The best way to spend a full day in Malta is exploring the country’s capital of Valletta.
A fortified peninsula ceremoniously entered by way of drawbridge or boat, Valletta spans only 1 km long on its longest end (seriously!) and is easily walkable – save for the hilly terrain. The hills are what lend to some pretty spectacular views down balcony-lined narrow streets with a sliver of sea at the end. The city itself boasts incredible architecture, most of the country’s top restaurants, and a local pride carried by the belti (those that reside in Valletta) for good reason.
Staying There or Getting There
If you find yourself stationed within the city walls (some great accommodation options include apartments (like this bright one and this retro pad), or a boutique hotel such as Casa Ellul, Ursalino , as well as Valletta Suites. If you’re coming by Sliema, I highly suggest you take the fifteen-minute ferry ride over. If you are driving over, bare in mind there is a toll for every hour a non-belti car sits in the city. Lastly, almost all bus routes lead to Valletta’s main bus terminal. If you arrive by land, you’ll find yourself at the reintroduced “draw” bridge. Do as the locals do and grab a pastizzi (a Maltese diet staple of puff pastry with fresh ricotta or mashed pea filling) and a coffee as a light breakfast before walking through the main gates.
View Valletta City Gates from Parliament House
Maltese Pastizzi – puff pastry filled with fresh ricotta
Valletta Main Gate entrance
Renzo Piano’s Parliament Building Facade
Sights to See
Recently redone by famed architect Renzo Piano, the entrance area features the brand new Parliament House and open-air theatre, in which you’d be lucky to catch a performance of any kind. After checking out Malta’s most contemporary architectural intervention, make your way past Auberge de Castille to Upper Barrakah Gardens – possibly my favourite spot on the island (other than our friend’s rooftop just below it!). Bask in the view overlooking the Grand Harbour and Three Cities that protrude into the bay like three fingers. Once you’ve got your fill (although I’ve seen this view hundreds of times and it still has never gotten old), it’s time to check out the jewel of the city, St. John’s Co-Cathedral. If you’re only going to step foot in one church or cathedral, make it this one.
You can then continue to walk down either Republic St or Market St, and make your way to the main St. George’s square. After watching the fountain frolickers and bird feeders, continue to make your way down Republic Street all the way to the end (you may want to make a pit stop at la Casa Rocca Piccola, where you’ll come face-to-face with Fort St. Elmo. This star-shaped fortress is strategically located at the mouth of the Grand Harbour and found itself in the midst of many attacks over hundreds of years, playing a vital role in Malta’s military successes and triumphs. You can learn more about the Maltese Islands’ role during the wars in the highly interactive National War Museum located within the Fort itself.
Here are the highlights in this Guide to Valletta:
Auberge de Castille
Upper Barrakah Gardens
The Upper Barrakah Lift
Eats & Drinks
Especially in last couple years, Valletta has acquired some culinary gems that really make it stand out as the country’s foodie haven and hotspot. With an impossibly high number of cafes, restaurants, and bars within the limited walled city area, there is something for even the most discerning of palates.
Here are my favourite spots for great eats, drinks, and food shopping:
No.43 Cafe – this little cafe & deli serves up a casual, but delicious lunch by it’s sweet owner.
Photo by Valletta Suites
Theobrama – normally not a raw dessert fan, but this little shop has some seriously decadent treats – try the Tahini Coffee Cup.
Cafe Jubilee – this place will make you feel like you are stepping back in time. Surrounded by eclectic decor, you can order typical Maltese dishes ranging from pastizzi to lampuki (fish) pie. The real deal though is their smoked salmon and beet bagel, served all day long, and is our personal go-to on lazy weekend afternoons.
La Bottega – for a late afternoon refreshment, grab a craft beer or cocktail in this pretty new spot.
City Lounge – for drinks with a view. Sit atop the main square at sunset with a bottle of chilled prosecco.
Harbour Club – arguably the best restaurant in the city, if not the entire island. The space itself is an old cistern converted by my favourite Maltese architect, Chris Briffa, and is impeccably done. On warmer days you can sit on their terrace overlooking the Grand Harbour. The food is sublime and is not to be missed!
Photo by Flyingfourchette
Rampila – this is where I take out-of-town guests. Set deep within the fortified city wall itself (it took us weeks just to find out how to get in!), it features spectacular and unique surroundings. I also highly recommend sitting on the outdoor terrace to watch the people crossing over the main bridge to and from the city. After your meal, be sure to check out the in-house exhibition, showcasing traditional Maltese life long ago.
Taproom – another new kid on the block, this hip hangout serves up great drinks in a trendy atmosphere, as well as a full menu to accompany.
Bridge Bar – If you happen to find yourself in or near Malta’s capital on a weekend evening, you need to make your way to Bridge Bar. Despite the unimaginative name -it’s exactly how it sounds, a bar on a bridge- it’s a magical venue unlike any other. Grab a drink (they make some mean mojitos) inside the tiny bar, and then take a seat on the limestone steps and enjoy the live jazz. Best experienced with friends.
Cafe Society – for some of the best cocktails (and beer menu) in town, head to this speakeasy-like bar. Grab a seat either inside the eclectically cool interiors or outside on the street steps.
I’ve pinned all these faves and more on a live Google Map that you can take along with you:
>> GUIDE TO VALLETTA MAP <<
Have any favourite spots in the Malta’s capital city or plans of going there soon?