Is Valletta Worth Visiting : Why We Fell in Love with Malta’s Capital
Created by Colleen Sims * 17 August 2023 * Updated 17 August 2023
Is Valletta Worth Visiting? Yes! Valletta is the captivating capital of Malta. It’s a treasure trove of history, architecture, packed full of things to see and do and has a really vibrant café and art scene. Valletta has also gained a reputation as a popular foodie destination and has so many fabulous places to eat.
As a first-time visitor, you’ll quickly understand why this UNESCO World Heritage Site has captured the hearts of many; including ours. I hope to show you how Valletta is your perfect weekend getaway or the ideal spot for a much longer stay on the islands. We really did fall in love with Valletta. It’s definitely worth a visit!
Is Valletta Worth Visiting?
In short yes! (and I’ll tell you why if you keep reading)
We’d seen Malta on TV shows and heard friends wax lyrical about the island but we’re not really beach-y people so it wasn’t at the top of our places to visit list. Then Ryanair (low-cost European airline) had a November Sale. I could get a return flight for 30€ and we had a few weeks free. Decision made. We were going to Malta.
And Valletta was fabulous. The perfect combination of places to visit, shops and history and museums and art and the views are picture postcard perfect. It’s really walkable city but also has fantastic transport links if you wish to wander further.
It doesn’t have a beach but you can take the local ferry to Sliema if you need a beach day, It’s not wall to walll sunshine in winter but we still had plenty of T-shirt days and we still needed sunscreen!
Malta has a great public transport system and is served by low-cost airlines which makes it easy to reach, easy and afforable to travel around and it’s fabulous year round destination. What we discovered is that Valletta is really worth visiting!
What is Valletta Known For?
If you want to know why it’s worth visiting Valletta, here are a few of it’s standout features. I could list many more famous landmarks and interesting facts but it’s also Valletta’s character and warmth that makes it worth a visit.
- Valletta is renowned for its rich history and stunning architecture and is often referred to as a “living museum.”
- Valletta’s Grand Harbour is one of the most picturesque natural harbours in the world.
- Valletta boasts numerous museums, art galleries and cultural institutions
- The city hosts numerous cultural events and festivals throughout the year and was designated European Capital of Culture in 2018
- Valletta was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
Love History? You’ll Love Valletta.
Malta has a rich and varied history, having been ruled by Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Sicilians, Spanish and of course the famous Knights of St. John. They all left their mark on the Maltese culture and if you’re a history lover than Valletta is certainly worth a visit.
Pre-Historic Malta : Malta’s history is truly astounding; during our visit we spent some time exploring the Megalithic Temple at Ġgantija on Gozo. This is one of the oldest standing structures on earth (older even than the pyramids) and yet we’d never heard of it. There are lots of pre-historic sites in both islands which are open for visits.
The Knights of St John : The Knights of St John arrived in 1530, where they set about building one of the mightiest fortresses in Europe and one of the most visited renaissance cities; Valletta.
The British : Napoleon tried to conquer Malta and the British came to the Maltese aid. However the British decided to stay. They ruled Malta from 1814 until 1964 when independence was finally granted. Queen Elizabeth II often said her days in Malta where some of her happiest memories.
Word War II : During World War II, from 1940 to 1942, Malta endured a series of intense and devastating bombing raids in what became known as the Siege of Malta. Despite this heavy bombardment and severe shortages of food and many civilian casualties, the Maltese people’s resilience never dampened.
So great was the Maltese contribution to the Allies war effort that King George VI awarded the entire Island the George Cross, and the symbol is now incorporated into the Maltese national flag.
Things to See and Do in Valletta
Is it worth visiting Valletta? Absolutely. It may be one of the smallest capitals in Europe but it’s quaint charm combined with a rich history makes it a great destination and it’s size makes it a remarkably easy city to walk around.
We took a walking tour on our first day and it was the perfect introduction to Valletta. We really didn’t know what to expect at the start of our visit but a few weeks later we had fallen in love.
Backstreets of Valletta
Valletta is a beautiful city, with narrow cobbled streets and traditional Maltese architecture.
Take some time to explore the backstreets and alleyways of Valletta beyond the main thoroughfares. We simply followed our noses; the old town is small and you really can’t get lost and who knows what you’ll find!
The Upper Barrakka Gardens are a popular destination on Valletta’s city walls. We visited during our walking tour and returned a few times to enjoy the view and take a break in the shade under the trees in the gardens.
The gardens offer incredible views out onto the Grand Harbour and Three Cities area and if you can pull yourself away from the view, the gardens themselves are a delight too. Originally constructed in the 1660s for the knights of Saint John, they are now open to the public.
