In this article, we’ll give you an overview and the cruise excursions found in Valletta, Malta.
When booking your Mediterranean cruise, some of the main attractions will be no brainers at some of the ports of call.
Take, for example, Barcelona you can enjoy the beach, a stroll down the Ramblas or visit the amazing Sagrada Familia basilica.
And, when in Rome? The Colosseum, Forum, and the Vatican immediately jump to mind. But Malta is more sublime.
A destination that sometimes may fly under the radar, but surprises and delights visitors with its charms every time.
Valletta, Malta Overview
The Republic of Malta is an island nation made up of two main islands and a few islets, and is located roughly halfway between Sicily and Africa. Now an independent country, for most of its history Malta has been ruled from afar by a vast array of empires such as Carthage, Rome, the Arab armies, Normans, Knights and most recently by the British, claiming its independence in 1964.
- Currency- Euro
- Language- Maltese and English
- Population- 500,000
- Religion- Catholicism
- Main city- Valletta
The Port Area
Ships dock in the historic city of Valletta, located on the beautiful waterfront. The view from the ship while sailing into the harbor with the morning sun illuminating the honey-colored buildings is something not to miss. Lining the dock is a street of former warehouses that have been transformed into shops and restaurants with harborside seating under canopies. While the food and prices leave a little bit to be desired, the views and location are premia and worth a short stroll. From this area ship tours leave as does a typical hop on/ hop off bus.
Bustling Valletta is the exciting, beating heart of the island. Founded by the Order of St. John and built to be their fortress capital, the city is mostly pedestrianized and contains beautiful vistas, historic sights and a stunning cathedral. Accessing the city is simple and straightforward. Tours can be purchased from the ship which will leave from the port and hop-on/ hop-off tours are available, as well.
These bus-type tours can be a good option for visitors as the two routes, red for urban areas and blue for rural, allow cruise guests to see much of the island without the need to hire a car or guide. However, for independent travelers who want to walk the walled fortress town themselves, simply stroll along the waterfront toward the city and ride the Barakka Lift (1 Euro) up 190 feet to the Upper Barrakka Gardens.
Main Sights in Valletta
- St. Johns Co-Cathedral- Sharing its cathedral status with another historic church in Mdina, this imposing edifice is unimpressive from the outside, but don’t let that fool you! The interior is replete with carved stone, gilded detailing, and a pavement floor nearly completely covered with marble monuments to great people of their days. Visitors will also find magnificent artwork adorning the church, such as Caravaggio’s The Beheading of St. John. However, plan on making this one of your first stops as it becomes very crowded as the day goes on.
- Grandmasters Palace– Built-in 1574, this palace was home of the Grandmaster of the Order of St. John for centuries and now houses the President of Malta. While some of the palace is off-limits for official business and government operations, the State Rooms and Armory are open for touring. Anybody with an interest in palace architecture or decorations will enjoy the gilded and tapestry filled rooms. The Palace Armory contains a trove of historic weapons and military equipment from the many centuries that Valletta was occupied by the Knights. Just keep in mind that the site does frequently close for official receptions and business.
- National Archaeology Museum- At only 5 euros for an adults admission, the museum is a great value, especially on a hot Maltese afternoon. The National Archaeology museum contains many treasures of prehistory such as the stone carvings titled The Sleeping Lady and the Venus of Malta. Additional items from the collection include Phoenician sarcophagi, Roman artifacts and other pieces from Malta’s long history.
- Upper Barrakka Gardens– Free and open from 7AM- 10PM, the Upper Barrakka Gardens are the highest point of the city wall. With that distinction, they offer sweeping views of the lower town, the Grand Harbor, and the nearby towns of Senglea and BIrgu. If you take the Barakka Lift from the harbor front, you will pass through the gardens and be able to enjoy the serene space.
- Walking the city- The old town, located on a peninsula and planned upon a grid, is extremely atmospheric and excellent for wandering, people watching and photography. Roughly a 10 x 10 block square, the town is surrounded by ancient walls, fortifications, and below that, the sea. Most of the streets are either pedestrianized or have sidewalks. Ornately carved wooden balconies extend from homes and street-level shops and café’s beckon. If you are inclined to make a stop for coffee or lunch, simply walk a block or two off the main streets (Republic, Old Bakery or Merchant) and you will have your choice of quaint and well-priced venues.
Cruise Excursions Outside Valletta
The following locations are also accessed by public bus service from Valletta, just outside the city walls by the Triton Fountain. Taxi’s and the hop-on/ hop-off bus service are also options along with tours arranged by your ship or privately.
- Mdina– The ancient capital of Malta from antiquity through the Middle Ages, until the arrival of the Knights, Mdina is a walled city located in the middle of the island. Walking across the bridge over the moat and through the Mdina Gate really transports visitors back in time. No cars are allowed into the city, so walking is a pleasure. Sights in the town include St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Catacombs (located just outside the city), various churches and chapels, and atmospheric and romantic squares to enjoy a drink or snack.
- Marsaxlokk– Make no mistake about it, but Marsaxlokk is a tourist town! However, that should not scare you away from visiting, as the village is still pleasant and worth spending some time in. The main tourist attraction is the location on the southeast coast of the island, the crystalline sea lapping along the main street, brightly painted boats bobbing in the harbor, and delicious seafood restaurants serving local cuisine. If you happen to be in port on a Sunday, a large market is held.
- Blue Grotto– This natural wonder is a collection of seven caves and inlets on the south side of the island, famed for the exceedingly blue waters and stunning rock formations. For a bit of adventure, hire or book a tour on a small traditional boat, staffed by Maltese skippers, departing from a well-signposted pier located off the main road along the south coast.
- Tarxien Temples- Located near Valletta, these temples date back to at least 3000BC and are often overlooked by visitors, so there is a good chance you will have them all to yourself. A UNESCO World Heritage site, they consist of large uncovered walls and passages, carved stones, and evocative spaces. If you have been to Malta before and are looking for something unique to see, then the Tarxien Temples are worth a visit.
If you are interested in visiting the island nation of Malta, then a cruise is an excellent way to get there. Typically included on Western Mediterranean itineraries, all the main cruise lines make port calls including Royal Caribbean, MSC, Holland America, Carnival, as well as, many other smaller boutiques and luxury lines.