If you’re even a casual reader of this site, then you probably will remember that my visit to Malta was the culmination of years of pining. It neared the top of my travel bucket list and, for the most part, the experience was just as great as I had hoped. The highlight though for me was exploring the beautiful city of Valletta Malta for the first time. The capital of Malta quickly became a personal favorite and I understood instantly why so many people rave about this city perched above the harbor. It’s hard though sometimes to explain exactly why a place is special and so I decided to share the experience by looking at a few of my very favorite moments in the grand city of Valletta, Malta.
1. First walk down Republic Street – Many first time visitors to Valletta come from the bus terminal and enter onto the seemingly always busy Republic Street. This central road really is the heart of the touristy side of Valletta, a fact not lost to any visitor based on the huge numbers of people I always found there. But the frenetic pace of walking down the long, straight boulevard was part of the experience, at least for me. It was also a fantastic way to get to know the city a little bit better and to get my bearings during that first hour or so in the city.
2. St. John’s Co-Cathedral – I love history and for a variety of reasons, the history of the Knights of St. John – otherwise known as the Knights of Malta – has been a passion of mine for nearly 20 years. So to walk through the main door of the massive St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the home church of the knights for centuries, was almost too much for this nerdy traveler to take. From a purely cosmetic level, the church is stunning and hours could be spent admiring the golden apse and chapels, each representing different regions from which the knights hailed. But once you start to add in the little bits of history found throughout the massive church, that’s when things start to get really interesting. It was here that Caravaggio was defrocked as a knight, at the same spot where his famous painting The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist now rests. Even if you’re not as much into the Knights of Malta as I am, I have no doubt that you’ll love exploring what is truly one of the most beautiful churches in the world.
3. Upper Barrakka Gardens – This isn’t a hidden sight or a special tip, nearly every tourist spends some time in the Upper Barrakka Gardens, and with good reason. It’s from here that one of the best views of the Grand Harbour and the massive fortifications that kept this island nation safe for so very long can best be seen. Across the harbor are the Three Cities, Cospicua, Vittoriosa, and Senglea, and the views from the gardens are so iconic and famous that it feels like you’ve stepped into a postcard. Every day the watch canons are fired, a hokey but surprisingly interesting experience if you happen to be there at the right time. Like most things in Malta though, expect the show to start late.
4. Getting lost – This is easily done in Valletta, which, while a planned city, can at times be a labyrinth of streets and alleyways. But that’s part of the great charm of the city and why I fell so very deeply in love with it. The hills in Valletta are legendary, and walking down the imposing stairways to the waterfront below is daunting physically, but rewarding aesthetically. Plus, you never know what you’ll find until you get lost. I wandered into churches, museums, shops and cafes I would never have found had I actually tried to find them.
5. Coffee and people watching – Relaxing at a café and enjoying a coffee and maybe some cake isn’t just popular in Malta, it may just be the national sport. Luckily there are plenty of places to practice this culinary pastime and enjoy some excellent people watching at the same time. It’s touristy and goes against my normal travel advice, but I recommend grabbing a coffee at any of the many outdoor cafes along Republic Street. The luxuriously shaded cafés are gorgeous and worthy of a visit in their own right, but their key position along the town’s major thoroughfare means an almost endless gallery of people to watch and inwardly judge.
6. Looking at it from Senglea – My very favorite moment in Valletta though didn’t actually happen in the city proper. No, it happened right across the Grand Harbour in Sengelea, one the Three Cities. There I sat, enjoying a relaxing and appropriately slow-paced Mediterranean dinner and watched as the sun began to set, turning Valletta into a golden city. It was a moment that I know I will never forget, it was that beautiful and that special. This is what people want when they visit Mediterranean Europe; this is the moment of complete satisfaction and contentment that is so very hard to find almost anywhere else in the world.
Have you been to Valletta? What was your favorite moment?
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