Things to do in Valletta

Valletta was built hundreds of years ago by the Knights of St John, but it’s the British that left one of the biggest marks.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


The best things to do in Valletta

For such a small city, Valletta sure packs a punch, densely filled with such an impressive collection of sights that it's been named a World Heritage Site.

To help you plan what to see, here are my top tips for what to do in Valletta.

If you set out from Malta on a boat with no compass in hand – just the wind in your sails and the hand of fate on the rudder – you would eventually hit Italy, Tunisia, Libya or Greece.

Or perhaps you would end up in Lebanon or Israel if you missed any signs of land before the Mediterranean abruptly ends at the Middle East.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

It’s important to know the geography of Malta as the first step to understanding a bit more about it – plus it explains why the best things to do in Valletta are so intertwined with its history.

Flying in over the islands, it resembles a North African outcrop with landscapes and architecture more similar to Tripoli or Benghazi than nearby Sicily.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

Getting into a taxi at the airport, hearing the driver speak on his phone, the language resembles a hybrid of Arabic and Italian.

Words have been borrowed from both languages – or, probably more correctly, forced into common parlance by years of trade and immigration.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

And then there’s the English. Both the language and the race. It’s an unavoidable influence that is most evident in the small walled capital of Valletta.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

The capital of Malta, Valletta, is not your usual political hub. With an official population of only 7,000 people, it has to be one of the world’s smallest.

It’s connected to the much larger strip of development along the stunning coastline that is the centre of the country’s tourist industry – and hence the centre of its economy.

But Valletta itself is contained within the stone walls put there centuries ago by the knights who founded the city.

It was in 1566 that the first stone was laid in the formation of Valletta.

The Knights of St John had been given the land by the Holy Roman Emperor of the time, Charles V, and the city was not just a protective fortress but the first place the order could call home after many years of wandering the Mediterranean in the name of Christianity.

And so the city came to resemble an Italian religious community, with traces of Ottoman and North African influences that the knights had seen on their journeys. That continued for more than two hundred years but then the British came along.

In 1800 they took over control of the islands (after two years of unsuccessful French rule) and Malta remained part of the Empire until independence in 1964.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

British rule in Malta

It’s these 164 years which have had the most impact on Valletta since the city was originally built. The main wide boulevards and old churches look distinctly Italian or Spanish but the corners are spotted with red English phone boxes or mail boxes.

The signs hanging from shops alert you to traders in a fashion not out of place for a small English village – the greengrocer, the tobacco merchant, the drapery and the ironmonger.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

It’s slightly odd to be surrounded by all the remnants of British rule – which have pretty much been integrated into modern Malta. Because, as a tourist, the main sights in Valletta revolve around the old buildings and original inhabitants.

It’s the churches, the forts and the museums that are the main reason to come to this part of the country – the beaches and nightclubs are a bit further down the coast.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

As a visitor to Malta for a few days, you wouldn’t find yourself spending too much time in Valletta itself – although it does have a good selection of restaurants and bars if you’re staying inside the walls.

The city is mainly for tourists these days and there are large numbers from Italy, Spain and the UK.

There’s also a fair share from North Africa. Again, Malta has become a mix of all the nationalities that once made claim and influenced its foundations.

Main sights

At a size of just 0.61 square kilometres, Valletta is one of the smallest capital cities in Europe. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t packed with itinerary-bursting highlights.

There are so many things to do in Valletta just within the old city walls, so let’s explore a few of the main sights.

Saint John’s Co-Cathedral

Arguably Valletta’s most prominent religious and architectural landmark, Saint John’s Co-Cathedral has stood since 1578. Designed by Girolamo Cassar, the exterior may not immediately capture your attention. But the interior will.

Saint John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta

As you wander inside, you’ll be surrounded by stunning examples of High Baroque and Italian Mannerism architecture. However, this is somewhat forgotten among the marble tombstones dedicated to knights from the Order of St John.

The walls of Saint John’s Co-Cathedral are adorned with celebrated artworks such as those from Caravaggio. Visitors will be able to enjoy an up-close viewing of two of his works, including Saint Jerome Writing, considered to be his defining piece.

Saint John’s Co-Cathedral is open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 -16:45.
It is closed on Sundays and public holidays.

A standard ticket is €15 and a concession is €12.

Grandmaster’s Palace

In 1530, the Knights Hospitallers of Order of St. John settled in Malta. Four decades later, Grand Master Jean de la Cassière initiated the construction of the Grandmaster’s Palace. For over 250 years, the site marked the political centre of the order.

Today the palace is the residence of the President of Malta. However, it remains a legacy of the Knights and a symbol of medieval Malta. You can explore the several State Rooms, which are adorned with elaborate frescoes, period furniture, and tapestries from the Order of St John.

