Valletta Destination Guide
There are few places on Earth with as much fascinating history compressed into such a small area. Valletta, capital of the island of Malta, can reach back to the Neolithic, but more recently – and as a genuine foundation to the city we see today – it boasts a heritage through rule at different times by the Romans, Arabs, Normans, Knights of St John, French and the British.
A stunning mixture of wonderful strategic harbour, ancient sites, 16th-century fortress and a contemporary honour as a UNESCO World Heritage city, Valletta is a superb destination in its own right and gateway not only to the wider island of Malta but the smaller sister islands of Gozo and Comino.
Valletta, “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen”, is a construct emerging from the celebrated siege of 1565 when the Knights of St John imposed an unlikely defeat on vastly superior Ottoman Turk forces seeking to seize the island. The fortress city was founded after that defeat, named for the order’s Grand Master Jean de la Valette. The orders were simple enough: build not only a fortress city but also a home for European treasures of the next 200 years. The city’s fortress structures are a contemporary highlight.
Must-see attractions include the 16th-century Grand Masters’ Palace, the St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and St John’s Co-Cathedral, which leaves you underwhelmed outside but awestruck inside. For more recent history, there are also various attractions commemorating Valletta’s importance to the Allies in both world wars.
Its popularity as a destination among Europeans has guaranteed a range of dining options from chain fast-food outlets to first-class eateries. Valletta transforms at night when the local office workers knock off and nightlife takes over. The waterfront is a particular gem with a wide range of restaurants and bars.
The local cuisine has been defined by the mix of cultures that have made Malta their home over hundreds of years. Look out for distinctly Maltese specialities such as zalzett (Maltese sausage flavoured with coriander), bigilla, a pate of broad beans and garlic, lampuki (fish) pie, and kannoli (crispy fried pastry filled with ricotta). Explore some of the back streets for more home-style surprises.
Where to Stay
Valletta caters for a wide variety of accommodation need and budget. The compact city centre is home to upmarket hotels, but there are lots of other options including apart-hotels popular with those who prefer to either self-cater or who want to take advantage of a combination of self-cater and fully serviced.
You are more likely to come to Malta for the weather and amazing history than the shopping, but if you need a retail break Valletta has places than can satisfy any drive to spend. The shopping heart of Valletta is undoubtedly Republic Street and the appropriately named Merchants Street with its daily market – particularly for clothing.
You will find other stores in the Embassy Shopping Centre and Cinema between Strait Street and St Lucia Street, and a little further afield in Sliema (think the ever popular Marks & Spencer as well as brands such as Hilfiger, Nike and Armani Jeans).
Valletta Like a Local
Valletta and Malta have a particular place in the heart of Britons who witnessed its astonishing defence against insurmountable odds during World War II. Six relatively obsolete aircraft and their pilots were instrumental in beating off a concerted attempt to take Malta and seize its strategic position in the Mediterranean. King George VI awarded the George Cross to Malta in recognition of its bravery. The National War Museum, St Elmo, commemorates this and more with a journey into Malta’s conflicted past.