In many ways, Malta is having its day in the sun. This small island nation in the Mediterranean Sea has never been more popular with no signs of slowing down. For visitors coming to Malta, often their first port of call is the nation’s capital city of Valletta, and rightly so. Valletta dazzles tourists with its old-fashioned character and atmosphere of living history which can be experienced firsthand.
Of course you’re not going to fly all the way to Malta just to spend one day in Valletta and then leave again. It’s just that 1 day in Valletta is all you need to see the sights of the city. Then you can move on to exploring the rest of what Malta has in store for you. Following our Valletta itinerary, you can make sure that you know all the best places to visit in Valletta and aren’t missing out on anything during your stay there.
Best Time to Visit Valletta
To make the most of your trip to Valletta and Malta you’ll need to think carefully about when to visit. Malta is known mostly as a summer holiday destination, so there are some factors to consider because of that.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Malta’s high season is during the summer months of July, August, and September. Beaches and cities are often full of people seeking hot, sunny weather and prices are guaranteed to be at their highest. Instead, the best time to visit Valletta is in April, May and June before the summer strikes You still get nice sunny weather, but it’s a more comfortable temperature and prices won’t be as high.
Even though it is low season, you could make the argument that winter is a great time to visit Valletta. Compared to mainland Europe, Valletta has much nicer weather for sightseeing during winter, making it great if you want to escape the cold. Sure, there will be some wet and windy days, but most of the time its pleasant, and not having to wear a coat is definitely a win. Plus, with low season rates, a holiday in Valletta during the off season can be quite affordable.
How to Get Around Valletta
Since it’s the smallest capital city of the European Union, you won’t find getting around the city of Valletta all that difficult. The city does have some steep roads though, but given the gorgeous surroundings you may not mind the workout.
There is also public transport at your disposal while you’re visiting Valletta. Malta’s main bus interchange is situated right outside Valletta’s City Gate and will connect you to wherever you need to go. To get around Valletta, there is the #133 minibus which makes a loop around the peninsula. Valletta is surrounded by water and there are ferry services to neighboring destinations like Sliema and the Three Cities.
There are four bus lines which leave from the Luqa Malta International Airport, but only the X4 will get you into Valletta. Traffic can be quite bad on Malta, so while the timetable may say it’s only 20 minutes to Valletta, allow for double that. Tickets can be bought from the driver, but if you’re staying in Malta for a while, it may be better value to pick up an Explore Card.
Where to Stay in Valletta
Before heading off on your trip, you’ll want to organize where you are going to stay. Depending on what time of year you visit, the need to book accommodation in advance could be very important, especially if you want to have as many options as possible.
It’s also important to understand that working out where to stay in Valletta can be tough as options are quite limited and mostly made up of high-end hotels. That’s because most visitors to the city don’t actually stay within the city walls, they instead make the short commute from nearby areas. Other areas to consider staying in include Floriana and Msida close by on land, or across the harbors to Sliema and the Three Cities. These nearby cities have far more diverse options and tend to be the more reliable choice.
To live it up while in Malta, the Grand Hotel Excelsior Resort is one of the best places to stay in Valletta. Located right outside the city walls, this five-star resort overlooks the harbor and features both indoor and outdoor pools, plus many other amenities.
To enjoy a balance of affordability and conveniences like cooking facilities, consider staying over in Sliema at the Pebbles Boutique Aparthotel. Right opposite the waterfront, studios and apartments here have kitchenettes, as well as access to the rooftop hot tub.
Budget accommodation close to Valletta isn’t the easiest to find, but Two Pillows Boutique Hostel is one of your best options. Just a short walk to Sliema’s ferry terminal, this hostel is beautifully styled both in its dorms and private suites.
For more accommodation options in Valletta check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Valletta Itinerary
One day to explore the city of Valletta may not seem like all that much but it is plenty of time. You can easily make your way around the city taking in the best of Valletta one sight after the other and finish the day feeling quite content in what you’ve managed to see. Because of its size, Valletta isn’t really broken up into neighborhoods, but it’s safe to say you’ll be covering most of this historic place.
However, before we get to our Valletta itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
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Having covered that important bit of advice, let’s get right into our Valletta travel itinerary and have a look at what to do in Valletta in 1 day to maximize your time there.
Recommendation: If you are short on time or want to know a little bit more about Valletta’s history, consider joining a walking tour. This walking tour for example comes highly recommended and takes you to all the main sights of Valletta as well as a few hidden gems.
Historic City Streets
In a place like Valletta, the city really deserves a bit of a walk through first before you get to the big landmarks. Approaching the break in the huge stone fortifications that is the City Gate, you should already get a sense of what kind of place Valletta is. Once you cross the bridge over the deep trench and pass some of Valletta’s modern additions, the historic center is there in front of you.
At first, make your way down Republic Street, the main street in the city. To your left and right the city falls away down steep roads to the harbors on either side. It’s down these streets that you’ll find some of Valletta’s classic street views, with lines of colorful balconies popping out of sandstone houses. Eventually, find your way to Republic Square, a cozy yet elegant plaza, before making your way to the main square of the city, St George’s Square.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Malta is home to a huge number of churches, but perhaps the most important is St. John’s Co-Cathedral. Situated near the center of the city, while the exterior of this cathedral may look fairly plain, it holds a wealth of treasures inside.
