17 Top-Rated Day Trips from Valletta

With its majestic harbor, picturesque towns, and scenic coastline, the area around Valletta is packed with tourist attractions. Along the Grand Harbor across from Valletta are "The Three Cities," Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua, with a heritage tied to the Knights of Malta. Valletta's Marsamxett Harbor is lined with modern seaside resorts including the peaceful waterfront district of Ta 'Xbiex, the busy tourist town of Sliema, and the trendy restaurants of Saint Julian's. Sites around Valletta Harbor can be reached by bus, boat, or ferry. Most other attractions in Valletta's surroundings are easily accessible by bus. Slightly further afield is the scenic fishing village of Marsaxlokk, the perfect place for an authentic seafood lunch. Travel inland to Naxxar for a look at an aristocratic Maltese palace, while the other charming country villages around Valletta offer a taste of traditional Maltese life.

1 Vittoriosa: Maritime Capital with a Legacy of the Knights

Vittoriosa: Maritime Capital with a Legacy of the Knights
Vittoriosa: Maritime Capital with a Legacy of the Knights | Photo Copyright: Lisa Alexander

On a hilltop overlooking the Valletta harbor, Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu) is the most important of the Three Cities, the original settlements of the Order of Saint John (Knights of Malta) until they built Valletta. The second oldest town in Malta and the oldest maritime capital, Vittoriosa has been inhabited since the ancient Phoenicians, and later, the Romans settled here. Vittoriosa was one of the earliest headquarters of the Knights of Malta, who enlarged and strengthened the town's existing fortifications. The Grand Master Juan de Homedes created the bastions of Fort Saint Angelo, separated from the town by a moat with a drawbridge. This fort, together with Fort Saint-Elmo in Valletta and neighboring Fort Saint-Michael, allowed the Knights of Malta to defend against the Turkish attack during the Great Siege of 1565.

Vittoriosa has the authentic ambience of a small Maltese town. Few tourists are found wandering the cobblestone pedestrian streets. Neighbors socialize at church and at the cafés, and children play games in the village's hidden squares. Stroll through the town to discover the historic buildings: the Inquisitor's Palace on Triq Il-Palazz Ta' L-Isqof, the Norman House on Triq it-Tramuntana, and the Auberge de France (residence of the French Knights) with its palatial facade on Triq Hilda Tabone. Keep wandering to the Auberge d'Auvergne et Provence (Auvergne and Provence) and the Auberge de Angleterre (residence of the Knights of England). Stop at one of the nearby cafés hidden on the side streets and then meander down to the harbor to see the Church of Saint Lawrence, the 16th-century church of the Knights that was designed by Malta's most renowned Baroque architect Lorenzo Gafà. Another attraction on the Vittoriosa waterfront is the Maritime Museum (housed in the old Naval Bakery), which tells the story of Malta's seafaring history. Throughout the year, tourists can watch a historical reenactment of a 16th-century Knight's military parade at one of Vittoriosa's military monuments. The "In Guardia" military parade is held at Saint John's Cavalier, a fortified tower that is part of a complex designed to defend against cannon fire.

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2 The Invincible City of Senglea

The Invincible City of Senglea
The Invincible City of Senglea

Standing on a promontory jutting into the Grand Harbor, this small historic town is another of the Three Cities. The promontory was fortified in 1551 by the Grand Master Claude de la Sengle, the town's namesake. (Senglea is also known by its Maltese name L-Isla.) The Fort Saint-Michael at the tip of Senglea's promontory, along with Fort Saint Angelo in Vittoriosa, protected the town from invading Turks during the Great Siege of 1565. Because of the residents' heroism during this battle, the Grand Master Jean de la Valette awarded Senglea the title of "Citta Invicta" (Invincible City).

Senglea's 16th-century parish church is dedicated to the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. The church was built as a tribute to the victory after the Great Siege of 1565, and in 1921, Pope Benedict XV gave the church the title of a Basilica. The church was badly damaged during World War II. More than 15 years of renovation have restored the church to its original beauty. Like Conspicua, Senglea suffered during the Second World War with more than three-quarters of its buildings destroyed.

One of the highlights of Senglea is its breathtaking view over the harbor. An excellent viewpoint is found in Safe Haven Gardens at Senglea Point. On the bastion point is a lookout post known as Il-Gardjola with an eye and ear that symbolize vigilance. Another viewpoint is at the watch tower, a relic of Fort Saint-Michael on the tip of the promontory. Visitors will be awed by the sweeping panoramas of the Grand Harbor, the skyline of Valletta, and the little towns surrounding the capital city.

