Come the start of 2018, Valletta will be more than just the capital of Malta. For the last six years, this majestic jewel of the Med has been planning something very special indeed.
As the 2018 European Capital of Culture, there’s never been a better time to head for this fortress city. With an action-packed programme, there’s sure to be something to see whenever you visit. Here, we’ll give you the lowdown on the Maltese capital, so you can hit the ground running when you head out there to soak up some culture this year.
Where is Valletta?
Valletta is by far the largest city on the island of Malta, with its metropolitan area home to around 400,000 people. Covering swathes of the country’s northeast coast, it’s a vibrant and exciting place to visit.
The historical city of Valletta is much smaller, and covers only the peninsula which divides the city’s bays in two. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is where you’ll find jaw-dropping architecture and Instagram opportunities aplenty.
A rich history
The story of Valletta begins in the mid-16th century. Plans were drawn up for a town on the peninsula as early as 1524, but it was Grand Master Jean de Valette who oversaw the construction of a vast walled city from 1566. The foundation stone was laid by Valette in what is now the Our Lady of Victories Church, and the city that was to come would take his name.
The project’s main architect, Francesco Laparelli, broke with local tradition and gave the city its famous grid-plan streets. Completed within seven years, historic Valletta has hardly changed to this day. Some streets have been widened and ageing structures rebuilt under British rule – and the fortress was a target for air raids during WWII. But aside from this, Laparelli’s Valletta is almost entirely intact.
Things to see in Valletta
You could quite literally spend days getting lost among the grid in Valletta, but here are some unmissable highlights:
St John’s Co-Cathedral
From the outside, this cathedral is perfectly pleasant but pretty unassuming. But that all changes once you step inside. A century after its construction, the then Grand Master of Malta demanded the church’s modest interior be redesigned to rival the grandest efforts of Rome. And the result is spectacular. Every single wall and feature is more intricate than the eye can see, with beautiful carvings and vast paintings clinging to every surface.
Fort St Elmo
You’ll find this historic star fort at the city’s northern tip. Built before Valletta itself, as a response to an Ottoman raid, its military history stretches centuries, and it was used in battle as recently as the second world war. The Fort has seen major restoration work since 2009 and now houses the country’s National War Museum.
Valletta City Gate
Arguably Valletta’s only modern architectural statement, the City Gate is a sight to behold. Redeveloped over the last few years, it uses traditional materials in a truly unique way. The development is home to the country’s new parliament building, an iconic piece of architecture that has divided opinion – but is still well worth seeing nonetheless.
Our Lady of Victories Church
To see where the city began, pay a visit to Our Lady of Victories Church. Once again, a subtle and refined exterior is met with a lavish and beautiful interior. The pamphlets provided as you enter should guide you to the very spot where Valletta’s first stone was laid.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
For a moment of tranquillity, emerge from the deep grid of the city and climb your way to the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Along with a beautiful collection of fountains and groves, you’ll be treated to panoramic vistas back down over the city and out to sea.
What’s on in Valletta
In addition to the packed-out schedule of Capital of Culture events, there’s plenty that goes on in the city annually:
Malta International Fireworks festival – 21st, 27th & 30th April
It’s a little-known fact that the Maltese are experts when it comes to fireworks. The natives’ love of the displays has led to a world-renowned pyrotechnic show taking place in the bay across from Valletta each year. Spread across three nights in April, it’s sure to dazzle.
Malta Fashion Week – 28th May until 2nd June
For one week in the summer, Valletta becomes a hotbed for top-shelf industry talent. Designers, catwalk models, stylists and makeup artists all flock to the city’s streets – with no end of exhibitions, workshops and parties springing up all over town.
Isle of MTV – TBC
Every year, the city of Valletta plays host to one of the most widely-broadcast concerts on the planet. Chart-topping artists from around the world come to perform to a diverse crowd of locals and European holidaymakers.
Malta International Arts Festival – 29th June until 14th July
This annual festival has built on its reputation in recent years, and promises an extensive programme of classic and contemporary arts, theatre, music, dance and poetry.
Malta International Air Show – 22nd & 23rd September
Held annually each September since 1993, this air show features planes and aircraft from all over the world.
Explore all of this and more with a trip to the Maltese capital. Start planning your getaway today with flights to Valletta from Manchester Airport.