Entry to the gardens is free and you should visit at least once during your time in Valletta!
Beaches : Take A Bus or Ferry For a Day at the Seaside
If you love beaches more than cities you may well ask yourself “Is Valletta worth visiting?” But Malta has a great public bus service so if you’re craving a day at the beach jump on a bus and head up the coast to one of the islands famous beaches.
While Malta is known more for its rocky coastlines and lidos rather than sandy beaches, there are a popular beaches that can be reached by bus from Valletta.
St. George’s Bay (San Ġorġ) is one of the more popular sandy beaches on the island. It’s located in St. Julian’s, not far from Valletta. The beach offers various water sports activities, sun loungers, and nearby restaurants and cafes. Buses run regularly from Valletta to St. Julian’s, making it easily accessible.
Mellieħa Bay (Ghadira Bay) is one of the largest sandy beaches on the island and is located in the northern part of Malta. Buses from Valletta to Mellieħa run regularly, and you can enjoy a relaxing day on the sandy shore, with opportunities for water sports and beachside dining.
Cultural Events, Fireworks and Festivals during your visit
Valletta is home to numerous events and festivals throughout the year, many of which are free, such as the annual fireworks festival. Check with the Tourist Information when you arrive or check their website for what’s on when you visit.
Fort St. Elmo and the National War Museum
Located on the tip of Valletta is Fort St. Elmo, a 16th century fortification built by the Knights of Malta to defend against enemies. The site is even older and records show that by 1417 the area had already been established as a military lookout.
Today it is open to visitors and also houses the National War Museum which traces the history of Malta’s wartime experiences over the past 500 years.
We walked to Fort St Elmo but the little Tourist Train also stops here. Do check the website for opening times and prices; it was closed the first time we visited.
Game of Thrones Spotting and Film Set Searching
Valletta has been used as a filming location for almost a century and many blockbuster movies and TV shows, most notably in recent times Game of Thrones. Fort Ricasoli, which you can spot from Barraka Gardens, doubled as the Gate of the Gods of King’s Landing. Sadly now closed to the public you can still get a view by taking a local harbour boat tour. Scenes from the movie Gladiator were also filmed here.
Midnight Express was also filmed at Fort St Elmo. Troy and Munich were also shot in part in and around Valletta as was Agora, World War Z, Assassin’s Creed, Captain Phillips, Murder on the Orient Express and even parts of Jurrasic World.
The Grand Harbour is the natural harbour of Valletta and has been in use for thousands of years; megalithic remains have been found which date back to around 3700 BC. The harbour was the site of an epic battle between the Turks and the Knights of St John in 1565; one of the longest sieges in history which shaped much of Europe’s history.
We took a simple boat tour of the harbour and were rewarded with some stunning views of the Valletta waterfront.
Grand Master’s Palace
Another must-see in Valletta is the Grand Master’s Palace. This was once the home of the leader of the Knights of Malta and it’s glorious interior is worth spending a couple of hours exploring.
Sadly the site is partly closed for a major renovation but keep an eye on their website and check when the Palace is open again to the public.
Valletta is home to numerous hidden gardens and courtyards. These tranquil spaces provide a great opportunity to for a little relaxation between the sight seeing and offer a glimpse to Valletta otherwise missed.
One such example is the secret garden of Valletta’s Monastery of St. Catherine. Now called the Mysterium Fidei Museum, you can visit the underground complex lying beneath St. Catherine’s Monastery including its cloistered garden.
Also visit Argotti Botanical Garden or Sa Maison Garden in Floriana. And if you really love green spaces visit during Valletta’s Green Festival
Lascaris War Rooms
For those with an interest in history, the Lascaris War Rooms are a must. This was the headquarters of the British military during World War II and it’s been preserved to this day. Here you’ll learn about Malta’s role in the conflict as well as more about its military history.
Valletta has plenty of great venues for live music. There’s the popular Manoel Theatre (Teatru Manoel), which hosts a range of performances from classical to modern.
For something a little different, head over the Bridge Bar or Cafe Society for drinks and live music; both are really popular small venues in the city. There is also an active Live Music Facebook group which will keep you up to date with what and where you’ll find live music in the city.
Valletta has many markets, where you’ll find fresh produce and locally-made goods and crafts. The Valletta Sunday Market is a really popular open air market that attracts both locals and tourists. There’s also a daily market in Ordnance Street/Merchant’s Street where you can grab a bargain; this is more of a flea market and you should expect a fair amount of touristy goods too.
