Valletta is unlike any other European capital city you’ll ever visit. Firstly, it’s the 4th smallest capital city in Europe measuring only 1km long and 600m wide. Valletta is situated in Malta’s Grand Harbour but is sheltered by land on either side, which has helped to defend Valletta in the past from military invasions. But today? Its title as European Capital of Culture in 2017 helped make Valletta a truly up and coming city break destination.
Like the rest of Malta, the city is built up of dusty limestone buildings covered in bright-coloured window boxes and religious motifs on ceramic plates, and there is still the odd red telephone box reminding visitors that Malta was a British colony until the 1960s.
The streets are built tall and long, so they benefit from shade while allowing cool sea air to drift throughout the city. Valletta’s history is so unique and multicultural (thanks to Malta’s positioning between Sicily and Tunisia) and has so many monuments densely packed into a small area, the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Valletta has tonnes to offer visitors, whether you’re visiting as a family, couple or solo traveller. There are so many amazing bars and restaurants, fantastic museums like the National Archaeology Museum and the National War Museum at Fort St Elmo and beautiful new and old architecture like St John’s Co-Cathedral which dates back to the 16th century, and the new City Gate and Parliament buildings which are barely 10 years old.
This ultimate travel guide to Valletta will show you all the most beautiful places in Valletta, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Malta and things to do in Malta which will help you in planning a trip to Valletta Malta.
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How to get to Valletta
Malta is a very small country, so there is only one main airport, Malta International Airport. But luckily, it’s only around 8km from Valletta.
Malta Airport has direct flights to over 100 cities all over Europe and the Middle East including Tel Aviv, Cairo and Casablanca.
Because the drive from the airport to Valletta is only 20 minutes, the taxi fare is a fixed €15, and you can buy taxi tickets from inside the Arrival Hall.
There are also express bus services from the airport to Valletta (X1, X2, X3, X4) which are very easy to navigate, and ticket machines can be found in the airport, but tickets can be bought from the bus driver too.
Valletta is a popular port city for cruises so it’s definitely possible to visit the city on a Mediterranean cruise liner and it’s totally doable to experience the best of Valletta in one day.
What to expect in Valletta
The official, main national language of Malta is Maltese, but with Malta being a former colony of the United Kingdom, English is also an official language and most residents will speak it as a second language.
Some will have familial ties with Italy so Italian is also common. Malta is now an EU country and is also in the Schengen zone so it’s a relatively easy country to visit for most.
Malta’s currency is the Euro and tipping is expected in restaurants everywhere in Malta, including Valletta, but nothing more than 10% is necessary and if gratuity has already been added (which it will in some establishments) then you don’t need to include a tip.
Malta is a very safe country to visit, even pickpocketing is usually limited to clubs rather than on the street. Note that Malta uses the type G three-pronged plug for electrical items, like the UK.
How to get around Valletta
Since Valletta is such a small city, there really is no need to use transport if you have good mobility. You could walk from Fort St Elmo at the tip of Valletta to Parliament at the very bottom in 13 minutes. Navigating Valletta is super easy as it was a planned city built in a grid system like Manhattan.
You could drive into the city but many of the streets are pedestrianized and you will find it hard to park, but parking spaces are plentiful just outside of the city gate. If you need/want to use public transport, the N.133 bus drives up and down Valletta and stops every 30 minutes at each bus stop.
Cycling might be an option, but some of the steep streets actually have steps instead of a slope so it’s easier for pedestrians to climb the bigger hills and cycle lanes are rare.
The best time to visit Valletta
Thanks to its positioning just south of Italy, Malta has an incredibly mild climate year-round. In the summer months of July – September, the heat is almost unbearable in Valletta if you want to explore at well over 30 degrees Celsius with little to no cloud coverage.
This is the most popular time of year for tourists who want to spend their days relaxing on Valletta beach or swimming in the sea.
