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Valletta-Malta's Interesting Capital.
Member Name: lak11
Date: 06/12/10, updated on 10/07/12 (172 review reads)
Advantages: An interesting capital with a lot to see, and welcoming to tourists.
Disadvantages: None for me.
Malta itself is a small Mediterranean island. Its capital is also small and densely packed with delights to indulge the curious tourist. Valletta honestly has 'something for everyone.' Whether you are there to dine to shop or to see architectural delights, or want to delve into the history of this city, then you shouldn't be disappointed.
Cruise ships coming into the harbour are a frequent site here. In fact, sailing into the harbour of Valletta is a delight. Its fortifications are an interesting and awe inspiring site to behold. I have seen Valetta from the sea and have also visited by car and bus. Whichever way make sure you visit and give yourself plenty of time as there is a lot to see. Seeing the harbour at night is an incredible site.
If entering Valletta by road you will probably first go along its main thorough fare, Republic Street, with shops galore. These shops sell anything and everything. There is the usual tourist and souvenir type shop, but the shopping here is not wholly souvenirs. Shops here sell local craftwork such as Maltese glass, which is very pretty, cheese, lace and wine. Some of the local wine is surprisingly pleasant. So much to choose from with pretty paper weights, to ornaments which capture Maltese scenes, inside the glass.
Maltese lace is worth looking at and it's worth haggling for a bargain. I would recommend the beautiful tablecloths and napkins. Handmade and authentic craftwork from Malta and her sister island, Gozo make a lovely keepsake or gift for those left at home. But there is much more here to entice the keen shopping; so much to peruse here, such as the knitted jumpers and shawls as well as the simple paintings.
Also there are toy shops, electrical, book, spirits and tobacco stores. As English is widely spoken in Malta, shopping is easy. The currency is the Euro.
There are many narrow cobbled side roads leading off from the main street and these lead downhill. More shops and a few bars can be found leading from these but pavements (sidewalks) aren't often to be seen so beware the mopeds which interweave the narrow backstreet. Some side streets are stepped. It can be hard work so, be warned!
Malta on the whole feels quite safe. Obviously normal precautions would apply to personal safety and possessions but crime isn't a big problem here. Valletta feels welcoming to the overseas visitor.
Back to Valletta's main street where here and there can be found wine bars and restaurants, and of course, the obligatory Macdonalds (I don't really approve!). About midway there is a square housing many restaurants, most offering inside dining with air conditioning, or outside tables, either in the sunshine, or shaded, with cooling fans dotted about, here and there, providing interesting Al Fresco dining. One can watch much of the world go by. With this being a popular destination stop off point for cruise ships it really does seem as if all nationalities can be seen here.
I have eaten in this square many times. There's a great choice of restaurants offering a varied choice of cuisine. Service in Malta is usually good and friendly. I wouldn't class the food generally as marvellous but one can find decent food in Valletta. It was here that my son ate the largest pizza he had ever seen. Of course, we said he would never get through it but being the type to like a challenge he did eat every bit! I would mention that the presence of so many foraging pigeons can be a little off-putting at times.
Once dining is over and shopping complete it will probably be siesta time. Some of the shops will shut until evening when Valletta really comes alive. But even during siesta time, everything doesn't stop and, although some take a nap, by no means all give in to the heat of a Maltese day.
A ride around the cobbled streets by horse and carriage is a wonderful experience for young and old. The carriages are prettily decorated as are the horses. The carriages are shaded. This is worth haggling for a good price as the drivers are very competitive. I have always found prices start very high. At quieter times the price can be greatly reduced. You can choose a short (about thirty minutes) trip around the streets taking in some of the sights or a longer journey. Drivers will act as tour guides and most are knowledgeable and proud of their city. Some will offer to wait while you enter a museum.
So whether you choose to tour via horse and carriage, or on foot, try to take in some of the sites to experience the delights of the small Maltese capital.
Valletta was named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, who, in 1565, defended Malta from an Ottoman invasion.
You could see The Grandmaster's Palace Armoury Museum. This government building is about midway along Republic Street and set back. It is very Maltese in essence and the museum shows full suits of armour. It also exhibits, arms and guns which can be dated right back to the 15th century.
The National War Museum is also worth visiting. This is sited within St Elmo's Fort (watchtower) and explains much to visitors of the siege during WW11
Most of the architecture of this ancient town is baroque. The city was created by the knights of St John and this is mentioned many times in the history of the island. Valetta began as a place to tend wounded soldiers and to some extent civilians, during the crusades of the sixteenth century. Before that it was simply arid land without a building, apart from St Elmo's watchtower. Defences were deemed necessary, so were built. Hence, Valletta began its life as a fortified city.
Valletta has been influenced by many countries and their varied culture and traditions, including Spain and Italy. This has influenced building style. I would say there is also an Arab influence, although I am not very well informed on architectural matters. As Malta has been invaded many times it was bound to take on different flavours. It is worth visiting its many churches. The exteriors are impressive but the interiors are truly beautiful. Remember when visiting this Roman Catholic country where religion is as serious matter, to respect their culture and so cover up when entering its churches. Visitors who respect the deeply religious feel to Malta are welcomed into the churches to pray, to light a candle in prayer or to be simply awestruck, even if not particularly religious.
In more recent times the Second World War found Malta being put under heavy siege. In fact the island was cut off and almost starved. Buildings were destroyed, the Royal Opera House being one. This still shows some wounds. Malta was deservedly awarded the George Cross for its valour during the war. It is known as 'The George Cross Island.'
It is also essential to visit at least one museum while in Valletta. You could choose The National Museum of Fine Arts. Here is held Turner's splendid painting of the Grand harbour of Valetta. I personally haven't yet managed to visit this museum. When I next visit Malta I MUST make a point of visiting.
The Barrakka Gardens are a must to visit if you wish to see the spectacular views of the Grand Harbour. Lower Barraka Garden can be reached by bus. Inside the gardens are facilities such as public lavatories and a kiosk serving snacks and drinks. Restaurants, if requiring something more substantial are to be found immediately outside the gardens.
For the best views go higher. From the Upper Barrakka Gardens, If here at noon one can see the 'Noon Day' gun being fired.
I have hopefully given any would be visitor to Valletta a taste for this historic place. There is much more to see and I am always amazed that although Malta is such a small island, there truly is a wealth of things to see. Another delight about sightseeing in Malta is that it is easy, owing to the small size of the island, and the bus service available. Taxis are also easily accessible. If you should choose to go to see some sights many will only take a half day. This is great if you would like to combine a day of sightseeing with time spent relaxing by a pool or on the beach. However, I would suggest spending at least day in Valetta to do it justice or, alternatively, take a few visits.
I would also recommend visiting Valletta in the cool of the evening. Well, at least cooler than in the daytime. Everything is open and most of Republic Street is shut off to cars, enabling an easy and pleasant shopping experience. You will find the lights around the harbour spectacular. To add to this, often you would be likely to see a firework display lighting the sky, especially during the summer months when Malta holds many Festas (fiestas) in honour of its saints.
Summary: Don't take my word for it go and see for yourself!