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As the EU capital with the smallest population, Valletta packs a lot into its small size. Built on the Sciberras peninsula and measuring a tiny 0.8km2, Malta’s capital city is ideal for a day trip. Valletta is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This post lists what to see in Valletta as well as giving practical information.
Unless you are arriving to Valletta by boat, the Triton Fountain at the west of the city will be your first port of call as this is the location of the bus terminus and is the greeting point for road access into the city. From here walk east and through the City Gate where one can view the colossal fortification walls.
TRIQ IR-REPUBBLIKA (REPUBLIC STREET)
Walking through the City Gate brings you to Triq ir-Repubblika (Republic Street) which is the city’s main artery. Here you will find the box-shaped Parliament of Malta building to your immediate right, the architecture of which is criticised amongst locals.
Next door to the parliament building lies one of the most unique venues I’ve experienced. The Pjazza Teatru Rjal open-air theatre was designed by architect Renzo Piano from the bombed-out ruins of the 19th century Royal Opera House. During my visit, Pjazza Teatru Rjal was hosting the Valletta Film Festival, which proved to be a delightful cinema experience.
The next building along Triq ir-Repubblika, which caught my eye, was the St. Francis of Assisi Church. Dating back to the 16th century, its unique feature is the statue of St. Francis on the outside corner of the church beside the National Museum of Archaeology.
Crossing over into the next section of Triq ir-Repubblika is where what many consider the main attraction in Valletta: St. John’s Co-Cathedral. In comparison to other cathedrals, the exterior looks plain but the interior is breath-taking in its ornateness. A Catholic cathedral, it was built by the Order of St. John in the 16th century.
Pass the Great Siege Monument and in 100 metres lies the large St. George’s Square (Pjazza San Gorg) where you will find the Grand Master’s Palace, residence of the current Maltese Head of State. The public entrance is actually around the side.
From this point onwards, Triq ir-Repubblika slopes downwards becoming less retail and regal and more residential. It eventually finishes at St. Elmo’s Place.
Feel free to roam off Triq ir-Repubblika. The side streets are gorgeous and, as the city is laid out on a grid system, it’s difficult to get lost.
VALLETTA COASTAL AREAS
A lot of what to see in Valletta can be found on the south coast. From St. Elmo’s Place turn right and walk up Mediterranean Street to the War Siege Memorial and Lower Barrakka Gardens. Here you get a panoramic view of the Three Cities of Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea (L-isla) and Cospicua (Bormla) across the harbour.
From here head for Upper Barrakka Gardens which is another stunning area for views of the Three Cities and the harbour. It’s here that the elevator down to Xatt Lascaris operates from where you can get the ferry to the Three Cities. Both of the Barrakka Gardens have a café and trees where you can shelter from the sun. It was 35°C when I visited in late June.
Castille Street connects Upper Barrakka Gardens to Castille Place where you’ll find the Malta Stock Exchange building and Auberge de Castille (Office of the Prime Minister). The buildings around the Upper Barrakka Gardens and Castille Place area are some of the most beautiful attractions to see Valletta. Continue past Our Lady of Victories Chapel and you’re back to Triq ir-Repubblika.
The north coast of Valletta doesn’t have as many attractions as the south coast. The major building here is St. Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, the Anglican place of worship whose dome is a distinctive feature of Valletta’s skyline.
Valletta’s pedestrian access to the sea is on the north coast also. Part of the harbour off Boat Street was cordoned off for swimmers.
THE THREE CITIES
Not in Valletta so technically not correct to include in this post, a trip to the Three Cities across the south harbour could be covered in half a day. Take the lift from Upper Barrakka Gardens to the ferry point where boats of varying sizes ferry people across the harbour in a matter of minutes. Boats will land on Senglea but cross the pedestrian bridge to Vittoriosa which is by far the nicest of the three cities. Simply continue walking in a random fashion to find some gems of lanes. Saying that, some great cafes and restaurants line the harbour area of Senglea.
WHAT TO SEE IN VALLETTA: TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Where to stay: If Valletta is the focus of your trip then stay in Valletta. With regard to accommodation, I thought the city was expensive so book well in advance to get some good deals on booking.com.
Getting to Malta: I flew direct from Cork with Ryanair.
Getting to Valletta: All buses lead to the Triton Fountain area. From the airport, take bus X4. For services to other areas check out the Malta Public Transport website.
From Sliema, take the Marsamxetto ferry service to the north coast of Valletta. From the Three Cities, the ferries and boats for Valletta depart from Senglea.
Is Valletta safe: I experienced no problems within Valletta from a personal safety point of view and neither did I see any rowdiness.