Valletta and Birgu

New Years Morning, after a night of drinking and talking until 3am, 6 hung over zombies – I mean 6 strong independent women, and 1 very energetic baby managed to get on a bus, and make it to the Phoenicia Hotel just outside Valletta to start our walking tour of the ancient city. Our tour guide saw us bee-line for the coffee bar and mercifully let us drink our hot drinks of choice before we ventured into the cold, wind, and sun.

How does she have so much energy…

It was on this tour that I got to understand some of the history of Malta, and it’s legacy of being conquered. Being strategically placed in the Mediterranean, the island was coveted by many. Archeologists believe the original inhabitants came from Sicily, and it was taken by many different populations throughout history. In 1551 The Knights of Saint John occupied the island, but were hoping for a better piece of land. When pirates from the Barbary Coast came to the neighboring island of Gozo, and captured the entire population to take home as slaves, the Knights decided to build more permanent fortifications. That was the birth of Valletta. Valletta was a planned walled city protected by water on three sides. Fortifications allowed the knights to see the enemy approaching and warn the entire island.

The ancient walls of Valletta

Today Valetta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today much of the vehicle traffic is prohibited and you can walk and see the streets, alleys and buildings much as they were the day they were built. As we walked around the city and learned the history, we got to see the unique architecture. The covered balconies, the limestone buildings and alley’s, the hills and views of the sea.

Balconies, alleys and hills..what makes Valletta amazing

Right as you enter the city, you see the Royal Opera House. Well, you see what’s left of it and how it was re-invented. The island was a naval base for the English during WWII and was heavily bombed by the Germans during the war. One casualties was the Royal Opera house. Build by an English architect, Edward Middleton Barry in 1866, a bomb completely destroyed it in 1942. But in 2013, it was turned into an open air amphitheater, and is used today for concerts.

What’s left of the Royal Opera House (Taken by R’s Sister)

But we also got the chance to very briefly stop in St. John’s Cathedral. This beautiful cathedral was originally exclusively for the use of the Knights of St. John. There is head to toe decoration, and grand master after grand master tried to up their predecessor with the riches they could bring to the cathedral. We came during mass so only got a brief look. But we enjoyed it so much, we ended up coming back a few days later with another tour guide to get a more in-depth view.

Your eyes don’t know where to look in St. John’s Cathedral

Another spot we missed on our walking tour, but got to see later was the Grandmaster’s Palace. Originally the headquarters for the Knights of St. John, it is now used as the house for the President and has parts that are open to the public. A wing was destroyed by a bomb in WWII, but has been completely re-built back to its original state, including redoing artwork.

Much of the Grandmaster’s Palace has been rebuilt after WWII

One church we did get an in-depth look at the was the church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck. This was the “local” parish church for the regular people when the Knights of St. John were in power. It’s still a popular church, and while grandly decorated, is considered for humble than the cathedral.

The “humble” decorations at the Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck

One of the more fun stops on the tour was the Caffe Cordina. This is one of the oldest coffee shops in Valetta. We had already had one coffee stop, but this café sold pastizzies, the popular pastry of Malta’s. I had a traditional ricotta cream filled one, and it turned out to be the perfect hang-over food. I enjoyed many during this vacation 😀

Pastizzis, the perfect hangover food

Finally we walked over to the Barrakka Gardens were we got a breathtaking view of the other two cities that make up the “fingers” of the Valetta harbor, Birgu and Senglea. The gardens are a pleasant place to walk and sit, but the views from the gardens are breathtaking. You can see why they choose this city to be featured as a landscape in so many movies.

The beautiful gardens open to the public (Taken by R)

The view from the gardens across the harbor

Finally, we went down to the base of the walls to take a boat. No, not the ferry that everyone takes from Valletta to Birgu. We decided to take a traditional fishing boat tour of the harbor. M tends to get sea sick, so the boatman first took her, baby D and our tour guide straight across the harbor to Birgu. That gave her some time to feed and change the baby. Then, he came back and the rest of us gingerly boarded the very small, wobbly boat – that didn’t provide life jackets.

That’s a small board…

We headed out into the harbor, and I soon forgot my worries. The day was beautiful. The water was so blue and calm, and the views were amazing. I kept taking pictures, but soon I actually put the camera down and tried to just take it in. My eyes could not take in enough. It was like nothing I had seen before.

We are all aboard and ready to ride around the harbor

The views are too beautiful and too many to take in in one time

Finally, after about 30 minutes, we made it over to Birgu and our tour guide. M and baby D were there, and we headed to the last part of our tour. Birgu was smaller, felt more lived in. But we got to see the unique architectural aspects that made it unique.

Birgu had a more small town, lived in fill

Finally our four hours were up, and we were all starting to get hungry and jet lagged (to add to the hang over). So we said good-bye to our tour guide and went on the hunt for lunch. Lunch, however, was another adventure…

Royal Opera House

  • Address: Casa Cassar, Triq il-Vittorja, Valletta, Malta VLT 1050
  • Hours: Check Website for upcoming shows

St. John’s Cathedral

  • Address: Triq San Gwann, II-Belt Valletta, Malta
  • Hours: Monday – Friday 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM, Saturday 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM
  • Cost: Adults €10, Seniors and Students €7.50, Children 12 and under free

Grandmaster’s Palace

  • Address: Palace Square, Valletta VLT 1191
  • Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM everyday
  • Cost: Adults €10, Youths (12-17) and Seniors €7, Children (6-11) €5, Under 6 free

Caffe Cordina

  • Address: 244, Republic Street, Valletta VLT 1114, Malta
  • Hours: Sunday – Thursday 8 AM – 4 PM, Friday – Saturday 8 AM – 11 PM

Barrakka Gardens

  • Address: 292 Triq Sant’ Orsla, II-Belt Valletta, Malta
  • Hours: 7 AM – 10 PM Everyday

Harbor Cruise Tours

  • Address: Xatt Lascaris, Valletta, Malta
  • Cost: €8 a person for 40 minutes

This was a stop during my Girls Trip to Malta

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  1. Pingback: Churches of Malta | Around the World with Kids

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