Malta is well-known for being the former stronghold of the famous religious military order, The Knights Hospitaller, who were granted the land in 1530 from the King of Spain in exchange for an annual fee of one Maltese falcon (which eventually inspired the name of Dashiell Hammett’s famous novel).
And these marauding knights certainly did a great job putting the place together. Valletta, the nation’s capital, remains the highlight and exploring this fascinating walled city (which kept the Hospitallers secure until they came across Napoleon in 1798) is akin to walking back in time.
It’s small size (just 0.3 square miles) makes it the perfect cruise stopover and is the ideal base for exploring the rest of the country on excursions.
The port of Valletta is within easy walking distance of the city centre (no more than 1km regardless of where the ship is docked) and although it can be a little hilly – it shouldn’t be a problem for most able-bodied walkers.
For those wanting to see the ancient city of Mdina, it’s necessary to book an excursion provided by the cruise line or a taxi (a single fare shouldn’t cost more than €20).
NEED TO KNOW
Held every Sunday, Valletta Sunday Market is a bustling area that attracts locals from across the whole of Malta.
Traffic in Malta can be a nightmare. Drivers don’t pay much mind to pedestrians; the city centre can get packed very quickly and public transport can fill up quickly.
Malta’s largest shopping centre is the Point Shopping Mall, while Republic Street is Valletta’s main shopping street.
WHAT WE LOVE
Grand Master’s Palace: The seat of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller for the entirety of their time on the island – and which eventually became the base for the parliament of Malta. While the exterior of the building may not be much to shout about, the interior has vast quantities of artwork and tapestries collected over the centuries. The Armoury also has thousands of suits of armour worn by the Knights Hospitaller.
Mdina: The fascinating walled city of Mdina, once the capital of the island and now home to just under 300 people as of the last census, is known as ‘The Silent City’. In Mdina, visitors can visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and its beautiful frescoes or the Natural History Museum, or merely stroll around the ancient walls and breathe in thousands of years of history.
St John’s Co-Cathedral: St. John’s Co-Cathedral (so-named because it shares the Archbishop’s seat with St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina) doesn’t look much from the outside, but inside is an explosion of colour and detail.
City Gate: Standing at the entrance of Valletta, the City Gate is a new development comprising four elements – the gate, the site immediately outside the city walls, the design for an open-air theatre, and the construction of a new Parliament building. It might not have the history of other sites in the city, but it’s still well worth a visit.
- Valletta is steeped in history
- Brilliant artwork in St John’s Co-Cathedral
- Valletta was the European Capital of Culture 2018