For a more upmarket choice visit Is-Suq tal-Belt, a recently refurbished indoor market. The lower level is a food market, with all manner of local produce. There are also stalls selling food and an open space where you can relax, they even host events, exhibitions and live music.
Mdina : The Silent City is a Great Valletta Day Trip
Mdina is an ancient walled city, once the capital of Malta. Located outside of Valletta, and easily accessible by bus, or you can book a place on one of the many day tours.
Known as the Silent City, if you have the time this is definitely worth a visit. Stroll through the beautifully preserved streets, marvel at the cathedral and explore the old palaces and take in the views (and the cake!) from one of the many rooftop terrace restaurants.
You can take a bus from Valletta to Mdina and jump on this walking tour to make the most of your time.
We did the Mdina Waking tour and it’s a really inexpensive option and the guide was great. If you take the bus to Mdina it’s a great way to see all of the city in a short space of time (and learn more about Game of Thrones too!)
Museum of Fine Arts (MUZA)
Valletta has a rich artistic heritage and the art work of Caravaggio in the cathedral is testament to this. The city is home to some incredible galleries and one of the most noteworthy is the Museum of Fine Arts, or MUZA for short.
The Museum hosts a collection of valuable silverware, marble, bronze and wood statues and a host of very fine furniture. Housed in a stunning former residence of the Knights of the Order of St John. If like us and can lose a few hours exploring galleries, then you’ll love MUZA.
National Museum of Archaeology
The National Museum of Archaeology is an amazing treasure trove of ancient history with artefacts dating from Malta’s Neolithic period from 5900 BC!
I’m fascinated by pre-history and spent a couple of hours here exploring the incredible collection of ancient artefacts. It was this information that sent me on a search to visit more of the islands pre-history.
People-Watching in Piazzas
Valletta is packed with beautiful piazzas. We love to walk and walk and walk but after a while we also like to sit and watch the world go by. One of the best ways to do this is in one of Valletta’s main squares.
The City Gate Square, Republic Square and St George’s Square are all great places to people-watch and there are plenty of bars and cafes to choose your spot.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens also house two cannons which are fired every day at midday; a tradition which started in 1824.
The Saluting Battery has become one of Valletta’s iconic attractions with visitors arriving to watch the midday ceremony.
St John’s Co-Cathedral
St John’s Co-Cathedral is a beautiful Baroque church located in Valletta’s Republic Square. Built in 1577, St John’s Co-Cathedral is filled with fascinating works of art, ornate marble floors and intricately decorated domes. The highlight of the Cathedral is Caravaggio’s famous painting ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’ which is housed in the oratory.
There is a fee to visit the Cathedral, and you will be provided with an audio guide. Make sure you use the audio guide as it was really useful making sense of each small chapel. The cathedral is huge but you don’t need to pay for a guided tour. Do allow plenty of time for your visit as there is a lot to see. And make sure you explore every corner possible, including the upper levels and the Oratory.
Shopping in Valletta
Valletta is full of great places to shop. On Republic Street there are lots of independent shops living alongside main stream shops and cafes and restaurants.
But you should also meander up and down the streets that run off from Republic Street. There are so many opportunities to discover art and craft as well clothes and the obvious tourist shops.
I’m not a great shopping fan but I enjoyed window shopping in Valletta. Valletta is a capital city with a huge local population and not just a tourist destination; I think this is part of the reason why we loved it here so much.
Sliema for the Day
If you have a few days to spare in Valletta, then you should definitely taking a day trip to Sliema. This is a seaside resort, very different from historic Valletta is only 30 minutes by ferry or you can opt for a local bus. The Valletta Ferry runs every day making this an easy and affordable day out from the city and avoids the city traffic too!
Sliema is a popular coastal town offering a very different atmosphere to Valletta. Home to many Maltese residents, it’s known for Tower Road, its waterfront promenade, shopping and seafood restaurants (offering glorious views of the Mediterranean). It doesn’t have sandy beaches but does offer rocky shores and very nice lidos (outdoor swimming areas).
Street Art Scene
Valletta is a great place for street art enthusiasts and the city has plenty of murals and graffiti to explore. Ever since our Street Art Tour in Porto I’m addicted to finding local works of art.
The tour we took is no longer available but there is a thriving Street Art Scene in Valletta, there used to be a Street Art Festival and in 2023 there was a 6 months Street Art exhibition. If like me, you love street art it’s worth asking if there’s a gallery or tour you can take at the local tourist information
Valletta is surrounded by the beautiful Grand Harbour, and there’s no better way to experience it or see it, than from a boat or from Three Cities. Whether you take a ferry across or hire one of the small traditional boats, visiting Three Cities is a must.
