A trip to Malta isn’t complete without exploring the capital city of Valletta. As Malta is a small island, the capital is also quite small and easily explored in one day. This list provides you a detailed summary on what to do in Valletta in a day. What places to see, stop, eat and relax in order to get a full feel for the city and enjoy all it has to offer.
Valletta is an important part of Malta’s history, as it was built by the knights as they fortified the island after the great siege of 1565. It was a city “built for gentlemen” and almost entirely in the baroque architectural style of the day. Since then it has become the head of government, and opened up it’s military walls to take in the scenery and bring life back to the capital city.
Here’s what to do in Valletta if your only spending one day in the capital. I go to Valletta quite often and have seen all the museums and tried many of the restaurants, so this is the ideal route I would take if I only had one day to explore it. Overall it includes the most popular sights with a bit of walking and lots of breaks for drinks, as it is hot in Malta, and drinks are cheap are an opportunity to take in the views!
1. St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta
St. John’s Co-Cathedral is probably the busiest attraction in Valletta. That’s why I recommend going there early and getting it done before the tour groups arrive. It opens at 9am most days and takes about 45 minutes to go around and listen to everything on the audio guide (it is included in the ticket price). This is a good place to start in Valletta, as the city was built by the knights and this landmark gives you a good background. It showcases the best baroque architecture of the city, as well as tells the story of the knights and what Valletta would have been like during their time.
2. Morning Snack at Valletta’s Oldest Cafe
After walking around the cathedral, you will need a break, so why not stop at one of Valletta’s classic cafes for a traditional Maltese snack? The Museum Cafe is one of the oldest establishements that hasn’t changed in the last century and is usually full of Maltese people. It serves fresh pastizzi and ftira that are must try Maltese foods. The cafe closes around 2pm so getting there in the morning is best.
3. Walk Valletta’s Upper Barrakka Gardens
Stretch your legs and go for a wander around the Upper Barrakka Gardens of Valletta. This landscaped garden has amazing view of the three cities across the harbour. Everyday at 12pm they salute the passing of midday with firing canons, so definitely stick around to see this. This corner of Valletta also has more to see after the gardens. Continue walking up to the modern city hall and carry on to see the entrance of the city, where the wall has been opened to the impressive Triton Fountain.
4. Maltese Lunch with a View
Try to book ahead for lunch as most restaurants are small and fill up fast. Rampila, is more fine dining with a lovely terrace, or Sicilia Bar & Restaurant is my favourite for a delicious affordable lunch with a view of the harbour. Unfortunately most of the best restaurants don’t have a view in Valletta and are instead indoors. Maybe this is nice for you to escape the heat, in which case, Da Pippo is a classic Maltese choice. Sotto a pizzeria is another delicious option, offering wood fired pizza from an oven brought from Rome!
5. The National Museum Of Archaeology
After lunch it is best to go inside for another cultural experience and try to avoid the sun. This is the hottest time of day and although most of the museums don’t have air conditioning, they are designed for the heat and are still quite cool compared to the temperature outside. My favourite museum in Valletta is the National Museum Of Archaeology since it gives you a break from all the knights and blows your mind with how old these islands have been inhabited. It does a good job explaining Malta’s timeline and is small enough not to bore you to death. Definitely worth a visit if you are interested in ancient artworks, architecture and history.
6. Valletta Apertivo / Happy Hour
After wandering around a museum, I usually need to relax and process all the information. This is also the perfect time for an apertivo (try the aperol spritz) on the main street of Valletta and people watch. There are plenty of lovely squares with umbrella’d terraces as you make your way down Republic street. This is also the main shopping street, so you can find lots of gifts, traditional goods as well as international brands – just in case you didn’t bring enough swimsuits!
Tara’s Travel Tip: It is worth having a peak in La Valette Band Club (not the King’s Own) to see if there are any band members practicing. You will find Band clubs in every town, but the one in Valletta is quite active and very often there will be an entire brass band practicing. Each band club also acts as the local bar! You can go in and watch for no charge and get very affordable drinks and snacks with a traditional Maltese atmosphere.
7. Walk Lower Gardens & Fort Elmo
If you feel up for walking some more, or are interested in War History, take a stroll to the Lower Barrakka Gardens (equally beautiful) and Fort Elmo. The old military fort offers one hour shows as well as the Military Museum. However it is also a nice walk to the gardens along the water if you are just interested in seeing more of Valletta and have some time before dinner.
7. Maltese Tasting Menu
By 7 or 8pm you are ready for a Maltese tasting menu. Valletta has a great selection of Maltese restaurants, although many may be more expensive than elsewhere on the island. My favourite is Legligin, which is actually a wine bar, as the name is Maltese for “drink quickly”. They offer a tasting menu for only 25 or 30 euro per person. The menu is completely different every day based on what is fresh. It consists of many many small plates, so be prepared for a long and flavorful evening. You only need specify if you would like the meat, seafood or vegetable options, and they do the rest!
8. Valletta’s Live Music
Throughout the week you will find live music in Valletta. Usually Strait street is the most lively place, it is a small pedestrian laneway where the bars overflow to the street. However if it is the weekend, the Bridge Bar on the other side of Valletta is a unique spot that offers outdoor jazz on a bridge overlooking the harbour. It gets quite busy so arrive early or be prepared to stand!
Following this route and these stops will ensure you have the perfect day in Valletta. You have covered the main attractions, museums and historical landmarks, as well as some local eateries and dishes. Valletta is a beautiful city so there is always more you can do, but if you only have one day, you won’t be disappointed by following this list!