It may look tiny, but the walled city of Valletta has huge importance. It is the capital of the country of Malta, and was established in 1566 by the Knights of St. John. Here, you can see landmarks ranging from palaces to museums to stunning churches, including St. John’s Co-Cathedral, where you can visit Caravaggio’s world-famous painting, “The Beheading of St. John.”
Read on to find out more about all the interesting attractions packed into this city.
What Is the Best Time to Visit Valletta, Malta?
If you’re looking for sunshine and warm weather, the best time to visit Malta is between June and September. To avoid the summer crowds, we suggest arriving closer to the end of that time frame, when most of the tourists have gone back home and the hot summer temperatures have begun to ease up a bit.
Our Favorite Things to Do in Valletta, Malta
Take a Stroll Back in Time
Before you do anything else in Valletta, we recommend just talking a walk around the city. You can start in the city center and work your way down the twelve parallel streets that lead out from it, most of which will give you a bird’s-eye view of the harbor and the blue sea beyond. The hills these streets are built on are steep, but don’t worry about that: the Knights of St. John, the most influential figures in the city’s history, built a series of stone steps up the sides of them. The original purpose of these steps was to help the Knights get up the hill more easily in their heavy armor, but they are just as useful for people wearing shorts and backpacks.
Stop in at Casa Rocca Piccola
Dreaming of living life as a nobleman or noblewoman? Casa Rocca Piccola can give you a look at what that was like in 16th century Valletta — and even today. Sometimes referred to as a “living museum,” this magnificent palace has been the hands of nobility for centuries, and is currently the actual home of the 9th Marquis de Piro. In fact, the Marquis sometimes gives tours to the public himself, making it an even more enviable experience. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, aside from all the opulence inside the house, there is also a lovely garden in the courtyard outside, where you can meet the noble’s Macaw.
Eat and Drink
Like many places in the Mediterranean, Valletta’s cuisine is worth traveling across the world for. Signature dishes include stuffat tal-fenek, a traditional stew made with rabbit that has been marinated overnight with herbs and wine, bragioli, thin slices of meat rolled up and simmered in a hearty sauce, and pastizzi, flaky, savory little pastries filled with mushy peas or ricotta. The local wine is also extra special, as is Kinnie, the national soft drink made from wormwood extracts and bitter oranges.
Some of the Best Attractions in Valletta, Malta
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Completed in 1577, St. John’s Co-Cathedral was built by the Knights of St. John and dedicated to the inspiration behind their name, St. John the Baptist. It started off relatively simple, but now the interior has become a true work of art. Over the course of hundreds of years, grandmasters and knights of the order continuously donated money and artwork to the church, some of which was created by world-renowned artists like Caravaggio.
After the St. John’s CO-Cathedral, the most-visited attraction in all of Malta is the Grandmaster’s Palace. Located in St. George’s Square, this towering palace was once the living quarters for several members of the Knights of Malta in the 1500s. Today, it is equally important, as it contains the President of Malta’s office and a museum. Most buildings built by the Knights are a bit severe-looking and plain on the outside, and this one is no exception. Inside, however, it is filled with breathtaking art and architecture in the Baroque style, much of which features copious amounts of gold.
Fort St. Elmo
Located at the tip of the peninsula on which Valleta’s walled city stands is Fort St. Elmo. It was built to protect the city from oncoming attacks, one of the most significant of which was by the Ottoman Empire in 1565. The original fort was just strong enough to help the Knights of St. John hold off their attackers before reinforcements arrived, and the fort that stands today was built to replace the one that gave its stony life in that battle.
Other Sights Worth a Visit in Valletta, Malta
If you’re interested in military history, you should also stop by to see the Siege Bell War Memorial, inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth of England in 1992 to honor those who lost their lives during the Siege of Malta during World War II. The Manoel Theatre is also another stunning sight to see, and it thought to be the third-oldest theater in Europe that is still in operation.
There is a lot to see and do in Valletta, which is the reason why we crowned it as one of the best places to visit in Malta, so be ready to pack in a lot of stops on your tour of this small town.