I’d just had an operation and decided that I needed bit of sunshine. Knowing very little about Malta, other than it gets a lot of sunshine, we headed to Valletta – the capital city of Malta, a group of islands in the Mediterranean sea.
From our visit, we learned this island packs a historical punch. From the 16th – 19th centuries it was ruled by the Knights of the Order of St John (Knights Hospitallers), fending off invasion and after invasion from the Islamic Ottoman Empire, until Napoleon’s French forces took the island in 1798. In 1802, the British arrived and expelled the French troops, putting Malta under British rule. The island was again a target during WW2 and was heavily bombed by the German forces, with lots of casualties. It was not captured though, and remained under British rule until 1964 when this group of islands finally became independent.
A lot of people go to Malta only for the beaches, which are beautiful. But the history is fascinating too and I ended up spending more time travelling around than I did sitting still as planned!
Here are my top 5 and ‘best of the rest’ for Malta, along with the full itinerary for those who would like more information.
ONE. Upper & Lower Barrakka Gardens incl. Saluting Battery
This beautiful park area in the upper gardens was originally built for the Knights of St John but was opened to the public in the 1800s. It’s a pretty area to have a drink in, and the saluting battery is quite impressive with panoramic views over the Valletta harbour. Under the gardens, in the tunnels underground, is also the Lascaris war rooms which is where the defence of the island during WW2 was planned and run from. You can learn all about the attacks on the island, and its defence from the museum now situated in the tunnels.
TWO. The streets in Valletta
This might sound an odd one, but the streets in Valletta are amazing! They are so steep, with pretty windows overlooking everywhere. We stayed in Strait Street which was actually a really good example itself. There always seems to be some sort of celebration going on in the streets too – whether it be the Carnival, Victory Day or Independence day. We loved it!
The island of Gozo is about a 20 minute ferry ride from the North of the main island. You can drive or get a bus to the port, and from there the ferry runs across to Gozo (or you can go by private boat). Gozo is the second largest of the inhabited Maltese islands and is a bit quieter than Valletta. It has beautiful sea views, salt fields and stunning churches so is a lovely way to spend half a day. You can even book a jeep tour!
We spent a day doing the War Museum at Fort St Elmo and The Knights Hospitallers Museum, both in Valletta across the road from one another. Both museums were brilliant, and so interesting to learn all about the history of the island, from the Order of St John, to Ottoman invasion, to French invasion to WW2 attacks.
FIVE. St John’s Co Cathedral
This Roman Catholic Church is quite something! Its ridiculously ornate baroque interior contrasts completely to its simple outside. We did the audio guide of the cathedral, and one of the things we were surprised to learn is that the whole marble floor is basically one large burial site, housing tombs of some 400 knights of the order!
The best of the rest in Valletta
- Casa Rocca Piccolo – A 16th Century palace of a Maltese Noble family. The tour around the house is interesting, and it has a beautiful terrace for a quick drink, complete with a parrot!
- Grand Harbour – the harbour is beautiful and its nice to watch the boats come in, stroll around and see the traditional decorative Dhow boats docked.
- Fort St Angelo – this is a short ferry ride across from the Grand Harbour, in the area of Birgu, which gives great views back across to the Valletta skyline.
- Dingli Cliffs – another idea for a half day trip by bus from Valletta (c.1 hr). I personally didn’t see what all the hype was about, but they are nice to walk around and visit for sunset.
- Mdina and Rabat – another at least half day trip, Mdina is the old citadel and Rabat is the settlement outside of the Citadel so both are serviced by the same bus stop. The journey is about 50 minutes from Valletta. Here, there are some Catacombs, a Roman House, a pretty cathedral, The Wignacourt Museum, St Paul’s Grotto and the war tunnels which are all worth a visit. If you do everything, this could easily be a full day trip
- Playmobil Fun Park – who knew Malta manufactured Playmobil? Well…actually, I did and it was the reason I chose to come to Malta in the first place. An hour’s bus ride again, and we were at the factory having a tour. You can see how Playmobil is made, make a character of yourself, and play in the gardens full of giant Playmobil play areas. Perfect for kids…and grown up kids!
Full Itinerary for those who are interested
- Day 1 – Upper and Lower Barraka Gardens, War rooms, Harbour, Trip to Birgu and Fort St Angelo
- Day 2 – Fort St Elmo War Museum, Knights Hospitallers Museum, St Johns Co Cathedral
- Day 3 – Casa Rocca Piccola, Playmobil Fun Park
- Day 4 – Mdina & Rabat, Dingli Cliffs
- Day 5 – Gozo full day trip
Thanks for reading! Was this post helpful? Are you planning to visit Malta? Or have you already been? Let me know in the comments below!