Valletta in a Weekend

Malta’s capital Valletta is the perfect combination of a beautiful historic city with great food and easy access to the gorgeous Mediterranean water. Here’s everything you need to make the most of Valletta in a weekend!

Explore Malta: Valletta in a weekend cover

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Malta has quickly become one of my all-time favorite European destinations! It has so much to offer: great food, unique architecture, fascinating history, and some of the best water I’ve ever seen. 

Like any Mediterranean island, its history is riddled with conquering cultures. Over the centuries it’s been ruled by French, Spanish, Ottoman, and British groups, with other north African, Arabic, and Italian communities thriving here as well. That means the nation is this fascinating mix of all of the above into its own unique Maltese identity!

The culture feels like a mix of Sicilian and British. There’s a distinctively Italian aspect, but with Arabic influences that you see so much in Sicily. Unlike Sicily, the country has plenty of Britishisms that a traveler will appreciate, like reliable hours and public transportation! 

Riding a traditional boat across the inlet back to Valletta from the Three Cities Malta

Where to Stay

Before I went to Valletta, I read that some recommend staying across the bay in Sliema. It’s a little quieter, sometimes cheaper, so they say. However, I found the greatest little apartment in the heart of Valletta and decided to give it a shot. 

I’m so glad I did! Valletta isn’t overrun with tourists, outside of three or four main streets. We stayed only a few blocks from these and got to experience quiet, local Valletta with no noise or crowd issues! If you’re seeing Valletta in a weekend, I highly recommend staying in the city itself.

Plus, we had the bonus of not needing to rely on the ferry or bus to get us back and forth every day: a three-minute walk and I’m in the thick of things! 

Valletta streets, Malta

I highly recommend these apartments if you go that route, but I’ve rounded up a few accommodation options in both areas:



Riding a traditional Maltese boat to Valletta

Know before you go

Malta is part of the EU and uses the Euro. There’s no need to track down a different currency if you’re country-hopping!

Malta’s official language is Maltese, which is closely related to Arabic but written with the Latin alphabet. It has a lot of overlap with Sicilian linguistically. For example, thank you is grazzi. But pretty much everyone dealing with the public spoke English fluently!

Ubers/taxis are reasonably priced, so we mostly used them to get around the island. Within Valletta, you can walk everywhere, so you may not need this on a weekend trip. The public bus system is reliable but slow. Routes tend to go out from Valletta, meaning it’s not simple to combine locations for a multi-stop day trip. But you can always take a bus out, Uber to your next city, and then take the bus back into Valletta.

Traditional Maltese boats between Valletta & the Three Cities

What to See in Valletta

Valletta is so great to wander. A few of the major streets get crowded, but it’s pretty easy to get away from the tourists by walking only a few blocks further! 

I always recommend a walking tour to get your bearings. It’s the best way to get a sense of the different historical influences that make Malta so unique. There’s something so captivating about learning the history as you’re standing in front of the ruins/fortress/market – so much more memorable! And if you’re only in Valletta for a weekend, this is the best way to get a sense of the place.

They also explain small but striking cultural things, like Maltese balconies (gallarija). These enclosed balconies are built into practically every building in Valletta, often in a contrasting color. It makes the architecture so uniquely Maltese. The most popular is that Arabic Muslim women could look down on the street without being seen by passersby. But if you want to hear the others, go on a walking tour!

If you want a free walking tour, this one from GuruWalk is great! Erika was a fantastic guide covering the whole historic center of Valletta. We did this one and really liked it. Don’t forget to tip – these are effectively a “set your own price” walking tour.

Another option is to do a food tour! It combines the best of a walking tour with expert tips on trying the best local bites. What’s not to love, right?

Valletta city walls, Malta

Free Spots

Tour or not, make sure you at least pass by these major squares and sites to see the most of Valletta in a weekend:

The Upper Barrakka Gardens are likely the spot you hear about most. It’s a gorgeous little oasis with views of the Three Cities across the inlet. Every day they shoot off the cannons at noon, so come a little early to get a good view! You can also pay for a closer spot in the museum below, but the view is just as good from the front row of the free spots.

