If you’re visiting the small but culture rich island of Malta and don’t visit the capital city Valletta, did you even go? Valletta is an excellent day-trip from all areas of the island and many tourists opt to stay here to explore everything it has to offer over a few days. It has several historic attractions and the entire city is built up with tall stone walls, narrow alleyways and picturesque viewpoints.
We’ve put together a list of the top things to see and do in Valletta when visiting for a day or more and the best restaurants, bars and places to stay.
Best things to do in Valletta
1.Watch a saluting canon battery at Lower Barrakka Gardens
Lower Barrakka Gardens is an enchanting garden and monument with some of the best views of the harbourside. Wander amongst the fountains and flowers before approaching the balcony to take some excellent panoramic photographs. Below the balcony you’ll find a line of grand war cannons on the grass area, where a saluting battery takes place on the hour. This is a must-see, and a good first sight to introduce you to the rich history of the city.
2. Wander the amazing interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral
Currently the #2 attraction in Valletta on TripAdvisor, the stunning St John’s Co-Cathedral is a captivating church built by the Order of St John in the 1500’s, dedicated to John the Baptist. Although it has a somewhat unassuming exterior, the inside of the cathedral is particularly special. Decorated with golden ornate furnishings, grand art pieces and an intricate architecture throughout, it’s a true work of art. We recommend taking a guided audio tour. There’s often a queue to enter, however it’s well worth the wait.
3. Set sail to see Valletta waterfront from the harbourside
In many pictures of Malta, the iconic skyline of Valletta from the harbourside is the most common sight. The best way to see the towering buildings, fortresses and sights is scouring the shoreline on a boat trip. You’ll stop by the key sights in 2-3 hours. You’ll also get a nice view of the many colourful boats docked at the marina.
Join a narrated boat tour such as Captain Morgan’s Harbour Cruise and sail around the harbourside of Sliema and Valletta learning about the history of this grand city. We recommend taking a tour before sunset.
4. Explore the mighty Fort St Elmo
There are two impressive fortresses in the Valletta area. The main fortress, St Elmo, sits on the edge of the city overlooking the ocean. This long-standing fort has been the basis of defence for Valletta since the Great Siege of the 1500’s and is now home to a WWII War Museum, featuring artefacts and interesting stories from the Bronze Age up until the World War’s. Walk the fortress walls for amazing views or enter the museum. Entry to the attraction is 10 euros per person.
5. Learn about the city’s history in an unusual museum
Due to its historic nature, Valletta has enough museums to keep you entertained for a full week! Here are some of the top museums to visit, in addition to some of the other key museums we’ve mentioned on our list:
Malta Postal Museum – An unusually interesting building full of stories from the 15th century, galleries and old artefacts.
National Museum of Archaeology – Packed full of pre-historic artefacts, this central museum is highly interesting for those that like ancient history. Pieces date back to 5000BC!
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum – Located a short drive outside of Valletta, the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is one of the most impressive and historic attractions in Malta. It’s an ancient wonder of crypts and chambers dating back to 4000BC. You’ll feel like Indiana Jones exploring the site.
6. Stroll the picturesque streets and alleyways
Attractions and points of interest aside, the entirety of Valletta is amazing to look at. Get lost in the narrow alleyways, with tall, sand washed buildings. From colourful doors and windows, to palm trees and gardens, the streets are where you’ll capture some of your best pictures. We recommend wandering away from the main street and exploring the streets and staircases near Upper Barrakka Gardens. They’re less populated so you’ll get a more authentic feel for the city.
7. Visit Grandmaster’s Palace
The Grandmaster’s Palace is located next to the main city square. Built between the 16th and 18th centuries as the palace of the Order of St John, it’s now the residence of the president of Malta. Check out the exterior, including the guard procession at the main entrance, or pay 10 euros and peruse the decorated Palace State Rooms. This intricately decorated interior has artwork, tapestries and artefacts dating back centuries. The suits of Knight’s armour that line the hallways are particularly cool.
