Before we visited Malta, I knew virtually nothing of its capital, Valletta.
One of the smallest capital cities in Europe, Valletta looks surprisingly imposing from the outside, St Paul’s Cathedral towering high above the surrounding buildings to dominate the skyline, yet once inside the city walls, it doesn’t need much time to explore.
In fact, I didn’t have much on my agenda at all for Valletta, and was content with one simple plan: take photos of as many balconies and doors as possible.
We also ventured into St John’s Co-Cathedral, so really this post will be split into three distinct but simple “sections”: balconies, doors and… err, skeleton murals! More on that soon.
I’ve already talked about our stressful arrival into the city, as we decided to visit the day after the election results. We had even been told to avoid Valletta until at least the following day, but I figured it would be interesting to see the city during some celebrations, especially as it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before for politics. I just wish people were as passionate about it here in the UK!
And so it was, after a cancelled ferry from Sliema and the subsequent chaos of everyone waiting for the next five buses that didn’t come and then all turned up at once, that we finally made it to Valletta amid smoke, horns and flags.
After a quick bite to eat next to the striking Triton fountain, it was time to head through the city gate and into the old city.
It was actually quieter inside the city than it had been outside – less horns, for one thing! It was clear, though, with the barriers lining Republic Street, that we had missed a parade.
We set off for a wander around some (or most…) of the side streets, and I instantly loved the character of it, history seeping out of every wall and into the street.
Valletta’s layout is interesting in that it has a very geometric block street layout, like many cities in the US. This sets it apart from a lot of European cities, which makes it feel quite unique considering how historic it also feels.
Balconies In Valletta
The one thing that instantly struck me was the balconies. These are known as gallarija in Maltese, and there’s more than just meets the eye – the balconies are so embedded in the culture now that there is a law to protect them, and owners of the properties must take measures to preserve them.
I took an indeterminable amount of photos of the balconies around Valletta, and there’s only so much I can really say about them, so here’s a load.
Want to read more about Malta? I’ve got our full five day itinerary right here!
St John’s Co-Cathedral
Taking a break from balconies, we headed into St John’s Co-Cathedral.
It’s called a “co-cathedral” because it shares a seat with St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina – apparently there are hundreds of co-cathedrals in Europe, but this is the first one I’ve come across that actually refers to itself as such in its name.
At 15€ to get in, it’s not cheap and I did consider whether it was worth it. Being that I’ve been into countless cathedrals around Europe, some of them being my favourite buildings in the world and for much cheaper, I’m not sure I would have necessarily paid out for another one.
In fact, I had only decided to go in for one silly reason, which made me weigh up the novelty value too.
So it was with amazement that I have to say St John’s is one of the most spectacular cathedrals I’ve ever set foot in!
As with my experience of Valletta as a whole, pictures seem to say 1,000 words, and there’s not much for me to even say.
Fun fact: I’m not the only Scottish fan. Sir Walter Scott described it as a “magnificent church, the most striking interior [he had] ever seen”!
We spent a lot longer than expected in the cathedral, taking it all in.
I had more pressing matters than just the fantastic gold and the statues and paintings, though: I had some silly skeleton murals to find!
This really is a look-all-around kind of place, because as well as the mesmerising ceiling, the floor of the cathedral is COVERED in murals, marking tombs.
…featuring absolutely ridiculous, brilliant, cartoonish skeletons!
This was, I am ashamed to say, my main reason for going in, after I read about these on Atlas Obscura! I found way more than I even expected to.
And to think I almost missed one of the most stunning buildings ever!
The funny thing? It doesn’t even look that impressive from the outside, as cathedrals go.
From the (co-)cathedral, we took another wander to find somewhere for a cup of tea, and stumbled across the best street in the whole of Valletta.
St Lucia’s Street
Valletta is so tiny that you’re bound to find this street anyway – but just in case, make sure to look out for it.
At the bottom, you’ll find the Church of St Lucy, but the biggest attraction is these picturesque restaurants on the steps down to it – and all the doors. Oh, the doors. Just you wait.
Instead of going to one of the restaurants, we’d just passed a café with a curious name, and we obviously had to stop…
Yep, I actually found a place with Scotland in the name! Ha. And of course I inadvertently captured some balconies in the photo of the sign, because it’s seemingly impossible not to.
With full view of the gorgeous street below, we lingered here for a while watching some kids race from the café to the bollards. The brother, a couple of years older than his sister, kept winning and hugged her when she got upset. Then she brushed herself off and ran down the hill again.
And once I’d finished my tea, it was time to take a thousand more photos.
Doors of Valletta
I don’t know about you, but I am a sucker for a good door. I don’t seem to be alone in that either, after a Twitter post I made recently:
In fact, I may have taken even more photos of doors than balconies, certainly across the trip to Malta as a whole!
Here’s a mere handful of the ones in Valletta.
Add in a few from Mdina and Gozo, and you can imagine I’ve got myself a pretty hefty collection! (Just wait until I go to Zanzibar – Stone Town is actually FAMOUS for its amazing doors! God help me!)
When you’ve got this many picturesque doors and balconies in one place, how about what is possibly my favourite photo of both?
After a quiet few minutes pondering what to do next in the square across from the Grandmaster’s Palace, we decided to head to a cute place we’d passed that also happened to be a rock bar – right up our street.
…of COURSE, we had mainly noticed it because of the photogenic façade.
Nevertheless, we found ourselves in a tiny, pokey bar, where we planned to have a drink or two while contemplating where to go for dinner, and ended up having so much fun that we stayed for pizza and patter until gone 9pm!
We got chatting to a lovely middle-aged English couple, starting off with trying to identify obscure ’80s rock songs before sharing our life stories with each other, and I’ve decided that’s who we’re going to be when we’re older. Fun-loving, hanging out in rock bars and having interesting conversations with everyone. A simple dream.
Eventually though, it was time to head back, and I found myself wishing we were staying in Valletta.
Because obviously I needed more time to take even more photos.
One thing I hadn’t researched at all was a trip to the three cities across the water from Valletta – Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. They seem like they’re probably Valletta in miniature, and can be reached in a mere five minutes on a ferry, or even a traditional Maltese luzzu boat. In hindsight, this would have been a great addition to our day, especially when we couldn’t get the ferry to Valletta as planned, but the last thing we wanted to do was rush around doing as much as we could.
Apart from that, though? There’s the fort, and the Barrakka Gardens (upper and lower). There’s the Grandmaster’s Palace, which is closed to visitors at the moment. And there are a couple of museums that we could have visited.
Honestly, though? I loved that we had a relaxed day in Valletta without doing much. It’s the perfect place to just drink it all in and wander with a camera in hand.
I really enjoyed the city – it’s got so much character in every building, balcony and door, and every single street enticed me to walk down it, which is, after all, a rare thing to find.
I’m curious – what’s your favourite “small capital city” you’ve been to?!
Don’t forget to check out my five day Malta itinerary!
I’ll be writing another post on Mdina shortly, but in the meantime, how about some of my other Europe posts?
⭐ A Day In Beautiful Seville, Spain
⭐ #tbt: Hitting Two Of Europe’s “Big Cities”: Barcelona & Rome
⭐ On Paris, And Why Everyone Either Loves It Or Hates It
⭐ 24 Hours In Lisbon: Falling In Love With Portugal’s Capital
⭐ I Didn’t Expect Bratislava To Be So Pretty