News + Events
No trip to Malta is complete without a trip to the gorgeous UNESCO capital Valletta. Here’s how to make the most of a day in this world-famous city.
Valletta, Europe’s smallest and southernmost capital, is a unique and vibrant city steeped in history and culture. Built by the Knights of the Order of St John in the 16th century, it is a wonderfully preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site that wears its history proudly while still offering everything you’d expect of a modern capital city, with bars and restaurants, museums, theatres and more.
It has enough to satisfy any traveller for days, while still being compact enough to get a taste of quickly if time is limited. But what should you pack in if you only have one day to spend within its walls? These are our tips!
Getting there and getting around
First things first, getting to Valletta from St Julian’s couldn’t be easier. Most buses passing through St Julian’s make their way to the capital, so you’ll never be waiting long, and the journey takes around 30 minutes. Of course, a taxi will get you there even quicker and our concierge will be only to happy to organise one for you.
That said, our favourite route to the capital goes by sea. A commuter ferry leaves Sliema (which is a few minutes on the bus or half an hour on foot from St Julian’s) every half-hour and it takes just five minutes to cross the harbour. It’s quick, great-value, and the views as the historic and pristine Valletta skyline rises before you are unbeatable.
Once in the city, you shouldn’t need more than your two feet to get around. Valletta is less than one kilometre across at its widest point and mostly pedestrianised. So, while occasionally hilly, it’s extremely walkable.
Wander the streets
One of the best ways to orient yourself and soak in the best of what Valletta has to offer is simply to get lost in its streets. The city is laid out in a grid pattern, which makes it easy and exciting to explore, dotted with plazas perfect to stop in for a coffee and a pit stop.
The main arteries, Republic Street and Merchants Street, are lined with attractive shops, cafés, bars and restaurants and are always bustling with life. But we recommend you stray off the beaten path, where you’ll find beautifully preserved streetscapes with historic limestone buildings and colourful wooden balconies unlike anything you’ve seen outside the island.
If you’re a film buff, you may recognise locations from blockbusters Game of Thrones, World War Z, Assassin’s Creed and the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion, all of which feature scenes shot on Valletta’s streets.
Upper (and Lower) Barrakka Gardens
Some of the best views in the city, and a respite from the hustle and bustle of its streets, can be found in the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Accessible from a square in front of Castille Palace, which houses the offices of Malta’s Prime Minister, the free public gardens are a rare spot of green in the otherwise densely packed city. Plus, they promise spectacular views over the Grand Harbour and to the Three Cities beyond.
Less popular, but still worth a visit, are the Lower Barrakka Gardens on the other end of the city. It’s an even more tranquil environment with fewer crowds, featuring striking historical monuments and great views, including over the Siege Bell War Memorial, commemorating the siege of the island during World War II.
St John’s Co-Cathedral
One of Valletta’s crowning glories is St John’s Co-Cathedral, right in the heart of the city. Dating back to the 16th century, its unassuming exterior opens up to a lavish Baroque interior considered among the finest of its style anywhere in Europe. The walls are a visual feast of gold, frescoes and intricate carvings, while the marble floor is a series of tombs of prominent Knights of the Order and the crypt houses the remains of several Grandmasters.
St John’s is also home to several paintings by the famed Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio. Most notable is the awe-inspiring canvas depicting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, considered the painter’s masterpiece.
Take your pick
For more of the Knights, check out the Grandmaster’s Palace, housing historic tapestries and an impressive armoury. Or if military history is an interest, consider Fort St Elmo, one of the key battlegrounds of the epic struggle against the Ottoman Empire in the Great Siege of 1565, or the Lascaris War Rooms, where Allied leaders planned the invasion of Sicily in World War II.
For art and culture, check out the national museum of fine art, MUŻA, the contemporary gallery and new-writing theatre at Spazju Kreattiv, housed in a 16th-century defensive cavalier, or the incredible baroque Teatru Manoel, one of Europe’s oldest working theatres, dating back to 1723.
As the sun sets
Valletta has become a buzzing nightlife destination in recent years, so your day needn’t end when the tourist sites close. The city has a range of restaurants – from Michelin-starred fine dining to casual eateries and world cuisines, some nestled away in characteristic squares and side streets, others offering beautiful harbour views.
To round your night off, stop for a drink in one of Valleta’s many bars or cocktail lounges, or head down to Strait Street to soak in the atmosphere of a former red-light district that has found new life as an entertainment hub. Either way, Malta’s incredible capital promises not to disappoint!