The best time to visit Valletta for warm weather and to avoid the crowds are the months of April, May and June. It’s definitely warm enough for lounging around by the pool but not too scorching for sightseeing, and accommodation prices won’t have peaked. Spring is also great for annual events in Valletta.
But the winter months are also fantastic for sightseeing as the city is quiet (but it’s not a ghost town) and the weather is mild.
Things to do in Valletta
Valletta City Gate and Parliament House
For a city that was founded in 1566, many of the most important buildings in Valletta are less than 10 years old! Valletta’s City Gate is the first landmark that visitors see and it’s a strikingly modern design for such an archaic structure with tall metal spires on either side.
Just behind Valletta City Gate are the Parliament House and the site of the Royal Opera House, which was left in ruin for decades after it was bombed in 1942 during World War II. In 2013, Italian architect Renzo Piano redesigned and renovated all of these structures using the limestone that every building in Malta is made from.
You can’t visit Valletta without seeing these buildings even if you wanted to because you have to pass them on your way into the city. But they are incredible buildings and it’s a clear message from Valletta that it’s not a city stuck in the past.
Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
Formerly military posts, Upper Barrakka Gardens and Lower Barrakka Gardens are now two beautiful parks that overlook the Valletta waterfront in the west of the city over to the town of Birgu.
One of the reasons Malta remained a British colony until 50 years ago was because of its advantageous location for military purposes, hence why Malta (and Valletta) has so many forts.
The Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens are beautifully manicured parks with lots of benches, statues and water fountains and offer great views over the water.
Every day at noon, the Upper Barrakka Gardens remind residents of the parks’ military history as they use cannon fire to mark the time, as Valletta has done for the past 500 years.
National Museum of Archaeology
Malta in itself is like one huge archaeology museum. The island country has been inhabited since the Neolithic period 5,000 years ago, through the Bronze Age and the Phoenician period in 400BC.
There are lots of incredible sites all over the island that you can visit. But if you don’t have time to visit the sites in person, then the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta is definitely the next best thing.
There are fossils and artifacts from the Megalithic Temples, the Hypogeum (which is an underground burial place dating back 3,000 years) and so many others housed in the museum.
St John’s Co-Cathedral
Valletta’s Cathedral is yet another unique building in the city as St John’s Co-Cathedral shares its duties with St Paul’s Cathedral with the former Maltese capital city, Mdina.
The Cathedral was built by the Order of St John (themselves named after John the Baptist), a Catholic Military order who were first formed to tend the sick and injured pilgrims in Jerusalem in the 11th century but spread throughout Europe as a military order defending Catholicism.
The Order of St John is an extremely important part of Malta and Valletta’s history and they still elect a Grand Master of the Order every year.
The Cathedral itself is made out of Malta’s trademark limestone and inside, the walls and ceilings are elaborately decorated with artworks and golden trim.
The floor is so delicate and ornate that carpet has been laid to protect it and heeled shoes are not permitted inside the church. It’s free to visit so definitely worth popping in.
National War Museum at Fort St Elmo
From the Order of St John to World War II, Valletta’s military history is extensive, to say the least.
One of the best museums you can visit in Valletta to try and understand this lengthy military history is the National War Museum at Fort St Elmo, just one of the many forts in Valletta and the surroundings.
The Valletta nightlife is one of the most laid back, social and easiest to enjoy, primarily because all the best bars are close to each other (because everything is close in Valletta!) and the weather is almost always warm enough to sit outside.
So many tables and chairs spill out onto the streets and you might have a hard time recognizing which tables belong to which restaurant/bar.
What to eat in Valletta
Maltese cuisine is a peculiar mix of Mediterranean and Italian staples like mezze platters, seafood and pasta as well as stews, soups with lots of pastry dishes and hearty meals too.
For a country that experiences mild weather year-round and isn’t in short supply of beaches, the Maltese love their comfort food. And it’s a cuisine you really don’t see outside of Malta.
A couple of restaurants in Valletta that serve local Maltese dishes are Legligin and Nenu the Artisan Baker. Rabbit Stew is the national dish and it’s served in both restaurants, usually accompanied with red wine gravy, carrots and potatoes and sometimes Maltese bread (which is like sourdough bread).
