Find out more about the capital city of Malta, Valletta
Valletta is Malta's capital city, and it's a true treasure trove of history, architecture and baroque splendour. Built by the Knights of Malta (The Knights Hospitallier) in the 16th Century, modern day Valletta retains the atmospheric charm of a city built to last. From St John's co-cathedral to the stunning palaces and museums, Valletta is an open air museum, combining Malta's rich heritage with cafes, restaurants and modern day shopping to produce a very unique feel.
During the day, Valletta serves as Malta's administrative capital and houses the offices of the prime minister in the beautiful Auberge De Castille, as well as the office of the President of Malta in the Magisterial Palace of The Grandmaster. They're stunning pieces of architecture and the city's full of them - remnants of the work of the Order of St John as it built Valletta as its new base in the 16th Century as a defense against the then powerful Ottoman (Turkish) army. The entire city is surrounded by solid stone fortifications which at night are lit, resembling vast golden blocks when viewed from across the harbour in neighboring Sliema. It's an amazing sight and shows just how much work went into building an 'impenetrable' city.
By day, the atmosphere is busy and electric, as the administration and workers of the nation's capital work, eat and live within the city's bustling walls. There are plenty of cafes, both outdoor and in, which are filled with people at lunch, and all day long during the summer months. Restaurants are also dotted around the town, however, many of them really come alive at night when the city relaxes and heads to the quiet cafes, wine bars and bistros to unwind. There's a fairly good range of restaurants on offer and some very well-managed wine vaults if that's your thing. If not,there are fast food restaurants and pizza places too, so it's not hard to find something right for your tastes - best to check around during the day though, as some of Valletta's eateries are tucked away in the city's side-streets, and you may want to find them before booking or arranging a rendezvous ...
Night Life in Valletta
There's been a real infusion of interest and re-investment in Valletta in recent years, with historic restorations as well as new entertainment developments bringing fresh life to the city and bringing locals and tourists back to it's night time streets. The Waterfront development is a great example of this, with clubs, bars and restaurants occupying the waterfront location right down in the harbour - it's a busy spot by night, and really has become a vibrant area for nightlife just outside Valletta's centre. All you need to do is take a short walk around Valletta to come face to face with one of its amazing historic buildings. It's surprising how well and in what number they've survived and flourished as modern-day centres for government or as museums.
Straight Street in Valletta has fast become one of the most prestigious and fashionable nightlife locations in Malta for the late-twenties / over 30's crowd. Boutique bars and clubs have sprung in Straight Street and in various other locations around the city to cater to the growing number of locals and tourists looking for something altogether classier that St Julians, which is geared towards a hard-partying much younger crowd. Far from its history since the 70's and firmly with its title as European Capital of Culture 2018 in mind, Valletta is using its native baroque elegance to reinvent itself as Malta's upmarket, mature nightlife location.
Valletta - St John's Co-Cathedral
Perhaps the most visited of these is St John's Co-Cathedral, commissioned in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière with construction starting a year later. Built as the 'conventual' church of the Knights of Malta, it's military-style exterior belies a magnificently ornate interior, it's floors lined with the tombs of knights from throughout the ages. The design belongs to the height of baroque art, and every year, streams of visitors travel to the co-cathedral to catch a glimpse of the ornate artwork which jumps out from every direction. It's an amazing place, and is a highly valued and carefully preserved piece of Maltese history.
Auberge De Castille
The fabulous Auberge De Castille currently houses the offices of the Prime Minister of Malta, and can be found close to the entrance to Valletta. It's a very impressive sight - the classical, imposing exterior commanding the highest point in the entire City, with stunning views over the Grand harbour and surrounding lands. Originally built to house the Knights from Castille, Léon and Portugal in 1574, the Auberge De castille's location made it an excellent point of defense, and its imposing position and sheer grandeur made it the obvious choice for its current role as the government's head offices. The area around it is full of other treasures such as the Upper Barraka gardens with views over the Grand Harbour, as well as the Maltese stock exchange building and the St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity with its theatre and galleries housed in the Knights original 16th Century building.
