Tour of Valletta, Malta's Culture Capital
There is so much more to just the beach on a beach holiday to Malta and one of the highlights has to be the islands capitol Valletta.
When is a good time to visit Valletta?
Obviously if you visit the city on a day trip as part of your beach holiday, it will probably be during the summer, just remember that the island gets very hot in the summer, so keep in mind that Malta makes a great winter sun holiday destination as well as an excellent place to visit in spring.
So why late winter and early spring?
Apart from escaping the cold and wet British winter and the seriously hot Maltese summer, you will also escape the summer beach holiday crowds. During late winter and early spring there is still plenty of sunshine enabling you to return home looking like you have been on holiday!
As an added bonus it is pretty simple to get cheap flights to Malta at this time of the year with plenty of no frills airline flights from London Heathrow, Stansted, and Gatwick. There are also flights from Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester as well as many other smaller airports around the UK to Valletta. Also remember that once you arrive on the island hotels often offer massively reduced rates outside of the peak holiday season.
So lets begin our tour of Valletta
Before visiting Malta, I had a pretty stereotypical Mediterranean touristy concrete jungle view in my mind of what I thought Malta and in particular what Valletta would be like. I could not have been more wrong, Valletta simply oozes culture and has a distinct charm about it.
Valletta Bus Station | Triton Fountain | Flea Market | City Gate | Tourist Office | Republic Street | National Museum of Archaeology | St. John's Co-Cathedral | Wartime Experience | Grand Master's Palace and Armouries | Merchants Street Market | Siege Bell Memorial | Lower Barrakka Gardens | Upper Barrakka Gardens | Gun Saluting Battery |
Map of Valletta Showing the main tourist attractions as well as other places of interest
We start our tour from the main bus terminal, the Valletta bus station, this bus station is basically the main bus transport hub of Malta and is located just outside Valletta's City Gate and walls. Just north of the station you will find the Le Meridien Phonenicia hotel.
The Triton Fountain is located in the center of the large central bus station, the statue within this large circular fountain was designed by the Maltese sculptor Vincent Apap in 1959.
To the south of the Triton Fountain and main bust station is a flea market that is open every Sunday. It sells most of the cheap things that you find in markets around the world including fake designer labels and sunglasses. Remember to get there early and be ready to haggle if you want to gab yourself a bargain! There is another Market on Merchants Street that is open every day except Sunday.
As you head towards the city of Valletta you will pass through the City Gate which is known as also known as Bieb il-Belt in Maltese. This is the main entrance to Valletta and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The current gate is very controversial to the Maltese as it is the fourth design of gate to have stood in this location. The original gate, known as Porta San Giorgio, was designed by military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Carotona, and was completed in 1569. It was then replaced by a more intricate design by Maltese architect Tommaso Dingli in 1632 which included a wooden drawbridge across the deep, dry moat outside the walls of Valletta.
In 1853 a new gate designed by the Royal Engineers during British rule was constructed, consisting of two central arches with two smaller ones. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, City Gate was known as Porta Reale, which became "Putirjal" in Maltese, and "Kingsway" in English.
The present City Gate was part of a project that has never been finished with the idea of improving the gate and the Royal Opera House of Valletta. It was inaugurated during the Independence celebrations in 1964.
You enter Valletta through the City Gate on the Triq ir-Repubblika this is the main street in Valletta. mmediatly after the Gate on your right hand side is Malta's Main Tourist Office and faces freedom Square.
Triq ir-Repubblika passes through the City Gate downhill to near Fort St Elmo on the tip of the Valletta. Most of the main shops in Valletta can be found along here and one of the best features is that parts of the street are often padestrian access only and so makes wandering down it far more enjoyable. The smaller streets and squares that run off the main road are popular places to find cafes, bars and resturants.
As you stroll down the Triq ir-Repubblika it won't be long before you arrive at The National Museum of Archaeology of Malta. It contains an impressive collection of artifacts from the unique prehistoric periods in Malta's history which begins with the first people to arrive in the Ghar Dalam phase in 5200 BC right up to the Tarxien phase in 2500 BC. For more info on the museum take a look at my page on Malta's Top Attractions.
