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Vintage Valletta: The Least Capital-Like Capital


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Janaya Rayner



Welcome to Valletta, the picturesque capital city of Malta. Nestled on a small peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea, Valletta is a treasure trove of historical landmarks, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture. Despite its relatively small size, this city packs a punch with its rich history and captivating atmosphere, making it a must-visit destination in Europe.


Steeped in history, Valletta was founded by the Knights of St. John in the 16th century, and its strategic location has played a significant role in shaping its identity. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, Valletta is renowned for its well-preserved Baroque architecture, which seamlessly blends with newer structures, creating a unique urban landscape.


Walking through the narrow streets of Valletta is like stepping into a time capsule. Every corner reveals a new historical site, whether it be a grand cathedral, a majestic fortification, or a quaint square. Even though it is the capital city, Valletta has managed to retain its intimate and welcoming atmosphere, offering visitors a glimpse into the country’s rich past and vibrant present.


With its idyllic waterfront views, charming cafes, and bustling markets, Valletta is a haven for explorers, art enthusiasts, and history buffs alike. Whether you’re strolling along the picturesque harbor, immersing yourself in the city’s cultural attractions, or indulging in delectable Maltese cuisine, Valletta has something to offer everyone.


Join us on a journey through Valletta as we delve into its history, explore its architectural wonders, uncover its cultural treasures, and discover the vibrant spirit that pulses through its cobbled streets. Get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure in the least capital-like capital city of Europe, where old-world charm meets modern-day allure.


History of Valletta

The history of Valletta is deeply intertwined with the Knights of St. John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, who originally settled in the nearby city of Vittoriosa. Following the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, the Knights decided to build a new fortified city that would serve as their new headquarters and symbolize their victory over the Ottoman Empire.


Construction of Valletta began in 1566 under the direction of the renowned military architect, Francesco Laparelli, and later continued by the Maltese architect, Gerolamo Cassar. The city was named after the Grand Master of the Knights, Jean Parisot de Valette, who played a crucial role in the defense of Malta during the siege.


Valletta’s strategic location in the center of the Mediterranean made it an ideal base for the Knights to protect their interests and maintain control over trade routes. The city quickly flourished, attracting merchants, artisans, and nobles from across Europe, who contributed to its cultural and economic development.


Throughout the centuries, Valletta experienced various political shifts as control passed from the Knights of St. John to the French, and later to the British Empire. The city witnessed the destruction and devastation of World War II, but managed to rebuild and restore its historic buildings and landmarks in the post-war era.


Today, Valletta stands as a testament to the resilience and endurance of the Maltese people. Its captivating history is evident in every step you take, from the grand facades lining the streets to the majestic fortifications that encircle the city.


Visitors to Valletta can immerse themselves in history by exploring the iconic St. John’s Co-Cathedral, home to priceless works of art and the final resting place of several grandmasters. The Grand Master’s Palace, now the official residence of the President of Malta, offers a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Knights, with its lavish State Rooms and Armoury.


Valletta’s history is not just confined to grand buildings. Exploring the city’s narrow streets and hidden alleyways reveals charming squares, quaint churches, and traditional Maltese houses that have witnessed centuries of events and stories.


From its humble beginnings as a fortified city to its status as the thriving capital of Malta, Valletta serves as a living testimony to the power of human ingenuity and resilience. The city’s historical significance, architectural splendor, and cultural heritage make it a true gem of Europe.


Architecture in Valletta

The architecture of Valletta is a captivating fusion of different styles and influences, reflecting the city’s rich history and cultural diversity. From grand cathedrals to humble townhouses, the architecture in Valletta tells the story of a city that has evolved through the centuries.


Valletta’s Baroque architecture takes center stage, characterized by its elaborate facades, intricate detailing, and dramatic use of light and shadow. The most iconic example of this style is St. John’s Co-Cathedral, a masterpiece designed by Gerolamo Cassar. Its unassuming exterior gives way to a breathtaking interior adorned with ornate sculptures, vibrant frescoes, and a magnificent marble floor.


Another prominent architectural gem is the Grand Master’s Palace, an imposing structure that showcases a mix of Renaissance and Baroque elements. Its intricate balconies, stately courtyards, and opulent State Rooms provide a glimpse into the grandeur of the Knights of St. John.


