Valletta Travel Guide
Set at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Valletta is one of Europe’s great architectural showpieces. It’s often described as an open-air museum, and after 7,000 years of history, it still stands as one of the world’s best preserved fortified cities.
Here, in the UNESCO-listed city, shaded alleyways link grand squares with glorious palazzi, which sit alongside shop facades barely changed in centuries. The city was originally established for military and strategic reasons, but was later embellished into a fine showcase of baroque decorative art – the magnificent interiors of St John’s Co-Cathedral are an excellent example. It’s little wonder that the city becomes the European Capital of Culture in 2018.
And because it occupies a promontory (albeit one circled by mighty bastions) it grants magnificent sea views from practically everywhere. You'll need good walking shoes to explore properly, as there are hundreds of steps and the only real way to get around Valletta is on foot. Stroll up to the Upper Barrakka Gardens for harbour panoramas or take advantage of the new lift, which connects the gardens to the wharf.
As cities go, Valletta is tiny. It measures less than 1 sq km (0.4 sq miles) and you can walk across its widest point in less than 20 minutes. In contrast, however, its spectacular Grand Harbour is the biggest in the Mediterranean. Through the ages, those sailing in have included Napoleon Bonaparte, the British and the Knights of St John whose legacy is visible throughout the city.
Today, historical warehouses still mark the spot where the Knights of St John and European merchants used to unload their wares. The waterfront itself has been revitalised into a vibrant spread of shops, bars and restaurants – it’s particularly romantic at night, when illuminated.
Apart from a sweeping history, there’s also plenty in the way of modern attractions, and Valletta’s new cafés, bars and restaurants have helped refresh its previous image as a staid sun spot. Some great boutique hotels and self-catering accommodation options have also helped attract a more sophisticated crowd, and there are tonnes of outdoor pursuits to enjoy, from sailing to cycling.