The Three Cities, are Cospicua, Senglea and Vittoriosa. These areas grew as Valletta grew and they are opposite Valetta in Malta’s Grand Harbour. The three cities form a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to their historic importance and glorious architecture.
Three Cities deserves it’s own post but suffice to say, go down to the harbour and take the ferry or a private boat and visit. We went twice. Three Cities is beautiful. Allow at least a day and wear comfortable shoes. You wont regret it!
If you take the bus in or out of Valletta you will have to walk by Tritons Fountain. It’s become a bit of an iconic city landmark located near Valletta’s City Gate.
When we were there in December the area around the fountain became a little Christmas Village with huts selling all kinds of Christmas Fayre. As you walk in and out and around Valletta you can’t fail to spot the fountain and it’s makes a great view point for photos.
Waterfront, Fortifications and City Walls
The Valletta waterfront is a great place to wander and take in the views. There are several cafes and restaurants along the way.
If you are feeling energetic, walk part of Valletta’s fortifications; of course we did! The walls were built in 1533 and provide incredible views of the city and Three Sisters.
Take the lift down from Barrakka Gardens (you can go up as well!) and started walking. Keep an eye out for the beautifully painted houses and balconies; they reminded me very much of Pamplona in Spain.
Our Favourite Valletta Tours
We hired a car for getting around Malta. But we didn’t stay in Valletta and we very much regret that because Valletta was our favourite spot.
Driving in Malta is easy but the traffic! Oh my the roads are busy. Next time we go we’d use public transport or take a tour. We’d maybe hire a car for Gozo where the traffic wasn’t so crazy!
We’ve done the hard work for you
- These tours are the highest rated
- Take you to where you need to go
- Great value for money and don’t cost the earth
We loved this tour. Our guide was great and offered so much local flavour and humour. We learned the best places to eat, shop and the best times to visit popular attractions.
I’d recommend this tour before you do anything else. This tour is so inexpensive; everyone should take it!
Gerry loves trying the local cuisine but eating out is always a problem for me; does it have gluten or dairy? My dietary restrictions take the edge off of trying new food but food tours are the perfect solution and this one is excellent.
Spend a few hours exploring the rich and diverse cuisine that is Malta. Bring your appetite as there is a lot of food!
We hired a car but if you’re based in Valletta you don’t need a car; indeed it would be a nightmare trying to park and get through local traffic.
Some of the full day tours on Malta can be pricey but this tour takes you to the top spots without breaking the bank!
I was blown away by Malta’s ancient history. If you have time you should visit at least one of the pre-historic sites or temples that are scattered across the island. This tour offer a fantastic glimpse to Malta’s past.
If you’d like to experience Gozo for the day but don’t want to be part of a large coach tour and you’d prefer to not hire a car then this tour is just the best solution.
It’s Self-Drive but part of a group tour with a leader and your jeep is included! Read on to find more but it’s a great way to explore Gozo!
Valletta For Foodies : A Gastronomic Delight!
Valletta has something of a reputation for fabulous food and it’s grown into a destination for lovers of great gastronomy.
There is something for everyone when it comes to food choices. Many great empires have ruled over Malta and they brought with them art, and culture and food! This heritage has created a great melting pot of amazing cuisine. Discover traditional Maltese dishes like pastizzi and qassatat, to international cuisines and world-class restaurants, we even found a large selection of Vegan and Gluten free choices too!
I use Tripadvisor and Google to discover the really popular places but be sure to ask your tour guide or hotel as they can tell you about hidden gems that only locals know!
There are so many to choose from but here are three of my favourite Valletta restaurants :
Manon Gastro Bar Bistro : We loved this little Bistro, So much so we went back twice and we even celebrated the arrival our of first grandchild here!
Adesso : Seriously good food at Adesso. Be prepared to pay a little more than the average tourist restaurant but if you love food then this is a great choice! :
Soul Food : I often choose vegan because I know it’s dairy free and often they cater for gluten free too. Soul Food is the perfect example and the food was simply fabulous!
Where to Stay in Valletta
We stayed out of the city and had to travel in and out each day but when we go back (and we will) we would stay in the Old Town or across the water in Three Cities. If you prefer the beach feel then you could also opt for Sliema and use the Ferry to get in and out of town.
Next time we go these would be my top picks for where to stay!
SPQR Studios Valletta : We LOVE apartments and this is right in the middle of town so perfect exploring both day and night.
