12 Unmissable Things to do in Valletta – Malta’s Timeless Capital

Welcome to Valletta, Malta’s enchanting capital city, where history meets charm in a vibrant Mediterranean setting. 

Nestled on the northeastern coast of the island, Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its rich history, stunning architecture, and bustling cultural scene. 

Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, an art enthusiast, or simply looking to bask in the island’s stunning vistas, Valletta offers a number of activities to captivate every visitor. 

things to do in valletta

Join me as we explore the must-see sights and lesser-known spots that make Valletta a destination like no other. From its grand palaces and ancient fortifications, there’s something here for everyone. 

Let’s dive into the heart of Malta and discover the magic of Valletta together!

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1. St John’s Co-Cathedral

St John’s Co-Cathedral is one of the most popular things to do in Valletta and is Malta’s most impressive church. This church was built by the Order of the Knights of St John and was completed in 1577.

The interior was redone in the 17th century in an opulent Maltese Baroque style, where every wall and pillar is adorned with a rich gold brocade and the ceiling is covered in frescoes. The floor is an incredible patchwork of marble tombs. The greatest treasure of the cathedral is Caravaggio’s Beheading of St John.

Admission is €15 for adults/€12 for seniors and students.

2. Grand Master’s Palace

If you want to learn more about Malta’s history, head to Grand Master’s Palace in the heart of Valletta. Spanning 450 years of history, the Grand Master’s Palace dominates St George’s Square, next to great courtyard cafes and restaurants.

This was the first building to be constructed by the Knights of St John when Valletta became the capital of Malta. It served as the Governor’s Palace during the British period and was the seat of Malta’s first constitutional parliament in 1921.

Currently, the Grandmaster’s Palace is the seat of the Office of the President of Malta.

With stunning corridors, restored rooms, and historic Armoury, visitors have access to over 85% of the Grand Master’s Palace. The Armoury itself is considered to be the best one in the world, and includes suits of armour, Ottoman armour and weapons, and numerous artillery pieces.

Admission is €12 for adults and €10 for children under 17 and seniors.

If you plan to visit a few of Heritage Malta’s locations, it may be worthwhile for you to purchase a Heritage Malta Multisite Pass (€60 for adults and €45 for seniors/students, and €30 for kids) which includes entries to 24 places across Malta and Gozo and covers a period of 30 days. I suggest pricing out a few entries to places you want to visit during your time in Malta and see if it’s beneficial for you!

3. Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum

Fort St Elmo was strategically built at the tip of Valletta (the Sceberras peninsula) in 1552 with unobstructed views of the harbours and surrounding villages. Originally intended as a war machine, it was used to face and hold back the Ottoman forces.

Under British rule, Fort St Elmo was upgraded for new artillery and also played an important role in defending Malta during WW2, and suffered the first aerial bombing on the islands on June 11, 1940.

Given its history, Fort St Elmo made an ideal location for the National War Museum. Visitors can roam the grounds of the fort and learn about 7000 years of Maltese military history on the island, from the Bronze Age until when Malta joined into the European Union.

Admission is €10 for adults, €7.50 for seniors/students, and €5.50 for children under 11.

4. Upper Barrakka Gardens & Cannon Battery

If you love scenic views, the Upper Barrakka Gardens offers the most impressive panoramic views of Malta, over to the Three Cities: Senglea, Birgu (Vittoriosa), and Cospicua.

Located at the top of the Grand Harbour, the Upper Barrakka Gardens were created in 1661 and used to be the private gardens of the Italian langue of the Order of Saint John. While it suffered extensive damage during WW2, it’s been restored into a peaceful public garden.

You won’t find better panoramic views than up here, and you’ll find a collection of busts and plaques surrounding the terraced gardens.

If you happen to visit near 12:00 pm or 4:00 pm daily, head over to the main terrace where you will have a view of the Saluting Battery below. A cannon is fired here daily to commemorate once saluting to visiting naval vessels.

You can also enter the Saluting Battery for €3 for a closer (and less crowded view), but if you arrive early enough, the views are more impressive from above!

5. Lower Barrakka Gardens

The Lower Barrakka Gardens is one of Valletta’s lesser visited gems located at the lower end of Valletta that offers a more peaceful respite than the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

With amazing views of the harbour, plants and trees, plenty of seating, fountain, and a beautiful Roman-esque monument erected in 1810 for Sir Alexander Ball – one of the Maltese insurgents against the French during the 1798 uprising.

At the end of the garden you will see the Siege Bell Memorial, put up in memory of the 7000 service personnel and civilians who lost their lives in the Siege of Malta during WW2. The bell chimes every day at 12:00 pm in their memory.

We could’ve spent an entire afternoon relaxing under the shade of the trees on the benches overlooking the harbour. There are a few snack stands nearby offering pastries, ice cream, and hot and cold drinks.

