Basking in the perpetual warm glow of receiving the highly prized accolade of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island of Malta’s number one city, Valletta is richly deserving of the title on many fronts. Chief among those is the fact that the Maltese capital is widely revered as being one of the most historically dense areas in the world, characterised by a seemingly never-ending blanket coverage of sublime architectural landmarks, one time geographically-strategic fortifications and an array of ancient era ruins to feast the eyes on.
The harbour city offers various points of interest for all visitors enjoying their Valletta holiday, whether they consider themselves history buffs or if instead it’s a plethora of other elements that the Maltese city is famous for which has attracted them in the first place. Other alternative theories as to why holidays in Valletta are soaring in popularity include the choice of sun, sea and sand worship-magnetising beach resorts which pretty much circle the city, while retail therapists might well suggest it has more to do with the much-hyped shopping destination of nearby Sliema.
Either way, this perfect Mediterranean marriage of historical/architectural intrigue, retail opportunities and of course, stunning beaches make Valletta the perfect 2017 / 2018 holiday match for those looking to get away from it all.
At a glance
- Currency: Euro
- Language: English
- Time Zone: GMT +1
- Average flight time: 3h 30m
When to go
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There’s a wealth of ways to spend your precious holiday time in Valletta, with destinations and pursuits of interest to both couples and families intent on discovering just what the Maltese capital has to offer the traveller.
Frequently flagged up among the ultimate compendiums of ‘Things to Do while in Valletta’-type lists you’ll find the varied likes of the following routinely mentioned; St John’s Co-Cathedral, the National Museum of Archaeology, the National War Museum, Grandmasters Palace, the National Museum of Fine Arts, Malta Postal Museum, the Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens, City Gate, Triton Fountain and Hastings Gardens.
A number of these are explained in a little more detail below for those intrepid individuals and groups who wish to strike out when immersing themselves in the complete Valletta holiday package.
Wine and Dine
Located within one of the oldest properties in one of the more ancient parts of medieval Valletta (Mdina), the courtyard retreat of the Medina restaurant is routinely championed by celebrated food critics, while Barracuda (which is housed in an 18th-century seaside villa) in St. Julian’s is definitely one to pop on the eating part of your itinerary, again according to those in the culinary know. With previous diners including Orlando Bloom, Guy Ritchie, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Claudia Schiffer, the chances are you may even rub shoulders with some of Hollywood’s finest should they be in town at the same time as you.
Rubino also comes well-starred, offering a blend of Maltese and Mediterranean food and entered by way of an otherwise unassuming Dickensian shop front. The walls of the Trabuxu Bistro are positively dripping with contemporary art, with its sister wine bar also close by and coming equally highly recommended. From a purely drinking perspective (OK, with more than few nibbles included to soak up the local tipples and then some), the likes of Django Jazz Bar, the Art Deco-inspired Loop Bar, the uber cool Maori bar and the also achingly hip (but in a good way) Gugar bar are the places to be seen at.
Although if you find yourself lusting after some more familiar surrounds/drinks/company then holidaymakers could always head down to ‘The Pub’. No, seriously. That’s what it’s called. A veritable shrine to the late, great Briton, Oliver Reed, this English-themed drinking den was the place where the actor partook in his last session before sadly passing away while filming Gladiator back in 1999.
There are a number of private walking tours available to those enjoying a holiday in Valletta, while paying a visit to St John’s Co-Cathedral figures prominently on many tourists’ itineraries. For a more educational viewpoint when taking in the various sights and sounds of the Maltese capital, holidaymakers with families often head for the museums which document the islands’ pivotal wartime role; these including Lascaris War Rooms, the National War Museum and the Saluting Battery.
Otherwise those visiting the island with youngsters in tow might instead chose to check out the Malta National Aquarium, the Marine Park, the National Museum of Archaeology and Malta’s Postal Museum. All of which provide very different, yet equally rewarding experiences for kids (and adults) of all ages.
Action and Adventure
Of course, if you wish to up the pace somewhat and see just what Valletta has in store for holidaymakers seeking out a few more adrenalin rushes as opposed to heart flutters, then you won’t be left disappointed either; as this special corner of Malta has the lot.
Diving on Gozo and the island of Comino are renowned in Europe as some of the best spots to admire a fantastic array of marine life. The Blue Lagoon on Comino has facilities for all levels of divers, from the never-been-underwater-before to the i-am-a-dolphin, you're bound to find an awesome experience on Comino.
You can literally take your cares away by circumnavigating the nearby island of Gozo by off-road vehicles, courtesy of the full-day jeep tours, or remaining in Valetta itself, why not experience the city’s numerous hotspots by way of an even more unconventional mode of personal transportation? With the Segway city tours you can do just that, as you strike the right balance between excitement and exploration.
