Finally I have the chance to sit down and really write about my trip to Malta — although I hope you enjoyed my sneak peek of Valletta’s beautiful houses! Knowing I only had a short amount of time to explore Malta’s capital city before diving into work, I focused my visit on Valletta’s absolute highlights. And you know what? I still found myself with plenty of opportunities to wander and absorb the city’s fascinating cultural and historical atmosphere.
Valletta was founded in the mid-1500’s as a home for the Knights of St. John (also known as the Knights of Malta), which is a military order that began in Jerusalem during the Crusades and continues to be active until this day. Since the city was was built entirely from the ground up within the span of about 15 years, it has a very Baroque character, but there are also many elements of modern city planning — like the streets designed on a grid system. The city is also less than one-third of a square-mile in size and has a population of less than 7,000. I walked everywhere and never once got lost!
So where should you go exploring in Valletta if you’re short on time?
The Grand Harbor & the Barrakka Gardens
For the absolute best views of Valletta’s Grand Harbor, you really won’t want to miss the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens. Standing in the Upper Barrakka Gardens, you’ll be at the city’s highest point and have a fantastic panoramic view of the harbor, the cities of Senglea and Vittoriosa across the water, and the lower-lying parts of Valletta. The Lower Barrakka Gardens are about a 10-minute walk away from the Upper Gardens, with wonderful views of the harbor and the breakwater.
I took advantage of lovely late afternoon golden sunlight to visit the gardens, which made for some fun photography. Or you can arrive at the Upper Barrakka Gardens at noon to witness the Noon Day Gun from the Saluting Battery — originally used to allow all the ships in the harbor to calibrate their clocks.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Another must-see while in Valletta is St. John’s Co-Cathedral, built in the late 1500’s by the Order of the Knights of St. John. While the exterior of the cathedral is rather plain, the interior is an ornate Baroque-lover’s dream. Intricate paintings, carvings, and marble floors cover nearly every inch — the scale is quite grand and a bit overwhelming, to be honest. For fans of Baroque painting, the Italian artist Caravaggio spent time in Valletta and several of his masterpieces hang in the church, including The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.
I visited during the afternoon, and the cathedral was completely over run with tourists. So perhaps you might want to visit in the morning to enjoy the cathedral in a little more peace.
Casa Rocca Piccola
In case you’ve always wondered how Maltese nobility have lived over the last 400 years (who hasn’t?), take a tour of Casa Rocca Piccola — a 16th century palace in Valletta. The noble de Piro family still live in the 50-room palace, which they opened to the public in 1990. You might even see Nicholas de Piro, the 9th Marquis de Piro, during your visit! The house contains an impressive collection of furniture and paintings, as well as an obnoxious parrot who lives in the courtyard. Tours are offered in English hourly every day except for Sundays and holidays.
Since the city is so compact, all of these sights are within walking distance of each other and can be visited in one day. And you’ll still have plenty of time to grab a bite to eat and enjoy the scenery along the way. My food experiences in Valletta were kind of hit or miss, but I can definitely recommend a small restaurant, D’Office, for a delicious meal and good service. Enjoy!
Have you been to Valletta? What else would your recommend seeing there?