Valletta Malta, Top 10 things to do in the capital of Malta
Valletta is both the capital of Malta and a unique place. A fortified city, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and full of historical and cultural treasures. Through the winding alleys, it is possible to escape to a past full of history marked by the Order of Malta. Let’s discover together the 10 places not to be missed in the city of Valletta.
#1 St John’s Co-Cathedral
The country of Malta is famous for its churches and chapels that are scattered all over the country. There is a saying that you could go to a different church every day of the year. Of all the religious buildings on the island, the St John’s Co-Cathedral (Kon-Katidral ta’ San Ġwann) is the most iconic and a must-see for any visitor to Valletta.
The co-cathedral of Saint John is part of the national wealth of the small island state. It was built between 1573 and 1577, under the Grand Master Jean de la Cassière.
The exterior of the co-cathedral is bare, giving it an austere appearance, so you have to walk through its doors to discover its riches. The balcony of the cathedral has a symbolic importance, as it was the official announcement of the election of a new Grand Master of the Order.
The floor of the cathedral is made of marble and consists of commemorative plaques (cenotaphs) representing 405 knights of the Order of Malta. The cathedral and its magnificent baroque ornamentation also houses a crypt with the tombs of the masters who marked the Order of Malta. The tombs of Philippe de Villiers de L’Isle-Adamn and Jean de Valette are present in the cathedral. Finally, an oratory in the co-cathedral preserves the famous work of the painter Caravaggio: The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
You can find all the information you need to plan your visit on the website of the co-cathedral of Saint John. It is advisable to schedule your visit at the opening in the morning or mid-afternoon to avoid the numerous guided tours.
#2 Grandmaster’s Palace and Armory (Grandmaster’s Palace)
The Grand Master’s Palace was successively the official residence of 21 of the Grand Masters of the time of the Knights of the Order of Malta. The Grand Master’s Palace has a rectangular layout and measures 97 meters long and 83 meters wide. This makes it the largest building in Valletta in terms of surface area.
Today it houses the Government Palace of Malta and therefore the offices of the current President of Malta. Only some parts of the building are open to the public, the Palace State Rooms and the Palace Armory.
The State Rooms of the Palace include the Council Chamber, the State Dining Room and the Supreme Council Hall, or Throne Room, as it is known today. Also the Ambassador’s Room, where the Grand Master received important visitors and the President of Malta continues to receive foreign envoys. It can be accessed from both the Supreme Council Hall and the Pages’ Waiting Room.
The Pages’ Room, or Yellow State Room, was used by the 16 attendants of the Grand Master, and now serves as a conference room. And last but not least, The Tapestry Chamber, one of the most beautiful places, which definitely must be seen.
The Palace Armory is probably the most exceptional for its unique collection in the world. It is located in the former stables of the palace and contains about 7,000 pieces. The suits of armor that belonged to the high-ranking knights and also the armor of their horses, parade armor, war trophies, ceremonial swords, cannons, etc. It is one of the largest collections of arms and armor in the world.
The centerpiece of the collection is the parade armor of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, , created by Geronimo Spacini. A must for all lovers of a chivalrous era.
#3 Upper Barrakka Gardens and Lower Barrakka Gardens
Valletta has two gardens called Barrakka Gardens. The upper garden at the entrance of the city (Upper Barrakka Gardens) and the lower garden (Lower Barrakka Gardens). Both gardens are free and public and offer one of the best views of the city. It is the ideal place to observe the 3 cities: Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea (L-Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla).
From the gardens of Upper Barraka, nicknamed the Belvedere of Italy, you can see the Saluting Battery. The Saluting Battery is held daily at noon and at 4pm, a shot is fired from one of the cannons. A popular tourist attraction, it is advisable to arrive early to get the best spot.
The Lower Barraka Garden is smaller and more peaceful. It is based on St Christopher’s Bastion, which was a favourite place for the knights to watch the Mediterranean Sea and the sailing ships approaching the Maltese islands. The bell tower and its bell of St. Mary’s rings every day at noon and pays homage to those who died during the siege of Malta in World War II.
If you plan to visit Malta’s three cities from the capital, you can easily reach them by taking the boat across the Grand Harbour.
#4 National Museum of Archaeology, Malta
The Valletta Museum of Archaeology is housed in what used to be The Auberge de Provence. The current building was completely rebuilt in the 18th century and no longer resembles the original Auberge.
The interest of the archaeological museum lies in its collections dedicated to the Neolithic period (5000 BC) to the Phoenician period (400 BC).
Man came from Sicily to the Maltese archipelago almost 7,000 years ago. Traces of human activity can be seen in the Għar Dalam Cave (in the south of the island), as well as in the megalithic temple complex of Hagar Qim. The museum preserves some of these archaeological remains. It is possible, among other things, to discover the famous statuettes of the Mafflues women from the Hal Saflieni hypogeum or The Sleeping Lady of Ħal Saflieni linked to a fertility cult.
All information (prices and schedules) is available on the website of Heritage Malta.
#5 Hastings Gardens
Hastings Gardens is a key place to visit in Malta’s capital and discover the extent of Valletta’s fortifications. The ramparts, 16 metres high and 6 metres wide, offer a breathtaking view of Marsamxett Harbour and Forts Manoel and Tigné. The Hastings Gardens are named after Governor Rawdon-Hastings, who was Governor of Malta between 1824 and 1826.