Of course, with Malta being an island country the seafood is spectacular, especially lampuka, swordfish and sea bass.
Pastizzi is a great flaky pastry to eat on the go, usually filled with ricotta cheese or a pea paste, which can be found at Cafe Jubilee in Valletta.
Where to stay in Valletta
Budget – Valletta is a very small city, so there aren’t too many hostels with dorm rooms within the city itself. A great option for budget travellers is Airbnb where there are plenty of private rooms and entire homes available in the city.
Or, a B&B like Palazzo Sant Ursula B&B is only around €40 per night and you get a private room with a nice shared courtyard too.
Mid-range – It’s cost-effective for travellers seeking good value for money to head across the water to Sliema to find nice hotels for affordable prices as the town is just a short ferry ride away from Valletta.
Blubay Apartments by ST Hotels in Sliema is a great option for families and they have fantastic views of the water. Valletta Kampnar City Living, in the city itself, costs around €70 per night and is extremely well located and also has fantastic views and a modern interior.
Luxury – If you’ve got a bit extra to spend, there are some fantastic Valletta Malta hotels. Ursulino Valletta Hotel, for around €150 per night, offers phenomenal views across the rooftops from your personal terrace and boasts luxurious modern rooms with traditional decor touches.
The Coleridge has a more traditional, elegant interior but you can still book rooms with a hot tub on your terrace.
Tours to do in Valletta
Three Cities Boat Tour
Valletta isn’t the only city that sits in the Grand Harbour, the ‘Three Cities’ known as Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea are situated around Valletta in this huge body of water.
There’s no better way to explore this area than by both land and water, with a great local guide, who will teach you about the significance of the Order of St John in these cities and you can visit some fantastic old forts like Fort St Angelo.
You will get amazing, 360-degree panoramic views of Valletta from the boat part of the tour, too!
Valletta is one of the few cities where a walking tour really does include every single landmark and hidden gem, not just a selection.
This walking tour will take you around St John’s Co-Cathedral, the Barrakka Gardens and the Grand Master’s Palace all the while sharing stories and facts about the city.
Wine Tasting Tour
Malta’s vineyards barely produce enough wine for its citizens, so almost all of the wine produced never leaves the country.
So, if you’re a wine aficionado, you need to make the most of your time in the country and check out this wine tasting tour in Valletta! You will be offered a tour of the winery, as well as tastings of some of Malta’s homegrown wine and light savoury snacks.
Day trips from Valletta
Game of Thrones Filming Locations
Malta was only used as a Game of Thrones location in season one (Malta’s Government were supposedly unhappy with the state of the locations after filming!) but that hasn’t stopped fans of the HBO hit TV show making a pilgrimage to the tiny island country to see them in real life.
This day trip is particularly special because it’s run by extras of the TV show who share behind-the-scenes stories as you travel around Mdina, Rabat and Malta’s many forts which stand in as the Red Keep, King’s Landing and Essos.
Malta is made up of three islands: Gozo in the north, the smallest island of Comino and the mainland of Malta at the bottom.
You should absolutely try and travel to Gozo if possible and the added fun of travelling along Gozo’s dusty roads via Quad bike on this tour will make your day trip extra exhilarating.
Recommended tours in Valletta
- Hera Round Malta & Comino Blue Lagoon 2020
- Blue Grotto and Marsaxlokk Half-Day Tour from Valletta
- Jeep Tour of Gozo Island from Malta
- Round Malta Cruise Full Day Tour
- Malta National Aquarium Entrance Ticket
- Half-Day Malta Highlights
- Valletta City of the Knights 3.5-Hour Walking Tour
- Mdina, Rabat, Dingli cliffs, San Anton gardens, Ta’ Qali & Mosta guided tour
- Private Game of Thrones Tour of Malta
- Discovering Gozo Full Day Excursion including Train Ride to Cittadella