Malta is an archipelago of 3 islands in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa. The capital city is Valletta, which was (together with Leeuwarden in The Netherlands) the European Capital of Culture in 2018.
With its size of only 1km by 600m it's a very small capital, but don't be mislead by its dimensions; there is heaps to see! We have visited Malta just before Christmas and were amazed by the beauty of this sunny island in the middle of winter. In this travel blog I will share my highlights of Malta.
- Vittoriosa (Birgu)
The capital city of Valletta was built as a fortress, and as a cultural Baroque masterpiece after the Great Siege of 1565 by the Knights of St. John. The city of palazzo's has got steep charming streets and many of them lead towards the sea with great viewpoints.
The Triton Fountain was placed in the 1950's and stands in front of the main City Gate. From here you will have a grand entrance from where the city unfolds.
The redesigned City Gate was constructed between 2011 and 2014 by the famous Italian architect Renzo Piano. The Parliament Building just behind it is designed by him too.
Maltese palazzo's and wooden balconies are everywhere to be seen in Valletta. They are colourful and give the city its own special character.
St. Johns Co-Cathedral is definitely a must see when you visit Valletta. The walls and ceilings are heavily decorated and the tombstones in the floor are little pieces of art on their own. This is for sure one of the most impressive churches I have ever seen!
Grand Masters Palace is, besides being the Office of the President, a museum with impressive hallways and huge beautifully decorated state rooms as well. If you are interested in arms you can visit the The Palace Armoury with the same ticket too.
Casa Rocca Piccola is a wonderful 16th century palace (or palazzo) of a Maltese noble family. An interesting 45 minute guided tour showed us many gorgeously decorated rooms with lots of fascinating stories. It gave me a better insight in the traditions and customs of the (wealthy) inhabitants of Valletta during the past centuries. In my opinion a true must see when you visit Valletta!
Silver Filigree Jewellery has been made in Malta for centuries. The craftsmanship has been passed from father to son and you will still see several silversmith shops throughout Valletta. When you visit 'The Silversmith's Shop' at 218 Republic Street you will see the artist at work.
Auberge de Castille was built in the 1570's to house Knights of the order of St. John. Nowadays it's the impressive office of the Prime Minister.
From the Barrakka upper and lower Gardens you will get a good view over the Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua). This picture is made at the upper gardens from where you can see the saluting battery. Every day at noon and at 16:00 a cannon will be fired.
The cannons were of course used to defence the city in the past, but also to greet visiting dignitaries and ships, and at sunrise and sunset to indicate the hour at which the town gates were to be opened and closed.
Food and drinks
Camilleri Tal-Helu is established in 1843 and therefore the oldest confectionary trading company on the Maltese Islands. Here they bake the Honey Ring which is traditionally eaten at Christmas. As the pastry is so famous it's nowadays available whole year round. As we visited Valletta a couple of days before Christmas we had to taste it too of course! We planned to eat a part of it and to keep the rest for the holidays at home, but it didn't survive that long... We needed to buy a new one the next day and had to restrain ourselves not to eat it before getting on the plane :)
Caffe Cordina is an institution in Valletta as it is established in 1837 in a former palazzo and it is still packed with locals and tourists each and every single day. It's an authentic and well known place to drink a cup of coffee or to have lunch. There is also a wide selection of hand made traditional pastries and sweets to take home.
Aaron's Kitchen is owned by Aaron Degabrielle, who is a local celebrity due to his cooking show on Maltese television. At this cozy family run restaurant you can eat Maltese and Italian disches and choose between more than 100 different (local) wines. The local Ulysses wine accompanied the food very well.
Eating at Noni was a wonderful experience. The restaurant has got an elegant look, the staff was very friendly and the food extremely tasty! The menu reinterprets dishes from Malta and the Mediterranean by adding a touch of classic French cuisine. I tried the vegetarian dish with crushed Jerusalem artichokes, cauliflower and puy lentils and it was just heavenly :) Besides the food, we were also a big fan of the local Fenici wine.
MUZA opened its doors in December 2018 and is the new National Museum of Art in Malta. You can visit the restaurant without an entrance ticket.
Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters is in my opinion by far the best specialty coffee bar in town! We've started every single day at this stylish and bright place to get that desired daily shot of caffeine. And I was really glad they had some non-dairy options as well.
☞ Old Theatre Street 30
Cru Wine Bar is in my opinion the loveliest wine bar of Valletta. It's small, extremely cozy and has got a couple of great (small) dishes to go with the good imported wines.
Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu) is one of the Three Cities, and is only a 5 minute ferry ride away from Valletta. It is a fortified city with an elegant harbour where boats silently sway in the shining water. The narrow and winding streets were almost empty during the december day of our visit.
Victory Square in the heart of Vittoriosa is the place where you will see very detailed facades, balconies and this statue. Several cafes and restaurants are situated around the square.
It's all about the details... Many people in Malta have built little religious statues in the facades of their homes.
Fort St. Angelo was built in the 16th century by the Knights Hospitaller to protect the harbour and the inhabitants. Nowadays it's a museum and it has got sweeping views over the harbour and the city of Valletta.
The Church of St. Lawrence stands behind the Freedom Monument and overlooks the harbour.
Beautiful light at Vittoriosa's harbour and Church of St. Lawrence just after sunset.
Mdina is also known as the 'silent city' and a place where it really feels like time stood still as there are little influences to be seen from the 21st century. At a small square I even felt like I was in Mexico...
Palazzo Falson is the former home of Olof Frederick Gollcher (1889-1962), who was an artist, scholar and philanthropist who loved to collect art and historical objects.
Lunch with a fantastic view over the countryside and the sea at Fontanella Tea Garden.
From Valletta every half an hour a ferry will take you within a couple of minutes to Sliema, from where you will have an awesome view over Valletta! Sliema itself felt a little bit run down along the coastline, but when you start walking through the backstreets you will find many beautiful streets with fantastic old buildings. It is quite common to see these iconic British telephone booths in Malta, but I liked the one I found in Sliema the most as it was standing on some sort of roundabout next to this beautiful tree.
Coffee Circus is a small specialty coffee bar close to the sea . They have all kinds of vegan types of milk like for example oat, soy, almond and coconut.
The little fishing village of Marsaxlokk is not the prettiest town, but these colourful fishing boats in the blue water are an attractive sight. We arrived here on a December morning by public bus from Valletta and we experienced a very quiet and relaxed harbour as there were only a handful of other tourists. Local fishing men were trying to catch some fish, fixing their nets or repairing their boats. Life seemed very calm over here at this time of year.
Marsaxlokk is the place to go to if you like to eat fresh fish.
We had lunch while overlooking the colourful harbour at Capo Mulini. This brand new restaurant opened its doors in December 2018 and has a stylish interior and very good menu. In my opinion the perfect place to unwind, sit back and soak in the peaceful atmosphere while having a tasty lunch or dinner with a view!