Palais Le Brun : I was sold on the rooftop pool! If you’re looking for a fabulous hotel for your stay in Valletta then look no further.
Alavits Hotel by ST Hotels : Prices tend to be lower as you move out of Valletta and with such easy access on public transport and local ferries this hotel in Sliema is a great choice
Two Pillows Boutique Hostel : If your budget is tight then book a bed at the highly rated Two Pillows Hostel but book well ahead as it’s really popular!
Frequently Asked Questions : Is Valletta Worth Visiting?
Is Valletta Expensive?
No, Valletta is quite affordable compared to other European cities but accommodation within the old centre can be more expensive. We rented an apartment on the coast and in November and December it was exceptionally good value but when I go again I’d stay in Valletta.
Public transport is very cost effective and there are budget-friendly accommodation options outside of the historic centre. There are plenty of free activities and cafes and restaurants offer really great value for money.
Is it Safe To Visit?
Yes, the city is generally considered safe with crime levels being relatively low. As with any destination, you should take some basic precautions such as not leaving your belongings or phone unattended.
When is the Best Time to Visit Valletta?
We visited in November and December and whilst we had some rain we also had some sunny t-shirt days and the weather really didn’t impact too much on our visit. Our guides tell us that Spring and Autumn is the best time when it’s not too hot or cold and there are less summer visitors. Summer gets pretty busy, especially around European school holiday times.
If guaranteed sunshine and beaches are your thing then summer is a really great time to experience Malta’s capital. You have the added bonus of a host of summer festivals and outdoor events and activities.
Malta : Weather And Climate
Malta enjoys a Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot summers. June to September is the hottest time of the year, while December to February is usually the rainiest. Spring is generally sunny and dry, and locals say it’s the best time to visit.
How Many Days do you Need in Valletta?
That depends on what you want to see. I’d say at least two full days to get a good flavour of the city. This will give you time to visit the main attractions as well as getting a feel for local life. Perfect if you’re planning a weekend getaway.
However, I could spend a month in Valletta and not be bored so don’t feel that you have to get in and get out either!
Is Valletta A Friendly City?
Yes, Valletta is a very friendly and welcoming. Locals are generally very hospitable and are always ready to help out with directions or advice on attractions in the area.
What Should I Bring With Me To Valletta?
My best advice is to bring a comfortable pair of shoes for all the walking that you’ll do! In summer bring a sun hat and sunglasses, in Autumn and Winter bring a rain coat as well and don’t forget your camera to capture those unforgettable views!
Is Valletta Worth Visiting In Winter?
Yes, Valletta is certainly worth visiting during winter! The weather may be cooler and wetter but there are still plenty of attractions to enjoy. And in December you get to see the city in all it’s Christmas finery.
We enjoyed our winter break so much we’d consider spending a couple of months there over winter; it’s cheaper and there are far fewer tourists!
How Do You travel to Valletta?
The easiest way to reach Valletta is by air. Malta International Airport is just a 30-minute journey away from the city centre. There are public buses or taxis that can whisk you into the city in no time.
Is it Worth Hiring A Car in Valletta
Hiring a car in Malta might be a good idea, it depends on your needs and how long you’re on the island. Car hire could be great for getting around Malta if you wish to travel further afield independently but it’s not needed if you’re staying in Valletta
Driving in Malta is easy and roads are generally well-maintained but the traffic can be very tiresome! Make sure you plan accordingly as everything takes twice as long. Parking in Valletta is difficult and we wouldn’t take a car in to the city. Take the bus and avoid the pain.
Is there a Ferry Service in Valletta
Yes. There is a ferry which runs between Valletta and Sliema and another which runs to Three Cities.
There is no direct ferry from Valletta to the Gozo ferry terminal in Ċirkewwa but you can take a couple of buses to get there.
The Last Word : Is Valletta Worth Visiting?
Absolutely and best of all you can visit Valletta at any time of year!
Regardless of whether you’re seeking a summer holiday destination, a weekend foodie break or a great base from which to explore the island of Malta, Valletta is perfect!
- It boasts a plethora of historical landmarks and medieval relics.
- It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site; the entire city
- It has a vibrant cultural scene, with art galleries, museums, theatres and live music throughout the year,
- It’s extensive public transport system makes it easy to explore the rest of Malta and Gozo.
- It’s a gastronomic destination with a huge range of restaurants, bistros and a thriving café scene
- Its compact size allows you to explore the city at your own pace
- Did we mention the views?
Valletta is a destination that ticks all the boxes. It’s 100% worth a visit… again and again and again.