6. Casa Rocca Piccola

Casa Rocca Piccola is what you can call a living museum; constructed in 1580, this palace still belongs to the noble de Piro family. It’s the only privately owned palazzo in Malta that is open to the public. Casa Rocca Piccola has more than 50 rooms, some of which you are able to discover on your own with a free guide app, or catch a guided tour every hour on the hour, which lasts about 45 minutes. 

Be sure to check out the WW2 underground shelter. Spaces like these were rare and often went unregistered to prevent overcrowding. Only those with means to build their own shelter would, otherwise you would have to fight for space in the public shelters.

Say hi to Kiku, the resident Macaw in the courtyard!

Admission is €9.50 per person.

7. National Museum of Archaeology

To learn about Malta’s early history, visit the National Museum of Archaeology. You’ll be able to see incredible artefacts dating back to Malta’s Neolithic period (5900-2500 BC!) up until the early Pheonician period (8th-6th Century BC).

It’s hard to grasp how old these items truly are, and when you discover some of Malta’s temples pre-date the Pyramids in Egypt, it’s even harder to wrap your head around it!

The ground floor has displays of the earliest tools and vessels used by the prehistoric people living on the Maltese islands. There are carvings or animal and human figures indicating advanced artistic skills and a depiction of their daily lives.

Malta is home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites which is amazing for such a small island, and there’s plenty to unearth. 

Upstairs at the museum houses the Bronze Age and Phoenician period sections. Many of these artefacts include urns, glass, and gold items and a large terracotta sarcophagus.

Admission is a very reasonable €5 per adult (€3.50 for ages 60+). It’s well worth a stop, even just to spend an hour or so.

8. Lascaris War Rooms

Located 150 feet beneath the Upper Barrakka Gardens and Saluting Battery is the Lascaris War Rooms, one of Malta’s best-kept secrets from WW2. Opened in 1940, it was used to house Britain’s War Headquarters in Malta.

This network of underground tunnels held operations rooms for each of the fighting services, including the RAF Sector Fighter Control Room from which all air and sea operations were controlled. General Eisenhower used the war rooms in July 1943 as their Allied HQ for Operation Husky – the Invasion of Sicily.

Admission is €14 for adults ages 16+, €7.50 for seniors/youths, and €5.50 for children under 11. Guided HQ Tunnel Tours are offered for €17/adults €7/children twice daily, at 10:30 am and 1:00 pm.

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9. Chocolate District 

For something a bit different (and something I’d recommend trying) is visiting Chocolate District if you’re into all-things-chocolate. They specialize in artisan chocolates made using Madagascar chocolate, but incorporating local Maltese ingredients.

We bought sheep’s cheese and black pepper chocolate which was phenomenal with a glass of wine. We also bought chocolate made with prickly pear liqueur (Malta’s specialty) which offers a unique taste.

You can buy chocolate bars made with olives, sea salt from Gozo Island, Chocolate District offers hot drinks as well, and we loved trying the Maltese Digestif which is pure melted chocolate with a shot of liquor. Prickly pear was amazing with it!

10. National Library of Malta

Make your way to the National Library of Malta if you love old books. You’ll need to provide a piece of ID when you enter, but it’s one of the things to do in Valletta for free that is worth stopping at.

The library’s origins date back to 1555 when Grandmaster Claude de la Senglea ordered all books belonging to deceased members of the Order of St John be bequeathed to the treasury. While you can’t take photos inside the library, it’s amazing to marvel at the ancient books.

I was surprised to see the Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ani) there, along with centuries-old books lining the shelves from floor to ceiling. Rare items can be found at the National Library, including an early edition of Nostradamus, a folio from the Book of Horus, and a papyrus document dating back to the 4th century.

In all, there are 6500 archival folders, registers, and volumes at the library, with records dating from the 12th century through to the early 19th century. You can almost taste how the books smell, it’s quite distinct. How I would love to get my hands on those books!

11. Soak in the Architecture

Valletta was founded in 1565 by the Knights of St. John, declaring that it would “be a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen.” It remains true to its 16th-century class.

I could go on forever about the stunning architecture in Valletta, but I am enamoured with all of the different doors and balconies lining the streets. Each street is captivating and unique, and no two are alike.

You can spend hours strolling the streets, marvelling at the buildings and snapping photos. Valletta’s Baroque architecture lines every corner of this city, which is often described as an open-air museum.

Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and although the city was built on a tiny peninsula of only 1 km by 600 metres, Europe’s southernmost capital is rich in historical sites. Fortified walls overlook the dazzling Mediterranean Sea and provide postcard-perfect panoramas.

12. Grab breakfast at Caffe Cordina

While there are a number of places to grab coffee or breakfast in Valletta, one of our favourites is Caffe Cordina. With over 175 years of history, this stunning caffe has delicious coffees and cappuccinos, plenty of baked goods, desserts and pastries, and so much more.

We ended up coming here most of our mornings because we loved it so much.

Be sure to try the traditional Maltese pastries, like Kwarezimal (hazelnut crumble, honey, and spices) and a honey ring (black treacle, marmalade, orange and spices).

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