Small and mighty: why you should add Valletta, the capital of Malta, to your next European trip
The capital of Malta is one of the most unique capital cities I’ve ever visited. Situated a small peninsula that is just 1km long and 600m wide, Valletta is the 4th smallest capital in Europe and boasts a compact population of only 6,400. It’s amazing how such a small city has managed to pack in so much history whilst also being such a modern and up-and-coming destination to visit.
Malta’s capital city was founded in 1566 by Jean de Valette, then Grandmaster of the Knights of Malta. Originally a community of monks, the Knights of Malta were noblemen whose primary role was to defend the Catholic faith in the Holy lands, before being ousted to Malta. The place that we know today as Valletta was perfectly located to be a fantastic military base: it has two land masses either side to help shield the city from the enemy and is home to some of the deepest harbours in the world. Its global positioning would once again prove invaluable to the British army in World War II before Malta finally became independent of Great Britain in 1964.
Until the 1960s, Malta had never been an Independent state and therefore is a melting pot of several cultures including its neighbours, Italy and Tunisia. It’s very apt that not only is the entire city of Valletta a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it was recently awarded the title of ‘European Capital of Culture’ for 2018. As such, this year is the perfect time to visit the capital of Malta and sample the amazing architecture, museums and food that Valletta has to offer.
Attractions in the capital of Malta
Valletta City Gate and Parliament House
As soon as you enter Valletta, you’re in for a treat. The city walls are united by the towering city gate; the fifth incarnation that has been constructed so far. Just to the right of the gate is the undeniably modern looking Parliament House. The reconstruction of the City Gate and Parliament House was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano (amazing name, right?) in 2013. Admiring such impressive structures is the perfect way to start any trip to Valletta.
The site of the Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House was also part of Valletta’s renovations in 2013. It was bombed in World War II and remained in ruins until recently when it was salvaged to become an outdoor performance venue.
Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
The two Barrakka Gardens are the most beautiful green spaces in Valletta. Formerly military lookouts, the gardens are the best places to relax and enjoy the views of the Grand Harbour and the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Things to do in Valletta
National Museum of Archaeology
The whole country of Malta is an archaeologist’s paradise. From the Neolithic period 5,000 years ago through the Bronze Age up until the Phoenician Period in 400BC, Malta has been a key witness to phenomenal moments in history. All of the important and invaluable artefacts from historic sites all over the country are housed in the capital of Malta. Check out the museum for a snapshot of Malta’s impressive past.
National War Museum at Fort St Elmo
As previously mentioned, Malta’s military history is plentiful thanks to its geographical location. The National War Museum encompasses the top section of Valletta, which was formerly a Fort used as recently as World War II. The museum’s exhibits cover the Knights of Malta 500 years ago through to World War II and Malta’s independence.
Walk through the pretty streets
Without a doubt, the best thing to do in Malta’s capital city is to wander around its streets built entirely of limestone. Since Valletta is so small, walking up and down all its cobbled streets is not only possible but a must-do in such a picturesque city. Valletta’s multi-cultural past also makes for a fun game as you walk around: see how many red phone boxes and Royal Mail post boxes you can count, because there are quite a few still in use. I should warn you, however, there are several hills to climb throughout the Valletta though luckily most of the hills have steps!
Where to eat and drink in the capital of Malta
Papanni’s, 55 Strait St
Being so close to Sicily, the Italian food on offer in Malta will be almost as authentic (and just as tasty) as if you were visiting Italy itself. Papanni’s has been rated the best Italian restaurant in Valletta, however, Trattoria Romana Zero Sei just down the street is just as good. If you order the Tiramisu you won’t be disappointed, it’s the owner’s Italian mother’s recipe.
Tico-Tico, 61 Strait St
Strait Street is the place to head to at night to eat at the best restaurants in Valletta. If you’re looking for traditional Maltese fare (rabbit stew or fish pie, for example) but you’re not sure if you could handle a big plate, head to Tico-Tico. They serve fantastic traditional Maltese dishes in a tapas style, mixed in with some Italian and Spanish influences.
67 Kapitali, Old Theatre Street
Who’d have thought Malta had such a strong craft beer scene? Valletta’s entire restaurant and bar scene is consistently superb, but its abundance of craft beer-focused bars was a delightful surprise. Lord Chambray is a craft beer company that brews on the northern island of Gozo, and all its popular and seasonal flavours can be found at 67 Kapitali in Valletta. The café/bar has such a relaxed atmosphere and is also a great place to visit for lunch.
Café Society, 13 Triq San Gwann
If beer isn’t your thing, then head to Café Society for a wide selection of cocktails and strong wine list. Many bars in Valletta may seem very small and intimate (and Café Society is no different) but thanks to Malta’s year-round warm climate, outside seating is the norm. I can’t think of anything better than relaxing outside in the Maltese sun with a cocktail in hand, admiring the gorgeous views of the Grand Harbour. Bliss!
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About the author
Rebecca Sharp is a film and travel writer, photographer and blogger at Almost Ginger. Originally from the Lake District, she is currently on a long-term travel spell that includes teaching English in Italy, Spain and hopefully walking the Camino de Santiago. If she’s not travelling, then she’s probably watching Wild for the 1,000th time. Check out her blog and her Instagram for more cinema and wanderlust inspiration.
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