3 Conspicua: Brave City of the Great Siege

Just opposite Valletta on the other side of the Grand Harbor, the town of Conspicua (also known as Bormla) is the largest of the Three Cities. The city was named after the Knights of Saint John because of their bravery during the Great Siege of 1565. (The word "conspicua" means "brave".) Cospicua's harbor was once an important dockyard and is now a picturesque yacht marina. The town's top tourist attraction is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a gorgeous Baroque church that is one of the most richly furnished churches on the island of Malta. Conspicua was severely damaged during World War II and has been rebuilt to its former glory, although today, it is a less populous town. The Firenzuola Fortifications and the Margherita Lines, the immense fortifications surrounding Three Cities, are the only part of the old town that survived heaving bombing during the Second World War.

4 The Fishing Village of Marsaxlokk

The Fishing Village of Marsaxlokk
The Fishing Village of Marsaxlokk | Photo Copyright: Lisa Alexander

About 10 kilometers from Valletta, Marsaxlokk is an ancient Maltese fishing village on the southeast coast. With it expansive harbor of deep turquoise waters bobbing with hundreds of colorful fishing boats, Marsaxlokk is a sight to behold. The sun-scorched landscape of oleander bushes and palm trees hints at the proximity to Tunisia. (Unfortunately the otherwise idyllic scenery is blighted by an electricity power plant in the distance.) The architecture also has a North African influence. Along the waterfront streets, notice the ribbon of weathered stucco houses with shutters and doors in bright shades of red, green, and yellow. The Maltese fishing boats, called luzzus, are also painted vibrant primary colors and feature two eyes in front. These "Eyes of Osiris" are meant to ward off evil spirits, a custom that comes from North Africa.

Marsaxlokk remains the fishing capital of Malta, yet strong traditions and a tightly knit community have preserved its village charm. The village centers around a lovely Baroque church and bustling town square overlooking the harbor. The best time to visit Marsaxlokk is during the Fish Market on Sunday mornings. Stroll along the palm-tree lined waterfront that is packed with fish vendors and souvenir stands. Afterwards stop for a seafood lunch at one of the village's restaurants in the town square or near the harbor. Tartarun Restaurant is the most highly regarded seafood restaurant in Marsaxlokk. The restaurant treats patrons to daily fresh-caught fish prepared simply in Maltese style as well as other authentic seafood, side dishes, and salads.

5 Archaeological and Nature Sites near Marsaxlokk

Archaeological and Nature Sites near Marsaxlokk
Archaeological and Nature Sites near Marsaxlokk Marco Chiesa / photo modified

To discover some of Malta's most pristine seaside scenery, continue two kilometers away from Marsaxlokk to Saint Peter's Pool. This secluded site delights visitors with one of the most beautiful natural swimming pools in Malta. The crystal-clear waters are perfect for swimming and snorkeling (ladders offer access to the sea). Flat rocks around Saint Peter's Pool provide sunbathing areas and there are shaded areas as well. Saint Peter's Pool is popular with locals; it's usually not crowded because of its remote location. Keep in mind that this is a secluded nature site with no facilities (no restrooms and no lifeguard). The site is only accessible by car, and it is recommended to park on the main road and not on the poorly maintained road at the top of the cliff.

Also nearby is the archaeological site of Tas-Silg on a hilltop overlooking the turquoise waters of Marsaxlokk Bay. The Tas-Silg site includes ruins of four different historical periods. There is a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age, a temple of the Tarxien period (3000 BC to 2500 BC), a Greco-Punic temple to the Goddess Astarte, and an early Christian chapel (1st century AD) The pottery, ivory, and stoneware uncovered on the site indicate that the Greco-Punic temple may have been the Temple of Juno, which was looted by Verres, the Roman governor of Sicily and Malta around 70 BC.

6 Editor's Pick Naxxar

Naxxar was once a sleepy farming village close to Mosta, but urbanization expanded the town and has linked Mosta and Naxxar together (a short bus ride or drive away). Legend has it that Saint Paul first received and dried his robes over the fire after the shipwreck here (Naxxar means "to hang clothes to dry"). Saint Paul is also said to have preached at this site. In the Saint's honor, at the center of town, is the 17th-century Church of Saint Paul. The church has a lovely Baroque facade and a lavish Neoclassical interior with beautiful ceiling paintings, gilded moldings, and Corinthian columns.