#6 Collegiate Parish Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck
Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck has long been Malta’s most important place of worship. The co-cathedral of St John was in the past exclusively reserved for knights. It is also known as the Collegiate Church of St Paul the Castaway. St. Paul’s Church, built in the Baroque style with marble columns and gold plating, is one of the oldest churches in Valletta.
The church displays several masterpieces, including The Shipwreck of the Apostle Paul in Malta by Giuseppe Cali, and The Wooden Statue of St Paul. The statue of St Paul is an integral part of Maltese culture and traditions. The statue solemnly walks the streets of Valletta on St. Paul’s Day, the patron saint of Malta.
It is also possible to discover two acquisitions donated by Pope Pius VII that are highly venerated today. One is believed to be a fragment of the bone from the wrist of St Paul and the other is one of the marble pillars of the table on which the apostle was beheaded.
#7 Manoel Theatre
The Manoel Theatre (Teatru Manoel), the National Theatre of Malta and home to the Malta National Philharmonic Orchestra, is a small theatre that is well worth a visit. The theatre was built in 1731 and is the third oldest theatre in Europe. Behind an unremarkable façade, there is a trace of the Order of Malta. Once the Ottoman threat was removed, Valletta gradually changed its face to become a festive and entertaining city. The Manoel Theatre is one of the first buildings constructed to meet this new need for entertainment.
The Manoel Theatre is still active, now it is possible to come and visit the wooden Parterre Boxes decorated with gold leaf. The ideal is to come and attend a performance to immerse yourself in the magic of the place. You will find all the information available on the official website of the Teatru Manoel.
#8 Fort Saint Elmo and National War Museum Malta
St. Elmo’s Fort is rich in history, as it was the site of one of the most important battles of the great siege of 1565 against the Ottoman Empire. It is located on the seashore of the Sciberras peninsula that divides Marsamxett harbour from Grand Harbour.
Originally the fortress was star-shaped and surrounded by a simple moat, which was later enlarged. The fort was the Order of Malta’s first barrier against incoming Ottoman ships. It took the Ottoman army 36 days and 60,000 cannon shots to defeat a handful of entrenched knights. A heroic battle that saved the Order of Malta precious time.
The fortifications of Valletta were built after the great siege, so St. Elmo’s Fort is one of the oldest buildings in the fortress city.
The National War Museum, located in Bas-fort Saint-Elme, tells the story of the fort’s role during the Second World War.
#9 The Sacra Infermeria or the Holy Infirmary
The Sacra Infermeria was originally a hospital built in 1574. The Order of Malta has a history as a hospitaller order inherited from the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. At the time, in the 17th century, it was considered one of the most renowned establishments in Europe, particularly for the expertise of its professionals. It was under the responsibility of the French language until Napoleon overthrew the order.
It has since been renovated into the Mediterranean Conference Centre (MCC), which houses an exhibition, conference rooms and a museum dedicated to the Hospitallers. The museum is an interesting step into the history of the order and the medical knowledge of the time.
#10 Republic Street of the capital of Malta
Republic Street is the main artery of Malta’s capital, linking Valletta Gate to St. Elme’s Fort. Your tour of Valletta will automatically take you there. Republic Street is also a popular shopping street and an open-air museum.
Keep your eyes open, because every step leads to a new monument. The Church of St Barbara (nicknamed the Church of the Tourist), St Francis of Assisi Church, dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, Casa Rocca Piccola, etc., are just a few of the many monuments on Republic Street. All these monuments are located on this artery and represent a piece of Malta’s history. So take the time to look at the statues and buildings to discover their origin and associated history.
Frequently asked questions – The capital Valletta Malta
What to do in Valletta in one day?
Valletta is rich in places to visit and you can do many things but it is very difficult to visit everything in one day. If you are short of time, take the opportunity to visit St John’s Co-Cathedral and the Grand Master’s Palace, and enjoy a walk through the streets of Malta’s capital.
Is there an airport in Valletta, Malta?
Valletta is the capital of the Maltese archipelago, a small fortified medieval city. Therefore, there is no airport in Valletta, the international airport of Malta is located in the town of Luqa.
Is it possible to see the sunset in Valletta?
Valletta faces the east of the main island, so it is not the best place to watch the sunset. On the other hand, the capital and its coastline offer a clear view of the sunrise.
How to get to Valletta, the capital of Malta?
Valletta is easy to reach from anywhere on the island. Buses 13, 13A, 14, 16, 45 and 48 connect Malta’s capital with the popular towns of Saint Julian’s and Buggiba. It is also possible to cross the port of Valletta with a ferry from Sliema town. Finally, all online taxi apps offer trips to Valletta.
How many people live in Valletta?
Contrary to popular belief, Malta’s capital is not the most populous city in the Maltese archipelago. Valletta has only 5,541 inhabitants. A population that tends to decrease every year.
Where to stay in Valletta?
In Valletta you can find many hotels, from small and affordable to palaces or 5 star resorts. To find a hotel in Valletta, find one of the best hotels in Malta.
Since when is Valletta the capital of Malta?
Valletta has been the official capital of Malta since 18 March 1571. Previously, the capital of the archipelago was Mdina, the former capital is now nicknamed the City of Silence.
Are there beaches in Valletta?
The city is a port with significant maritime traffic. La Citadelle has no sandy beaches or turquoise water. Swimming is dangerous with boat traffic. Therefore, it is recommended not to swim in Valletta, it is better to choose one of the best beaches in Malta.