Life's a Beach
Given that it’s situated on a peninsula, it’s safe to assume that any Valletta holiday will see much coast activity, be it taking in the ocean breeze while sauntering along the city’s picturesque waterfront or feeling the sand between your toes on one of the Mediterranean-fringing beach resorts, such as St Paul’s Bay, home to the ever-popular resorts of Qawra and Bugibba.
Showcasing some pretty darn, well, pretty beaches, those holidaymakers on the mooch for sun, sea, and other words beginning with the letter ‘S’ which isn’t sangria, are in for something of a treat this summer, as the island of Malta provides the setting for some memorable ocean-meets-land moments.
Like for instance St Julian’s resort; which for all intents and purposes, is a beachside town which serves up a constant dish of fine dining experiences and a variety of nightlife. More of that later, but back to the beaches right now, and the aptly-named Golden Bay is falling over itself with an abundance of them. Only visitors won’t be, as there’s more than enough space to accommodate everyone.
And if that’s not enough sand for you, then you can always jump on a boat and plot the coordinates for the neighbouring island of Gozo; which provides yet more sandy alternatives.
The Valletta waterfront, in the shadows cast by the city’s walls is typically uppermost in the minds of those who have insider knowledge about where to spend the evening in the Maltese capital, where warehouses and facades have been repurposed to accommodate a collection of fashionable bars, restaurants and shops, as well as the introduction of an open air public seating arrangement which faces into the harbour.
Elsewhere within Valletta’s labyrinth of streets tourists will discover the Manoel Theatre and St James Cavalier Centre, also popular destinations for those heading off for an evening out in the cosmopolitan feeling Malta’s primary urbane thoroughfare.
Furthermore, there’s a constant buzz surrounding the likes of the V5 Bar and Q Bar, while if live music is more your thing then don’t look beyond the bohemian-styled, wine bar known as Maestro e Fresco, together with Sasha’s Bar and Bistro; both of which provide fantastic platforms and ambiences for an evening’s entertainment.
Holidays in Valletta aren’t just appealing to the younger contingent though, as couples hoping for a more romantically-tinged getaway can quickly find a lot to connect them with both the sublime settings and of course, each other. Never better illustrated than when visitors to this magical island choose to take an amble along the promenade in Sliema for example, where starting at The Strand and continuing all the way up to Tigne’ Point will afford tourists the opportunity to soak up the sun along with taking in the heart-appeasing view of Valletta from an altogether different perspective; from the other side of the harbour.
What’s more, couples may instead prefer to make their way around the narrow, winding and altogether quaint streets of Malta’s old capital city of Mdina. Located on one of the holiday isle’s highest points - and referred to as the Silent City for the impending lingering silence that dominates within its walls – Mdina is a must-see destination for those looking to relax, unwind and ultimately reconnect.
Elsewhere for the loved-up visitors to Valletta and its satellites, there’s the Church of Saint Paul's Shipwreck and The Lower Barrakka Gardens (revered as a beautiful place in which to stroll and enjoy the wonderful views of the Grand Harbour; where the narrow roads leading to it make the whole experience even more suggesting). Indeed the latter boasts wonderfully romantic views across the city, particularly so as it paints Valletta in alternative lights amid and directly after a majestically setting sun.
And don’t forget, what’s romance without good food and fine wine to accompany it or moreover, act as a prelude to? And here in Valletta couples are literally spoilt for choice of venue in which to stare into each other’s eyes from across a selection of restaurant tables, as highlighted above.
The St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity is the place to be for those with an itch for world cinema, classical theatre, contemporary performing and more visual arts which requires scratching, and its architectural presence certainly adds to an culturally-uplifting occasion, on account of it being housed within renovated carcass of a 16th Century fortification built into Valletta’s city walls.
Arguably the most culture you can absorb in the one hit comes courtesy of Teatru Manoel. Or as we afforded it earlier, it’s more English sounding name, Manoel Theatre. Hosting theatrical performances since the 1700s, the Baroque marvel is recognised as among Europe’s oldest theatres and is without question one of the many jewels in Valletta’s crowns. Complete with a museum, café and restaurant, the theatre stages a wealth of productions at any one time, ranging from classical performing arts and jazz ensemble through to rock and folk music concerts and even public poetry recitals to name just a few.
Meanwhile The National Museum of Fine Arts will appeal to many opting for a Valletta holiday this summer, and while perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, something more akin to pop culture is also waiting in the wings for tourists. Yes, there’s no denying the impact that the hugely popular TV show, ‘Game of Thrones’ has had on global audiences these past few years, so why not seize this opportunity to witness the Lands of Ice and Fire for yourself, as part of a full-day tour of Malta’s ‘Game of Thrones’ filming locations. A tour which allows people to get up close and personal to the ancient forts, parkland and streets that set the scene for the Red Keep and King’s Landing. Seeing, is most definitely believing.