Valletta’s fortifications are also a testament to its architectural prowess. The city is surrounded by massive defensive walls, bastions, and forts that offer panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea. The impressive fortifications have played a crucial role in Valletta’s history, protecting the city from sieges and invasions.


Beyond the grand landmarks, the streets of Valletta are lined with charming townhouses and palazzos, each with its own unique architectural style. These buildings feature traditional Maltese balconies, colorful facades, and ornate ironwork, adding to the city’s picturesque charm.


As you wander through the city, you’ll also come across hidden alleys and narrow staircases, giving a glimpse into the everyday life of Valletta’s residents. These humble surroundings beautifully contrast with the grandeur of the main thoroughfares, providing a more intimate and authentic experience.


Valletta’s architectural legacy extends beyond its historic core. In recent years, the city has seen the addition of modern structures and contemporary designs that harmoniously blend with the existing architecture. Notable examples include the Parliament House, designed by world-renowned architect Renzo Piano, which showcases a sleek and minimalist aesthetic.


Visiting Valletta is like stepping into a living architectural museum, where every building tells a story. The city’s diverse architectural styles, ranging from Baroque to contemporary designs, create a visual tapestry that captures the essence of its history and creative spirit.


Cultural Attractions in Valletta

Valletta is a city rich in cultural attractions, offering visitors a wealth of experiences that showcase its vibrant history and artistic heritage. From world-class museums to lively festivals, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Valletta.


One of the most notable cultural attractions in Valletta is the Malta National Museum of Archaeology. Housed in a beautifully restored Baroque building, the museum showcases Malta’s ancient past, with artifacts dating back to prehistoric times. Visitors can explore exhibits that tell the story of Malta’s early settlers, including the famous “Sleeping Lady” figurine.


For art enthusiasts, the Valletta Contemporary Art Museum (MUŻA) is a must-visit. Located in the Auberge d’Italie, one of Valletta’s historic buildings, the museum features a diverse collection of contemporary art from local and international artists. The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events, making it a hub for the creative community.


No visit to Valletta is complete without exploring the Grand Harbour, a natural harbor that has played a crucial role in the city’s maritime history. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront promenade, admire the colorful boat houses, or even take a boat tour to explore the harbor and its fortified walls.


Valletta is also known for its annual cultural events and festivals. One of the most popular is the Valletta Baroque Festival, a celebration of the city’s Baroque heritage. The festival features concerts, opera performances, and exhibitions held in iconic venues such as St. John’s Co-Cathedral and the Manoel Theatre.


Throughout the year, Valletta comes alive with street performances, live music, and traditional festivities. The Feast of St. John, the city’s patron saint, is particularly vibrant, with processions, fireworks, and revelry taking over the streets in June.


Valletta’s cultural attractions go beyond the confines of museums and festivals. The city is a haven for architecture enthusiasts, with its well-preserved historic buildings and elaborate facades. Visitors can simply wander through the streets of Valletta and admire the stunning architecture at every turn.


Whether you are a history buff, an art lover, or simply curious to explore a city that breathes culture, Valletta will not disappoint. Its cultural attractions offer a glimpse into the city’s past and present, providing a truly immersive experience that will leave you inspired and enriched.


Cuisine in Valletta

Valletta is a gastronomic paradise, offering a delightful blend of traditional Maltese cuisine and international culinary influences. From hearty street food to fine dining experiences, the city’s diverse culinary scene is sure to satisfy any palate.


One of the iconic dishes in Maltese cuisine is the pastizzi. These delicious savory pastries are filled with either ricotta cheese or mushy peas and are a popular snack among locals and visitors alike. You can find pastizzi at various street vendors and bakeries in Valletta, and they are perfect for a quick bite on the go.


Seafood lovers will be in paradise in Valletta, thanks to its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. Freshly caught fish and seafood are central to many Maltese dishes, such as aljotta, a flavorsome fish soup, and lampuki pie, a savory pie filled with the local favorite, dorado fish.


The influence of neighboring Mediterranean countries is also evident in Valletta’s cuisine. You can savor dishes like rabbit stew, known as “fenkata,” which is a traditional Maltese favorite. The meat is slow-cooked with garlic, wine, and herbs until tender and flavorful.


Valletta is also home to a thriving restaurant scene, offering a wide array of international cuisines. Whether you’re in the mood for Italian, French, Japanese, or Middle Eastern, you’ll find a restaurant to satisfy your cravings. Many of these establishments feature stunning views of the harbor, making dining in Valletta a feast for the senses.


