Valletta, the capital of Malta, is a small city with a population of around 6000 (six thousands) people. However you can literally spend days exploring its attractions and strolling along the streets full of history! I’ve chosen 15 of the most important ones after visiting which you can say that you know Valletta as the palm of your hand!
1. St. John’s Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral was built in 1572 – 1577 and is undoubtedly Valletta’s landmark that attracts tourists the most. It’s the main religious building of the Knights of the Order designed by Gerolamo Cassar, the local architect. It’s decorated so lavishly that it reminded me of Ecuadorian churches (and those were the most rich in gold and decorations I’ve ever seen in my life). Mattia Preti was the artist who decorated most of it – you’ll see his name below. You can also compare it to the Mdina’s cathedral: which one do you like more?
Pay attention to the marble floor (actually those are the tombs of about 400 knights!), the nine chapels: the main one and then eight for eight divisions of the Order and of course the Caravaggio wing containing a few paintings of this famous Italian artist including The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
Tip: there is a strict dress code for the visitors so dress appropriately!
2. Grandmaster’s Palace: Palace State Rooms and Armoury
The main piece of the information goes first: the Grandmaster’s Palace, the large palace once belonging to the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, is under huge refurbishment for the last few years, so unfortunately, you cannot visit the state rooms of this landmark. Nevertheless, the Armoury, just one room – former stables – with the armors and weapons, is still open to the public. Don’t miss authentic objects belonging to the knights and their enemies, turks from the Osman empire!
Tip: Don’t miss the opportunity to grab a coffee and some delicious traditional foods such as pudina, kannol rikotta and kwarezimal at Caffe Cordina. It’s located at Pjazza Regina and dates back to 1837!
3. Casa Rocca Piccola
The Casa Rocca Piccola is a must visit because you have a chance to see how the palazzos of a noble Valletta family looked like! Moreover, it’s the only palazzo which is still inhabited. Another notable feature is that it has a small garden.
You have a chance to walk through a dozen rooms learning the history of the de Piro family who lives there up to today from the 16th century. WWII has marked this place too: air-raid shelters are located below the palace. Don’t forget to book your guided tour in advance – more info on their website.
4. Upper Barrakka Gardens and Saluting Battery
Upper Barrakka Gardens is one of my favorite places in Valletta: this oasis has the best views over the Grand Harbour and the Three cities: Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. It’s also the highest point of the city walls! Just take a seat on one of the benches and enjoy the view or take a coffee in a caffe inside and have a company of numerous cats and pigeons.
Located right under the gardens, the Saluting Battery is another important historical landmark: the cannons are fired there daily at 12pm.
Tip: perhaps you’d like to take a ferry to three cities? Take the Barrakka Lift constructed in 2012 to go down!
5. Lower Barrakka Gardens
As you might’ve guessed, if there are the Upper Barrakka Gardens, there are also the Lower Barrakka Gardens! They are located a bit further to the end of the peninsula. It’s another pretty green space with a monument in the form of a neoclassical temple dating back to 1810 and dedicated to the British hero Alexander Ball who fought against the French. The views from this garden are no less beautiful! Actually, this was the first place for me where I was able to observe the Maltese scenery and it made me fall in love with it immediately!
6. Siege Bell War Memorial
When visiting the Lower Barrakka Gardens, don’t miss the Siege Bell War Memorial located nearby and dedicated to those who died at the three year siege of Malta during the WWII. The monument was inaugurated in 1992, 50 years after King George VI awarded Malta with the George Cross in 1942 after the siege was broken. You can still see that cross at the National War Museum (see below).
7. Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum
Fort St Elmo has a long military history and had a very important protective mission. The Knights erected it in 1552 when they fought against the ottomans: the Great Siege occurred at that time. During WWII it was bombed by the Italian Air Force. Now it is home to the National War Museum. Apart from providing you with the amazing scenery and the views of Three cities, the Museum has the chapel and different exhibition rooms covering the military history of the area from the historic times up to the modern era. The most valuable collection is believed to be the one dedicated to WWII and two exhibits of particular importance such as the Gloster Gladiator biplane called Faith, one of the three planes that defended Malta against the Italian Air force and the George Cross I’ve mentioned before.
8. National Library
The National Library is a beautiful neoclassical building in the centre of Malta which was the last one built in 1776 by the Order of St. John. It hosts the archives and usually is open to the public but unfortunately at the moment only the researchers can enter it. The only thing I was left with is to admire it from the outside.
9. National Museum of Archaeology
The National Museum of Archaeology is a small but a very important museum. Malta is famous for its prehistoric monuments such as the megalithic temples in Gozo, and you have a chance to explore them along with the numismatic collection and the Phoenician culture presented in the country! And don’t miss the most famous statuette – the Sleeping beauty from the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum.
10. Republic Street
Republic Street where the National Museum of Archaeology is located is the main street of Valletta slicing the peninsula in two. You can find all the touristy things there like souvenirs, coffee and so on. The nicest part is that this street is really beautiful on its own so it is worth strolling by even if you’re not planning to buy anything! Another touristy street not to miss is Merchant street.
11. MUŻA: National Museum of Fine Arts
If you’re a museum goer and are looking for fine arts in Valletta, pop into the MUŻA (Mużew Nazzjonali tal-Arti), recently moved to the Auberge d’Italie. It has a wonderful collection of Maltese and European artists masters including Mattia Preti and is able to show you Malta from a new point of view!
12. Auberge de Castille
When you walk around Valletta, there isn’t a single chance you’ll miss the Auberge de Castille, a beautiful Baroque building dating back to 1570 with mighty cannons outside where everyone takes a photo. Now it’s the seat of the Office of the Prime Minister of Malta, and you can spot his electric car parked outside charging.
13. Our Lady of Victory Church
You might ask why you should visit another church if you’ve already seen the mighty gold Cathedral? Well, Our Lady of Victory Church might be much less posh and big but it’s no less important. It was erected to commemorate the victory of the Ordre over the Ottoman empire in 1565 and it was the very first building of Valletta city with the foundation stone of the city within it. Don’t miss the beautiful decorations dedicated to Virgin Mary too.
14. St. James Cavalier
St. James Cavalier is the 18 meter high building right behind the Our Lady of Victory Church and it was built as a fortification for the city. Now it hosts the creative exhibitions of modern talents called Spazju Kreattiv.
15. Triton Fountain
If you step out of the city gates, you’ll find yourself in front of the Triton Fountain, the 20th century landmark inspired by Rome architectural heritage and restored just a few years ago. Although it might be much younger than other attractions in my list, it’s really beautiful especially at night with all three mermen lighted up!
What else to see?
If my list wasn’t enough for you, try visiting the Toy Museum, Teatre Manoel La Sacra Infermeria or Lascaris War Rooms!
Hope you enjoyed my blog,