Key information: Valletta
- Easy walk round a tiny capital city which, in its entirety, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Breathtaking views over the magnificent Grand and Marsamxett Harbours, the Three Cities, and fortifications leading to the Mediterranean.
- 320 historic monuments in 50ha of space; one of the world's most concentrated historical sites.
- Unique blend of cultures at the crossroads of the Mediterranean: as Arabic as it is European, as British as it North African.
- Walkopedia rating84
- Natural interest6
- Human interest17
- Negative points3
- Total rating84
- Note: crowding; extreme heat in high Summer
- Length: 2-3km
- 1-2 hrs
- Maximum Altitude: n/a
- Level of Difficulty: Straightforward
Malta's history is as bloody and courageous as one can find. These desertified islands' position at the epicenter of the Mediterranean, and its possession of a deep-water harbor large enough to accommodate the largest ships, has made it a prime target for every strategy-minded empire-builder to ever work the Med. The islands are a miraculous cultural hodgepodge of, among others, the Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab and, most recently, British Empires. And, of course, the Knights of St John, who settled here after being kicked off Cyprus.
Not Valletta, however. Valletta belongs to the Knights alone. Built with an eye to withstanding prolonged and ferocious Turkish sieges in the 16th century, it crams an entire capital city into a peninsula just over a kilometre long and three-quarters wide. And this baroque gem was largely completed in 15 years, between 1566 and 1581, the work of military engineer Francesco Laparelli and Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar. It was reconstructed, stone by stone, in considerably less time after the Luftwaffe were done bombing it: you would never be able to tell that the entire city had been razed to the ground with massive loss of life.
Valletta is a place of contrasts: ringing silences and sudden crowds; mindblowing vistas and claustrophobic alleyways; elegant fascias festooned with TV aerials; Rococo campery and martial grimness. It is a city at once like, and unlike, any other, a true meld of Mediterranean cultures: as Middle-Eastern as it is Italian, as North African as it is British. Circumnavigation of the peninsula can be done in an hour or so, but all routes are so crowded with historical and architectural marvels and foot-slowing viewpoints that youll have to wear blinkers to do it in that time.
Recommended and written up by the magnificent Serena Mackesy.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Malta, Gozo and Comino - Simon Gaul/Cadogan - gossipy and exhaustive exploration of the islands. The best guidebook bar none.
The Kappillan of Malta – Nicholas Montserrat. A deeply moving novel which sets the WWII siege of Valletta in its historical context.
Insight flexi-map has island maps as well as detailed maps of Valletta and other cities. Should be easily bought in Malta - try Sapienza bookshop on Republic Street.
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
Valletta can get excruciatingly hot. Avoid the midday sun. For a really spooky experience, walk it at night: the city empties out so thoroughly that you feel like you’ve woken up in The Day of the Triffids.
More North African than European. August, when there is no breeze, is almost unbearable.
Valletta’s Renaissance street-plan does not sit happily with the car, and a camera-controlled congestion charge has recently been put in place. Best car parks are on St James’s bastion, just before the city gates, St Michael’s/St Andrew’s bastions (overlooking Marsamxett) or in the bombed-out ruin of the old opera house. Better still, every single bus route on Malta stops, eventually, at the Triton fountain just outside the city gates. For bus routes, see here.
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The viewpoint, beyond the colonnade in the The Upper Barakka Gardens, on the far east of the city wall, affords a stunning panorama of Grand Harbour, the “Three Cities”, a gargantuan dry dock and the distant sea. Leave the park and take the second right down St Ursula St. Detour, third-left, to the St Paul’s Shipwreck church, a cross between a coffin and a wedding-cake, then continue back down the steps to the Castille Curtain, Lower Barakka Gardens and another magnificent harbor view. (There is some traffic here).
Follow Mediterranean street past Fort St Elmo, on the point of the peninsula (visitable), and continue round, (St Sebastian St) for views of Marsamxett harbour. Take the right-hand fork (Marsamxett St) at the Auberge de Bavaria, passing the Auberge de Castille (visitable) and St Paul’s Anglican cathedral (high Victorian). Hang a left up a sharp flight of stairs to Old Theatre Street and the Manoel Theatre (a tiny baroque marvel and the third-oldest theatre in Europe). Turn right up grimy little Strait Street (historically famous in equal measure for whoring and duelling), and right across Great Siege Square up Republic Street (or pause at one of the cafes in Republic Square, left).
Mad, magnificent, Caravaggio-filled St John’s co-cathedral (and nicer cafes) are off St John’s Sq to the left, the Auberge de Provence/Museum of Archaelogy to the right. Hang a right along Melita St, for a fine view from St Andrew’s bastion over Marsamxett and Manoel Island and back, one road up, along South St, for the Museum of Fine Arts. This will bring you out at the Old Opera House, which has been left unrestored from the German bombings, as a war memorial. Upper Barakka is straight ahead, past Our Lady of the Victories, the earliest knightly church.
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Guided or independent?
You can do this walk independently.
Unnecessary, but make sure you have a decent guidebook.
Few people actually stay in Valletta, which is a shame, as its echoing night-time silence is very atmospheric. Try the Hotel Castille or the Osborne. The Cadogan Guide has good suggestions.
Other information and tips
If you’re looking for a good dinner with a great view, the balcony at Giannini, St Michael’s demi-bastion, is aces.
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
Other things to do in the area
Malta is stuffed with historical and natural marvels, but it’s not much good for walking. There are no paths as such, and farmers are extremely fond of hunting. With shotguns.
Malta - and Gozo in particular - are renowned as having some of the best dive sites in the Med.
Essential to visit: Mdina, the old capital, and the Citadel in Gozo’s capital, Victoria. Both have notable cathedrals. Hagar Qim and Mnajdra on Malta, and Ggantija on Gozo – Neolithic temples that make Stonehenge look like a pile of stones.
A Maltese festa (Saturday nights – ask locals where this week’s one is) is an unmissable, if noisy, experience that you will remember forever. Come late and stay late – mindblowing fireworks kick off around midnight.
Avoid Comino Island like the plague. Even if they offer to take you there for free.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
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