8. Go gift shopping and explore the local food scene
Republic Street and Merchants Street are the shopping hotspots in Valletta. Here you’ll find many international and local stores, ranging from fashion and jewellery to traditional gift shops selling Maltese souvenirs such as Filigree models and glass sculptures. There’s also several ice cream and snack stores and plenty of designer fashion outlets.
Shop for gifts for the family back home or pick up a souvenir or treat for yourself. Outside of the main shopping malls, Valletta is the best place for shopping in the country.
9. Check out the impressive architecture of the city
If you’re approaching Valletta from the main city gate, you’ll be impressed at first glance by the towering fountain structure and grand, stone-wall entrance to the city. It oozes history and culture and according to UNESCO, it’s one of the most concentrated historic areas of the world, with influences from the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John.
Wander the city streets in awe of the architecture and learn about the history from a local guide. We recommend joining one of the walking tours mentioned in our Malta tours guide here.
10. Learn about the strategical significance of Valletta at Lacaris War Rooms and HQ War Tunnel
Investigate the hidden underground tunnels beneath the streets of Valletta. This vast labyrinth of rooms was the headquarters for the defence of the island during World War II and operations base for NATO in later years. Today it’s a museum with a showcase of artefacts and equipment from the original base. Explore the tunnels as part of a guided and informative tour. The reviews are excellent, and you’ll learn a lot!
Right next to the Lacaris War Rooms is the War HQ tunnel complex; a winding continuation of the alternate tunnels, but providing different rooms, stories and pathways. This is often missed in favour of the Lacaris War Rooms, but both are well worth seeing. Both tunnel tours are located beneath Lower Barrakka Gardens.
Sample one-day itinerary
Many people visit Valletta for a single day of sightseeing, packing as much of this historic city into a visit as possible. See below for our recommended itinerary when visiting for an action-packed day-trip.
Morning (arrive as early as you can!):
City gate and streets – Head through the main gate and stop to take pictures of the impressive fountain, city walls and amphitheatre. Keep your camera at hand!
Lower Barrakka Gardens – Take the path to the south of the city to find the beautiful Lower Barrakka Gardens within minutes. Wander the gardens and approach the balconies for amazing views of the bay.
Lacaris War Rooms / HQ War Tunnels – Right beneath the gardens are the hidden tunnels and war rooms, where you can join a guided tour and learn about the strategic defence of Malta throughout the ages.
Upper Barrakka Gardens – Staying to the south coast of the city, walk the narrow city streets (this was our favourite place in the city) to the smaller but still worth-seeing Upper Barraka Gardens. The south of Valletta has the most picturesque views and plenty of nice buildings and monuments along the way.
Fort St Elmo – Approaching the edge of the city, right above the steep cliffside, the mighty Fort Elmo stands, looking out at the Mediterranean ocean. Pay the 10-euro entrance fee to explore the museum and cool rooms and barracks of the fort.
Stop for lunch at Pappannis – Heading back into the centre of the city, stop for a well-earned lunch at one of the quaint cafes and restaurants. We recommend Papannis Italian Restaurant. They have outdoor seating where you can soak in the atmosphere and the food is delicious (and reasonably priced!)
Grandmaster’s Palace – Your first port of call after lunch should be the Grandmaster’s Palace. Here you can see the changing of the guard or go on a tour of the historic rooms and hallways. Although it houses Malta’s president today, it was once the Palace of the Order of St John’s Knights.
St John’s Cathedral – Book a guided tour in advance to reduce queuing time to visit the eagerly anticipated St John’s Cathedral. This brightly decorated Church is one of the top things to see in the city, in fact the whole of Malta!
Shopping – A trip to Valletta isn’t complete without some shopping, whether it be gifts, a personal treat or high-end fashion. Republic Street and Merchants Street are the places to go.
Valletta Harbour – End your busy day of sightseeing with a relaxing late afternoon/sunset cruise alongside the Valletta and Sliema harbourside. It’s a nice way to wind down and see the city in a different light.
Don’t forget to stop for plenty of coffee/ice cream breaks along the way. Sightseeing is tough work!
Where to eat in Valletta – top restaurants
Fifty Nine Republic | Cost: €€€€
This restaurant is the place to go if you’re looking for a special occasion fine dining experience. Decorated throughout in black and white, this suave bistro is a little expensive, but the food quality and experience is superb. The ambience and atmosphere is very relaxed so it makes an excellent location for a romantic anniversary celebration, or a special birthday meal.