Pjazza Teatru Rjal is the former Royal Opera House. In the late 19th century it was a massive, opulent building, but bombed during WWII. Now they use the ruins as an open-air venue!

Republic Square sits in the center of Valletta. Walk through here to soak up the architecture and some of the major city buildings, and there are several good places to eat here. I’ll share those more soon, or grab them now on my Thatch guide!

Maltese balconies, Valletta day or weekend

St. Ursula Street is one of the most beautiful streets in the city! It offers great views out to the sea at the far end. Strait Street is considered the liveliest in Valletta, and worth a walk.

The Is-Suq Tal-Belt Food Market sits where the city market was in years past, but now the spot is home to a modern food hall. It offers plenty of meal options, as well as some produce and foodie souvenirs. It’s definitely worth stopping through, even if you don’t eat here!

The Lower Barrakka Garden is a more secluded spot because it’s further from the main area. It’s nice if you’re nearby, but if you only see one, the Upper has better views.

I also enjoyed sticking my head in the St. Augustine Church. It’s an active church, so be respectful of services, but it’s free to see and gorgeously ornate inside.

The cannons firing over the inlet at noon in Valletta

One small paid spot worth mentioning: the Barrakka Lift! It’ll save you the effort of climbing up or down between the waterfront and Valletta’s town. It’s 1€, but free with a ferry ticket to the Three Cities (more on that below).

Museums & Paid Entry Spots

St. John’s Co-Cathedral is considered the most beautiful church in Malta, with stunningly intricate artwork covering every surface of the interior. It’s also home to the only known signed piece by Italian artist Caravaggio. “Co-cathedral” means that there’s another equally significant cathedral in the same area – they’re given equal standing in terms of importance to the Catholic church. Entry is paid but includes an audioguide to tell you what you’re looking at.

Lascaris war rooms operation mincemeat headquarters for WWII in Valletta, Malta

The Lascaris War Rooms are also pretty cool. They were a semi-secret underground bunker, similar to the Churchill War Rooms in London. They served as the Allied HQ in this part of the world during WWII and were critical for the invasion of southern Italy. The museum offers free guided tours if you want to learn more about what you’re seeing – check their website for more information!

If you’re a war history buff, also consider the National War Museum in Fort St. Elmo. It’s a former fort on the tip of the peninsula that covers the military history of the island, from Ottoman attacks up to WWII.

Explore the Three Cities

The Three Cities are the area across the inlet southeast of Valletta. They make up the oldest part of the settlements in this area. They make for an easy half-day excursion or just a spot to wander for an hour or two!

Confusingly, each of the cities has multiple names. The three cities are Birgu (or Vittoriosa), Bormla (or Cospicua), and Senglea (or Isla or Invicta).

You can do an organized day trip tour, which has the benefit of giving you way more history and explanation of what you’re seeing. Some of them also include additional stops at beautiful spots along the way.

The Three Cities Birgu street, Malta

It’s also super easy to explore without an organized group! You can spend a few hours and see the highlights. To get there, head down to the Three Cities ferry dock. The ferry is inexpensive and even cheaper if you buy return tickets. 

If you want an even more fun way way across, catch the little water taxis! They’re only a few Euros more and you ride in traditional boats (with motors). They’re fast and run pretty regularly all day long. The water taxi stop is a little past the ferry stop – look for the smaller boats with about 6-8 passengers stopping nearby. 

Once you’re there, spend some time wandering around. Prioritize Birgu if you just want to explore one of them. I include more specific sights in the Three Cities on my Thatch guide, so check that out if you want more suggestions!

See the Water in Malta

If you’re in Malta, you have to get out into the Mediterranean Sea! It’s some of the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen, and loved every minute of a day on the boat. I’m putting together a full day trip guide to Malta, but if you’re seeing Valletta in a weekend, this is a great catamaran day trip to the Blue Lagoon!

Valletta streets, Malta

Valletta in a weekend is one of my favorite weekend trips I’ve taken in Europe! I love it as a quick but lovely getaway. Next week I’m sharing all my favorite Valletta restaurants, so check back soon!

Or if you don’t want to wait, you can grab it all in my Thatch guide, which has everything in a map version, including day trip options!

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