Founded in 1566, Valletta is Malta’s capital city and is one of Europe’s smallest (and southern-most) capital cities, with many buildings having a strong Baroque character.
Ever fancied yourself exploring what feels like one huge open-air museum? Valletta might just be the perfect place for you.
Built on a peninsula between two natural harbours (Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour), the city sits perched on higher ground. Its streets were aligned in a grid-like layout, being wide and straight, which is said to have been chosen to allow the sea breeze to provide respite from Malta’s hot summer weather.
Valletta is Malta’s administrative and commercial hub, with several government departments occupying some of its historical buildings and several financial and logistics companies having their offices here.
Despite its small size, Valletta is packed with sites of historical significance, with buildings dating back to the 16th century. So much so that it’s been an officially listed UNESCO World Heritage site since 1980.
That’s right, the city of Valletta as a whole is recognised by UNESCO for its historical and cultural value. That doesn’t mean the place is swarming with tourists, however, although tour groups aren’t an uncommon sight, particularly during the summer months.
Intrigued? In this article, I cover the basics of what you need to know about Valletta, what makes it so special and what’s worth seeing and experiencing when you decide to pay Malta’s capital a visit.
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Besides being one of the smallest capitals in Europe, it’s also one of the youngest, having been founded a little over 450 years ago. The city was built by the Knights of the Order of St. John (also known as the Knights of Malta or the Knights Hospitaller), on a peninsula with large natural harbours on both of its flanks.
Having survived The Great Siege by successfully warding off an attempt by the Ottoman Empire to invade the Maltese islands, the Knights strategically chose Valletta’s location for its highly defensible position.
With funding from the Vatican, amongst other benefactors, the Knights built Valletta to fortify Malta as a stronghold for Roman Catholicism. Despite its small size, Malta had a significant military advantage due to its location and was the perfect location for the Knights to accommodate the sick and injured, which was (and still is!) their core mission (as opposed to being a military order as such).
Even if you’re not into history much, if you really want to understand Valletta at its core, it pays to read up on the city’s history. Why and how was Valletta built? Who were the people that built Valletta? How is it that there’s so much to see in terms of history and culture?
I answer all of these questions here: Valletta’s history: A tale of conflict and cultural development
In a nutshell:
More info here: How to get to and how to get around in Valletta
When it comes to accommodation in Valletta, these are the basic options:
If you’re travelling on a budget it might be a challenge to find suitable accommodation, especially during the high season (June – September). If budget isn’t as big of an issue there’s a good choice for unique, comfortable accommodation.
More info here: Best Valletta hotels, apartments and other accommodation
In one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Malta, directly renting holiday lets and self-catering apartments can be a challenge. Airbnb offers a good choice, but finding accommodation there on a budget may still prove to be challenging.
You can find my best recommendations here: Airbnb Valletta: The 20 Best Apartments, Suites and Rooms
Valletta’s nightlife isn’t known for its clubs with loud music, rather for dining and casual drinks. There’s a good choice of quality restaurants, none overly expensive, although few budget options are around. In general, it’s always advised to book a table for dinner, especially on weekends.
Most of the options mentioned are quite popular so the earlier you book, the better a chance you stand of getting a table.
These are my personal recommendations: Top 10 Best Valletta restaurants guide
Fancy a 10-15 minute walk down to the Valletta Waterfront? You’ll find a number of restaurants and bars here, housed in the old (but recently renovated) storerooms. Apart from the international Hard Rock franchise, you should also try Pepe Nero and Brown’s Kitchen for a good selection of food that is reasonably priced.
There’s a lot to see in Valletta, in fact, you could easily spend three full days exploring the city without getting bored. The below is a starting point but check out my article on top points of interest and museums in Valletta and consider supporting my site by buying my Valletta travel guide book!
Save big on sightseeing Valletta with iSeeMalta museum combo tickets and their Valletta harbour cruise ferry.