Guided tours also take you to the palace’s armoury. This showcases the order’s weapons, pikes, cannons, and protective suits.

The Grandmaster’s Palace is open from 9:00 – 17:00.

A standard ticket is €12, a concession is €10, and children 6-11 years old is €8.

Upper Barrakka Gardens

Once a private garden for the Knights Hospitallers, the Upper Barrakka Gardens became public in 1800. Now expanded and improved upon, the gardens represent the perfect opportunity to enjoy some nature in a richly historic city.

Paths guide visitors around the gardens, showcasing a wide range of floral displays and shady trees across several terraces. As you get higher, you’ll enjoy some impressive views of Valletta along with the Grand Harbour.

Continue exploring until you find the Saluting Battery, the historic ceremonial military installation that continues to fire gun signals every day at midday.


You can’t start to get to know Valletta without exploring its history. Every step takes you past a montage of different eras from the 16th century until now.

But amongst the rich history of the World Heritage Site, look out for some of these key Valletta attractions that reflect its many rulers and tell the tales of victory and defeat.

Casa Rocca Piccola

The ancestral home of the de Piro family for over four centuries, the Casa Rocca Piccola, is living history. The private residence has been partly transformed into a museum of its own that allows visitors to experience Malta’s aristocratic heritage.

Casa Rocca Piccola is adorned with old artwork, opulent decorations, and period furniture. These combine to reflect familial changes along with that of Valletta itself.

As you explore old chambers and dining rooms, you’ll also have the chance to visit the building’s WWII subterranean air raid shelter.

For an enhanced visit, I would recommend signing up for a guided tour.

Casa Rocca Piccola is open everyday except Sunday from 10:00 – 17:00.

A standard ticket is €9.50 and €6 for students. Children up to 14 years old and people with special needs are free.

Manoel Theatre

As one of Europe’s oldest performing venues, the Manoel Theatre is a beloved local landmark. Constructed under the reign of the Order of the St John, the theatre dates back to the 1730s.

Back then, performances were only for the resident knights and other Maltese elite. Over time, visitation has of course changed. But what hasn’t is the theatre’s grip on its opulent beginnings.

The Baroque facade of Manoel Theatre welcomes guests who then wander inside to discover ornate decorations along the 18th-century walls. The intimate, horseshoe-shaped auditorium can hold around 600 guests, creating a communal sensation.

Manoel Theatre is open at the following times:
Monday to Friday: 11:00 and 15:00
Saturday: 10:30, 11:30, and 12:30
Sunday: Closed

A standard ticket is €5.

National Library

Laden with ancient manuscripts, maps, and rare books, Valletta’s National Library is a treasure trove of historic documents. Since 1925 the Bibliotheca has been the repository of all of Malta’s notable published works and has been vital in keeping its past alive.

Beyond the city’s architecture, nothing tells the tale of the past centuries quite like the written word. Not only is it open to exploration, but scholars and researchers also make the most of this extensive collection.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

Beyond the notable works, the construction of the National Library is significant. The neoclassical facade welcomes you, while the Corinthian columns, frescoes, and dome will join you as you explore the ancient texts.

The National Library is open at these times:
October to 15 June: Monday to Friday from 08:30 – 16:30, and Saturday from 08:30 – 12:30.
16 June to September: Monday to Saturday from 08:30 – 12:30
Closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Admission is free.

Lascaris War Rooms

From 1940 to 1943, the Lascaris War Rooms were developed to aid in the British war efforts. Set below the Upper Barrakka Gardens, the subterranean chambers are connected by an intricate network of tunnels, spreading like nerves throughout the site.

The Lascaris War Rooms were pivotal in ensuring the defence of Malta even as the bombs rained down. Military strategists and commanders schemed the island’s way to safety from 38 metres beneath the ground.

After restoration in the 1990s, the war rooms are now open to explore. Here, you can check out the WWII equipment and artefacts that bring you face to face with the difficulties of defending such a small territory.

The Lascaris War Rooms are open Monday – Saturday: 10.00 – 16:30.
They are closed on Sunday.

A standard ticket is €14, €7 for children up to 16 years old, and €12 for seniors.


No singular type of building contributes more to Valletta’s sightly architectural and cultural landscape as much as its churches. There are over a dozen lying within the city walls, each as eye-catching as the last.

Diverse religious traditions, along with the ever-changing craftsmanship and style of the times, have brought an incredible depth to such a small place.

Churches in Valletta, Malta

Dating back to the 1600s, the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel took 60 years to complete. It was well worth the wait, however, with its imposing facade awash with a complex mix of carvings and sculptures. Its interior is just as captivating with an impressive nave set with marble, and gilded accents.

