There’s so much to do and see in Valletta, with tons of palazzos, museums, cathedrals, piazzas and gardens to wander and explore. If city touring has worn you out though, and you’re looking for a little break, or a more peaceful way to spend a sunny afternoon in the otherwise bustling capital, there are two locations you should pay a visit to: The Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens.
These gardens are ideal spots for you to just sit back with a cup of coffee and snack and take a quick break from exploring the many points of interest in Valletta.
The Upper Barakka can be found close to Castille Place on the Southeastern part of the city.
Walking into Valletta through the main city gates, just keep walking straight ahead, past the modern Parliament Building on your right, take a right turn at the ruins of the Royal Opera House (which is now an open air theatre) at the start of Republic Street.
Then, walk straight ahead (there’s a slight upward walk) until you reach Castille Place (a small square) where you will find the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity on your right, and Auberge de Castille on your left. Walk past the Auberge de Castille, towards the Malta Stock Exchange (formerly the Garrison Chapel) and here your will find the gates to the gardens.
If you’re looking for the most impressive views the islands have to offer, this place should be on the top of your list! Perched atop the Grand Harbour, these colonnaded gardens were created in 1661, and were actually the private gardens and exercise grounds of the Knights of the langue of Italy, whose auberges lie very close by.
It was only in 1824 that the gardens were opened to the public, and although the place suffered major damages during the second World War, it has now been restored to its full glory, for all those who are willing to visit to enjoy.
The garden terrace promises one of the best views of Malta. An unhindered, panoramic view the only natural harbour in the Mediterranean, with the three cities; Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua as a backdrop. The gardens themselves host a collection of busts, statues and plaques that denote various personalities and other significant events in Maltese history, the most noteworthy being a bronze piece by famous Maltese sculptor, Antonio Sciortino. ‘Les Gavroches‘ depicts three children hurrying forward, with the statue itself signifying the extreme hardships faced by the Maltese population at the turn of the 20th century.
Directly below the main terrace and garden is the Saluting Battery, where a cannon once fired salutes to visiting naval vessels. Nowadays, the battery has been fully restored to its former glory and every day, at 12:00PM and 4:00PM, a cannon is fired with great ceremony. Definitely worth waiting for as it does make for an impressive snapshot of your trip!
The Upper Barrakka Lift is also a noteworthy attraction within the gardens. Newly re-opened in December 2012, this impressive lift links the Grand Harbour to the Upper Barrakka Gardens and Valletta city centre. It is located on the original site where its predecessor, which was dismantled in 1983, operated between 1905 and 1973. This is definitely the quickest way to get into the city from the Valletta Waterfront as the journey up only takes about 25 seconds! The lift itself is 58 metres high and can carry twenty-one people at a time, managing a total of 800 passengers per hour. It is a definite favourite with those visiting the islands via cruise ship though the Valletta Passenger Terminal, as it offers a very practical and quick way of getting into the city. A round trip on the lift costs €1.00 per person, and it’s well worth the cash spent.
If you’re looking for a refreshing drink or a light snack during your visit to the gardens, you could always pop by the Upper Barrakka Kiosk. Here you’ll find some local sweet pastries, an ice cream selection and of course, the famous Maltese pastizzi, as well as cold drinks and coffee/tea. Nothing too fancy of course, but a welcome place of respite, especially on a hot summer’s day.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens are open daily from 7:00AM to 10:00PM and are freely accessible to the public.
Located not very far from their Upper Barrakka twin, the Lower Barrakka Gardens are perched atop the Valletta bastions (St. Chirstopher’s Bastion to be precise), a little further North, on the same side of Valletta.
You can get great views here of Grand Harbour, as well as the Valletta Break Water, Fort Ricasoli, Bighi Palace, Fort St. Angelo, and the creeks of Birgu and Kalkara, while the Memorial Siege Bell is located right across as well.
You can actually walk down to the Lower Barrakka Gardens from the Upper gardens in no more than 15 minutes.
Just head down St. Ursula’s Street and then turn towards your right about half way down the hill. You should spot the gardens easily at this point.
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The Lower Barrakka Gardens offer a different view from it’s sister garden, positioned to observe the mouth of Grand Harbour and allowing for the best ship watching in the city. You could spend hours there just sitting peacefully on a shaded bench, watching the Mediterranean Sea and the cruise ships, as well as other vessels entering and leaving Malta’s impressive port. One thing which is obvious to most is that there are much less crowds in this garden, as it is not as well known as the Upper Barrakka, making for a more tranquil and relaxing setting.Not far from the gardens you can also get to see the Siege Bell Memorial, a belfry in the form of a neoclassical temple that contains a huge bronze bell within. This was erected in 1992 to commemorate the 7,000 service personnel and civilians who lost their lives in the Siege of Malta during World War II. The bell chimes every day at noon in their memory.
Just outside the gardens one can find a snack bar/cafe of sorts which once again offers the basic cool and hot beverages, as well as some sweet local pastries, ice creams and a couple of savoury snacks.
Here you will find a variety of flowering plants and trees, as well as a neoclassical monument erected in 1810 in the form of a Roman temple, to Sir Alexander Ball, one of the leaders of the Maltese insurgents against the French in the 1798 uprising. In front of the monument, you can find a small fountain surrounded by green trees, shrubs and bushes. Near the fountain there is a small arched pathway in classic style that looks beautiful during the evening hours and upon visiting the gardens’ terrace you’ll see a number of commemorative plaques marking numerous historic events, including the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
Same as the Upper Barrakka Gardens, the Lower gardens are open from 7:00AM to 10:00PM and are freely accessible to the public.
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