When it comes to dessert, be sure to try the traditional Maltese sweet treats. Imqaret, deep-fried date pastries, and kannoli, crisp pastry tubes filled with sweet ricotta cream, are must-try delights. Pair your dessert with a cup of strong Maltese coffee for a perfect ending to a meal.


If you’re looking for a unique dining experience, consider visiting the Valletta Food Market. Located in a converted 19th-century covered market, this vibrant venue is home to a variety of food stalls and vendors, showcasing the best of local and international cuisine. Sample fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, and homemade pastries as you wander through the market’s bustling aisles.


Valletta’s culinary scene is not just limited to restaurants and street food. The city is also home to several wine bars and rooftop lounges, where you can enjoy a glass of Maltese wine or a refreshing cocktail while taking in the stunning views of the city.


From traditional Maltese dishes to international flavors, Valletta offers a culinary experience that is as diverse as it is delightful. So, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge your taste buds and savor the flavors of this gastronomic capital.


Shopping in Valletta

Valletta is a shopper’s paradise, with a wide range of unique boutiques, charming markets, and traditional craft shops. From fashion and accessories to local handicrafts and gourmet food products, the city offers a diverse shopping experience that caters to all tastes.


The main shopping streets in Valletta, such as Republic Street and Merchant Street, are lined with both international brands and local retailers. Here, you can find fashionable clothing, footwear, and accessories from renowned designers, as well as independent boutiques that showcase the work of Maltese fashion designers.


For those looking for a more traditional shopping experience, Valletta has several markets to explore. The Marsaxlokk Fish Market, held every Sunday in the nearby fishing village, is a bustling market where you can buy fresh local produce, homemade preserves, and of course, the catch of the day. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in the local culture and sample some traditional Maltese food.


If you’re on the lookout for artisanal crafts and souvenirs, head to the many craft shops and galleries in Valletta. Here, you can find handcrafted jewelry, ceramics, glassware, and intricate lacework, all made by local artisans. These unique pieces make for special keepsakes and gifts to take home.


Valletta is also home to a range of gourmet food shops and specialty stores. Visit the bustling market of The Malta Bake Shop, where you can find delicious local delicacies such as nougat, honey rings, and traditional Maltese bread. The store also offers a variety of gourmet food products, including locally produced olive oil, cheeses, and preserves.


Valletta is not just about shopping for material goods – the city also has a thriving art scene. You can explore contemporary art galleries, where you can view and purchase works by local and international artists. From paintings and sculptures to photography and installations, there is something to suit every artistic taste.


As you wander through Valletta’s streets, make sure to visit the traditional stationery shops that have been around for decades. These stores offer an array of paper products, fountain pens, and unique stationery items, making them a haven for those who appreciate the tactile experience of writing.


Whether you’re looking for high-end fashion, one-of-a-kind souvenirs, or locally made crafts, Valletta’s shopping scene has it all. So, indulge in a bit of retail therapy and take home a piece of Valletta’s unique charm.


Nightlife in Valletta

When the sun goes down, Valletta comes to life with a vibrant and bustling nightlife scene. From lively bars and clubs to cozy wine bars and cultural events, there is no shortage of entertainment options for night owls in the capital city of Malta.


Valletta has a wide selection of bars and pubs, where you can enjoy a relaxing drink or socialize with friends. From sleek cocktail bars to traditional English-style pubs, there is something to suit every taste. Many of these establishments offer beautiful views of the harbor, making them the perfect spot for a sundowner drink.


If you’re in the mood for live music, Valletta has you covered. The city is home to several venues that host regular performances, ranging from jazz and blues to pop and rock. Whether you prefer intimate acoustic sessions or energetic live bands, you’re sure to find a venue that suits your musical taste.


For a unique and cultural nightlife experience, consider attending one of the many events held in Valletta’s historic buildings. The Manoel Theatre, one of Europe’s oldest working theaters, hosts theatrical performances, operas, and ballets that cater to a range of tastes. Watching a performance in the grandeur of this historic venue is an experience not to be missed.


Valletta is also known for its festivals and street parties, which provide a lively and energetic atmosphere. One such event is Notte Bianca, an annual all-night arts and culture festival. The city comes alive with live music, art installations, performances, and exhibitions throughout the night, creating a vibrant and festive ambiance.


