The majestic Triton Fountain square at the entrance to Malta’s capital sets the tone for what you are to expect from the UNESCO World Heritage City of Valletta. As you walk across the square to City Gate with the Parliament Building just behind it, edges and angles glowing in the sun, demonstrating the latest in architectural innovation, you will find yourself strolling down Republic Street.
Valletta was the prototype for many European cities, with an easy-to-follow grid street system, you can try to get lost but google-maps will soon put you in front of one of the many spectacular vistas that locals take for granted. Valletta is mostly pedestrianised and undulates on a thin peninsula running straight to Fort St. Elmo which overlooks the Grand Harbour, a picturesque natural harbour with extensive docks, wharves, and fortifications. Beautiful palazzos, formerly the homes of noble Knights in the 16th and 17th centuries glisten in the sunshine down the streets of the city.
The top sights include baroque St John’s Co-Cathedral which boasts “the world’s most beautiful floor” and the fresco adorned Grand Master’s Palace. The islands have had a tempestuous history, fought over for centuries, and the National War Museum at Fort St. Elmo on the tip of the peninsula vividly brings all that to life, from the Great Siege where the Knights battled off a huge army of Turks under the command of Suleiman the Magnificent, to the ferocious bombardment of “the most bombed place on earth” during the Second World War.
For those theatre buffs, head to Old Theatre Street and take a tour of Europe’s oldest theatres, Teatru Manoel, built in the 18th century, with regular performances happening there till this very day. The former Opera House which was bombed during the Second World War, is located at the entrance to the city, and has now been converted to an open-air concert hall where you can enjoy music, theatre and dance.
Valletta is a gastronomical sensation for any foodie to explore. Views of the glinting Mediterranean are at the end of almost every street, and there are dozens of bistros, bars and restaurants in which to enjoy a delicious meal. It is mandatory to stop at Café Cordina. This famous watering hole occupies a special place in the hearts of local and international visitors alike with ornate and gilded tea rooms, pasticceria, coffee bar and gelateria. A 16th-century house on St John’s Street once home to the architect of Valletta, Francesco Laparelli, has been renovated into a restaurant serving local dishes, such as linguini calamari or stuffed rabbit – Guzé. Likewise, Rubino on Old Bakery Street Rubino is one of the oldest establishments in Valletta and takes its food and wines very seriously with a quality menu served in a romantic wood-beamed room that houses one of the tiniest serving bars.
Strait Street, which previously housed numerous cabaret clubs and a host of bars that entertained the British naval fleet during World War II until the early hours, has been restored to its glory days with its hole-in-the-wall bars. There is often live entertainment here, from singer-songwriters to jazz singers. Enjoy the ambiance while sipping an ice-cold Cisk, the excellent local beer, chat with the friendly locals and meander from bar-to-bar. The Gut and StrEATs are well worth popping into as well as Yard 32, a gin and tapas bar with over 200 types of gin and more than 40 kinds of tonics.
Finally, what is a visit to any capital city without a little bit of shopping? The main street of Republic Street stretching the length of Valletta is dotted with a number renowned shops, speciality stores, as well as a plethora of jewellers selling fine Maltese filigree and other artistic creations.
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