Valletta is one of the world’s smallest capital cities but it packs plenty of charm into its 0.55 sq km area. In fact, it’s so significant, the whole of Valletta has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I managed to find a cheeky long weekend flight for under £100 (and only needing to take one day of holiday!) which meant we had two and a half days to explore this beautiful city and beyond. I definitely left yearning to return and see even more of this captivating island country and get to know more of Valletta itself as well.
From exploring quirky streets to swimming in the Mediterranean, tasting Maltese cuisine to walking through history here are 10 things you must do when you visit Valletta. And really. You should be visiting. Soon.
1. Catch sunrise
I am a big fan of sunrise, there’s something special about waking up at the same time as the sun and enjoying the peace and quiet of that morning glow all to yourself. So this meant that catching a Valletta sunrise was high on my agenda. Of course the deeper into Summer you go the earlier the alarm gets set, which didn’t exactly complement an evening at The Bridge Bar (see 8) but trust me it’s worth it!
For a perfect spot to watch the sun rise up seemingly straight out of the Mediterranean Sea, head to the car park beside Giannini’s restaurant. The soft morning light casts a golden glow on Valletta’s skyline as residents begin to rouse. We enjoyed this view alongside a couple that looked like they may have not yet made it to bed and the pigeons swooping in circles overhead.
2. Wander beautiful streets
I really did fall in love with the streets of Valletta on our weekend break there. Although I must admit that I did not necessarily enjoy how steep some of them are and could feel the serious calf burn the next few days following! A number of the streets are pedestrianised or actually consist of steps which means you can enjoy them without any cars getting in the way.
The endearing streets of Valletta are generally quite narrow and so the Maltese balconies that every apartment has, almost seem to be touching in the middle. They make for a beautiful picture and each street seems to have its own personality. St Lucia’s Street even has chandeliers strung across the street!
3. Take a coffee break
Walking all those steep streets is tiring work (especially if you got up for sunrise!) so refuel with a coffee (and a delicious croissant) at Lot Sixty One. This minimalist cafe is located right next to the food market, Is-Suq tal-Belt (which is a great place to grab a bite to eat for lunch or dinner), and so it’s a perfect spot to people watch.
4. Explore the Barrakka Gardens
The Upper and Lower Barrakka gardens are situated on the East slopes of Valletta. Visit the Upper Barrakka gardens for breathtaking views of the Grand Harbour and across to the Three Cities (see 7). Come in time for the cannon to be fired at the Saluting Battery which happens at a couple of times during the day.
The Lower Barrakka Gardens are more peaceful than the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Enjoy a moment of rest in the surroundings of greenery and flowers and admire the Garden’s focal point; a neoclassical-style monument dedicated to Sir Alexander Ball. The Lower Barrakka Gardens also offer a stunning view back to the Upper Barrakka Gardens as well.
5. Swim in the Meditteranean
Valletta is located on a rocky peninsula so there aren’t any sandy beaches to relax on but you can still enjoy cooling down in the Mediterranean. There are a number of spots that you can settle your towel on a rock and sunbathe around the water’s edge. Each day we were in Valletta we spent a few hours in the late afternoon on what we claimed as our rocks, stretched out like lounging cats before plunging into the blue water to cool off.
6. Taste ftira
Malta has plenty of local dishes and specialties but my favourite is Malta’s answer to pizza: ftira. A mouthwatering slab of thick doughy bread covered in all sorts of fresh and local toppings. We followed our noses (and a lot of online reviews) to Nenu the Artisan Baker where ftira is the only thing you should be sampling on the menu.
We tried to go on the Friday evening we were in Valletta but it was full so we booked for the following evening to make sure we could get in. I’m not sure the waiter was super impressed with my decision to mix toppings but it tasted delicious nonetheless! We washed our ftira down with a bottle of local Maltese white wine which was impeccable.
7. See the Three Cities
Across the Grand Harbour from Valletta stand The Three Cities, protruding out into the natural harbour like pointing fingers. Collectively, they make up one of the oldest areas of Malta. Two of the cities were founded by the Knights of the Order of Saint John whilst the third, Birgu is older. This means the buildings of these fortified cities are older than Valletta’s.
There are three ways to see The Three Cities although I must admit we only did two out of the three! The first is to see them from the Eastern side of Valletta where you can get a great view of their skylines. Secondly, which we didn’t do, is to take a luzzu across the Grand Harbour to explore them by foot (or alternatively ride the bus round). Thirdly, you can take a boat tour to get up close and personal with the fortified city walls and smaller harbours within each city. We did this from Sliema and sailed all the way round The Grand Harbour which was an interesting tour to learn more of Valletta’s history and see The Three Cities and Malta’s capital from a different perspective.
8. Enjoy a drink outdoors
Valletta has one of the most chilled evening drinks vibe of any capital city I’ve visited. The streets come alive with people spilling out from the bars and pubs, sitting on cushions enjoying a glass of wine and the warm Mediterranean evening air. Both nights we had in Valletta we made sure to make the most of this enticing atmosphere and headed out for a drink after our dinner.
On Friday night in Valletta there is only one place to be and that is sitting on the tangle of stairs outside Bridge Bar, wine glass (or Aperol Spritz if you like me think it’s the best drink around) in hand, the lilt of live jazz music the soundtrack to your evening. What better way could there be to end a Friday in Valletta? Find Bridge Bar on the stairs that run towards the Three Cities off Triq Sant’ Orsla at the base of Triq San Gwan.
On Saturday evening we tried another Valletta favourite, Cafe Society. Located on beautiful Triq San Gwan (see 2), this bar served some great sounding cocktails (Basil Fawlty was legit on the list) and I can confirm that their frosé is absolutely spot on.
10. Venture out of Valletta
Staying in Valletta is a great place to base yourself in Malta, especially if you haven’t hired a car. This is because the country’s bus terminal is located on the edge of Valletta with buses that travel the length and breadth of the island. Valletta’s size means that it won’t take you days to explore so hop on a bus and spend a morning or afternoon enjoying another Maltese spot. Check out the Malta Public Transport website for more info on ticket prices and bus routes across Malta. Read on for the trips we took!
On the Sunday we were in Malta we took the bus to visit two different towns. In the morning we traveled to Marsaxlokk with its brilliant harbour full of colourful fishing boats. On Sundays the market is in full swing. Originally it was simply a fish market but now there are plenty of other stalls selling everything from clothes and souvenirs to local honey and other produce. There are still plenty of fish to be bought though and the smell is certainly still very strong in the air…
Close to Marsaxlokk is the natural pool called St Peter’s Pool. Here you will see families lounging in the sun on the sandstone rocks that surround the pool. If you’re feeling brave, join the daredevils jumping into the dark turquoise water of the pool below! The walk to St Peter’s Pool takes around 45 minutes from Marsaxlokk and is very exposed with little shade so make sure to take water with you.
In the afternoon, we took another bus out to the medieval fortified city of Mdina also known as ‘The Silent City’. During the medieval period, Mdina served as the capital of Malta and was home to the most noble families on the island. More recently it has served as a filming location for a number of Game of Thrones scenes, including the Mdina Gate which featured in the first season as the entrance to King’s Landing.
I absolutely loved getting lost wandering the peaceful streets of the city. There are plenty of beautiful buildings and doors to discover as well as cafes to grab a bite to eat.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Valletta?
Plus, check out my other Malta post for 12 magical Instagram spots in and around Valletta!