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When you enter Valletta don’t be surprised if your first reaction is disappointment – you’ll see modern flats and a WWll bomb site and wonder how on earth the city is a UNESCO World Heritage City – but don’t worry as soon as you walk a few steps you’ll begin to see why Valletta does really deserve its title.
You can download a detailed map of Valletta from here: Valletta Map
Walk down Republic Street with its elegant buildings – if you look towards the left you’ll see steep sloping roads with steps which go down to Marsamxetto Harbour, but unless you are very fit, you won’t have time to walk down them today. The city is always bustling with shoppers, lawyers, businessmen, politicians, locals going to government offices and …tourists.
On the left is the National Museum of Archaeology from where you can hire an audio guide (don’t forget to return it). You’ll soon reach St John’s Street – on the right is St John’s Cathedral – one of the most ornate baroque churches in the world. Go in and have a quick look at the lavish gilt and marble interior with priceless art all round you. Round the corner is the Museum. Just check but usually there is quite a queue and it’s not the place for just a quick look. A further museum worth visiting is the National Museum of Fine Arts in south street (second turning on the left as soon as you start walking down Republic street) - it is still being refurbished but there are some stunning views of Valletta besides the Mattia Preti works and a watercolour by William Turner. Its also a nice palace with a stunning baroque staircase. Some good cafes and wine bars in the area too.
Turn right to Merchants Street . It has just been given a facelift and is now a pedestrian area. The buildings on either side have ornate facades and wooden balconies. At ground level, most are shops or cafes. Walk down till you reach the beginning of the market. Turn left and walk through the narrow road to Piazza Regina (Queen Square ) with the statue of Queen Victoria in the centre against a backdrop of the National Library. Just off the square in Republic Street is the Palace and Armoury – both are lavishly decorated. If you’ve been quick and started early you might have time for a visit.The new 35 minute audio visual show, Valletta Living History, will help you appreciate the chequered history of the cict in a short time, giving you a better understanding of the streets you are visiting and also the lifestyle of the Maltese. This is found just of Republic Street, in the Embassy Complex (St. Lucy Street).
It’s now time for a rest – have a snack and a drink or coffee at one of the cafes in the square and people watch.
Further down Republic Street is the stately house - Casa Roca Piccola but there’s no time for a visit today. If you turn off the road to the left is Independence Square with a row of restored houses and the simplicity of the Auberge d’Aragon with the ornate Anglican St Pauls Cathedral. Carry on walking down and you’ll see a change in character from the busy bustling elegant streets to the quaint streets on the sides of Valletta. You can wander through narrow roads that have tiny shops and artisans at work at street level. You’ll end up near Fort St. Elmo and the War Museum which has just reopened after an extensive refurbishment ; The Malta Experience www.themaltaexperience.com is in close proximity and worth a visit. The audio-visual show presents a 45 minute spectacle of the islands' chequered history spanning 7000 years. It is ranked among the most popular sites when visiting the City. It is located on the open-top bus route around the City. A bit further on there is the Seige Bell Memorial located on the Bastions near the lower ‘Barrakka’ Gardens. It commemorates over 7000 servicemen and civilians who died during WWll.
There are small coffee shops, restaurants and take aways where the office workers eat. You’ll find a warm welcome there in the side streets.
Turn right and find your way to St Pauls Street – another road parallel to Republic Street. There are 25 churches in Valletta . Obviously you can’t visit them all but don’t miss St Pauls Shipwreck Church with its ornate marble interior. Carry on up St Pauls Street to Castille Square . The Auberge de Castille (rather plain from the outside) is the Office of the Prime Minister.
Go in to the Upper Barakka Gardens – it’s definitely time for another refreshment break. Admire the splendid view of the Grand Harbour and the fortified cities across the water. Rest awhile while you take in the view. Remember that not all that long ago, the Harbour’s natural creeks used to be full of naval vessels – nowadays there are the great cruise liners instead. Beneath the Barakka you can see the Valletta Waterfront and cruise terminal with the restored Pinto stores – now converted to shops and restaurants and bars.
Spend some time shopping. You will notice that by now the office workers will have started to leave Valletta and the city takes on a completely different atmosphere. As it gets dark, return to the Barakka and see the view again in the dark – the floodlit bastions are well worth seeing. You can also go to Hastings Garden, quite near the City Gate.
You can have a meal and a drink at one of the quite numerous restaurants or winebars and then have a stroll in the now quiet dimly lit roads.
This day will have given you a good idea of Valletta – however, you won’t have had time to visit the museums and Casa Rocca Piccola, nor to have a detailed look at the Cathedral and its splendid museum. Neither will you have seen St James Cavalier and the Manoel Theatre.
A walk all round Valletta from near the Phoenicia and Excelsior Hotels to the Valletta Waterfront is also worth doing. There is a circular bus no. 198 that goes round Valletta . If you get tired you could phone up citicabs. These are a fleet of chauffeur-driven electric vehicles that go all round Valletta . You can either stop one or phone 0035679333321 or 00 356 21333321 The cost is 1 Euro per person.
There are some good videos of the area on these sites: Visitmalta.com is the official site of the Tourist Authority of Malta: http://www.visitmalta.com/360-degrees