48 Hours in: Valletta

Inside the ancient walls of Malta's charming capital, a transformation is taking place, with dramatic new buildings joining the city's alluring mix

Travel Essentials

Why go now?

The monumental entranceway and City Gate area of Malta's charming capital is being transformed by the architect Renzo Piano. The ugly 1960s gate and square that long blighted many first impressions of this delightful historic city are now gone.

In their place is rising the new City Gate (1) , as well as an ultra-modern parliament building. An open-air theatre has also just opened: the Pjazza Teatru Rjali (2) – the Royal Piazza Theatre – is constructed within the ruins of the iconic Royal Opera House. Information on performances is available from the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts (00 356 2123 2515; maltaculture.com).

Touch down

Air Malta (0906 103 0012; airmalta.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) and Monarch (0871 940 5040; flymon arch.com) fly from a range of UK airports.

From Luqa airport, 5km southeast of Valletta, bus X4, X5 or X7 will drop you outside the new gateway (1); €2.20. A taxi costs around €15.

For an interesting twin-centre holiday, you could also reach Malta by sea from Sicily with Virtu Ferries (020-8206 1332; virtuferries.com). Ships dock at the Valletta waterfront (3) just outside the city. From here a new lift takes passengers up the side of the fortifications to Valletta's Upper Barracca Gardens (4).

Get your bearings

Valletta was built by the Knights of St John – the Christian warrior knights who ruled Malta from 1530 to 1798. Built on a peninsula, the city is just one kilometre long and 600 metres wide. Its narrow streets, overhung with painted wooden balconies (galleriji), are easy to navigate. Much of the city is pedestrianised.

Valletta's backbone is Republic Street where you will find many of the main sights. It runs all the way from City Gate (1) to Fort St Elmo (5) on the tip of the peninsula. Parallel to it is Merchant Street. At the City Gate end, the Auberge d'Italie (6), once home to the Italian Knights, is now the main tourist office (00 356 2291 5440; visitmalta.com; daily).

Further along, is Valletta's daily market (7). On the south-east side of the city is the Grand Harbour, which played a crucial role in the Second World War as the Mediterranean home of the Allied Fleet and remained the Royal Navy's Mediterranean base until the 1970s; on the other side is Marsamxett Harbour and the ferry to Sliema (see Take a Ride).

Check in

Hotel Phoenicia (8) at The Mall, Floriana (00 356 2122 5241; phoeniciamalta.com) is perfectly located just outside City Gate (1). A comfortable hotel built in the 1930s, it has a garden and swimming pool overlooking Marsamxett Harbour. Doubles from around €180, room only.

The Castille Hotel (9) at Castille Square (00 356 2124 3677; hotelcastillemalta.com) is an atmospheric hotel in a traditional building with stone stairs and wood-panelled walls. It is also a near-neighbour to the Knights Auberge de Castille, now the prime minister's office, and the Upper Barracca Gardens (4). Some rooms are a little tired, but doubles are just€80, including breakfast.

Asti Guest House (10) at 18 St Ursula Street (00 356 2123 9506) is a popular budget option in a 350-year-old townhouse. Doubles from €40, including breakfast.

Day One

Take a view

The arcaded Upper Barracca Gardens (4) were built by the Knights. They were beloved of the British (who ruled here from 1800 to 1964 after helping the Maltese kick out Napoleon, who, in turn, had ousted the Knights). They offer a spectacular view over the Grand Harbour and Fort St Angelo – the oldest fort in Malta.

Take a hike

Start at City Gate (1) and walk the length of Republic Street to find the National Museum of Archaeology (00 356 2122 1623; heritagemalta.org; €5) housed in the Auberge de Provence (11).

Pass the Knights' main church, St John's Co-Cathedral (12), their columned law courts and library,concealed behind a statue of Queen Victoria, before you reach Valletta's heart, St George's Square. Down one side of the square is the Grand Master's Palace (13), home to the Knights' chosen leader. The state rooms are open 10am to 4pm daily except Thursday. The Knights Armoury (00 356 2124 9349; heritagemalta.org) is open daily 9am to 5pm. A combined ticket is €10.