Another favourite is the St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, which is known for its towering spire and Ionic columns


By now, you hopefully have an idea of Valletta’s substantial heritage and opulent architecture. But to learn even more, I would recommend visiting a couple of Valletta’s museums to complete the picture and guide you from the city’s humble beginnings through to the modern era.

National Museum of Fine Arts (MUZA)

Set within the alluring Admiralty House, the National Museum of Fine Arts offers a wide collection of works from the Middle Ages until now. Since its opening in 1974, MUZA continues to provide those who visit a unique journey through Malta’s artistic and cultural evolution.

With a focus on native artists, the museum is an arresting mix of paintings, sculptures, and decorative pieces. Combined, they explore Malta’s religious connections, social atmosphere, and the ever-changing political environment.

Some of the highlights include medieval and baroque art, including that of the Order of the Knights. Plus works from native son, Guiseppe Cali.

The National Museum of Fine Arts (MUZA) is open at these times:
January and February: Monday, Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 – 17:00 and closed on Tuesdays.
March to December: Daily from 10:00 – 18:00

A standard ticket is €10, a concession is €7.50, and children from 6-11 years is €5.50.

National Museum of Archaeology

You can go beyond the period of the Order of St John at Valletta’s National Museum of Archaeology. Taking you back thousands of years, this museum explores Malta’s Roman and Prehistoric eras.

As you wander into the Neolithic period, you’ll learn about the development of the Mnajdra Temples and Hagar Qim. Not to mention, the unique burial complex of the “Sleeping Lady”.

Afterwards, you’ll jump to the arrival of the Phoenicians and the dominance of the Romans. Both exhibits are complete with amazing pottery, ancient tools, and artefacts that show a changing cultural climate.

This is all combined with plenty of contemporary history, providing the full Malta experience.

The National Museum of Archaeology is open at these times:
March to December: 10:00 – 18:00 daily
January and February: Monday and Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 – 17:00

A standard ticket is €5, concession is €3.50, and children from 6-11 years is €2.50.

National War Museum

Housed in Fort St Elmo, a fortress overlooking the Grand Harbour, the National War Museum preserves the nation’s military history.

The fort itself played a major role in 1565’s Great Siege of Malta. However, the museum exhibits focus primarily on the First and Second World Wars.

Exhibits bring you face to face with the era’s military equipment, vehicles, and aircraft, while multimedia displays allow you to explore Malta’s role in both global conflicts.

The National War Museum is open at these times:
March to December: from 10:00 – 18:00 daily
January and February: Monday and Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 – 17:00

A standard ticket is €10, a concession is €7.50, and children from 6-11 years old is €5.50.


Wandering the streets of Valletta without an agenda is a great way to discover some of the city’s best-hidden gems. But there’s so much detail in Valletta’s culture and history, you’re sure to miss quite a lot.

Guided tours, led by local experts, allow you to explore the meaning and stories behind each sight and are the best way to make sure you see all the best things in Valletta.

City tour

One of the great things about a general tour in Valletta is that it will help you dive into the past, present, and future of the city, providing a whole heap of context about what you see today – and where it came from.

There are a number of city tours you can experience while in Valletta, where a local will take you through the streets, to the most important landmarks and to some of the hidden gems.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

Offering a balance between the current and the past, there’s this three-hour tour that showcases Valletta’s modern culture before exploring some of the city’s historic highlights.

Some other good options are here:

If you’re focused purely on history and architecture, then you’ll like this 2.5-hour experience. This walking tour starts at the City Gate before venturing beyond the fortified walls and into the ancient city center.

Food tour

Local cuisine allows travellers to get to know a place, perhaps even more than the tales spread across old architecture and city walls. And, on a Valletta food tour, you’ll get to know the local eats that delight your taste buds, just in time to bring those flavours home with you.

On this food and drink walking tour, you’ll start at the Triton Fountain before exploring how foreign powers influence the local cuisine. As a harbor city, there has long been a rich culinary diversity. At each stop, you’ll try different authentic Maltese food and drink.

Depending on exactly what you’re after, there are some other good food tours here:

Beyond the restaurants, Valletta has a flourishing street food scene. You’ll get to know that and more on this excellent tour. As you bounce between each spot, you’ll also get to know the city’s most beloved landmarks.

Harbour cruise

Set alongside the spectacular Marsamxett and Grand Harbours, you can enjoy a vastly different perspective of Valletta from the water. In fact, it’s from this angle that you can truly appreciate the might of the fortifications, which is why I think it’s one of the best things to do in Valletta.

