Valletta, Malta cruise holidays
Top sights/attractions in Valletta
St John's Co-Cathedral
Built by the Knights of Malta in the 1570s, this Roman Catholic co-cathedral might look a little plain on the outside, but prepare to be amazed when you walk through the doors. The interior is regarded as one of Europe’s most beautiful examples of high baroque architecture and is filled with spellbinding decorative features and artworks. Be sure not to miss the two masterpieces by Michelangelo Merisi, who was better known as Caravaggio, one of history’s great painters. You can watch a short docudrama about his brief (but eventful) time in Malta if you visit the Caravaggio Wing, which is just one of the many fascinating areas to explore in the co-cathedral.
If you can tear yourself away from Valletta, there’s another stunning city just a short drive away. With an intriguing past that can be traced back 4,000 years, Mdina, the former capital of Malta, has been home to noble families for many centuries and still is today. Although the ‘Silent City’ is perched on top of a hill and circled by defensive walls, you’ll catch glimpses of features such as the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral on your approach. But you won’t truly appreciate the beauty of the medieval and baroque architecture until you begin to explore the palace-lined streets inside. So, will you simply wander around and soak up the peaceful atmosphere – maybe pausing for a coffee or beer in a shaded piazza – or head to popular sites such as the ruins of Domvs Romana (Roman Villa), St Paul’s Catacombs or the Game of Thrones filming locations?
The Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
Created in 1661 as a private place for the Knights of Malta to exercise, these immaculately kept colonnaded gardens offer some of the best views Malta has to offer. Gaze out over the natural harbour and you can spot the Three Cities: Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea. Or take your eyes off the horizon and you’ll find various statues, plaques and busts in the form of prominent locals from history, and down at the Saluting Battery, you can watch the ceremony when a cannon is fired every day at 12pm and 4pm. It’s easy to get here: the Barrakka Lifts link the Grand Harbour to the upper gardens and Valletta city centre. The 58-metre, 25-second ride makes short work of the journey from bottom to top, and if you fancy a 15-minute stroll from here to the Lower Barrakka Gardens, you’ll be treated to more beautiful views and photo opportunities.
Things to do in Valletta
Visit Golden Bay
It’ll come as no surprise that this Blue Flag beach on Malta’s west coast is, well, golden! Surrounded by craggy cliffs and natural dunes, it’s a beautiful spot with everything you need for a day of fun and relaxation. Easy to reach by road, it has several restaurants and cafés. And if you fancy some snorkelling, you’ll find a great area on the northern end of the beach where the shoreline is rocky.
During the summer, lifeguards use a flag system to show when the water is safe for a swim. If you’re visiting in the colder months, you may fancy a paddle (Valletta weather is fair even in winter, remember) but you should avoid swimming at this time of year as there can be dangerous undercurrents at work.
Explore the Grand Harbour
When you step off your ship at Valletta Cruise Port, you’ll be right in the heart of the stunning Grand Harbour. For thousands of years, this huge natural harbour has supported trade, industry, travel, pleasure and war, and the evidence is fascinating. You’ll find ancient forts, docks and wharves interspersed with chic hotels and eateries. Head to Valletta Waterfront for a scenic walk or a drink at one of the many restaurants and bars where you can admire the views of the Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea). Or for even better vistas, take the lift to the Upper Barrakka Gardens – one of the best-value things to do in Valletta on your cruise holiday.
Discover Fort St Elmo
In just four months in 1565, the original part of this star-shaped fort was built to protect Malta from the Ottomans, playing a huge role in the Great Siege that year. More recently, it survived bombardments from the Nazis in World War II, and you’ll gain a fascinating insight into Malta’s rich military history as you explore the National War Museum within the fort. Highlights include the Gloster Sea Gladiator RAF fighter plane, the ‘Husky’ Jeep used by President Roosevelt and General Eisenhower, and countless medals, weapons and artefacts. There are also spectacular views of the Marsamxett and Grand Harbours to enjoy, both of which the fort guards.
Food and drink in Valletta
Malta’s food is as varied and delicious as you’d expect from a Mediterranean archipelago. If you like savoury nibbles, try a pastizz, a delicate pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese or curried pea mash. Or, for a heartier dish, go for lampuki pie made with puff or shortcrust pastry and filled with lampuka fish. Stuffat tal-fenek is the national dish and if you’re game for trying it, you’ll enjoy slow-cooked rabbit and vegetables in a rich sauce of tomatoes, red wine and garlic. If you’re not a meat lover, you might prefer soppa tal-armla (widow’s soup), made with fresh veg and often served in the winter.
Ready for a drink? Cisk lager is crisp and refreshing, while bajtra liqueur – made from Malta’s prickly pears – is perfect for sipping on its own (although you might find it in cocktails too). And if you’d rather stay alcohol-free, you could try Kinnie, the popular local fizzy drink, which gets its unique bittersweet flavour from oranges and herbs.
Shopping in Valletta
If you’re keen to do some shopping on your Valletta cruise, you’ll be spoilt for choice of places to go. The city centre is dotted with family-run boutiques that sell all kinds of souvenirs as well as leather and jewellery (particularly gold and silver). Lace is one of Malta’s most popular goods and it makes for an excellent memento of your holiday.
For bigger stores and malls, you’ll need to go out of the central part of Valletta, and if you’re visiting on a Sunday, you’re likely to find most shops are closed. And don’t forget, the weather in Valletta might include a little rain in winter. So, if you’re visiting in the cooler months, you may want to take an extra layer or jacket, depending on the forecast.
Culture and history of Valletta
With Valletta Cruise Port conveniently located in the Grand Harbour, Malta cruises offer the perfect way to get straight to the heart of this beautiful city.
The spellbinding baroque architecture that flows through Valletta’s streets is testament to the rich history here. Over the centuries, the city has been Malta’s main hub of trade, industry and culture. Simply walking around, you’ll discover arresting sights, from the 16th-17th century defensive walls to the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens. And if you look a little closer, you’ll find fascinating museums and galleries.
Modern Maltese culture shows influences from the different ethnicities of people who’ve interacted with the locals over hundreds of years. In a nutshell, it can be summarised as Latin European, but you’ll recognise British, Arabian, Sicilian and other international traces within the language, food, pastimes and traditions.
Valletta port facilities
Valletta cruise terminal offers plenty of facilities including an information office, toilets, duty-free shops and transport services. Right outside, you can find a stop for hop on/off tours of the city or countryside, but if you prefer to explore on foot, you’ll be starting in a great location. Valletta cruise port is conveniently located in the Grand Harbour, so you can wander from here to Valletta Waterfront, a buzzing area with restaurants, bars and stunning views. A stroll in the other direction takes you to the Barrakka Lifts – the easiest way to access the city centre – or you can stay on the scenic route by the harbour until you reach Fort St Elmo where you’ll discover the National War Museum, one of the top things to do in Valletta.