Built by the Knights of St. John back in the 16th century, the lavish interior reflects the power of the order and the emphasis they placed on their religious beliefs. With gold and frescoes everywhere, the Baroque design of the cathedral is breathtaking and is said to be one of the best of its style in the world.
A short walk further into the city center you’ll find the Grandmaster’s Palace on St George’s Square. For as long as its stood, this palace has been where the leader of Malta resides, from the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, to the President today. While not all of the palace is open to the public, you can visit the State Rooms and Armoury.
Touring the State Rooms you see some of the palace’s peaceful courtyards and grand chambers with tapestries that date back centuries. As for the Palace Armoury, not only does it have weapons and armor on display, but also the former Throne Room and Hall of Ambassadors which both feature beautiful frescoes.
National Museum of Archaeology
Visitors to Malta may not realize that the history of the islands stretches as far back as 5200 BC. Over the millennia, Malta has been visited and occupied by the Romans, the Phoenicians, the Byzantines, and many more conquering groups. Each civilization has left its own archaeological traces, many of which have been collected at the National Museum of Archaeology in the city center. There are all sorts of prehistoric artifacts in this museum, but the most famous piece is the Sleeping Lady figure which dates back 5,000 years.
Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens
With limited space in Valletta and stone simply everywhere, the thinking behind building the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens should be obvious. These rare patches of green within the city not only give you a break from the city streets, but also happen to be exceedingly pretty on their own.
The gardens are positioned at different points along the Grand Harbour, but both enjoy sublime views of the harbor as well as Valletta’s waterfront. Besides admiring the Mediterranean gardens, you can see the The Saluting Battery from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, and the Siege Bell War Memorial from the Lower Barrakka Gardens.
Casa Rocca Piccola
For a glimpse of what noble life in Malta was once like, you only need head to Casa Rocca Piccola. A palace from the 16th century, this house is still privately owned by a local noble family who have opened it to the public.
Inside you can see on a guided tour how the Maltese nobility lived, and admire highlights of the house like the Art Nouveau summer dining room, the libraries, and the lush courtyard gardens.
Fort St Elmo
Right at the end of the peninsula you’ll come to Fort St Elmo, a strategic fortification built to protect the harbors on either side of Valletta. While the fort was crucial during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, it took quite a bit of damage over the years and was only properly restored in the last ten years. Once you’ve explored the exterior sections of the fort, it’s time to head inside to the National War Museum. This popular museum takes you through the extensive military history of Malta, with a special focus on Malta’s part in the First and Second World War.
Have More Than 24 Hours in Valletta?
Just because you have seen the sights of Valletta during your first day doesn’t mean that you’ve exhausted your opportunities for sightseeing. The capital makes for an excellent hub to set out from, allowing you to uncover the many other incredible destinations found across the islands of Malta. To help you get started, here are a few options for sightseeing around Malta after your first 24 hours in Valletta.
1. Three Cities
If you can’t get enough of Malta’s grand, historic harbors, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Three Cities. Sitting directly across the Grand Harbor from Valletta, the Three Cities is the joint name given to the cities of Senglea, Cospicua, and Birgu. These fortified cities each echo the capital’s traditional charm and look.
Making your way around the Three Cities, you have plenty of balcony-lined streets and fortresses in store for you. Fort Saint Angelo in particular has some great views of the Three Cities and the Vittoriosa Yacht Marina. To learn a little bit about different parts of Malta’s history, head to the Inquisitor’s Palace for insight into the Maltese inquisition, or the Maritime Museum to learn the long maritime history of this island nation.
2. Gozo and Blue Lagoon
While Valletta is on the main island of Malta, the islands of Gozo and Comino are not to be missed. Best visited as part of an all day boat cruise, you’ll see that both of these islands are quite different to the Malta you’ve seen so far. Cruising through Malta’s Mediterranean waters, you’ll also get to see Malta’s classic coastline and its many breathtaking cliffs.
On the uninhabited island of Camino you’ll have the chance to swim, snorkel, or dive into the incredibly clear waters of either Blue Lagoon or Crystal Lagoon. Gozo, however, is yet again quite different, being home to rugged and rural countryside. There it’s best to make your way to Victoria to wander its narrow streets and climb up the immense citadel that looms over the city.
Much of Malta’s history revolves around the Order of St John, knights who arrived in Malta in the 16th century. But Malta was inhabited long before that and before Valletta was the capital, that honor went to the city of Mdina. Still standing today, the fortified city of Mdina is a real time warp and doesn’t feel like it has changed since the middle ages.
Visiting Mdina involves taking a walk through the city’s giant stone walls and meandering through its narrow stone streets. Within the walls are palaces, churches, and several quite grand buildings, including Malta’s National Museum of Natural History. From the ramparts you get some awesome views past towns like Mosta to the coast. It also happens to be one of Malta’s Game of Thrones filming locations, so some sights may look familiar to fans of the show.
So there you have it, all you need to know to thoroughly explore Valletta in 1 day, plus a little extra insight into where else you can visit during your Malta holiday.