World Heritage Site of old Valletta, Malta

Departing from Sliema, this catamaran cruise explores either side of Valletta, allowing views also of Vittoriosa, Cospicua, and Senglea. Live commentary explores the history of each place, especially the Great Sieges of the 16th and 20th centuries.

Offering another great way to see Valletta on water, this 90-minute cruise comes with a personal audio guide. This way you can sit back and bask in the historic scenery.

Day trips

OK, so you’ve spent some time in Valletta. Why not mix it up a little bit and see what lies beyond the city’s boundaries?

As a rather small island, it’s not hard to see a lot of Malta in a short period. Plus, from Valletta, you’re in a great spot to enjoy the fruits of the island’s eastern coast.


Although you can explore independently if you have a car, with limited time and so much to see, a tour can help out significantly. Tours showcasing the highlights of Malta allow you to tick some boxes and return to Valletta with a well-rounded experience.

I would recommend this highlight experience because it craftily balances history and culture. With this tour, you’ll see some of Malta’s best cities and landmarks, including the eye-catching fortified city of Mdina, the catacombs in Rabat, and the enormous domed Mosta Church.

If you want to experience southern Malta specifically, then don’t pass up on this great trip. Malta’s south is laden with archaeological sites such as Hagar Qim, and natural marvels like the Blue Grotto.


Just off the northern tip of Malta, Gozo is a quieter island that oozes relaxation. The beautiful scenery is easy on the eyes, while sleepy fishing villages have their reflections showcased on the effervescent Mediterranean shores.

Gozo is also where you’ll find one of Malta’s other World Heritage Sites, the megalithic temples of Ggantija.

Ggantija Temples, Gozo, Malta

Despite being detached from Malta, day trips to Gozo are simple. In fact, many will come with hotel pickups. I think these are some of the best:

You can also explore Gozo in the back of a Jeep on this guided tour, which will take you to the historic salt pans, the island’s ancient city of Victoria, along with the gorgeous Blue Lagoon.

Or you can up the adrenalin stakes by trading that Jeep for a quad bike tour. This allows you to take the wheel as you follow your guide from highlight to highlight.

Boat day

Surrounded by the emerald-green waters of the Mediterranean Sea, it won’t be long before the itch to explore them grows too strong. Departing from Malta’s northern end, cruises can take you around the beautiful coastline to Comino and Gozo.

On this sailing catamaran, you can take in the Mediterranean breeze on your way to Crystal Lagoon, Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, and Popeye Village. There is even an optional onboard BBQ.

malta, gozo, boat hire, blue lagoon, caves

With a water slide, bar, and sun lounge, you can live the good life on this wonderful cruise. Depending on which departure you choose, you can enjoy a similar itinerary to the above or explore the sea caves, Gozo, or Blue Lagoon.


There are plenty of nice places to stay in Valletta, although you could also look just along the coast from something closer to a beach.


For a lively atmosphere with a large terrace where there’s always something happening, Marco Polo Hostel is your spot!


A beautiful old stone building, Casa Asti has a lovely interior and a great location.


With elegant touches in a historic building, Rosselli AX Privilege is one of the most stylish options in the city.


Along with a gorgeous pool and spa, the Embassy Valletta Hotel has stunning rooms and a great view across the city.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

14 thoughts on “Things to do in Valletta”

  1. I never got tired of seeing the iconic red telephone boxes while living in London. I love the look of them in Malta as well! I’ve been reading more about Malta lately and am definitely eager to travel there. Really great post and beautiful photos.

    Happy travels 🙂

    • I didn’t know much about Malta before getting there. The red telephone boxes actually surprised me but it’s quite cute to see them all over the place. Let me know when you get there and what your enjoy the most!

    • Yeah – you guys are really close. You should pop over and check it out sometime. Especially as it starts to get colder in most of Europe, you’ll get some decent weather in Malta for a bit longer.

  2. This is my first glimpse of Malta.
    I first heard about Malta in a Corregidor tour here in the Philippines.
    They said Malta was the most bombed island in the world and Corregidor was second. And Malta got stuck in my mind…

    Love the contrast of that blue window!

  3. Since I watched a BBC program on the country, I’ve been captivated by the beauty of Malta. Its old buildings and enchanting history are two main reasons why this small country is so fascinating. And your photos remind me to plan a trip there one day.

    • The British influence is fascinating enough, but there is so much that came before that which is just astounding. With such an important geographic position, there have been so many cultures pass through – and so many stories!

  4. It sounds a bit like the Carribean to me, though perhaps with a bit more of the African side. I was surprised to see so much British influence in the Bahamas.
    I haven’t been to Malta, but Ali has. She says she would go abck with me. Which is a good sign for a place. 🙂


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