Valletta was constructed under the Order of St John in the 16th century, envisioned as a city built ‘by gentlemen for gentlemen’. Thanks to the ambition and architectural brilliance of these knights, the coastal city has become a spectacular setting, rivalling some of Europe’s best. The city offers everything from ancient history, to relaxing gardens, grand palaces and a stunning waterfront. As there’s so much to do - and because we want you to get the most you possibly can out of Valletta -we’ve put together a list of ten of the best things to do when visiting for yourself!
1. Valletta waterfront
Valletta Waterfront is a great place to explore when in Valletta, as one of the most exclusive areas of the city, as well as a vibrant, sociable spot. The Marina is well-kept and attractive, making it a good place to have a lazy stroll and take a look at some luxury boats, moored in a beautifully built and bustling harbour. There are a large number of restaurants, cafes and bars around the waterfront, which make great places to sit and watch the world go by.
2. The Grandmasters Palace
The Grandmaster’s Palace is a fascinating building which – despite still hosting the House of Representatives and functioning as the Maltese President’s offices – is largely open to the public for viewing. Built in 1571, the palace was constructed as the seat for the leader of the Order of St Johns, and has functioned as a centre for Maltese leadership for nearly 350 years. You’ll find Gobelin tapestries telling fascinating stories, as well as a number of paintings of Malta’s various presidents in the building, whilst the Palace Armoury showcases a huge range of weaponry, as well as the actual armour of one of Malta’s leaders, Grand Master La Valette.
3. The Casa Rocca Piccola
Casa Rocca Piccola is a still-functioning palace in the centre of Malta, home to the De Piro royal family. Take a tour of this wonderful building and you’ll find a huge number of antiques, as well as paintings and a large collection of silver. The air raid shelters that were used by the occupants of the house during World War Two are also now open to the public, and add an extra dimension to a visit.
4. The Manoel Theatre
Viewing a show at this remarkable theatre is certainly one of the highlights of a trip to Valletta. Opened in 1732, the building was constructed to give the normal people of Malta – as well as its elites – a chance to enjoy the fine arts. Whilst the theatre hosts all manner of performances, from musicals, to comedy and classics, it’s the architecture and history of the setting that makes it so incredible. The Manoel Theatre has been masterfully renovated through the years, and features a trompe l’oeil ceiling, ornate boxes and stunning chandeliers. If you aren’t able to see a performance whilst visiting the Manoel, you will still be able to enjoy it on a guided tour, where you’ll find out more about the history of the unique theatre.
5. Barrakka Gardens
These attractive gardens are made up of an upper and lower area, both of which provide incredible views of the city. The Upper Barrakka Gardens are the grander of the two, and are set at the highest point in Valletta, meaning an amazing view over Valletta and its waterfront. The highlight of visiting the upper gardens is the daily ceremonial cannon salute. The Lower Barrakka gardens are generally quieter, and feature a commemorative statue to the Great Siege of Malta, and one of the First British Governor of Malta, each of which add to the beauty of a setting which already provides great views.
6. Fort St Angelo
Fort St Angelo is a spectacular military building, which faces out to sea at the centre of Valletta’s beautiful Grand Harbour. It is not widely known when the fort was first built, but it was instrumental in Malta’s Grandmasters’ protection of the city during the nation’s Great Siege of 1565, where it was used as the key military position after the knights had remodelled and rebuilt sections of it. Whilst the Fort has been under repair in recent months, it is still worth a visit for its majesty and aesthetics, as well as its significance in Maltese history.
7. San Anton Gardens
Within a 20 minute drive of Valletta, in the town of Attard, you’ll find the wonderful San Anton Gardens. The palace which these gardens accompany is – to this day – inhabited by the Maltese President, and is a majestic site in itself, whilst the gardens are amongst the most beautiful in the entirety of Malta. Take a peaceful stroll through the garden’s many walkways and you’ll find a mix of wonderful flowers, trees and water features, as well as local ducks, swans and turtles which give the gardens a quirky feel.
8. Parish Church of St Augustine
Malta is a predominantly Roman Catholic Nation, and home to a number of magnificent churches, many of which were built when the city was constructed by the Order of St John. One of these churches is the Magnificent Church of St Augustine, which was built in 1571, found on Old Bakery Street, which is magnificent both inside and out. Whilst this church is magnificent, you’ll find that all of the 9 churches which are open to the public in Malta are ornately decorated and beautiful, with the Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul’s shipwreck another particularly extraordinary visit.
9. National Museum of Archaeology
The National Museum of Archaeology is found in the Auberge de Provence, one of the buildings constructed for the Knights of the Order of St John in the 16th century. These Auberges are found dotted around Valletta, with the Auberge de Castille another of the most beautiful. An amazing example of Baroque architecture, featuring wooden beams and richly painted walls, the Auberge de Provence is noteworthy before even considering the museum within its walls! The museum features some fascinating relics from Malta’s Neolithic period of 5000 BC, to its Phoenician Period of 400BC. On show are a range of tools and relics, as well as some of the artwork of those who inhabited the Maltese islands thousands of years in the past.
10. Hagar Qim
Hagar Quim is around a 25-30 Minutes’ drive from Valletta, and is a truly spectacular visit, which is unmissable if you want to find out a little about Malta’s ancient history. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these temples are found close to the small village of Qrendi, and are some of mankind’s earliest surviving structures. What makes these structures so magnificent is the combination of their location, size and age; they were built in Malta’s Ggantija Phase, at a time between the years 3600 and 3200 BC, and dominate the land around them in their size and majesty, with some stones at the site reaching over 5 metres in height.
So there you have it, 9 of the very best things which Valletta has to offer. Whilst cataloguing some of the best things to see and do, what this list doesn’t explain is the general elegant, luxurious and peaceful feeling of Valletta, a feeling which really can’t be explained until you visit for yourself and walk the narrow streets, enjoy the local food and meet the local people. Valletta really is a special place, so why not plan your trip now?