Would you like our help planning the perfect day in Valletta? Our Concierge will be only too happy to assist!
If sun and sea are what you’re after, Malta’s beaches are the places to soak them up. These are our top picks for the best beaches this Mediterranean island has to offer.
It’s no surprise that Malta’s beaches are consistently rated among the best in the Mediterranean, both for the quality of the water and the beauty of the surrounding landscape. From soft sands to rugged rocky shores, Malta has a beach to suit every taste, whether you’re looking to swim, snorkel, sunbathe or soak up the sun in a secluded bay surrounded by nature.
Close to home
Staying in St Julian’s, you won’t need to travel far at all to get a taste of Malta’s beaches, with some great experiences waiting for you right on the doorstep. The hugely popular small sandy beach at St George’s Bay is mere minutes away, making it a great first stop on a beach-hopping trip. Surrounded by great bars and restaurants, it’s usually buzzing with life from morning until after dark, making it the perfect place to while away a relaxing day swimming, sunbathing, or enjoying a drink and a bite to eat at the water’s edge.
Other great options nearby include the long rocky shoreline beneath the five-kilometre-long Sliema promenade. This stretch of rocks offers countless swimming spots particularly popular with locals, with deep blue waters and a few snorkelling and diving opportunities. There are also several beach clubs and lidos if you feel like changing pace and kicking back by a pool overlooking the sea, having a drink, or shifting into party mode as the sun goes down.
For the sweeping sandy beaches that often adorn travel guides, you’ll want to journey to the northern part of the island, where you’ll be spoiled for choice. Arguably the most beautiful is Golden Bay, with a wide curve of soft sand beneath striking coastal cliffs, sunbeds and umbrellas for rent, bars and restaurants nearby, and water sports available. Although it can get quite busy in peak season, the reasons for its popularity are immediately apparent.
If you’re after a slightly quieter alternative, head one bay over to Għajn Tuffieħa beach. It’s just as beautiful, nestled at the foot of towering clay slopes, and perfect for catching one of the best sunsets on the island, but not quite as busy as its neighbour, making it the perfect place to kick back and soak up some sun.
The largest sandy beach on the island, Għadira Bay, is a great choice for water sports enthusiasts or families with children, with shallow waters and a huge range of activities available, including windsurfing, kitesurfing, paddleboats, kayaks, jet skis, banana boats and more.
Gozo and Comino
While Malta’s main island has enough great beaches to keep you happy for weeks, if you want more you may have to go slightly further afield.
No list would be complete without a mention of the famous Blue Lagoon on the tiny island of Comino. With crystal clear waters and white sand giving the shallow sea a remarkable light blue hue, it’s possibly the most picturesque spot in the whole archipelago and well-worth the half-hour ferry trip to get there. It gets extremely busy during the summer months, so visit in the late afternoon to make the most of your visit.
Gozo, the second largest island, also has no shortage of great beaches. If you have to pick one, it should probably be Ramla l-Ħamra, which literally translates to ‘Red Sand Beach’ for its striking colour. Surrounded by dunes and sloping hills, it feels beautifully remote while being easily accessible by car or bus. It is particularly popular among families, with the famous Calypso Cave also a short trek away if you’re feeling adventurous.
Off the beaten track
If you’re looking for somewhere off the main tourist trail, the rocky southern coastline close to the traditional fishing village of Marsaxlokk could be right up your alley. A particular highlight is St Peter’s Pool, a stunning natural pool with clear waters perfect for snorkelling, and surrounding rocks ideal for sunbathing (or leaping off if you’re feeling adventurous). It’s popular with locals but remote and lacking in facilities, so, as a result it’s rarely crowded. The nearby towns have great bars and restaurants to stop by on your way back.
And if you want to get even further from the crowds, and you’re up for a bit of a hike, look no further than Fomm ir-Riħ (literally, ‘Mouth of the Wind’) in the northwest, by the small town of Baħrija. Probably Malta’s most inaccessible beach, it’s a 20-minute walk along an often-tricky path down from the nearest road. But anyone who makes the trek is rewarded with a rugged, unspoiled pebble beach offering some of the most beautiful views on the island, snorkelling opportunities, and as much peace and quiet as you could ask for. On the right day, you could have the entire beach to yourself.
Would you like more advice on the best beaches for your holiday in Malta? Chat to our Concierge for tips!