The city of Valletta is a melting pot of cultures and languages, being found on the edge of the Mediterranean, the capital of the small island nation of Malta. Dating back to the 16th century, Valletta was founded by the famous medieval order, the Knights Hospitaller. They constructed the mighty walls, bastions and cathedrals that you find standing proudly above the natural harbour today.
Few other cities in Europe can boast such well-preserved medieval architecture, but there’s more to Valletta than its fortifications. It’s a great destination for budget travellers because, with cheap flights from Europe and a great array of hotels and restaurants to choose from, Malta is very much an understated holiday destination.
You can explore the local history, dine on the rich array of cuisine ranging from Italian to Maltese, and you can day trip across the island to visit Malta’s best beaches and natural attractions. To inspire your Maltese getaway here’s our budget travel guide to Valletta. This guide is perfect for those who are travelling to Valletta on a budget. We will show you what to do in Valletta, where to stay, what to eat and how to get around, whether it’s a weekend in Valletta or a long term stay.
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How to get around Valletta on a Budget
Malta’s international airport is located just a few miles away from the capital, Valletta, and unless you’re arriving by cruise ship or ferry into the harbour, then this will be your entry point to the island and then to the city. Budget airlines offer great deals from most major European cities to Malta, with particularly low prices outside of the summer high season.
A local bus connects the airport to Valletta, costing just 2 Euros per person and taking as little as twenty minutes, depending on the traffic. The bus drops you off outside Valletta’s main gate, where you will find the main bus terminal. From here, buses depart and arrive from across the island.
The city itself though is medieval in design, and that means the best way to navigate the maze of alleyways and steep stone steps is on foot. It’s not a good place to be driving, but you can take the local bus around the perimeter of the city walls to certain destinations. For budget travellers though, walking is always the cheapest way to get around Valletta. The city is small and compact, and with a good pair of walking shoes and a detailed map, you can enjoy the best sights on foot.
Budget things to do in Valletta
When you first arrive in the city, take a stroll along the Valletta Waterfront. This beautiful, long promenade runs along the harbour of the city and offers sweeping views out to sea. The old warehouses and storehouses date back to the medieval era and are today an iconic part of Valletta, and you’ll quickly be immersed in the local history as you marvel at the stone walls and towers that surround you.
There are lots of great restaurants along the waterfront these days, making it a beautiful place to walk and to dine when you get to Valletta, just shop around for the best prices if you’re travelling on a budget.
Valletta’s Grand Harbour is one of the best natural harbours in the world, and it’s the main reason why the Knights Hospitaller chose the peninsula here as the site for their new city in the 16th century.
But as well as being a strategic and commercial hub, the Grand Harbour is also exceptionally beautiful, and you’ll marvel at the historic walled city that rises alongside the water, and the teeming mass of boats and piers that have been crowded here for centuries.
The equally spectacular Marsamxett Harbour in Valletta is just as beautiful as the larger Grand Harbour. Often overlooked or forgotten about though, the Marsamxett Harbour is located to the north of the city, and to the north of the Grand Harbour.
You’ll have great views of Valletta, and of the mass of yachts and boats that seek shelter in the harbour. Take a cruise to really appreciate the intricate network of harbours and creeks that make up the water around Valletta.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
The Upper Barrakka Gardens are a beautiful place to explore in Valletta. The gardens are found in an elevated location on the historic bastions that overlook the Grand Harbour, and in fact, they offer the best panoramic possible of the harbour area below.
If you don’t fancy walking up to the gardens, then you can take the refurbished and reopened Upper Barrakka Gardens Lift from the harbour below to the top of the walls and the gardens above. The Lower Barrakka Gardens are another great attraction in Valletta, however, it doesn’t offer quite the same views as their upper neighbour does.
The Palace of the Grandmasters
The Grandmasters were the leaders of Malta during the medieval era, chosen from the ranks of the Knights Hospitaller to govern and protect their island home. The palace was built in the 16th century to serve as the residence of the Grandmaster, a function which in reality it continues to serve today, as it is the office of the President of Malta.
Many of the ornate rooms within the palace, as well as certain important and historic areas such as the armoury, can be visited by tourists interested in learning more about the long and fascinating heritage of Malta.
St John’s Co-Cathedral
One of the most important buildings in Valletta is St John’s Co-Cathedral. This place of worship is dedicated to St John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Knights Hospitaller, who also went by the name, the Order of St John.
The cathedral, while humble on the outside, is stunning on the inside. While the exterior is made from simple granite and stone, and little different from any other building in Valletta, the interior is resplendent with golden altars and marvellous works of art. The cathedral has an on-site museum, where you can find even more splendid works of historical art and learn more about the Knights Hospitaller and the city they founded in the name of St John.
Fort St Elmo
Fort St Elmo was the scene of many of the fiercest battles and sieges that have struck Malta through its history, and today the historic fortification serves as a War Museum and a memorial to the conflicts that Valletta has faced.
Found at the tip of the Valletta peninsula, the fortress has long guarded the city, ever since the Knights Hospitaller first built it in the medieval times. The fort became famous during the 16th century when the Knights held out against a huge Ottoman army attempting to storm the fortress.
