A day in the city
Any visit to the Maltese Islands must include a day trip – at the very least – to explore the capital city of Valletta. A UNESCO world heritage site, Valletta is one of Europe’s tiniest capitals, where visitors can discover a phenomenal amount of history and culture. The capital is also a busy shopping centre, home to the Houses of Parliament, and several ministries, and it hosts a myriad of restaurants, eateries and cafes. In a few words, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
With so much to do and see, we thought of mapping the ideal trajectory, for a day in the city:
All buses lead to Valletta – so make sure your tallinja card is topped up, and head into the city. It’s the last stop so there’s no need to worry about where to get off. The bus stops you right outside City Gate – where the recently-restored Triton Fountain can be admired. Walk across the bridge and take in one of Malta’s most contemporary and iconic builds – The Maltese Houses of Parliament, built by Renzo Piano’s Workshop. Adjacent, you’ll find the Old Opera House, which has been turned into an Open Air Theatre, and which can be admired from a vantage point, when scaling the external staircase above the café. At this point, there are two options: either heading down Republic Street, or towards Castille Place. We recommend the former. Whilst indulging in a little window shopping, we suggest taking an ice-cream break at one of the glorious gelaterias lining Republic Street. Amorino remains our favourite – check for their monthly special flavours.
At this point, you’ve almost reached the middle of upper Republic Street, which means you’re about to come head on with St John’s Co Cathedral. The number one must-visit cultural site in the city – the Conventual Church and accompanying Oratory, built by the Knights of St John, in the mid 16th century, houses two phenomenal works by none other than Caravaggio. It is also home to an immaculate set of tapestries, and a very wide assortment of religious objets d’arts. The church itself is an opulent treasure trove, laden with artefacts, sculptures, altar paintings, and an intricate sotto-in-su painting in the vaulted ceiling, by the Calabrian painter Mattia Preti.
After taking in a healthy dose of art and history, you’ll be parched and in need of a sit down in the sun, and perhaps also wanting of a cup of coffee and / or a light snack for lunch. Café Cordina, which is one of the oldest cafes in Malta, is an unbeatable spot for people watching, and just allowing yourself to be sun-kissed and to take in all the sounds of the city.
Cordina’s outdoor seating is located on Piazza Regina, named after the imposing sculpture of the queen, in the centre of the square. A deliciously ornate loggia, can be found behind the square, together with the National Library. A well-lept secret, usually only frequented by reseachers and academics, the library is an immaculately quiet resting spot, within the busy capital. Adjacent to Piazza Regina, is the largest public square in Valletta – St George’s Square. A whole side of the square is occupied by the Grandmaster’s Palace and Palace Armoury.
A little further down Republic Street is our favourite historic House Museum – Casa Rocca Piccola, make sure to take a couple of treats with you, for in-house resident and mascot, Kiku the Parrot.
Moving around the capital is easy, due to its grid plan; all streets are parallel to one another, making it impossible to get lost. Cross over to Merchant Street, and head up to Lot 61, for the best coffee in the city. Should you feel like something sweet, their home-made banana bread makes for a delicious snack.
Head to the top of Merchant Street, where you’ll find Castille Place. The Auberge de Castille – the imposing Baroque build, is home to the Office of the Prime Minister. Also found on this square, is St James Cavalier, today known as Spazju Kreattiv. Visits are free of charge, and you can generally view a couple of contemporary art shows within. It is also home to the only art house cinema on the islands.
A very short walk from the square is the stunning Upper Barrakka Gardens. Here you’ll be able to enjoy the breathtaking views of the Three Cities from the sweeping outdoor balcony. Located within the gardens, is the Barrakka Lift, a feat of engineering and design, which zaps you to the lower part of Valletta, known as Ta’ Liesse. On exiting head left, towards Victoria Gate, where you’ll find the most stylish and picturesque of restaurants – Harbour Club, where you can have the most delectable of dinners in the most astonishing of environments.
Other recommendations for extended or second day visits, include: The Archaeology Museum (located on Republic Street), The Grandmaster’s Palace and Armoury (also Republic Street), the latter, mentioned above. MUZA the national museum of fine art, the Lower Barrakka Garden and Hastings Gardens. Marsamxett Harbour, where you can grab the ferry and journey across to Sliema.