- City Break
Valletta, the Maltese capital, has been missing from the tourist radar for years. This sixteenth-century city has remained remarkably preserved, a grid of elegant houses with a view of the sea at the end of every cobbled street. Valletta started to get noticed when it was crowned European Capital of Culture for 2018, but remains relatively under the radar - good news for travellers looking for a quieter capital city experience. Find out what to do in Valletta and how to make the most of your trip - this information in this article is taken from the Pocket Rough Guide to Malta & Gozo, your essential guide for visiting Malta.
Valletta is packed to the gills with splendid monuments, too. It was built as the Knights of Malta’s victorious capital after their David-and-Goliath victory at the Great Siege of 1565, where 700 knights and 8000 local troops overpowered 40,000 Ottoman Turks.
There’s a lot to take in, but the city is compact and easy to navigate. You can walk from end to end in about half an hour, so there’s plenty of time to relax in between sightseeing.
Italian uber-architect Renzo Piano has revamped Valletta’s main City Gate. He built an open-air auditorium on top of the broken pillars and rubble of the WWII-bombed, nineteenth-century Opera House. The forts of St Angelo and St Elmo, both key during the siege, have also been renovated and opened to the public. The latter houses the magnificent Malta at War museum.
The city’s other attractions include the similarly enriched Grand Master’s Palace. Meanwhile, the Casa Rocca Piccola is the lived-in house of a local aristocratic family. Go on the right day and you may be shown around by the nice-as-pie Marquis himself.
Close to the city you can visit the Hypogeum, an underground temple built more than 5000 years ago. Above ground, the Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim temples have pinch-yourself sea views.
Boatmen also chug tiny boats across the water between Valletta and the historic Three Cities and stylish Sliema.
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There’s also some nightlife to discover (a rarity until recently). A string of bars have reopened along Strait Street – a lane narrow enough to shake hands across. It was once the Red Light district, catering to sailors passing through. Now you can catch an outdoor gig or art installation here.
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