The top tourist attraction in Naxxar is the Palazzo Parisio. This glorious 18th-century Maltese and Italian-style palace was originally built by Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena in 1733. Palazzo Parisio is still a private home owned by an aristocratic Maltese family. The palazzo impresses visitors with its grandiose rooms and opulent decor-delicate ceiling paintings, beautiful antique furniture, precious works of art, and extravagant gold-leaf moldings. The immense Grand Staircase was crafted out of a solid piece of marble from Carrara, Italy. The ornately gilded and mirrored ballroom dazzles visitors and is rented out for private weddings. In the music room, the chaise lounges are gilded with 24-carat gold music motifs. The dining room is adorned with its delicate frescoes that recall paintings found in villas of ancient Pompeii. Be sure to spend time wandering the magnificent gardens filled with fragrant Mediterranean plants and exotic flowers. The palazzo's stylish Café Luna serves snacks, refreshments, lunch, and traditional English afternoon tea on the garden terrace or in the cozy interior. The elegant Luna di Sera restaurant offers contemporary Mediterranean cuisine in an intimate setting.

During the summer months, the Splash and Fun Water Park in Naxxar draws many families with its water slides, wave-making pool, and a "dinosaur" park. Activities include pool volley ball, salsa lessons, and aerobics that adults enjoy as well.

7 Sliema: Waterfront Restaurants and Harbor Cruises

Sliema: Waterfront Restaurants and Harbor Cruises
Sliema: Waterfront Restaurants and Harbor Cruises Karen Bryan / photo modified

For a wide selection of restaurant options and a lively atmosphere, Sliema, just across the harbor from Valletta is a great choice. However the town offers little in the way of charm or historical value. Once a small fishing village, Sliema has become a touristy holiday destination overdeveloped with modern high-rise hotels. Travelers seeking Old World ambience and authentic Maltese culture are better advised to stay in Valletta. Sliema's main attraction is its Strand, the seaside promenade lined with hotels, restaurants, shops, and cafés. The Strand invites visitors to take a leisurely stroll or enjoy a meal at a waterfront terrace. There are no real beaches, only rocky areas for sunbathing. Some spots have ladders leading to the sea and cordoned-off swimming areas.

The Sliema waterfront is the departure point for the ferry to Valletta and for boat trips to other locations in Malta such as the Blue Grotto, the Island of Gozo, and the Blue Lagoon on the Island Comino. For an in-depth tour of the Valletta Grand Harbor, take a Grand Harbor Cruise. This cruise gives tourists a view of Valletta's impressive defense fortifications, the towns around Valletta, and the scenic yacht marinas within the creeks of the Grand Harbor.

Noteworthy monuments in Sliema are Saint Julian's Tower, a coastal watchtower, and the Baroque-style parish church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The church possesses an evocative altarpiece of the emaciated Saint Jerome in his cave, with only a bible and a cross for company. This masterpiece is attributed to Giuseppe Calì. The church celebrates its Feast Days in July beginning on the first Sunday of the month. During the festival, the church is illuminated by multicolored lights and monumental church statues are brought out into the square. The religious festival includes several days of marching band parades and fireworks.

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8 Mosta Rotunda

Mosta Rotunda
Mosta Rotunda

The only reason for tourists to visit Mosta is to see its parish church, but it is certainly a worthwhile sight. The Parish Church of Saint Mary is known as the Mosta Rotunda or Mosta Dome, named after its dome which is one of the largest in the world. The dome is so immense that it is visible far in the distance from many different points on the island of Malta. The spectacular Neoclassical church was designed by Grognet de Vassé and construction began in 1833. It took 27 years to build the church, and the entire dome was constructed without the use of scaffolding.

The exterior and interior of the church come close to being a replica of the Pantheon in Rome that was built in the 1st-century AD, except that the Mosta Dome is ornately decorated and brighter. The massive towering dome features a ceiling pattern that mimics the geometric pattern of the ancient Pantheon, albeit with gilded and pastel blue painted details. With light flooding through the 16 ceiling windows, the light and airy sanctuary has an inspiring celestial ambience. The floor of the church reveals intricate marble inlays that weave an interplay of patterns to mirror the ceiling. Evocative religious art and lavish wall paintings are displayed throughout the chapels of the sanctuary. The murals were painted by Guiseppe Calì. Mosta is famous for having survived the bombing of World War II. In April 1942, a large Luftwaffe bomb pierced through the Dome but did not explode. At that moment, more than 300 people were in the sanctuary for evening mass. This event is known as the "Miracle of Mosta." The spot where the bomb entered the dome is still visible in the ceiling and a replica of the bomb is displayed in the Sacristy.

