Valletta, the capital city of Malta, was the first stop on our week-long tour of the country. I knew little of what to expect from Valletta, or Malta in general. But I can certainly say my short time there exceeded my expectations.
Matt and I arrived in Valletta after our first night in the country, arriving at the airport at 2am. The remainder of the night was spent in a cosy B&B in Hamrun, waking up and taking a short bus ride into Valletta. It was a rare cloudy morning when we walked up past the Triton Fountain and into the walled city. But Malta’s notorious sunshine quickly came through, lighting up a city of ancient walls and lightly crumbling sand-coloured stone.
By the time we’d reached the Grand Harbour, I was already in love with this city. Perhaps it was the sea views or the stepped streets, maybe even its ancient charm. Or probably most likely, the lack of crowds while we were there (I’m still not certain whether we just got lucky or if it is always this nice). Whatever it was, I certainly enjoyed spending time here.
Along with the Grand Harbour, Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in 1566 by the Knights of Malta and surrounded by fortified walls, it was the first planned city in Europe and became the capital shortly after.
Valletta is also the smallest capital city in the European Union, at only 0.8 square kilometres. Therefore, while I encourage you to take your time exploring it, it’s fairly easy to fit in the highlights in one day. Here’s how I recommend spending 24 hours in Valletta Malta.
A tour of Valletta Malta in 24 hours
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As you approach Valletta’s walls, you’ll come to one of Valletta’s few modern landmarks, the massive Triton Fountain. Featuring three huge Tritons holding a large basin, the fountain was built in 1959. It feels like a grand welcome to the city and looks spectacular lit up at night.
Valletta’s City Gate
Valletta was once known as one of the best fortified cities in the world, surrounded by 16th century stone walls, moats and towers. The main entrance in the city is in front of the Triton Fountain, over the Valletta ditch. Entering the gate, the Parliament buildings and Royal Opera house site sit to the right hand side, while modern eateries sit to on the left.
If you are hungry at the point, you can stop off at Falafel Street for a quick pitta. We did just this after our day trip to Mdina, got our food to go and ate on one of the benches overlooking the Grand Harbour.
After you enter Valletta’s gates, there’s two routes you can take. Go straight down towards St John’s Co-Cathedral or turn right and follow the road towards the Grand Harbour. We did the latter route. It took us past Auberge de Castille, the seat of the Prime Minister of Malta. Around the corner, we came to the Upper Barrakka Gardens.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
As you head towards the harbour, you’ll come to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, a public garden with a beautiful view over the Grand Harbour towards the three cities of Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (Isla) and Bormla (Cospicua). With plenty of benches, it’s a relaxing place to enjoy the amazing view.
From here, you can either go around or take the Upper Barrakka lift down to the waterfront. After, you can stop by the Lascaris War Rooms .
The Grand Harbour
After the gardens, head along the front to take in the beautiful views of the Grand Harbour. Across the turquoise water, Fort St. Angelo in Birgu is the most prominent landmark. To the right, you’ll see the boats docked in Vittoriosa Yacht Marina. And far to the left is Fort Ricasoli, which has been used in several movies and TV shows, including as the Red Keep in the first season of Game of Thrones.
Stop on your way along the front for a snap near one of Malta’s red telephone booths, identical to the ones in London and enjoy the view from one of the many benches.
You can also get a boat tour to explore the harbour by sea.
Stop for coffee at Piadina
Around the corner, this cute, hole-in-wall cafe serves up breakfast and lunch on one of Valletta’s pretty stepped streets. We stopped in for breakfast on our first morning in Valletta. Grab a seat outside at either its colourful tables or bean bags and enjoy their breakfast special of a coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, and either a croissant or muesli (the muesli was delicious with a lot of fresh fruit).
Lower Barrakka Gardens
The Lower Barrakka Gardens are closer to the mouth of the harbour, offering up a different view from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Like the upper gardens, it’s a pretty spot to relax and enjoy the views of the Harbour.
