Valletta is not like any other European capital. The tiny city is built like a fort on the northern coast of Malta with the sea on three of four sides. The walls create an impressive sight when arriving from the waterside. The city has developed a lot during the last years. However, it has been able to keep the feeling of a historical city. It has a very medieval feel to it and as you walk its narrow streets, you cannot but imagine being in another time altogether.
When we visited the city in March, the historical sights were overshadowed by the annual carnival that has the whole country in its grip.
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Getting to Valletta from Sliema
It was a lot easier to reach Valletta this time compared to previous visits to Malta. Instead of taking the bus the long route around the bay there was now a ferry across from Sliema Ferry Terminal. Even better, it is part of the public transport system and costs as much as the bus. Who would say no to basking in the sun for while? And I must admit, the views are amazing!
The ferry arrives at a terminal on the northwestern shores of Valletta, outside the city walls. From here it is quite a walk uphill before reaching the main streets of the city. The walk itself takes only a few minutes.
There is a lot to see in Valletta. The main streets start at the Triton Fountain. From there they lead through the city gates and along the center of Valletta, all the way to the Fort Saint Elmo at the very tip. A big part of the main streets is a pedestrian zone. From the 15th century until World War II, the Fort Saint Elmo was a fort in an almost constant transformation. Today it houses the National War Museum.
Heading back towards the main gates, next to the New Parliament Building and the Central Bank of Malta you will find one of the best viewpoints in Valletta. From here it is possible to view the three cities. Across the bay, there are three cities standing right next to each other. Those are Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua. Each one of the cities is almost as fortified as Valletta itself.
One sight we missed during our exploration of Valletta was its most famous landmark – Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is the dome of the basilica that, in addition to the great walls, which characterizes the view over Valletta from Sliema.
Running Into the Maltese Carnival
During a week each year, Malta erupts into countrywide celebrations. That is the Maltese Carnival. The tradition dates back to the 16th century and it is a big deal. In Valletta, kids were dressed up in costumes and we soon run into the Carnival itself. The streets were filled with decorated vehicles, loud music, and cheerful people. A carnival at its best, in other words. Valletta is not a big city in regards to the area, so it got really crowded in many places. It is in Valletta and neighboring Floriana that most celebrations take place, so you can imagine that a lot of people meet up in the capital.
For us, it was actually too many people, especially with a toddler. So we did not stay for long to see the parade. Instead, we enjoyed another great view of Valletta from the ferry back to Sliema.