Malta’s capital Valletta is the smallest capital in the EU in terms of both population and area. Although Valletta has just under 6000 inhabitants, there are an incredible number of sights and buildings steeped in history to discover in the historic old town, protected by thick fortress walls, which will make the heart of every culture and architecture lover beat faster. It is not without reason that Valletta has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 and was European Capital of Culture in 2018.
The mini-capital is located on a peninsula just over 1km long and 600m wide on the east coast of Malta, so it can easily be explored on foot within a day . If you want to take a long stroll on your Valletta city trip and look at many sights in detail, then you should plan 2-3 days for it.
In this article, I’ll tell you which exciting highlights and sights in Valletta you shouldn’t miss out on, even if you only have one day.
The most important information about Valletta in advance
The Upper Barrakka Gardens & the Saluting Battery
The Upper Barrakka Gardens are a small park on the edge of the old town of Valletta from the 17th century. The pretty gardens are located above the waterfront of Valletta and from there you have a fantastic view of the Grand Harbor and the three cities of Vittoriosa opposite with the Fort St. Angelo, Senglea and Cospicua.
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city center, then the Upper Barrakka Gardens are the perfect place for a little break.
My tip: The centuries-old salute cannons of the Saluting Battery are fired every day at 12 noon and 4 p.m. below the Barrakka Gardens . This is to remind of the time when the cannons were still actively used. You can watch the spectacle from the viewing platform – but be there in time and secure your spot, because the daily cannon shots are one of the top highlights in Valletta.
The Triton Fountain & the new city gate of Valletta
The best way to start your city tour is right at the imposing new city gate of Valletta. The City Gate marks the entrance to the old town, just in front of it is the Triton Fountain, which is also very worth seeing and dating from the colonial era.
The City Gate is now the 5th city gate of Valletta and was only completed in 2014. Directly behind the imposing entrance gate are the new Parliament building of Valletta and the Royal Opera House , which have also been or are being completely renovated as part of the redesign of the historic entrance area. The redesign by the Italian architect Renzo Piano is the subject of controversial discussion among the Maltese – because in fact the newly designed buildings look a little too futuristically cool for my taste for the otherwise historically squiggly cityscape of Valletta.
Republic Street (Triq Ir-Repubblika in Maltese), the boulevard and pulsating artery of Valletta, begins right behind the City Gate . It leads from west to east through the entire city center, past all the important sights. If you just follow it and make a few detours in the right places in the side streets, then you basically can’t miss Valletta’s highlights.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
St. John’s Co-Cathedral is the city’s most important church and is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the Mediterranean. It looks very unspectacular from the outside – so unspectacular that I walked past it the first time.
On the inside, however, it is a beautiful baroque church with some impressive paintings that you can visit for € 10 admission. During a city tour including a tour of the cathedral * you will get a lot of valuable information about the origins and importance of the church. Incidentally, the unusual name co-cathedral comes from the fact that it is the second residence of the Archbishop of Malta (his primary residence is St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina).
The Grandmaster’s Palace
The Palace of the Grand Masters is a palace built in the 16th century and one of the main attractions of Valletta. In terms of area, it is the largest building in the city and has been used over the centuries as the official residence of the respective rulers of Malta. Today it serves as a conference building and can be visited including the courtyard and garden for an entry fee of € 10. The Grand Master’s Palace was closed for us, so unfortunately there is only one photo from outside.
Incidentally, the Grand Master’s Palace is located directly on St. George’s Square, a large square in the middle of Valletta, surrounded by numerous historical buildings as well as many restaurants and cafes. There you can take a little break and watch the hustle and bustle of the city with a cool iced coffee.
The Teatru Manoel: Europe’s oldest active theater
The Teatru Manoel is the only theater in Malta and at the same time Europe’s oldest theater, in which performances still take place today (it is considered the third oldest still active theater in the world). The imposing baroque building dates from the beginning of the 18th century, in 1732 La Merope was played as the first piece . In the years 1813 and 1814, the theater had to remain closed for the first time in its history due to the outbreak of the bubonic plague, after which it was used not only as a theater but also as a dance hall and at the beginning of the 20th century as a cinema.
You can visit the theater outside of the season (in the months of July and August, for example, there are no performances), on some days or at some times even free of charge (you can find out about this on the notice in front of the entrance). I recommend you at least a short visit, because the Teatru Manoel really impressed me with its 22-carat gold-plated ceiling and centuries-old architecture. An impressive building!