Valletta Introduction Walking Tour, Valletta

Valletta Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Valletta

Malta's capital city, Valletta, occupies the strategic peninsula between the Marsamxett and Grand Harbours. It is Europe's smallest capital city.

Valletta was founded in the 16th century. Many of the original buildings were built by the Knights Hospitaller. The city was named for Jean Parisot de Valette, famous for defending the island from the Ottomans during the Great Seige of Malta in 1565.

One of the most notable things about Valletta is the fortifications all around the city. From the entrance at City Gate to the bastions that line the harbor edges, the city is a walled and well-defended fortress. Along the way, you'll see the Upper and Lower Bakkarra Gardens built on the bastions, each of which provides stunning views of the town and harbors.

It all culminates at the tip of the peninsula, where you'll find Fort Saint Elmo. This star-shaped fort was built to guard the entrance of the two harbors. It started from a humble watchtower from the 1400s and expanded into a formidable stronghold. Don't miss the National War Museum, which is housed within the fort's lower level.

Valletta is a compact, pleasant, and charming city to walk in, with little vehicle traffic and lots of history and stories. Join us on this walking tour of the best sights in Valletta.
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Valletta Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Valletta Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Malta » Valletta (See other walking tours in Valletta)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Triton Fountain
  • City Gate
  • Hastings Gardens
  • Republic Street
  • St. John's Co-Cathedral
  • Republic Square
  • Grandmaster's Palace and Armoury
  • Casa Rocca Piccola
  • Fort Saint Elmo - National War Museum
  • Siege Bell War Memorial
  • Lower Barrakka Gardens
  • Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck
  • Upper Barrakka Gardens
Triton Fountain

1) Triton Fountain (must see)

One of the most recognizable monuments in Valletta, the Triton Fountain, lies just outside the city gates. It was conceived by sculptor Chevalier Vincent Apap and draftsman Victor Anastasi.

The fountain consists of three enormous bronze statues of Triton, the Greek god of the sea, holding up a large basin. They are standing in a round base that is lined with travertine slabs. The fountain was built in the 1950s and dedicated in 1959.

The use of Triton is especially important for Malta as it signifies the island's close links with the sea. Two of the Tritons are sitting, while the other is kneeling. When viewed from City Gate, the faces of all three figures are visible. The design was inspired by the Fontana delle Tartarughe in Rome.

The fountain looks a bit different than it did when it opened. During a national celebration in 1978, the top of the fountain was used as a stage. The extra weight caused it to collapse, damaging the statues in the process. It was rebuilt in the 1980s, this time with the center column that you see today. The fountain was dismantled and restored again in 2017.
City Gate

2) City Gate

City Gate is the main entrance to Malta's capital city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is most commonly called "Door to the city".

The original gate, known as San Giorgio Gate, was designed by military engineer Francesco Laparelli de Carotona, and was erected between April 1566 and 1569. It was replaced in 1632 by a more ornate gate designed by Maltese architect Tommaso Dingli.

In 1853, at the height of British rule over Malta, a new gate designed by Col. Thompson of the Royal Engineers was erected, consisting of two central arches with two smaller ones. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, City Gate was known as Reale Gate. These first three gates were all fortified, forming part of Valletta's city walls.

The fourth City Gate was inaugurated in 1964 and it was part of a project that never materialized - it was to redevelop an entrance to Valletta and the Royal Opera House.

The current City Gate was completed in 2014 and is the fifth to have stood at the entrance to Valletta.
Hastings Gardens

3) Hastings Gardens

On the top of Saint John's and Saint Michael's Bastions, you'll find a public garden dedicated to Lord Hastings. Francis, Marquis of Hastings and governor of Malta, died in 1826 and is buried in the garden.

There is a local legend that the local Maltese are so hard working that the garden was constructed in only four hours.

There are other monuments in the garden as well. In 2009, a khachkar was dedicated by the local Armenian community. The khachkar was built in Armenia and presented as thanks to Malta providing refuge to Armenians in 1375 and 1915.

The Sette Giugno monumnet was moved here in 2010. The Seventh of June is remembered in Malta for the events on that day in 1919. British troops fired on a group of Maltese protestors, killing four of them. The tragedy led to a greater challenge of British colonial control over the island.

You will no doubt immediately notice one of the best reasons to visit the Hastings Garden. The views of the communities located north of Valletta and the Grand Harbour below are stunning. The gardens are a fabulous place to take in the sea air and to have a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of Republic Street.
Republic Street

4) Republic Street

Republic Street is the main road through Valletta, around which the capital city's government is centered. It's primarily pedestrian-only and is only one kilometer long.

