Overwhelmed by all the things to do in Valletta but you've only got one day? Well, here's how to take it all in!
Alrighty, let’s get one thing straight. UNESCO has described Valletta as "one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world" and there is, indeed, lots to see! The entire city covers an area of just 0.55 square kilometres, yet there's plenty to see even if you only walked through its 16th-century streets and around its bastioned walls overlooking the two harbours.
You’ll always discover something new to do in Valletta, the city of the Knights of Malta - however much time you have. If a day is what you can manage, you can pick and choose from the best of Valletta, but if you really don’t know where to start from, here’s a step-by-step guide you can follow without breaking a sweat.
1. From the bus terminus outside the recently refurbished Valletta city gate and Triton fountain, take a casual stroll down Republic Street to breathe in the spirit of Valletta today; you’ll see shoppers, buskers, businessmen and lawyers rubbing shoulders on the busy street.
2. Remember to look up to take in the intricate details of the baroque architecture and notice how it contrasts with modern shops and offices. You’re unknowingly going to be window shopping too, so have your purse at the ready.
3. Right at the beginning of Republic Street, walk past the modern parliament building which stands besides the converted ruin of Malta’s iconic Royal Opera House which was bombed during World War II.
4. The National Museum of Archaeology lies just beyond, in the Auberge de Provence. Take a look at some man-made artifacts dating back 5,500 years, housed in this ex-hostel of the Knights of St John. Pretty awesome, is it not?
5. Take gentle detours through Strait Street, which runs parallel to Republic Street on the left, and Merchants Street, which forms a spine on the right. The grid layout of the city means you can always reemerge on Republic Street. On the side streets, notice Valletta’s iconic old shop signs, corner niches with saints and shallow steps leading to the sea.
6. No matter where you happen to be in the city, the top places to take a bathroom break are the fancy new public toilets on the legendary Strait Street. This may well be Valletta's newest attraction.
7. At St John’s Co Cathedral, tell the curator you want to pray and you’ll be allowed to view some parts of the church; after a sneak peek, you may well decide you want the guided tour and museum ticket! Inside the Cathedral of the Knights of Malta, walk on mosaic marble tombs and ogle at gold gilded walls and exquisite works of art such as the Beheading of St John by Caravaggio.
8. Take tea with the Queen by settling in Republic Square, or Pjazza Regina, at the iconic Cafe Cordina, established in 1837, for a warm drink and pastizzi, Malta’s iconic savoury treats. HRH The Queen Victoria is always happy to host.
9. Take a moment to savour your surroundings: the massive statue of Queen Victoria is reminiscent of Malta’s colonial past, while the Knights’ Bibliotheca echoes Valletta’s other impressive baroque buildings. As you take it all in, notice the way people enjoy Malta’s cafe culture for all kinds of rendezvous, both formal and informal.
10. Snoop inside at least one palace to truly appreciate the opulence of these magnificent Valletta buildings. The Grandmaster’s Palace and the Palace Armoury - one of Valletta’s top attractions - is on St George’s Square.
11. If you prefer the private home of a Knight to the official ‘home’ of Malta’s administration, go to Casa Rocca Piccola, a little further down the street; the tour includes a visit to the private underground air-raid shelters.
12. Note that the quirky Toy Museum is just near Casa Rocca Piccola; it is worth a look if you crave something different. Just two blocks away, the Malta Postal Museum on Archbishop Street is a hidden gem and it is currently rated the second best museum attraction in Valletta!
13. At the end of Republic Street, Fort St Elmo guards the entrance to the two harbours: the Grand Harbour to the south and Marsamxett Harbour to the north. Here, you can visit the National War Museum that focuses on the history of World War I and II; the Siege Bell Memorial is also nearby.
Note: if the fort and fortifications fascinate you, make time to later visit the free interactive Fortifications Interpretation Centre on St Andrew’s Bastion that overlooks Manoel Island and Marsamxett Harbour.
14. Do visit The Malta Experience that tells Malta’s entire 7,000-year history in a captivating 45-minute audio-visual show; the ticket includes a tour of the nearby Sacra Infermeria, the hospital of the Knights Hospitallers.
15. Stroll south, along the bastions towards the Grand Harbour, to see a timeless Valletta far removed from the business centre. St. Barbara Bastions is one of Europe’s most prestigious addresses and you’ll know why - the view is next to none.
16. The Saluting Battery at the Upper Barrakka Gardens at midday, complete with gunfire, certainly adds spice to an already awesome picture perfect view of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities.
17. If you feel like it, take the lift down to the water’s edge and take a water-taxi across the harbour for a closer look at the Three Cities - Vittoriosa (Birgu), Cospicua (Bormla) and Senglea (Isla). Then, look over at the view of Valletta’s own bastions from the water.
18. Emerging from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, marvel at the architectural wonder that is Auberge de Castille, today the Office of the Prime Minister.
19. Nearby, on Merchant’s Street, the Valletta 2018 flagship MUZA National Community Art Museum is housed in the Auberge d’Italie; much like a visit at the Museum of Archaeology, a stop here would allow you to hit two birds with one stone: experience a remnant of the Knight's history and take in a view of Malta's cultural heritage.
20. The Lascaris War Rooms, located right beside the Upper Barrakka Gardens, have actually been voted Valletta’s top museum on TripAdvisor. These are the original headquarters where the British planned and managed their strategy during World War II.
21. End your day with dinner in one of Valletta’s many restaurants; some offer a great view over the bastions. Or simply relax in a wine bar that's tucked away in one of Valletta’s cellars.
22. For a truly evocative experience, get to the City Lights Cinema Bar where vintage, classic and foreign movies are screened, sometimes to a live piano soundtrack; this iconic cinema was previously reputed for its dirty movies enjoyed by British Navy sailors.
23. To leave the city, take the Valletta-Sliema ferry across Marsamxett Harbour. You’ll see the yacht marina and Manoel Island with Fort Manoel as you cross over from the 16th-century city of art and culture you've just experienced - a stark contrast to the 21st century high rises and shopping malls of Sliema.
And, remember, there's plenty more. Do visit again sometime!