Address: 15 Church Street, Mosta

9 Zejtun's Olive Festival and Fine Churches

The slow-paced country village of Zejtun has an ancient history dating back to the Phoenicians. The village name derives from the word "zejt" which means oil, reflecting the village's heritage of producing olive oil. During September, Zejtun has a popular Olive Festival with olive oil tastings, music, and other entertainment. Typical of a Maltese country village, the town has a spacious main square dominated by its Parish Church. The fortress-like 17th-century Parish Church of Saint Catherine combines Maltese Baroque and Romanesque architectural features, including two bell towers, Doric and Ionic pilasters, and arcades. The church is one of architect Lorenzo Gafà's finest accomplishments. The harmonious interior is brightened by its internal dome and there is an 18th-century copy of The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine by Mattia Preti. The original painting is in the Church of Saint Catherine in Valletta. Saint Catherine's Feast Day is feted in June with marching band processions and fireworks.

Zejtun has another remarkable house of worship, the Church of Saint Gregory. Built in 1437 when Zejtun became one of the island's 10 parishes, this is one of Malta's most interesting medieval churches. The building has a simplistic and austere facade, and the reddish dome is the first of its kind in Malta-dating from 1495. The nave is original; it has a somber ambience and conceals a hidden door that was probably used centuries ago during pirate raids. Saint Gregory's Feast Day is the first Wednesday after Easter, which is considered the beginning of the Maltese summer season. The legendary festival includes a procession from Zejtun to the nearby village of Marsaxlokk, about two and a half kilometers away.

10 Saint Paul's Bay

Saint Paul's Bay
Saint Paul's Bay

This scenic bay has deep spiritual and historical importance tied to Saint Paul, who is considered the Father of the Christian Church in Malta. Saint Paul was shipwrecked on an island in the bay in 60 AD during his journey from Caesarea (near present-day Haifa in Israel) to Rome. The Maltese people believe that it was Saint Paul himself who introduced Christianity to the local population. There is a Statue of Saint Paul near the spot where the Apostle was thought to be shipwrecked.

Saint Paul's Bay was once a little fishing village but has expanded to include the communities of Qawra, Bugibba, Xemxija, and San Martin. The bay offers beautiful natural areas and splendid coastal views of the open sea. A waterfront promenade runs the entire course of the bay, ideal for a gentle walk. The nearby Mistra Bay has a pebble beach with crystal-clear waters. Close to Saint Paul's Bay on the Wardija Ridge, tourists can find the mysterious Cart Ruts that reveal the island's ancient heritage.

11 The Seaside Town of Marsaskala

The Seaside Town of Marsaskala
The Seaside Town of Marsaskala

Just five kilometers from Marsaxlokk, this old Sicilian fishing village has a quaint seaside charm. The town was built around a picturesque bay, where fishing boats and yachts are docked in the calm waters. Marsaskala is a pleasant place to visit and stroll along the waterfront. The charming ambience and wide selection of restaurants tempt visitors to stay for meal. It's an obvious choice to try the fresh seafood that is locally caught and prepared in traditional Maltese style.

Marsaskala was the scene of the last Turkish invasion of Maltese soil in 1614, although it has few remnants of its military past. The fort was demolished in the 1970s. Zoncor Point, the northern tip of Marsaskala Bay, houses the National Swimming Pool where important water polo matches are played.

12 Ta 'Xbiex: A Tranquil Waterfront District

Ta 'Xbiex: A Tranquil Waterfront District
Ta 'Xbiex: A Tranquil Waterfront District Mike Russell / photo modified

Overlooking Marsamxetto Harbour just across from Valletta, Ta'Xbiex hosts a Yacht Marina where some of the most expensive yachts are docked. The name Ta' Xbiex comes from the name "tbexbix," which means sunrise, since there are spectacular sunrise views over Valletta. Ta'Xbiex is a quiet district of the Valletta surroundings and is home to many embassies. Visitors can take a relaxing scenic walk along the quays to admire the lovely villas and the smaller yacht marinas. A promenade runs all the way from Ta'Xbiex to Saint Julian's. Stop to rest in the little park by Lazzaretto Creek; this is a perfect place for a picnic in a seaside setting. Enjoy a relaxing dinner at one of the restaurants with a waterfront terrace. A number of restaurants along the coast take advantage of the location and offer spectacular harbor views.

13 Saint Julian's

Saint Julian's
Saint Julian's

In a small bay immediately north of Sliema, the old fishing village of Saint Julian's takes its name from a chapel that was dedicated to Saint Julian during the knights' reign. Saint Julian's comes to life at night, when a young and trendy crowd hits the restaurant scene. Like Sliema, Saint Julian's is a very touristy area with plenty of accommodations.