The street starts at the City Gate and runs to the granaries at Fort Saint Elmo. Along the way, it intersects several important squares and buildings. Among the many museums and government buildings, you'll see the Parliament of Malta, the Courts of Justice, and the Grandmaster's Palace.

Throughout the island's history, Republic Street has had several names. When it was first laid out after the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, it was known as San Giorgio Street. Even then, it was the main street of the city.

The street was later renamed National Street under French rule, and then Royal Road during the Crown Colony of Malta's time. In 1936 it was named Kingsway by Prime Minister Sir Gerald Strickland during the British colonial period.

Republic Street was the target of bombing during World War II and was heavily damaged. The street is one of the best places to stroll through the most important sights of Valletta.
St. John's Co-Cathedral

5) St. John's Co-Cathedral (must see)

Saint John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta symbolizes the Knights of Malta's rich heritage. Constructed between 1573 and 1578, following its commission in 1572 by Grand Master Jean de la Cassière, it served as the conventual church for the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John. The design of this architectural masterpiece was entrusted to the Maltese military architect Glormu Cassar, who is also credited with the design of several other notable buildings in Valletta.

Built in the aftermath of the Great Siege of 1565, the cathedral's exterior presents a stark, fortress-like appearance, reflecting the military prowess and resilience of the Knights. This austere external facade contrasts sharply with the cathedral's interior, which is a lavish celebration of the Baroque period's artistic exuberance.

The interior of Saint John's Co-Cathedral is renowned for its breathtaking ornamentation. The walls, intricately carved by the talented artist Preti, are adorned with scenes from the life of Saint John, seamlessly blending with the vaulted ceiling to create a harmonious and spiritually uplifting space. Preti's use of shadows and strategic placement imbues the painted figures on the ceiling with a lifelike three-dimensionality, initially giving the illusion of statuary. This effect is a testament to the artist's skillful manipulation of perspective and light.

Remarkably, the detailed carvings were executed directly onto the cathedral's walls, a testament to the artisans' dedication and the craftsmanship of the period. This method, foregoing the practice of attaching pre-carved pieces, ensured a unique integration of the artwork with the architectural elements, enhancing the cohesiveness and immersive quality of the interior space.

Saint John's Co-Cathedral thus serves not only as a place of worship but also as a cultural treasure, encapsulating the artistic, historical, and spiritual heritage of Malta and the knightly order that shaped much of its history.

Get there early! This is a very popular attraction and the groups and cruise ship passengers are already starting to descend by 10:30 or so.
Republic Square

6) Republic Square

Initially known as Treasury Square due to its hosting of the Order of Saint John's treasury, this area was later renamed Queen's Square after a statue of Queen Victoria was placed there during the British era. Nowadays, it's officially called Republic Square, but many people still refer to it as Queen's Square.

On the northwest side, you'll find a significant building, the Common Treasure House, which stored important documents and financial records for the Order of Saint John. Over time, this building has served various purposes, including government offices, a hotel, and a cinema. It suffered damage during World War II but was repaired and is now the Casino Maltese, with cafes and shops occupying the ground level. One notable spot here is Cafe Cordina.

The southeast side faces the National Library of Malta, a necessity for more space for the Order's growing collection of books. Designed by Stefano Ittar, a Polish-Italian architect, the library was completed in 1796.

The square's northeast side is next to the Grandmaster's Palace, the official residence of Malta's ruler, while the southwest side features a shopping arcade. Today, the square is a lively area with outdoor cafes and restaurants.
Grandmaster's Palace and Armoury

7) Grandmaster's Palace and Armoury (must see)

The Grandmaster's Palace, also known as The Palace, was constructed from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It served as the residence of the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John, the leaders of Malta, and was alternatively referred to as the Magisterial Palace. Over time, it transitioned into the Governor's Palace and now hosts the Office of the President of Malta. Visitors can explore parts of the building, including the Palace State Rooms and the Palace Armory, thanks to Heritage Malta which operates it as a museum.

The front of the Grandmaster's Palace showcases a Mannerist architectural style, known for its simplicity and restraint, a hallmark of its designer, Cassar. The front is notably asymmetrical, a result of various modifications over the years. It features two primary entrances, each with an arched doorway set within a decorative frame, leading to an overhead balcony. The building also sports traditional closed timber balconies at its corners, with both the framed entrances and balconies being additions from the 18th century. Originally, the palace's exterior was coated in red ochre, a pigment the Order used to denote public buildings.

Since 1860, the Palace Armory, an extensive collection of arms within the Grandmaster's Palace, has been accessible to the public. It served as the Order of Saint John's main armory in the 17th and 18th centuries, marking the last such arsenal created by a crusading military order. Although only part of the original collection remains today, it still ranks among the largest collections of arms and armor kept in their original location globally.

The palace is organized around two courtyards, with one featuring a Neptune statue. The collection ranges from actual armor worn in battles on Maltese soil against Arab or Byzantine forces to swords and cannons, offering a vivid journey through history.

The armory can also be visited on a joint ticket with the nearby Palace State Rooms, which are full of history and beautiful to look at. To get to the rooms, there are four flights of stairs or a lift to take.
Casa Rocca Piccola

8) Casa Rocca Piccola (must see)

Casa Rocca Piccola is a 16th-century palace in Malta, and home of a noble Maltese family. It is the only privately owned palace open to the public in the city. A visit to Casa Rocca Piccola is a perfect opportunity to admire the lifestyle of a high society Maltese family.

The palace's history goes back over 400 years to an era in which the Knights of Saint John, having successfully fought off the invading Turks in 1565, decided to build a prestigious city to rival other European capitals, such as Paris and Venice. Palaces designed for prestige and aesthetic beauty were erected throughout Valletta, and bastion walls fortified the new 16th-century city.

Casa Rocca Piccola has over fifty rooms, including two libraries, two dining rooms, many drawing rooms, and a chapel. It houses Malta's largest private collection of antique costumes, both formal and informal wear from the 18th to the 20th century, as well as the largest private collection of Maltese lace, which was used in different ways for different occasions, both religious and secular.

The palace is well maintained and strikes a balance between traditional formality and more relaxed family spaces, and the bomb shelter that you can go in is amazing for a little adventure.

Conducted tours are on the hour (last tour starts at 4pm) but get there early to beat the crowds.
Fort Saint Elmo - National War Museum

9) Fort Saint Elmo - National War Museum (must see)

One of the most prominent and iconic features on the island of Malta is the star-shaped Fort Saint Elmo. It's located on the far end of Republic Street, standing proud at the entrance to the Grand Harbour to the south and the Marsamxett Harbour to the north.

Each of the three points of land guarding the entrances to the two inner harbors has fortifications. Fort Saint Elmo sits on the Sciberras Peninsula between the two harbors.

The fort's location has been used since the first local militias set up watchtowers here in the 1400s. After the Turkish fleet sailed into Marsamxett Harbour unopposed in 1551, it was decided that more fortifications were necessary. So the simple watchtower was expanded into a star fort designed by Spanish engineer Pietro Pardo.

The fort was the scene of intense fighting during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The fort was held for 28 days but was eventually taken by the Ottomans. However, the extended siege of the fort gave the rest of the island vital time to prepare themselves.

Over the centuries that followed, the fort was upgraded and expanded in various ways.

Of particular interest to visitors of the fort is the National War Museum. It's located in the Old Drill Hall of Lower Saint Elmo. Initially, the museum's collection focused on the two World Wars, but since it was refurbished in 2015, the collection now spans from the Bronze Age to today. While the story that the museum tells has been expanded, the most prominent pieces of the collection are from World War II.

Why You Should Visit:
Fort Saint Elmo is one of the most impressive fortifications on the island to tour. It's a wonderful place to visit for the history of the place, or simply to take in some stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea and Maltese coastline.

The museum collection contains a few pieces worth taking a moment to see. From Malta's early conflicts, there is Ottoman armor and the armor of the Order of Saint John. From World War II, you can view a Gloster Sea Gladiator aircraft from the Hal Far Fighter Flight. There's also the Jeep used by American Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When touring the fort, the views are spectacular. But it does require quite a bit of time outside. So if the weather is less than ideal, remember to bring appropriate clothing. The winds in the winter can be brutal!
Siege Bell War Memorial

10) Siege Bell War Memorial

Inaugurated in 1992 by the George Cross Island Association, the memorial commemorates the 50th anniversary of when the George Cross was awarded to the island of Malta.

The association came into being by veterans and their families from the Siege of Malta during World War II. Malta was bombed non-stop during the first half of 1942. There was only one time when bombs did not fall for 24 consecutive hours in those six months. As a result, the population of the islands lived in caves and tunnels.

