Wander winding streets bursting with history in Malta’s beautiful capital city of Valletta. Voted European Capital of Culture for 2018; Valletta was one of the first cities to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its abundance of fascinating history in such a concentrated space. The city boasts a huge number of historically significant and well preserved original fortifications and buildings. With so much to do in Valletta it seemed like time to take a closer look at this great city. We have explored some of the more tried and tested attractions in Valletta in our pieces on architecture, history and the scenic sights of Malta. So we thought we would take the road less travelled and take a glimpse at the stunning harbour areas, excellent shopping and lesser visited architecture.
The Grand Harbour in Valletta is a natural harbour that has been in use since Phoenician times. It has recently undergone significant improvements and the harbour can be seen as the heart of the city. This is a working harbour with large international vessels docking here. The Grand Harbour sees regattas during the first week of September, which also has a fantastic fireworks display for all to enjoy, and the last week in March. The regattas showcase the boat building techniques of the recent past where the great views across the water combine with history at every turn, and why not take some time to visit the fortifications that are built here.
The place to really see Valletta is Marsamxett Harbour. The northern most of the two harbours in the Valletta area, and like the Grand Harbour this is also a natural harbour. However, where you can see the history of industry at Valletta Harbour, you can observe large yachts and tourist boats here in Marsamxett. These docks are also particularly unusual as it is based on a small island that is linked to the mainland by a bridge of around forty metres in length. When you get to the island you can watch the yachts come in with a fantastic vista of the seascape and an enchanting perspective of the fort at Valletta’s Grand Harbour. Great for photo opportunities.
Sliema is well known as the shopping capital for buying clothes in Malta, but the capital city also has its own shopping district that is really worth visiting if you are in the city. The pedestrianized Republic Street is the main street in Valletta and leads from the main gate through to Republic Square. Republic Street is good for souvenirs, but if you find the road that runs parallel to this one you will find yourself on the famous Merchants Street, which is in the old town and benefits from a daily undercover market. The Market can be found opposite the Grand Master’s Palace and it is so popular that it can become almost impossible to walk through on weekdays. Merchants Street also has some great bakeries if you really want a sweet taste of Malta.
The Malta Experience
Found near St Elmo Bastions, the Malta Experience has been in operation for more than 30 years and is an audio-visual show about the 7000 year history of Malta. Shows last for around 30 minutes and they are a great introduction to the history of the country. At this length it is wise to expect something that is not too in-depth or dull. Taking place in this purpose built auditorium, the Malta Experience is available in 16 languages and is a really good way of getting a basic historical understanding before visiting many of the great archaeological sites in Malta.
If you are lucky enough to be able to enjoy the vista of the Valletta skyline, you will see the fantastic dome of the Carmelite Church as this building is a dominating sight on this vista. However, all too few people actually go to visit this great and impressive landmark, as it seems that most end up at the St John’s Co-Cathedral, which has wonderful artworks, a museum and a long history, but the Carmelite Church is also very impressive. Originally built in 1570, it was the first church constructed in Valletta, however, since this time it has be damaged many times, especially during the Second World War, but the restoration is great, and although the interior is not quite as breath taking as St John’s Co-cathedral, the interior of the dome is still a magnificent sight that is worth the trip.