Valletta’s ochre houses and sharply sloping streets cling to a narrow stretch of peninsula. Walking in this tiny city is ideal, and you’ll be rewarded with grand views of the surrounding ocean. The rocky and fortified seaside means that the startlingly blue Mediterranean often remains out of reach. Instead, head to Valletta’s atmospheric churches and museums in between strolling from souvenir shop to cafe. The city hides several worn neighborhoods in its folds, where cats watch you from corners and elderly men repair watches in the sun.
Valletta’s streets are laid out in a neat grid. The main avenue, Republic Street (Triq ir-Repubblika), cuts across the city from the bus terminal to the sea at the other end. Several attractions, as well as plenty of shops and restaurants, draw sandal-and-shorts clad tourists here all day. Travelers also linger on Merchants Street (Triq il-Merkanti), which runs parallel to Republic Street. Downtown bustles with activity, but quieter lanes prevail beyond the city gates.
The city of Valletta is a sight in itself: it is listed as a World Heritage Site. Make sure you have ample time (that is, about an hour) to wander its lonely streets—even if they are splattered with pigeon droppings. Walk down Triq ir-Repubblika to the National Museum of Archaeology to view intriguing ancient art—including stone penises—dating from 5000BC onwards. For a great view of the Three Cities across the bay, don’t miss the breezy Upper Barakka Gardens. For a more solitary and peaceful experience, head to St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church, dedicated to the shipwreck of St. Paul on Maltese shores. The ornate interiors are packed with spiritual treasures, including part of the right wrist bone of the apostle. The National Museum of Fine Arts houses a collection ranging from early Renaissance to modern art. The seat of government in Malta for centuries, the Grand Master’s Palace and Armoury are worth a visit. Today the Palace holds the President’s office.
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Restaurants in Valletta can be expensive, but explore the streets leading off Triq ir-Repubblika to find cafes that won’t have you eyeing your reserve cash supply. To grab the cheapest eats, follow local residents to the shops selling tasty pastizzi (pastry stuffed with cheese or peas) and imqaret (pastry stuffed with dates) near the bus terminus. Grocery stores aren’t easy to come by.
Maltese cuisine reflects a mixture of Mediterranean influences. Malta is particularly known for fenkati, traditional rabbit in red wine. Pastizzi, pastries filled with ricotta cheese or peas, are extremely popular. Fish dishes are also common. Menus are generally in English.