2018 saw Malta’s capital city of Valletta becoming the European Capital of Culture. In addition to the varied attractions the city offers, more have been newly added as part of the Capital of Culture and will remain for coming years. With an intense history behind it, the whole city is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. Here are just 10 of the best things to see and do in one of Europe’s smallest capital cities.
Delving into the postal history of Malta dating back to the rule of the Order of St John in the 16th century, this four-floor museum is a converted Valletta home with a baroque-style exterior in keeping with the earliest exhibits. Opened as recently as 2016 with the support of EU funding, the museum marks pinnacle points in Maltese history of the importance of the postal system, particularly due to Malta’s strategic position during wartime. Suitable for the whole family, the museum has an interactive children’s area accompanied by educational materials and activities. Areas within the gallery are also allocated to temporary exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of art all year round.
Today the home of Valletta cruise port, the stunning promenade of Valletta Waterfront was originally built by Grandmaster Pinto for the Knights of St John to use the buildings as stores. A tranquil location away from Valletta’s main centre, this landmark still boasts the original stores, 19 of which have been converted into restaurants hosting an array of cuisines to suit all budgets, offices and unique shops. Awash with bright colours cleverly representing the type of produce originally stored in each building, the pedestrianised waterfront makes for a perfect location for relaxation accompanied with great food and drink.
Dating back to the rule of the Order of the Knights of St John, the Maltese Carnival is one of the island’s oldest annual festivities. Every February or March the island celebrates a national public holiday where each village takes part in its own celebrations. Valletta is the home to the grandest of the island’s carnivals taking place over four days. The capital comes even more to life as streets are taken over with colourful parade floats, fancy dress, street performers, dancers and marching bands.
Not only a place of worship but also an exuberant work of art, St John’s Co-Cathedral has an interior that can only be described as a definition of wealth. Gilded rooms with arched ceilings boast paintings donated by Grand Masters and knights themselves. Home to original paintings by Caravaggio, the Co-Cathedral attracts numerous visitors daily and a visit to Valletta wouldn’t be complete without popping inside this awe-inspiring church.
Dating back to the Great Siege of 1565, the Church of Our Lady of Victory marks the Knights’ victory over the Turks and was the first church to be built in Valletta. The church was the original burial place of Grand Master La Vallette, however his remains were later moved to St John’s Co-Cathedral and in 1617 the church then became Valletta’s main Parish Church of the Order. Over the centuries, the church vastly deteriorated. Commencing in 2000, a huge, four-year restoration project took place that not only included the building itself, but also that of original artwork by Enrico Arnaux, Francesco Zahra and Ermenegildo Grech.
Auberge de Provence on Valletta’s main Republic street was built in 1571 and was once the main house of the Knights of the Order of St John. Today this grand building is the base of Malta’s National Museum of Archaeology. Objects at the museum date back to Malta’s Neolithic period from an astonishing 5000 BC, with the main attraction being that of the carved figurine of the Sleeping Lady, originally unearthed at Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum.
Offered by Captain Morgan is a two-hour Grand Harbour cruise. Guests can take in the sights of neighbouring Sliema and Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens. The cruise takes passengers through the two main natural harbours, the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour, and an additional 10 creeks. Accompanied by a detailed commentary along the way, there are several trips daily. A marvellous opportunity to take in over 7,000 years of Malta’s history with some excellent photographic opportunities included.