Republic Street ends at Fort St Elmo (5), a star-shaped stone fortress that has guarded the entrance to the Grand Harbour since before Valletta was built. It is being renovated for opening to the public. For now, only one area is open, the National War Museum (00 356 2122 2430; heritagemalta.org; €6), which covers the two world wars from a Maltese perspective.

Lunch on the run

Backtrack to Nenu (14) at 143 St Dominic St (00 356 2258 1535; nenuthebaker.com) a new family friendly, modern restaurant built into a traditional bakery, serving large ftira (Maltese pizzas, €6.50 to €10.50), and other traditional dishes. Closed Sundays.

Window shopping

For lasting local products and souvenirs, including silver filigree and lace, try the Artisans Centre (15) at 284 Republic Street, open daily.

An aperitif

Strait Street, known as "The Gut" when it was the primary haunt of sailors on shore leave, lay largely deserted after the Royal Navy withdrew from Malta. It is now beginning to revive with new bars and restaurants opening up. Tico Tico (16) is the most colourful so far, with fancy pink chairs outside and photos of its insalubrious past within. Try a Kinnie aperitif (any alcohol mixed with Malta's very own cola-type drink).

Dining with the locals

Str.Eat (17) (00 356 2122 8347) is another new Strait Street opening. Tucked behind the new Whisky Bar, it offers excellent modern Mediterranean food at very good prices. The salmon cured in 10-year-old Talisker whisky (€9.25 with free starter) is particularly tasty.

For a historic experience, dine within the bastion walls of Valletta at Rampila (18) (00 356 2122 6625; rampila.com). Excellent Maltese cuisine is served in a sloping converted tunnel or on the atmospheric terrace tucked between the great defensive city walls. Mains are around €20.

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

While the exterior of St John's Co-cathedral (12) is 16th-century austere, the interior is a visual symphony of Baroque excess in paint, marble and gold. At 9.15am on Sundays, the church is lit up for a full sung Latin Mass, a great way to experience it – and free. You can look around the chapels afterwards, although if you want to use the audioguide or visit the Oratory with its Caravaggio paintings, you will need to come back weekdays from 9.30am to 4.30pm or Saturday 9.30am to 12.30pm and pay €6.

Take a ride

Get a sailor's-eye view of Valletta's imposing fortifications on a Two Harbours Cruise with English commentary (00 356 2346 3333; captainmorgan.com.mt; €16) from Sliema Ferries, which is itself a 10-minute ride on the Sliema Ferry across Marsamxett Harbour from Valletta. Alternatively, tour the Grand Harbour in a private dghajsa, a traditional Maltese harbour boat, provided by A&S Water Taxis (00 356 2180 6921; maltesewatertaxis.com; €10 for 30 minutes).

Out to brunch

Sundays can be quiet, with many shops and restaurants closed, but the handsome old Caffe Cordina (19) at 244 Republic Street (00 356 2123 4385; www.caffecordina.com) opens 8.30am to 7pm. Sit outside under Queen Victoria's gaze with pastizzi – the most popular local snack, a mini pasty of cheese or peas. It is also a great place to buy such specialist Maltese foods as local capers, honey and anti-pasti (packed for travel).

Cultural afternoon

Jump on a bus out of town to the remarkable Mnajdra and Hagar Qim temples (00 356 214 231; heritagemalta.org), which are the best preserved of Malta's Neolithic stone temples. These remains, built between 3600 and 2500BC, are older than the Great Pyramids and Stonehenge. The excellent on-site exhibition will reveal all, before you wander around the temples with their monumental entranceways, tightly packed stone walls, semi-circular rooms and carved altars. Open daily; admission €9.

Icing on the cake

At the convivial little Legligin (20), a restaurant and wine bar at 117 Santa Lucia Street (00 356 2122 1699), Chris cooks all the food, chooses all the wine, and holds court. His Maltese mezze (€20) is a feast of nine mini (and not-so-mini) traditional dishes – including rabbit stew. Round the evening off with his homemade limoncello liqueur.

ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas