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City of Valletta

By Tamar Marder

What is the City of Valletta?

Valletta is the fortified capital of Malta and a historically significant port city. The history of Valletta dates back to the Phoenicians, who colonized the island and used the city as a stop along their Mediterranean trade routes. 

Later inhabitants included the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, and Arabs until the city was conquered by the Order of the Knights of St John in 1530. The Knights ran the city for over 200 years, strengthening its fortifications and building hospitals and watchtowers. In 1798, during the Siege of Malta, the Knights were ousted by Napoleon.

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Text: City of Valletta, Malta. Images: above, a city street; below, a view along the coast.
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The French ruled Malta for two years until it was handed over to the British Crown. Malta remained a strategic stronghold of the British Royal Navy through the Second World War. From 1940-1942, much of Valletta was destroyed during the second Siege of Malta when the Germans and Italians bombed the island heavily. 

The city still bears the scars from years of battles, and its historical importance and late Renaissance architecture led to its World Heritage status.

Why is Valletta a UNESCO World Heritage site? 

According to UNESCO, Valletta makes the World Heritage list due to its architectural design and layout, which they describe as, “…an ideal creation of the late Renaissance with its uniform urban plan, inspired by neo-platonic principles, its fortified and bastioned walls modeled around the natural site and the voluntary implantation of great monuments in well-chosen locations.” It includes 320 monuments.

Valletta’s World Heritage status is also due to its affiliation with the Order of the Knights of St John (often referred to as the Knights of Malta), one of the greatest military forces in the history of Europe.

High stone fortifications curve around a large bay.

What can you expect on a visit to the City of Valletta? 

Valletta is a charming city with beautiful water views, magnificent churches, and excellent museums. I enjoyed visiting the National Museum of Archaeology and learning about the prehistoric civilizations that made their home on the island. This museum is especially worth a visit if you plan to visit Malta’s two other World Heritage sites: Megalithic Temples of Malta and Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum.

Exploring Valletta is also a fun thing to do in Malta with kids. The walled city is mostly pedestrianized, making it safe for kids to run around. The Upper Barrakka Gardens, which host daily cannon firings, are a scenic place to take in views of the harbor and enjoy a refreshing beverage on a hot day.

While visiting Valletta you’ll be walking cobbled streets steeped in history. To learn more about Valletta’s storied past, head to the Malta Experience, which chronicles the island’s – and Valletta’s – history chronologically from prehistory to modern day. You’ll learn about the Knights of Malta, who fought off the Ottomans but ultimately lost the island to Napoleon and his forces; the British occupation; the destruction of Malta by Axis powers during WWII; and the country’s independence and subsequent initiation into the European Union. It’s an incredible overview of this culturally rich and complex island, and you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for this tiny dot in the Mediterranean.

A cobbled street curves downwards between 3-4-storey buildings.

Is Valletta worth visiting? 

Valletta is absolutely worth visiting. If you’re traveling to Malta, the city of Valletta is a top attraction in the country. While many visitors come for a day as a port of call for Mediterranean cruises, Valletta deserves at least two days to fully explore and appreciate. With many excellent museums, inviting restaurants, and leisurely strolls, Valletta is a historic city worth savoring.

Use the map below to find accommodations in Valletta:

What sorts of travelers would like the City of Valletta? 

Valletta will appeal to a variety of travelers and travel interests. As a popular stop for cruise ships, the city offers plenty of shopping and dining opportunities. However, I think travelers who would most appreciate Valletta are those interested in European history. With an excellent archaeology museum, WWII war rooms and museum, and the Malta Experience, Valletta expertly links past and present.

A view down the coastline: rocky outcroppings and a jumble of buildings and city walls.

Tips for visiting Valletta  

Valletta is an easy city to visit and quite safe, but here are some tips that will help you make the most of your time in Valletta:

Download the Bolt app to call a rideshare. Uber and Lyft don’t work well in Malta, and the Bolt app is the best way to find a car to drive you from place to place.

Head to the Upper Barrakka Gardens at noon or 4 P.M. for the daily cannon firing.

There are plenty of tours to consider in Valletta. Click on the banner below:

Head to Is-Suq Tal-Belt Valletta Food Market for a casual lunch. The market has some of the best food in Malta and offers cuisine from around the world.

If you have more than one day in Malta, try to spend at least one evening in Valletta. The city empties out at night as the crowds of daytrippers return to their cruises, leaving you alone in this atmospheric city.

If you want to explore more of Malta, the best way to get around is by renting a car from the airport.

Looking up at an apartment building with screens on the balconies in the muslim style.

Where is Valletta? 

Valletta is the capital of Malta. The city is located on a protected peninsula of land on the northeast side of the island.

The Maltese archipelago is a group of five islands that make up the country of Malta. Many national and budget airlines offer regular service to Malta’s one international airport. To get to Valletta from the airport by car takes about 25 minutes, depending on traffic.

From the nearby city of Sliema, just across the harbor, you can reach Valletta by taking a 15-minute water taxi, driving 25 minutes, or taking a 35-minute bus ride.

For more information about the City of Valletta, its opening hours, and admission fees, see the Visit Malta website.

Text and photos provided by Tamar Marder of World by Weekend. Tamar is a family travel blogger busy exploring the world one weekend at a time (with kids in tow!).

Have you been to Valletta? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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