An unsung urban hero of the Med, Malta’s capital city combines astounding 17th-century architecture with a wealth of history and a burgeoning hipster scene. It’s perfect for a cultured long weekend, and flights from the UK are currently cheap and plentiful. Go soon, though: Valletta has been crowned European Capital of Culture for 2018, so it won’t be long before everyone’s enjoying this coastal gem.
Direct return flights from the UK take just 3 hours and start from around £100 on Skyscanner.
Once you touch down, the drive from the airport to central Valletta takes little more than 20 minutes. Hopping in a taxi is a doddle, or let your hotel arrange a transfer (approx. EUR20).
Having reached your destination, the city’s narrow stone walkways and tumbling steps are best navigated on foot. If you fancy exploring beyond Valletta’s fortified walls, Malta has an excellent network of buses, ferries and water taxis. The island is just 27km long and 14km wide, so most excursions can easily be done in a day.
Although summer is glorious, the balmy temperatures tend to last well into September, when the sea is warm and the crowds are dissipating. If you’re simply after city culture, October is also a lovely month to visit.
Having been awarded UNESCO status in 1980, Valletta is rich with fascinating museums, galleries and architecture. The big names are centred around the Fort of St Elmo, with its ‘Malta at War’ museum. Within a short walk you’ll find St John’s Co-Cathedral and the Grand Master’s Palace, as well as Renzo Piano’s modern parliament building and striking City Gate.
Such a beautiful city commands beautiful souvenirs. Make time to peruse NO.ME Studio, an art and design collective featuring upcycled objects. Look out for their reclaimed timber clocks, concrete lamps, wire sculptures and hand-drawn postcards.
If that doesn’t whet your appetite, indulge yourself at Chocolate District instead. This chocolatier sources its produce from all around the world, and you can choose from raw chocolate, pralines, bars and gift boxes.
Want to cool off? Take a quick water taxi along the coast to Sliema’s glitzy harbour, where rocky outcrops invite you to dip your toes in the sea. Alternatively, catch a bus south of the city to the colourful fishing village of Marsaxlokk for excellent seafood and a slower pace of life.
Valletta’s foodie scene is thriving, with plenty of independent eateries to choose from. Design geeks will love the industrial lighting, stripped-back walls and tiled floors of the Tap Room brasserie, where you’ll also find great food, friendly service and tempting cocktails.
Equally individual is The Harbour Club, a uniquely positioned waterfront restaurant serving tasty seasonal fare. It was designed by Chris from Valletta Vintage, and we couldn’t help but be charmed by its reclaimed wooden bar, which was built from the deck of an American ship.
Want to push the boat out? The Black Pig serves some of the most exceptional food in the city. Chef and patron Andrew Borg has created an impressive menu of contemporary French cuisine, complemented by a range of biodynamic wines.
At the other end of the scale, No 43’s delicious homemade soups, sandwiches and salads are perfect for food on the run. Its recipes include healthy chicken and grape quinoa salads, as well as traditional Maltese Ftira (bagel shaped bread) with beetroot, feta, avocado and mint.
For an easy sunset supper, Vecchia Taranto’s takeaway pizzas are a wonderful surprise. This unassuming trattoria has a cult following thanks to its fresh ingredients, cheesy toppings and crunchy crusts.
When the night stretches out before you, it’s time to choose your poison. Gin lovers are particularly well served at Yard 32, a tiny establishment on Strait Street which boasts Malta’s widest selection of ‘Mother’s Ruin’. Over 45 varieties of gin and 35 types of tonic water await.
Just along the road, you’ll find relaxed and welcoming StrEat Whisky & Bistro, whose tables sit beneath an ancient vaulted ceiling. Incredibly, their menu boasts over 180 whiskies.
Chris Briffa is the wunder-architect who’s overseen some of Valletta’s most stunning historic conversions, and Valletta Vintage was a personal project created in conjunction with his partner Anna. Five peaceful pied-à-terres are decorated with beautiful mid-century pieces and a changing selection of local artwork. Design-lovers will adore the creativity and attention to detail on display.
Standing on one of the city’s loveliest streets, Casa Ellul is another fabulous Briffa conversion. Its 8 suites are bursting with original features and modern touches. Stone windows and marble staircases mingle with free-standing bathtubs and work-of-art photography, while an elegant grey dining room gazes onto a central courtyard.