A walking tour of Valletta
Malta’s fascinating fortified capital was built by the Order of the Knights of St John in 1566 on a grid system, making it especially easy to navigate. Here’s our guide to enjoying everything the Unesco World Heritage Site has to offer
Making a splash
Approximately 300 steps: Start at the Tritons Fountain, just outside Valletta’s main entrance. The Modernist bronze monument was designed by Maltese sculptor Victor Apap and built in 1959. A local landmark, it’s taken a bit of battering over the years by zealous citizens during national celebrations, but was recently restored for Malta’s European Capital of Culture festivities in 2018.
Approximately 900 steps: Walk straight ahead over the bridge and through City Gate. This is the fifth itineration of the entrance, which was revamped in the mid-2000s as part of a wider regeneration project entrusted to architect Renzo Piano. The project also included Malta’s Parliament building on the right-hand side, as well as the neighbouring Royal Opera House. The latter was originally erected in the 1800s but was severely damaged during an air raid in 1942. It remained in a state of dilapidation until Piano transformed its ruins into an open-air theatre.
Approximately 1,500 steps: Turn right on to Piazza de Vallette, where you’ll see a statue of the French Grand Master of the Order of Malta after whom the square and city are named. Directly behind him is the Auberge d’Italie, which now houses Malta’s National Community Art Museum, MUŻA. Access the building from the piazza or enter through the main entrance around the corner at the top of Merchant Street. Opposite this entrance is Palazzo Parisio, famous for being Napoleon’s residence for a mere six days in 1798 during the French occupation.
Approximately 2,364 steps: Saunter a little further until you reach St John’s Square. Here stands a prime example of Baroque architecture – St John’s Co-Cathedral. Dedicated to St John the Baptist, the impressive church is also home to work by the artist Caravaggio, including the unsettling Beheading of St John the Baptist. To access the church, walk across the square and turn right on to Republic Street, where tickets are available from the visitors’ entrance. Outside stands a commemorative monument to the Great Siege of Malta of 1565. However, in recent years it has acquired a different function – as a makeshift shrine for journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in October 2017. Directly in front of the monument are Malta’s Courts of Justice.
Poets and palaces
Approximately 4,380 steps: Carry on down Republic Street until you reach Republic Square, also known as Victoria Square because of the statue of the eponymous British monarch, who sits majestically in the centre. She is not the only symbol of Malta’s colonial past – a little to the left is an iconic red telephone box. Just beyond the statue and the tables of coffee drinkers is the entrance to the National Library of Malta. Opposite is the Casino Maltese, a private members’ club and once the office of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. A sundial adorns the club’s façade (it only marks noon and features the 12 signs of the Zodiac). At the corner, you can see St George’s Square, home to the Grandmaster’s Palace. Here visitors can view 18th-century French Gobelins tapestries, as well as the Palace Armoury. Take a right on Old Theatre Street but, before heading straight down, pause and take a cheeky glance at the very narrow street that cuts across. This is Strait Street, once Malta’s red-light district.
Approximately 5,130 steps: Continue on until you reach the island’s most prominent and magnificent theatre, The Manoel. Another right leads you on to West Street. Walk past St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, before taking a right onto Archbishop Street. Stroll up the hill until you find yourself outside The Pub, a local watering hole that’s infamous for being where actor Oliver Reed died while taking a break from filming Gladiator.
Approximately 6,587 steps: Turn right and walk down Merchant Street, past the Valletta University Campus on the right and the Basilica of St Dominic on the left. Once you reach the very bottom, cross the road so that you are right outside Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum. Stroll along the waterfront to your right until you find the Siege Bell War Memorial, the largest bell in Malta. It was erected to commemorate the hardship and heroism of the Maltese during WWII and rings out at noon every day.
On top of it all
Approximately 8,355-10,000 steps: Double-back and turn left on to East Street, where you will find the entrance to the Lower Barrakka Gardens and the Grand Harbour on your left. Keep walking down past Valletta Contemporary art gallery and immediately turn right, up one of the city’s many steep sets of steps. These lead you onto St Paul’s Street. Walk upwards and, as you catch your breath, note the colourful traditional enclosed wooden balconies overhead. At the very top of the street is the Auberge de Castille, which houses the office of the Prime Minister. Veer left, across the zebra crossing and towards the Stock Exchange. Next door are the gates to the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Here you can gaze over the Saluting Battery (still fired daily) or simply sit back and enjoy the breath-taking panoramic views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities.