Malta Capital City of Valletta:
Small but jam-packed full of history
Valletta is a UNESCO world heritage site, and has been selected as the European Capital of Culture, 2018, a tiny city by the usual standards. Sure, It may be small, but it’s chock full of history. It is definitely one of my favorite places in Malta. The tight cobble stoned streets and the colorful Maltese windows with old women and men peering out never fails to amaze me. It occurred to me recently that l had never posted about this little gem of a place.
Capital City of Malta:
Valletta is one of our main tourist attractions. A very popular destination of the cruise ships. On most days, you will find thousands of cruise ship passengers spending the day shopping. There are tons of sidewalk restaurants and bars, as well as your usual suspects of tourist merchandise stores.
From early morning till about noon, local merchants ply their wares on the appropriately named Merchants street, selling everything from socks to luggage to jeans and household equipment. It’s always a festive atmosphere with a lot of shouting, hand gesturing and overall liveliness. If you can, you should definitely try going at least once. Careful shopping can net you great bargains among all the many thousands of objects. Feel free to haggle.
Valletta became the capital city of Malta in 1571. This came about because the then Grand Master Pierre de Monte decided on moving his royal seat from Fort St Angelo in Birgu to the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta. The Knights of St. John had originally planned the city to be a refuge for soldiers of war. Grandmaster la Valette, a war hero decided to fortify the city which had been until then just been barren land. He never lived to see the completion and the new city was named in his honour.
Best things to see in Valletta include:
- St John’s Cathedral
- Grandmaster’s Palace
- Upper Barrakka Gardens
- Fort St. Elmo National War Museum
- The Malta Experience
- Valletta Waterfront
- The Saluting Battery – cannons at noon
- National Museum of Archaeology
- Shopping on Republic Street and Merchants Street
- Fort Ricasoli (Gladiator, Troy, Assassin’s Creed and Entebbe are just some of the movies filmed here)
Capital of Malta:
St. Johns Cathedral
Valletta is also home to the St John’s Co-Cathedral, a church built for the Knights of St John, filled with wonderful baroque style architecture and home of the Caravaggio masterpiece, “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist”. It is one of his masterpieces. A dark, somber painting of a great talent who squandered his life. Yes, he lived in Malta for a while, after running away from Italy (murder charge).
He was a badass here too though. He was taken in by the Knights of Malta, but it wasn’t long before he back to his old ways. Needless to say, he didn’t last too long on this island. Pope John Paul II has visited here at least once too. St. John’s is definitely worth checking out. The opulence is stunning and the altar one of the best ones I’ve ever seen.
Upper Barraka Gardens:
My favourite place in Valletta is the Upper Barraka Gardens. It gives you a stunning view of the Grand Harbor. This is where the siege of Malta took place. It was also the base for the Knights. If you are there at noon, you’ll be able to see the canon salute from the Lower Barrakka Gardens right beneath you. It is a very popular place for weddings or grand parties. A picturesque place, you’ll more than likely run into a bridal session or wedding day shoot, sometimes on the horse drawn carriages that are plentiful in the old city.
Related Article: Malta Sun & Fun
In addition to the cafes, there are upscale stores like Tommy Hilfiger and Diesel among others. Most of the stores in Valletta open all through the day and do not close for siesta like a lot of the stores further in do. This is so they can get all the tourist dollars. Many does not live by food alone after all :-).
Movies filmed in Malta
The Valletta Waterfront is also a nice place to walk down to, and one can get there through the new elevators. This saves you about a 15-20 minute walk, which is helpful in the heat. The opening scene of the Geena Davis movie “Cutthroat Island” was filmed here. In fact, a few movies have also been filmed in Valletta. These include “Munich”, “Swept Away”, “Gladiator”, “The Devil’s Double” to name just a few. “Midnight Express”, one of my husband’s favorite movies of all time, was filmed almost entirely at Fort St. Elmo.
St. George’s Square:
Plenty of designer stores like Tommy Hilfiger and Guess and high end jewellery stores are a stone’s throw from here. You can glimpse the government officials and businessmen going about their business.
Related Reading: Silent City in Malta
Royal Opera House:
There is an open air theater near the entrance of La Valletta, where you can enjoy a concert. From what l understand, the architect commissioned to build it was asked why there was no roof at it’s completion. He replied that no one had mentioned anything about a roof to him :-). I think that’s awesome if true. We also have a newly constructed “Malta version of the Spanish Steps”. Nice place to take the load off, and people watch.
This is just one of the many places to enjoy in Malta. If you’re want even more awesome things to do, check out Dave’s post on seeing the highlights of Malta in 3 days.
The bus terminal is at the entrance of Valletta. This is the departure point for buses to all the other parts of the island. l never get tired of visiting this bustling city. At night, it slows down a bit, and it’s always nice to walk the little narrow dimly lit streets , admiring the Maltese balconies.
Malta Capital City: Wrap up
Since Malta is a very small compact country, it is almost impossible that your travels would not bring you to Valletta. Sure, the airport is in Luqa, but quite a few of the places to see and things to do will bring you to Valletta, especially since the best way to get around is by bus and the station is located here. Though it is a small city, it is vibrant and chaotic, especially when the ships roll in. Best to join the fun, buy some souvenirs, visit historic parts and enjoy people watching while having a coffee or some pastizzi (the local pastry snack)
What do you think of Malta’s tiny but definitely important capital city? would you like to visit it? Can you add to the things to see in Valletta? Would you consider a Malta vacation?