were the nerve center from which Allied commanders directed air and sea forces in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II. From here General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery coordinated the Invasion of Sicily in 1943 and the defence of Malta was organized during the Nazi blitz bombing of the island in 1940–43. After the war the tunnels became HQ of the British Navy’s Mediterranean fleet and, during the Cold War of the 1960s, a NATO strategic communication center.
Today this once-secret two-story complex of tunnels, secret offices, radar systems, encryption machines, telephone exchanges and sleeping quarters are open for all to explore. Carefully restored in 2009 and now staffed by waxwork models instead of great generals, this war-era time capsule has as its heart the operations rooms where all military maneuvers were monitored. All tours (guided or self-guided) begin with a Pathé newsreel broadcast showing the journey of a supply convoy from Britain to Malta and highlighting the plight of the island during World War II. It’s best to get there early or buy a ticket ahead of time to jump the lines; history buffs often combine the War Rooms with a visit to Valletta’s National War Museum.
An experience unlike any other, Malta 5D in Valletta is a fully immersive audio and visual show that takes the audience on a journey through the history and culture of Malta. Over the course of 20 minutes, you are taken back in time to witness the events that shaped the history of the island archipelago, from the formation of prehistoric temples to the victory of the Knights of Malta at the Great Siege of 1565 to Malta’s heroic efforts during World War II. These stories are experienced through special effects including moving seats, air blasts, water sprays, leg ticklers and 3D imagery. 3D glasses are provided upon arrival and automated multilingual devices in 17 languages are provided for multilingual shows. Temporary exhibitions about Malta are often on display in the lobby of the theater.
This gem of a theater was built in 1732 by a wealthy knight to provide entertainment for the troops, and has been open on-and-off ever since. Built in a Mannerist style on the outside and containing gold and gilt opulence on the inside, the main auditorium has a delicately patterned blue and gold trompe l'oeil ceiling and seats 623 audience members.
Built on the site of an 18th-century hunting lodge, the early 20th-century Palazzo Parisio is an palace located in the old town of Naxxar, on the northwestern fringes of Valletta. Visitors are invited to explore the lavish palace and stroll around its formal garden, which is an oasis of calm and beauty.