After, we spent an hour or two of the afternoon walking along the waterfront. There are a few swimming spots in Marsamxetto Harbour (look for the red and yellow buoys) but we didn’t take a dip in Valletta.
St John’s Co-Cathedral
This huge cathedral dominates Valletta’s skyline and is a top spot to visit in Valletta. It features an impressively opulent inside interior with almost every surface looking covered in gold. It’s located in the centre of the city. You can visit inside the Cathedral between 9:30 to 4pm Monday – Friday and 9:30-12. I know Valletta can be baking hot, but you need to make sure your clothing covers your shoulders and knees before entering. I opted for a midi skirt and brought my pashmina with me on the day we visited.
Lunch or early evening snacks at 67 Kapitali
This was my favourite place we ate in Valletta. 67 Kapitali is an artisan cafe and craft beer spot that serves up great sandwiches, fresh baked bread, snack boards, and more. On one hand it’s a family friendly lunch, aperitivo or light dinner spot, on the other a great place to try tons of unique craft beer. This includes all of Gozo-brewed Lord Chambray on tap (which I’d highly recommend trying, my favourite was the strawberry peach sour).
We sat down for lunch on our first day in Malta and I grabbed one of their sandwiches that are all named after craft beers they served that they recommend pairing with. I went for the Flinders, on a Maltese ftira with local cheese, pesto, tomato and rocket paired with a Lord Chambray gose beer. We stopped by again later in our trip while passing through Valletta for another beer and one of their platters.
Watch the sunset from Valletta’s walls
This was by far my highlight of Valletta. As our first day in Malta came to a close, Matt suggested going to Hastings Garden Malta and watch the sunset from the city walls. The view looks out over Marsamxett Harbour towards Sliema and Manoel Island to one side and towards Triton Fountain and Floriana on the other.
On our last night in Malta, after a day out in Marsaxlokk, we decided to go watch the sunset one more time from the walls and enjoy the gorgeous pink and purple sky.
Have dinner outside at one of Valletta’s many restaurants
Located next to the entrance for the Upper Barrakka Gardens, we stopped into Storie and Sapori for dinner on our first night in Malta. We sat outside, dining on swordfish steak and listening to the live saxophonist play. After, we took another stroll through the gardens and enjoyed the evening view out over the harbour.
Valletta Restaurant recommendations
Restaurants we tried and approved mentioned in this post include:
- 67 Kapitali – Cosy and great for lunches, coffee, light bites and most importantly, craft beer
- Piadina – quirky little cafe with great breakfast, sandwiches, and outdoor seating
- Storie and Sapori – Italian/Mediterranean spot with indoor and outdoor dining next to the Upper Barrakka Gardens.
- Falafel Street – quick (but tasty) eats in a convenient spot near the city gates.
Tips for visiting Valletta Malta
Getting to Valletta
Valletta is located about 6 miles from Malta’s airport and is reachable by direct buses from the airport. Other direct buses are available from . When you arrive, the bus will drop you off near the Triton Fountain. To get a bus from Valletta, face the city’s main gate and follow the walls to the right and you’ll come to the bus bays. The city centre is pedestrianised so you will need to have a cab drop you off or find parking.
Where to stay in Valletta Malta
There are several hotels located within the city walls. We stayed at the Grand Harbour Hotel which was in a good central location. Valletta can be a good spot to base yourself while in Malta, giving you easy access to Sliema, three cities, Mdina, Marsaxlokk and more. Find Valletta hotels and accommodation here. We often stay in Airbnbs, however the selection was very limited within the city walls.
When to visit Valletta Malta
We were in Valletta for just under two days before heading off to other parts of Malta. The first day was a Sunday and therefore quite quiet with some of the shops and St. John’s Co-Cathedral closed for the day. I enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere for the day, wandering up and down its streets and admiring the view. But I was glad we were also there on the early half of Monday as well.
The weather towards the end of September was definitely still warm (upper 20’s Celsius/between 75-85 Fahrenheit) but I’ve heard the small, enclosed streets can get unbearably hot in the peak of summer.