Saint George's Bay of Saint Julian's district is known for its luxury hotels with private beach clubs. However, Saint George's Bay also has a large sandy beach (a rarity in Malta) that is open to the public. This beach is favored for its calm waters; it's known as a "Blue Flag Beach" because it has no undercurrents and few waves, ideal for swimming. Nearby, around Balluta Bay, are rocky beaches and many areas popular with watersports enthusiasts. Balluta Bay is well equipped with facilities for water-skiing, windsurfing, and water polo.

14 Birzebbuga by the Sea

Birzebbuga by the Sea
Birzebbuga by the Sea Glen Bowman / photo modified

Birzebbuga began its life as a typical Maltese fishing village. Now, it is a popular seaside resort in Southeast Malta, about four kilometers from Marsaxlokk. The town was built around the bay, which has a lovely beach. There are many cafés, restaurants, and shops along the waterfront. The town is also known for its love of music and has two band clubs. The first weekend of August is the celebration of the Feast Day at the Parish Church of Saint Peter in Chains. Festivities include fireworks, a marching band parade of Saint Peter's statue, and kiosks selling Maltese treats like nougat and other candies.

In a tranquil valley just outside the village of Birzebbuga is a fascinating archaeological site, Ghar Dalam. This prehistoric cave dates back to the Neolithic era (7,400 years ago) and is the earliest evidence of human inhabitants in Malta. There is also another prehistoric cave nearby, the Borg in-Nadur Cave, that dates back to the Bronze Period.

15 The Fishing Village of Kalkara

The Fishing Village of Kalkara
The Fishing Village of Kalkara

The traditional fishing village of Kalkara is next to Vittoriosa along the picturesque Grand Harbor. The harbor area around Kalkara is filled with dghajjes, the colorful Maltese gondola-like boats used for transportation across the harbor to Valletta. A popular tourist attraction in Kalkara is Fort Rinella, a 19th-century British fort famous for its 100-ton cannon. The cannon was developed by the Victorian-era Lord William Armstrong of Newcastle, England. The cannon can fire a one-ton shell up to eight miles in distance. Fort Rinella is open Tuesday through Sunday 10am to 5pm; at 2pm is a historical reenactment event featuring cavalry and military drills. To the north of the Kalkara promontory is another fort, the 17th-century Fort Ricasoli.

16 Birkirkara: Antique Shops and Baroque Churches

Birkirkara is a historic town renowned for its antique shops and numerous churches. The town has an old railway station, a relic of the past, which is now surrounded by a tranquil garden. Most of Birkirkara is modern, but the old part of town has a traditional Maltese character with narrow streets and atmospheric alleys. The city's older part is separated from the newer part by the garden. The larger houses in the town are often used as band clubs or offices for political parties.

Be sure to visit the Parish Church of Saint Helen's, considered one of Malta's most beautiful churches. This grandiose and opulent church was built between 1727 and 1745 towards the end of the Maltese Baroque period. Intricate design details distinguish the Sicilian-influenced exterior, which is among the finest in Malta. Notice the decorative classical pilasters on the facade and the adorable angels around the intricate bell towers. Enter the sanctuary to admire the spacious Latin-plan interior adorned with rich frescoes. The Feast Day of Saint Helen is on August 18th, celebrated with a religious procession and traditional festive events. Another noteworthy religious monument in Birkirkara is the Parish Church of the Assumption designed by Vittorio Cassar in the early 1600s when Renaissance design was merging with Baroque style.

17 The Medieval Village of Gharghur

About 10 kilometers from Valletta, this small medieval village has a quaint Old World ambience. Visitors will enjoy strolling around the narrow ancient streets to discover the village's charm. Gharghur has two noteworthy churches: the 17th-century Parish Church of Saint Bartholomew, designed by Tommaso Dingli, and the Church of the Assumption, originally built in 1560 and rebuilt in 1650.

Gharghur is a good point to set off on cycling and hiking expeditions. There is also an easy five-kilometer walk from Gharghur to the nearby village of Attard, a town surrounded by gardens and orchards. The village's motto "Florigera Rosis Halo" translates to "Perfuming the Air with Blossoms." Stop to visit the beautiful 17th-century Parish Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, the graceful Saint Paul's Chapel built in 1729, and the Malta Railway Museum. Near Gharghur is the picturesque seaside community of Bahar ic-Caghaq about two kilometers away from Gharghur. The Splash & Fun Water Park in Bahar ic-Caghaq attracts many families with kids during summertime.

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