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 this tiny island nation for a short break.
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.
I found it to be a fascinating visit, and 2 days is enough to do Valletta justice, a great itinerary for which is below. We then spent the rest of our week in the country doing day trips to other sites and relaxing. You can find my post on the best day trips from Valletta here (post coming soon).
A. Upper & Lower Barrakka Gardens incl. Saluting Battery
Start your visit in this beautiful park area. The upper gardens were 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.
B. Lascaris War Rooms
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.
C. Parliament House & Auberge de Castille
Pay a visit to the Parliament House of Malta, and also stop by to admire the Auberge de Castille – or the Office of the Maltese Prime Minister. The beautiful building is also opposite the Malta Stock Exchange if you want to snap that too.
D. Grand Harbour
From there, stroll down to the Grand Harbour and admire the many boats and sweeping sea views. I particularly liked the traditional, beautifully decorated Dhow boats that were docked along the shore. It’s also a perfect place for lunch.
E. Fort St Angelo
Finish off your first day in Valletta with a cruise from the harbour, where you can get on a short ferry ride across to the area of Birgu, which is home to the Fort St Angelo, which is lovely to stroll around and gives sweeping views back across the Valletta skyline.
A. Stroll through Strait Street and the other streets in Valletta old town
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!
B. Visit the Fort St Elmo War Museum
We spent a few hours in the War Museum at Fort St Elmo and really enjoyed it – there is a lovely area to walk around with views out over the sea and then the Museum itself tracks Malta’s history – from the Order of St John, to Ottoman invasion, to French invasion to WW2 attacks.
At the War Museum and the War Memorial
C. Learn about the Knight’s Hospitallers
Across the road from the war museum, is another museum – this time dedicated to the Knights Hospitallers (the Order of St John) whose cross symbol still sits on the Maltese flag today. The Order of St John was a medieval and early modern Catholic military order. It was headquartered in Jerusalem until 1291, in Rhodes from 1310 until 1522, in Malta from 1530 until 1798 and then St Petersburg from 1799 until 1801. Today several organizations continue the Hospitaller tradition, and learning about their impact on the island of Malta was fascinating.
D. 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 outside and ornate interior of the cathedral
E. Casa Rocca Piccola
Step back in time to 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!
And that brings a 2 day itinerary in Valletta to a close – thank you for reading and I hope you’ve found it helpful if you’re planning a trip to Malta. Stay safe and happy travelling!