If you’re looking for a more relaxed evening, Valletta offers a selection of cozy wine bars and lounges. These establishments offer a wide selection of local and international wines, accompanied by a selection of delicious snacks. It’s the perfect setting for an intimate and sophisticated night out.


Valletta’s nightlife scene is not just limited to bars and music venues. The city also has a range of late-night dining options, from casual street food to gourmet restaurants. You can indulge in delicious cuisine and savor the flavors of Valletta long into the night.


Whether you’re looking for a high-energy night out or a more laid-back evening, Valletta has something for everyone. So, immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant nightlife, and let the energy of Valletta guide you through an unforgettable night on the town.


Exploring the Outdoors in Valletta

Valletta may be a bustling city, but it also offers plenty of opportunities to immerse oneself in the great outdoors. From scenic gardens and tranquil promenades to breathtaking coastal views, there are numerous ways to enjoy nature and explore the outdoors in this charming capital city.


One of the most picturesque outdoor spots in Valletta is the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Located on the city’s historic fortifications, these lush gardens offer panoramic views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities. Take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, relax on a bench, and marvel at the stunning vistas.


Fort St. Elmo, situated at the tip of Valletta’s peninsula, is a must-visit for history and nature enthusiasts alike. Explore the fort’s impressive fortifications and enjoy views of the Mediterranean Sea from its ramparts. The fort is also home to the National War Museum, where you can delve into Malta’s military history.


Valletta’s waterfront promenade, known as the Valletta Waterfront, is a charming place to take a walk and soak in the maritime atmosphere. Lined with colorful cafes, restaurants, and shops housed in renovated 18th-century warehouses, the waterfront offers a unique blend of history and contemporary ambiance.


For those seeking a beach experience, Valletta is within close proximity to several sandy shores. The Sliema and St. Julian’s areas, located just a short ferry or bus ride away, boast beautiful beaches where you can relax, swim, and soak up the sun.


To truly appreciate Valletta’s coastal beauty, take a boat tour around the harbor. There are various boat options available, from traditional Maltese Luzzus to modern yachts, providing the opportunity to explore the surrounding islands, caves, and hidden coves.


If you’re a nature lover, embark on a hiking adventure along the rugged coastline surrounding Valletta. Scenic trails crisscross the cliffs, offering breathtaking views of the sea and the cityscape. These trails also lead to hidden gems such as secluded beaches and ancient ruins.


Valletta’s outdoor spaces are not limited to the city center. Just a short distance away, you’ll find the peaceful and picturesque Marsaxlokk fishing village. Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, admire the colorful fishing boats, and indulge in freshly caught seafood at one of the village’s waterfront restaurants.


Exploring the outdoors in Valletta is not just about the sights; it’s about immersing yourself in the fresh air, natural beauty, and serenity that the city has to offer. So, take the time to venture outside and discover the hidden treasures that await you in Valletta’s outdoor wonders.



Valletta, the least capital-like capital, is a city that effortlessly combines its rich history, stunning architecture, vibrant culture, and natural beauty. This picturesque city on the shores of the Mediterranean offers a truly immersive experience for visitors.


From its humble beginnings as a fortified city founded by the Knights of St. John, Valletta has transformed into a thriving cultural hub while retaining its intimate charm. Its well-preserved Baroque architecture, grand cathedrals, and imposing fortifications showcase the city’s historical significance and architectural splendor.


Valletta’s cultural attractions, from museums and galleries to festivals and events, allow visitors to delve deeper into the city’s heritage and artistic heritage. The culinary scene in Valletta is a feast for the senses, with traditional Maltese dishes, international flavors, and charming markets offering a diverse dining experience.


Valletta’s vibrant nightlife scene presents an array of opportunities for entertainment, from lively bars and music venues to cultural performances and festivals. The city truly comes alive after dark, offering something for every taste and preference.


Outside the city walls, Valletta’s outdoor spaces provide a chance to explore and appreciate the natural beauty of the Mediterranean. Whether it’s strolling through historic gardens, hiking along the rugged coastline, or enjoying boat tours around the harbor, there are ample opportunities to connect with nature in Valletta.


In conclusion, Valletta is a gem of a city that offers a captivating blend of history, culture, cuisine, and outdoor adventures. Its unique character and warm hospitality make it a destination like no other. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an art lover, a foodie, or an outdoor enthusiast, Valletta has something to offer everyone. So, prepare to be enchanted by the least capital-like capital of Europe and embark on a remarkable journey through Valletta’s treasures.