National Museum of Archeology
To learn more about Malta’s history, then take a step back in time at the National Museum of Archeology. Housed in an impressive building originally built by the Knights Hospitaller in the 16th century, the museum takes a look at more than just the history of the city from the time of the Knights.
Malta has been inhabited by various people and kingdoms since the pre-historic era, and the National Museum of Archeology displays some of the best finds from thousands of years ago. It’s well worth the small entrance fee, even if you’re on a tight travel budget!
Republic Street is one of the longest and most important streets in Valletta. This busy boulevard is a great place to take a walk, and to soak up both history and culture. The street is lined by historic sights and government buildings, as well as plenty of shops and restaurants.
While strolling is, of course, free, be careful how much you spend in the shops if you’re looking out for your cash. The opportunities and temptation might be too much even for the thriftiest of travellers.
Where to stay in Valletta on a Budget
Valletta has a solid range of accommodation and there are some great options for budget travellers in the city itself. Bear in mind though that the old city itself is very small, and you can easily stay in neighbouring districts too, such as St Julians or Sliema, where you’ll find plenty of cheap options too. In fact, the whole island is so small that you can stay on a beach resort or even on Gozo, the next island along, and easily travel into Valletta to see all the sights.
There aren’t many great hostels in Valletta, but stay outside the city and you can find some lively and cheap options nearby. The Boho Hostel in St Julians is a great choice, as is the Two Pillows Boutique Hostel in Sliema if you’re looking for a more luxurious style of backpacker accommodation.
In Valletta, take a look at AirBnB for some great value apartments or rooms in local homes. Casa Asti is a great choice if you’re looking for a more traditional hotel in the city, but you’ll be paying much more than you would if you were staying in the districts across the harbour.
Budget eats in Valletta
If you’re still wondering, is Valletta worth visiting, then just take one look at the incredible range of food that’s available in Malta and you’ll quickly come to a solid conclusion.
Malta has a unique history that’s left its indelible mark on the culture and cuisine, and while you’ll hear everything from English and Maltese to Italian and Arabic being spoken in the streets, you’ll also see this range of influences in the food too.
While of course, Valletta has its share of high-end, gourmet restaurants, you really don’t need to break the bank to enjoy a great meal. The Valletta Waterfront is the best place to enjoy a meal with a view because while it’s touristy, the promenade overlooking the harbour offers such fierce competition that you can find some great deals. Head here at lunchtime and make use of the special lunch menus rather than paying full price at dinner. You can eat out for around 10 Euros per person, and enjoy Malta’s most exceptional panoramic.
Tucked away amongst the back alleys and side streets of Valletta, you’ll also find lots of little bakeries, serving up sweet and savoury delights. These are the perfect places to pick up a light breakfast or a quick lunch if you’re on the go.
Traditional Maltese dishes to try include the likes of an Italian inspired Seafood Risotto, or an authentic Maltese Rabbit Stew or Maltese Fish Soup.
Fish is a big deal in Malta, and you can take a trip to the local fish markets, usually held on Sundays, to see the freshest catches. If you’re renting your own apartment then buying up and preparing some fresh fish can be a great way to save money while you’re in Malta.
Cheap tours to do in Valletta on a budget
Valletta Free Walking Tour
Valletta is best seen on foot, but if you’d rather not spend your time orientating the map and working out which monument is which in a city full of medieval sights, then a great option is to join a Free Walking Tour.
Several companies in Valletta offer similar Free Walking Tours, where you’ll learn about the city’s history from the 16th century through to the present. You’ll gain insider knowledge into the city’s best local eats and cheapest bars, so for budget travellers, these guided tours are a must. The best part is, you only need to pay however much you feel the tour was worth, and however much you can actually afford to pay.
Valletta and the Three Cities Harbour Cruise
The best views of the Grand Harbour and of the Valletta Waterfront are to be found on a boat cruise. The Valletta and the Three Cities Harbour Cruise is a cost-effective tour that will take you on a comfortable and informative cruise around Valletta’s sea-facing walls and fortifications.
Onboard, you’ll learn about Valletta’s long history and the many armies that have tried to lay siege to the harbour and the city. With hourly departures through most of the year, it’s a great way to see a different side of Valletta.
Malta Full-Day Cruise
If cruising is your thing, then why not join a longer full-day tour that takes you not only around Valletta but around the entire island too. This is a bucket list tour for many travellers to Malta, and although the upfront cost is more than the shorter harbour cruises, it’s still great value.
You’ll get to explore Malta’s long coastline as you cruise around the entire circumference of the island, learning about the history and culture while you gaze in awe at the natural sights that are found here.
Recommended tours in Valletta
- The Traditional Harbour Cruise
- Valletta: Two Harbors Cruise by Night
- The Original Valletta Walking Tour
- The Dark Side of Valletta
- Popeye Village – where the fun begins (including transport)
- Three Cities guided tour including harbour boat tour of the harbour creeks
- Malta Prehistoric Temples Tour
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