Taproom | Cost: €€ – €€€
Grab a booth at Taproom for a date night that is sure to impress. This dimly lit and trendy restaurant is in the centre of Valletta, serving up a variety of Mediterranean food such as pastas, fresh fish, meat and delicious desserts. Although it has a fancy edge, the food and drinks here are quite reasonably priced.
Papanni’s Italian Restaurant | Cost: €€
Being so close to Sicily, you’ll find Italian restaurants and influence throughout Malta. Papanni’s is one of the best restaurants in the city. It has both indoor and outdoor seating (perfect for warm evenings) and an authentic ‘family-run’ vibe. Their selection of pizzas, pastas and fresh meat and fish will not disappoint. The staff are also very friendly and attentive, especially the owner.
Il-Pup | Cost: €€
A small but cosy and welcoming restaurant/bar with a low-light setting. Grab a table with a view of the open bar and spend your evening trying the delicious gourmet burgers, local craft beers, risotto, curries and other international favourites that you’d expect to find in a gastro-pub. The portion sizes are very good.
Valletta’s best bars
The nightlife scene in Valletta isn’t as vibrant and lively as the likes of St Julian’s and it mainly comprises of restaurants and casual wine bars. However, there are a selection of fine pubs and bars for those that like drinking with an ambient atmosphere and chilled music.
This is one of our favourite spots in Valletta. Enter through the small cove on an alleyway into a cave bar of rums and other spirits. Pull up a chair at the bar and sample the drinks to your desire or enjoy a glass of wine and aperitif on an outdoor table and watch the world go by.
San Paulo Naufrago
San Paulo’s is a tiny bar in the old town centre, with some excellent views of the city streets from its staircase location. Although small, it has an authentic and friendly vibe. Enjoy a glass of wine during the day on a table by the staircase or return on an evening for some pre-dinner cocktails.
The Pub is exactly what it says it is, a traditional British pub with an interior that would make you think you’re in Yorkshire. This expat run bar is one of the most popular drinking spots in Valletta and rated the number one bar on Tripadvisor. Stop here for a jolly good pint on an evening or as a break from sightseeing.
If you prefer a livelier nightlife and plentiful selection of bars and live music spots, catch a taxi to nearby Sliema or St Julian’s. Both are located a 15 to 20-minute drive away.
Where to stay in Valletta
For the top places to stay in Valletta, check out our ‘Where to stay in Malta’ guide here, where we have some excellent Valletta hotel recommendations for all budgets. The accommodation here is particularly of the luxury variety, however you’ll still find lower cost B&B’s and apartment rentals.
Top tips for visiting Valletta
- If you’re visiting Valletta for a day-trip, make sure you arrive early. There’s a lot to see and do and you’ll want to make the most of your time. Plan each of your key attractions on your Google Maps app.
- If driving to Valletta, the best place to park your car is at the large MCP car park near the gate of the city. Park your car in the multi-storey and take a short walk to the main gate. It’s low cost and central. Find the car park here.
- Exploring Valletta to its fullest will require a lot of walking. Pack plenty of water and snacks and make sure you stop for short breaks. There’s lots of quaint corner cafes and park benches.
- For attractions such as St John’s Cathedral and the War Museum, book tickets online before arrival. The queues can get quite long, and you often save money by paying in advance.
- Valletta is small for a capital city and you can cross the city within half an hour or so. Take time to get lost in the many narrow streets and appreciate the impressive architecture.
- Try to stay late into the evening or overnight if you can. The city is very different on an evening and there are some superb restaurants and bars to check out. Alternatively, visit Valletta twice – once on an evening and once during the day. It’s easy to get to.
We hope we helped you plan your visit to the historic city of Valletta. Although the main attractions are all based around history and architecture, it’s well worth visiting just for the impressive views and quaint streets and cafes. It has something for everyone!
If you have any questions or would like to make a suggestion for our recommendations and itinerary, we’d love to hear from you. Comment below or send us an email.