The siege was broken in August of 1942 when a convoy of British ships arrived. For their grit, King George VI honored the island's people with the highest award, the George Cross.

The monument overlooks the Grand Harbor and was sculpted and designed by Michael Sandle.

The memorial is a small site, but it's worth stopping by, especially as you travel to Fort Saint Elmo or the Lower Barrakka Gardens. The waterfront views are spectacular, and the memorial is a poignant tribute to the victims of World War II.

The place can get quite busy particularly around midday before the saluting battery so try to arrive early.
Lower Barrakka Gardens

11) Lower Barrakka Gardens (must see)

A public garden on the waterfront of the Grand Harbour, Lower Barrakka Gardens includes several monuments and statues. It's a pretty spot that's well worth a visit.

The most prominent object in the gardens is the Neo-classical temple dedicated to Sir Alexander Ball. It was built in 1810. Ball was a British admiral and was the first Civil Commissioner of Malta. Architect Giorgio Pullicino created the monument in the vision of an ancient Greek temple--the design was inspired by the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. The site was considered appropriate for a monument to a naval officer since it overlooks the harbor.

The terrace also features many commemorative plaques. You'll find monuments to the 50th anniversary of the European Union, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the Prague spring, and many other people and events.

If you've stopped by the gardens, don't miss the Siege Bell War Memorial just across the Quarry Wharf. There's also a small cafe with burgers, drinks, and coffees at the kiosk nearby.

For an even more impressive view of the city, don't miss the Upper Barrakka Gardens located on the upper level of the Saint Peter & Paul Bastion.
Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck

12) Church of St. Paul's Shipwreck (must see)

One of Valletta's oldest churches is the Collegiate Parish Church of Saint Paul's Shipwreck. Saint Paul the Apostle is regarded as the father of the Maltese--his shipwreck is described in the New Testament.

The church was designed by Girolamo Cassar and completed in 1582. It's full of beautiful works of art, including a 1659 statue of Saint Paul carved by Melchiorre Cafà. On February 10th, the day of Saint Paul's shipwreck, the statue is paraded through the streets of Valletta.

The building also hosts paintings by Attilio Palmobi and Guiseppe Calì. Matteo Perez d'Aleccio built the altarpiece. In addition, every nook of the church is covered with breathtaking frescoes and paintings.

There are relics commemorating the life of Saint Paul on-site, as well. You can see a piece from his right wrist bone. There is also a piece of the column from Saint Paul at the Three Fountains in Rome, where Saint Paul was beheaded.

It's easy to miss the Church of Saint Paul's Shipwreck, which is on a narrow and steep side street. As with all Maltese churches, a dress code applies. You will need to have your shoulders covered, and no shorts are allowed.
Upper Barrakka Gardens

13) Upper Barrakka Gardens (must see)

Built on the upper level of the Saint Peter & Paul Bastion, the Upper Barrakka Gardens offer stunning views of the Grand Harbour and a wonderful respite from the humming city. The gardens are built on the highest point of the city walls, meaning that the terrace has one of the best views of anywhere in town.

The bastion was built in 1560, and the terraced arches of the garden were added in 1661. The original purpose of the garden was as entertainment for the knights from the Order of Saint John who were stationed in the bastion. After the French occupation, the gardens were opened to the public in the year 1800.

Around the gardens, you'll see various monuments and dedications. For example, there are memorials to Sir Winston Churchill, Thomas Maitland, and Gerald Strickland.

To get to the gardens from the ditch, you can opt to take the Barrakka Lift. The new elevator makes the trip easy. It opened in 2012, but it replaced the original lift served the same purpose from 1905 to 1973.

The Lower Barrakka Gardens provide an equally stunning view of the harbor and waterfront from a lower level. They're located farther east, closer to Fort Saint Elmo.

Walking Tours in Valletta, Malta

Create Your Own Walk in Valletta

Create Your Own Walk in Valletta

Creating your own self-guided walk in Valletta is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Valletta Architectural Landmarks Tour

Valletta Architectural Landmarks Tour

Following the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the knights of the Order of St John set about creating a city ‘built by gentlemen, for gentlemen’. The end result saw the island's capital become home to an array of elaborate Baroque buildings, some reflecting Mannerist features borrowed from neighboring Italy.

Many of these architectural monuments have proudly withstood the test of time...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles