There is a good reason why Valletta was chosen last year’s European Capital of Culture, as it boasts 320 monuments within an area of just 0.8 km2. In addition to this, the city plays host to numerous events, including Malta Pride, Firework Festival and its very own Fashion Week. We were so enchanted by Valletta’s narrow cobbled streets and alleys filled with colourful houses and small local businesses that we altered our itinerary to make sure we could fit in one more visit before we left.
Valletta is a very pedestrian-friendly city – the streets in the city centre are set out in a grid layout, making it very easy to navigate your way from one tourist attraction to another. Rumour has it, however, that the original reason behind it was not to facilitate pedestrian movement, but rather to let the sea breeze move through the streets to keep Valletta’s citizens cool during the hot summer months.
As we left the bus terminal and headed towards the city centre, the British cultural influence quickly became evident. The first thing we saw was the ornamental limestone facade of the Parliament building… closely followed by The Wembley Store and a good old Marks and Spencer.
Our first visit was short but sweet – we grabbed a qassatat to share and wandered around, trying to get a feel of the city. The only place we went inside that day was the Sanctuary Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, located right next to the Manoel Theatre (which I regret not having visited).
By the time our second visit rolled around, we had a much clearer idea of what we wanted to see and do. First, we allowed ourselves to get lost in the narrow streets and get surprised by whatever we could find at the next corner.
We stopped at C. Camilleri & Sons, the oldest confectionery shop in Malta offering a variety of chocolate, cakes, and biscuits. Its cute display is enough to make you want to stop by – we spent at least 15 minutes looking around the shop as I couldn’t decide what to get.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
Around 11:30 AM, we started making our way towards Upper Barrakka Gardens. These exquisite gardens filled with busts and statues lead onto a terrace offering unrivalled panoramic views of Malta. I found it really hard to get a decent shot, however, as I had many Marilyn Monroe moments due to strong wind.
Right below the main terrace and gardens is the Saluting Battery. For nearly 500 years, it protected the harbour from attacks and fired salutes on special occasions or to greet arriving vessels. Nowadays, history is brought to life as the cannon is fired daily at 12 PM and 4 PM. You can watch the ceremony for free from the main terrace of Upper Barrakka Gardens, which is what we did. If you want to witness it up close, you have to pay a fee of €3, which includes a guided tour of the place.
It is one of the unmissable experiences, although you have to make sure to get there early as it understandably gets very crowded.
Collegiate Parish Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck
St. Paul’s shipwreck is thought to be one of the defining moments in the nation’s history, as it marks the island’s conversion to Christianity. There are numerous landmarks all over Malta that are either linked to, or have been built to commemorate his stay on the island.
Collegiate Parish Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck is hidden away in a side street of Valletta and is easy to walk past with its small, unobtrusive door. However, don’t be mistaken – it is actually one of the most important churches in Malta, as it holds a relic of St. Paul’s right wrist bone, as well as part of the column used to behead him in Rome.
The church has an ornately decorated interior dominated by crimson and gold. It is covered with frescoes, paintings and statues of the Apostles. There are also marble tombstones along the nave.
I’ve lost count of how many times I highlighted the beauty of Maltese streets, but if there’s one you absolutely need to add to your list of places to visit, it’s Strait Street, sometimes called Malta’s Red Light District. Throughout the 19th until the mid-20th century, it used to be a nightlife hub for American and British soldiers, as well as locals. It was a place where people of various nationalities and from all walks of life could interact with one another. It is thanks to these social interactions with soldiers that some Maltese people learned to speak English.
After the British army left Malta, bars and restaurants started closing down one by one. Nowadays, restoration works are underway – new music clubs and hangout spots keep popping up as part of the objective to breathe some life back into Strait Street and turn it into the pinnacle of art, culture, and entertainment. The vibrant nature of this place was clearly visible even during the day, so I can only imagine how interesting it must get once the sun goes down.
If you’re anything like us, you may have been wondering how to get the perfect postcard shot of Valletta’s skyline. Well, look no further… Sliema is the place to go!
Once we got off the bus, we started walking along the promenade lined with palm trees. We sat on a bench overlooking the water and enjoyed some pastries from Mannarinu Caterers we’d bought earlier in Valletta. If you ever come across one of their stalls, you cannot leave empty-handed. We couldn’t decide what to get as everything looked scrumptious, so we got a full box of pastries to share and spent the next couple of days eating them. Not only did they taste as good as they looked (cannoli was my favourite), but they were also really affordable – need I say more?
The next stop on our journey was The Point mall. Whenever I go abroad, not only could I spend hours strolling through the supermarket alleys in search of local specialties, but I also find it interesting to visit the local mall to see what brands are available (can you tell I work in fashion?). We walked around for a little while before we decided it was time to cross one thing off my to-do list… have my very first Cinnabon.
Although it is as far from local Maltese specialties as it gets (I promise a post about the amazing local food we tried is coming soon), there are no branches in the area where we live, so we decided to go for it… And what better place to have your very first Cinnabon than sitting by the waterfront with the picturesque Valletta skyline stretching right in front of your eyes. This was definitely one of the biggest pinch-me moments of our trip – I felt so lucky and appreciative to be able to share this moment (and a Cinnabon) with one of my closest friends.
So, that’s the end of my mini guide to Valletta and Sliema! If you haven’t read the first post from my Malta series yet, I encourage you to do so. More posts about our trip are coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled!
In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts and recommendations below. What were your favourite places in Valletta and Sliema, or if you haven’t been, what are some of the places you would like to visit?