As you walk futher down Triq ir-Repubblika you will come accross St John's Co-Cathedral which is is set back behind the small Victory square on the right hand side.
The Cathedral was built between 1573 and 1577 by the Knights of Malta and designed by the Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar. It contains two masterpieces by the artist Caravaggio as well as marble tombstones located in the nave where great Knights were buried. next to the Cathedral is also a Museum which also contains some very important work of art.
For more information on the Cathedral and Museum take a look at my page on Malta's Top Attractions.
Located within the Embassy Shopping Complex, The Wartime Experience is a 45-minute multimedia experience showing how the island of Malta earned the George Cross because of the heroics and bravery shown by the civilian population on the island, in the face of one of the most intensively-bombed areas of WWII. A total of 3,000 raids occurred during the two years of the siege and during this time 1,493 civilians died and 3,674 were wounded. On the 15 April 1942, King George VI awarded Malta the George Cross, which is the highest civilian award for gallantry in the Commonwealth. This is normally only awarded to individuals: "to honour her brave people, I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history".
Address: The Embassy Shopping Complex on St Lucia Street, Valletta
Time of shows: Monday to Sunday @ 10.00am, 11.00am, 12.00pm & 1.00pm
Cost: Adults: €5.12 (Lm2.20) / Children: €3.50 (Lm1.50)
Tel: ( 356) 21227436 / ( 356) 21245818
The Grand Master's Palace dominates Palace Square and is built around two courtyards, one of which contains a statue of Neptune. It was built in 1571 and was used by all the Grand Masters, the palace is now the Presidential Office and Malta's Parliament house and a section of the palace is now also used as an Armoury museum.
The armoury museum has one of the finest collections of weapons of the period of the Knights of Malta in all of Europe with suits of armour from periods both before and after the great siege by the Turks in 1565. The Knights of St John were a group of resolute warrior monks and from their island stronghold of Malta, they carried out their relentless crusade against the Ottoman Turks. The museum leaves you with a small undersatanding of just how crude and brutal these wars must have been
Please note: You will need 2 tickets to see the Palace & the Palace Armouries, but I have also heard that when parliament is not in session you can visit the palace for free. I was not able to visit on my trip though so can't confirm this report.
You can find handicrafts at the morning market on Merchants Street, which is open every day except for Sunday when the Flea Market is open outside the City walls. The Market is open from around 8am to about mid day. You will also find an indoor market which contains mostly groceries, vegetables and meat.
The Siege Bell Memorial was inaugurated in 1992 by Queen Elizabeth II and is a monument to the dead of World War II. The bell is rung at mid-day, everyday. You can see the bell in the top right of the photo to the right and is also a great place to get a good view of the harbour.
Location: Mediterranean Street (Triq Il Mediterran) situated between Fort St Elmo and the Lower Barrakka Gardens
The Lower Barrakka Gardens is an excellent place to visit if you are looking for the magnificent views of the Grand Harbour and the Breakwater. Within the gardens there are two monuments, one dedicated to Alexander Ball and another in remembrance of the Great Siege of Malta.
Facilities: There are public toilets within the gardens as well as a Kiosk just outside the gates.
From the Upper Barrakka Gardens, you probably get the best panoramic view of the Grand Harbour. From here you can also view The Noon-day Gun which is fired from the Gun Saluting Battery one level below. The history of the Upper Barrakka Gardens date back to 1661, when they were private gardens belonging to the Knights.
Facilities: There are Toilets and a kiosk inside the gardens as well as plenty of restaurants and cafes in the streets just outside.
The Gun is fired everyday at noon, whilst efforts are being made to restore the Saluting Battery in the Upper Barakka Gardens to its former glory of all 21 cannons with which to make salutes to dignitaries on passing ships.
If you ever wanted to learn how to fire a cannon then this is the place for you! For a small fee, you can get an explanation on how to load the cannons as well as an insight into the life of an 18th century naval gunner from the volunteers who fire the guns.
The battery offers tours at 11am and 12.15pm every day.
Video of the Noon cannon salute at the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta.
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