The Manoel Theatre
Built in 1731, by António Manoel de Vilhena, the then Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, The Manoel theatre is Malta's national theatre, putting on plays and musical performances all year round. It's lavish interior features entirely wooden balconies painted in 22 carat gold, Viennese chandeliers, a white Carrara marble staircase, and acoustics so delicately and ingeniously constructed that visitors are amazed at how crisp the sound is. It is reputedly Europe's third oldest working theatre, with the Knights themselves acting as its first casts, and nowadays, it offers visitors a wonderful glimpse back in time, with modern performances in a setting full of the pomp and splendour of days gone by.
Cassa Rocca Piccola
Casa Rocca Picola is the only remaining unconverted palace in Valletta in which nobles still live and which is open to the public. The De Piro family have lived here for generations, and Casa Rocca Piccola has been home to Maltese nobility for over 400 years. There are guided tours daily around this beautiful piece of Maltese history, and visitors are made very welcome. Private lunches and dinners can be arranged at the Palace upon request.
Valletta Grand Harbour
Valletta's Grand Harbour is a stunning harbour around which the vast bastion walls were built by the Knights of Malta to defend the island during the threat from the Ottoman empire. It was the main part of the Knights' strategic base in Valletta for 268 years, and the waterway passes the 'Three Cities' of Vittoriosa (Birgu), Cospicua (Bormla), and Senglea (Isla) and goes as far inland as the town of Marsa. Tours around the Grand Harbour can be booked in a number of places, and they're a great way to take in the grandeur and scale of the Knights' fortifications. The Upper and Lower Barraka gardens also provide stunning views over the historic waterway which has survived and guarded the Maltese islands through centuries of wars.
With a wealth of history to rival anywhere else in the world, Valletta's museums provide an excellent insight into the forces that have shaped Malta's history. From the Museum of Archaeology which traces Malta's inhabitants back to 5200 B.C, to the Palace Armoury Museum with its collection started by Grandmaster Alof De Wignacourt in 1604, to St John's Co-Cathedral where the floor is literally made of the marble tombs of European nobility, Valletta's museums are a treasure trove waiting to be found. The Fine Art Museum, National War Museum, Manoel Theatre (one of the oldest known theatres in Europe) and more are all located within easy walking distance of each other, and welcome visitors year-round throughout the week.
Upper Barraka gardens
There are a couple of really beautiful gardens in Valletta, known as Upper Barrakka, and Lower Barrakka. Both have beautiful views over Valletta's Grand Harbour as well as statues and monuments to notable figures from Malta's history. They're a great place to visit, and there's usually a lot of visitors taking a walk, watching the firing of the cannons over the harbour, or just sitting enjoying the surroundings. They're not big gardens, but they're very well kept - originally built by the Italian 'Langue' of the Knights of Malta for their own recreation in 1661, and opened to the public in 1824. The two gardens can be seen from each other, but they're quite far apart (it can get tiring in the summer heat), so if you're going in the summer afternoon, bring a hat or take some shade. Upper Barraka offers superb views over the Grand Harbour, as well as daily recreations of the Victorian era canons being fired. Each day at 12.00 pm the area of the gardens known as 'The Saluting Battery' is home to a costumed recreation of the firing of the guns over the Grand Harbour.
Lower Barrakka gardens
Also offering amazing views of Valletta's Grand Harbour, Lower Barrakka gardens are a beautifully manicured area overlooking the entrance to the harbour. Slightly smaller than Upper Barrakka gardens, there's a lovely feeling of peace in Lower Barrakka, and you can observe the Siege Bell memorial very clearly - it chimes daily at noon in remembrance of the Second World War and all who lost their lives. The monument to the Fallen Soldier is also best viewed from these gardens, with the entrance to the Grand Harbour set in stunning relief behind it. There are few places to better take in the full scale of the harbour and the fortifications which surround Valletta and the three cities on the other side of the water. The scale is magnificent and a real testament to the architectural and aesthetic gifts of the Knights of Malta who built everything from stone, and built it to last.
The small Hastings gardens are built high on Valletta's bastion walls, and offer stunning views over Sliema, Floriana and Msida. Lord Hastings, (The Marquis of Hastings) the once Governor of Malta is buried here, having died in 1827 and there's a monument erected in his honour by the Hastings family.