Although doing your own sightseeing through Valletta is easy enough, there are a few tours out there that might add something to your experience of visiting Malta’s capital. These are a few suggestions to consider:
More info here: Top 20 Points of interest, museums and things to do in Valletta
On 18 March 1571 Valletta succeeded Vittoriosa (and previously Mdina) as the capital city of Malta.
The name has no meaning as such. The name Valletta stems from the name of the founder of Malta’s capital city, Jean Parisot de Valette, who was Malta’s Grand Master (in the Order of the Knights of St John) from 1557 until his death in 1568.
The narrow win over the Ottoman Empire in the Great Siege of 1565 proved that it would take a concerted effort to keep the strategic stronghold of Malta from falling into enemy hands. Built by the Knights of Malta, led by Jean Parisot de Valette, the foundation stone of Valletta was laid in 1566 by de Valette himself. With strong support from Pope Pius IV (who saw the importance of maintaining the island as a stronghold to defend Christendom), the city’s planning was based on a then-modern grid system of streets which would be easier to defend than traditional town planning.
Not very. More specifically it’s a 15-minute drive by car and direct bus routes 12, 13 and 32 will get you there also, although it could take 30-45 minutes. If you’re staying in St. Julian’s it’s probably easier to catch the Sliema Ferry. Get on a bus (several routes go to the Sliema Ferry berthing location) and take a short boat ride across Marsamxett Harbour (while enjoying the view!)
No, it’s very much a historic city that’s still bustling with life and although it has developed over the centuries, its historical character remains.
Yes, it is. There are rarely any major incidents to note and crime rates are very low.
Valletta was one of the cities designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2018, together with partner city Leeuwarden in The Netherlands. Several cultural events were held throughout the year and the capital city greatly benefited from the occasion in getting a major facelift.
There’s never been a better time to visit Valletta!
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Hi, I’m looking to find out what the prices for eating out in Valletta are like. I don’t know what board basis to book my hotel on.
Hi Kevin, you can find more info here: Cost of food in restaurants in Malta
Myself and my husband and family are booked to return to Malta in July this year. We last visited 20 years ago! But before that my father in law spent time in Malta as a child in the 30s when his family spent a few months there while in transit from Ethiopia to Abyssinia (British Army). While in Malta the children had to attend school and my father in law would regail my husband of the times when he had to be rowed to a school in Floriana from the army camp every morning and home again in the afternoon. My husband was wondering if he would be able to repeat this journey. I expect there are boats still going back and forth.
Also, as Valetta is the European Capital of Culture for 2018 I was wondering if any of the cultural events had been announced yet? I was hoping to be able to visit the Opera but it seems there are no performances in July. Your advice warmly welcomed
Hi Linda, I honestly can’t tell you whether those boats are still going back and forth. If I had to guess I wouldn’t think so unfortunately.
Regarding Valletta 2018, yes the schedule of events is available at valletta2018.org/events
Considering Malta for an Xmas Vacation. Travelling with teenagers (under 17) and seniors 70’s and 80’s. How is the terrain?
Hi Roz, in the core parts of Valletta the terrain is well paved, though in the back streets the pavements aren’t very well maintained (as is the case in most parts of Malta, unfortunately). Also keep in mind that some of the streets on the West side of Valletta are low lying so there will be a number of steps to climb in certain places. However, if you’re interested in the main museums and points of interest you can avoid these streets and not miss out on much.
I have signed up for your newsletter. My husband and I are planning on staying in an apartment in Valletta in June 2018 and explore the Island from there. Do you think that is a good idea or should we rather also go to one of the beaches for a few days? We do not want to rent a car. If we just stay in Valletta, how long do you recommend our stay should be?
Hi Sanet, Valletta is a great place to stay at that time of year, (especially if exploration is the main purpose of your trip) and you can reach some of the nicer beaches in Malta quite easily, though expect a little transit time to get there. You can easily fill three days of wandering around in Valletta and to see the highlights in Malta at a normal pace I’d recommend 7-10 days to start with.