Ultimate Guide to Cruise Port Valletta | 10 Best Things To Do In Malta

Valletta Malta

Welcome to cruise port Valletta, Malta! (Post updated: March 2024)

Valletta is the capital of Malta, an island country in the Mediterranean Sea known for its rich historic and cultural heritage, breathtaking coastline, scenic bays and beautiful beaches. The UNESCO-listed Valletta Old Town is the southernmost capital of Europe and the European Union’s smallest capital city, which is convenient for cruise passengers who can visit the highlights of the city in a day. 

Sailing into Valletta is spectacular and you’ll be taken back to the 16th century and the era of Knights Hospitaller upon spotting the city’s unique landscape. Due to its beauty and the variety of things to offer, Valletta (Malta) port is often included in both Western and Eastern Mediterranean cruise itineraries. In this article, read about:

  • Valletta cruise port (Valletta cruise terminal, getting around, helpful info)
  • 10 best things to do in the port of Valletta and the best Malta shore excursions

Visit also our cruise port guides to Florence (Livorno), Rome (Civitavecchia)Athens (Piraeus)Corfu, BarcelonaVillefranche

Valletta Cruise Port

Operated by Global Ports Holding, the Valletta cruise ship terminal is situated in the Grand Harbour, a natural deep-water harbour, which allows easy access to ships of all sizes. There are 7 berths and 3 passenger cruise terminals that can accommodate 3 cruise vessels simultaneously.

The main terminal is housed in the historic Magazino Hall and equipped with all modern facilities, including check-in counters, free Wi-Fi, ATMs, and duty-free shopping.

Upon stepping off the terminal, you’ll find yourself on Valletta Waterfront, one of the tourist hotspots that consists of a range of 250-year-old warehouses nowadays housing upscale restaurants and bars overlooking the port.

Valletta Old Town is located about a 15-minute uphill walk (1.2 km/0.80 miles) from the Valletta cruise terminal and the best way to reach it is via Barrakka Lift which will take you to the old town for 1€ round trip. The Barakka Lift is located 300 m from the cruise terminal.

Cruise port Valletta, Malta
Valletta Cruise Port. Source: Pixabay.com

Getting Around Valletta, Malta

  • The currency in Malta is EURO (€). ATMs and currency exchange are available in the town. Local currency and credit cards are widely accepted.
  • The official languages in Malta are Maltese and English because the country was a British colony from 1813 until 1964. Today, Malta is a British Commonwealth nation and a member of the European Union.
  • The port area is flat and wheelchair accessible, including the Barrakka Lift and a portion of Valletta’s old town.
  • Barrakka Lift connects the harbour with the old town and is the best way to reach the old town area and the city’s main attractions. There are two lifts and each can carry up to 21 passengers at a time, and the opening hours are daily from 7 am to 11 pm. The round-trip ticket is only 1€ and it’s advisable to have a coin prepared in advance or at least small euro bills. The entrance to Barrakka Lift is located 300 m away from the cruise terminal.
  • Malta has a great bus network around the island and the main Valletta bus station is located a 10-minute walk from Barrakka Upper Gardens (this is the upper station of the Barrakka Lift) and 150 m from the City Gate. The single bus ticket is 2€ and is valid for 2 hours (starting with the time of the first validation). You can check the routes and schedules at https://www.publictransport.com.mt/. The nearest bus station to the cruise terminal is about 250 m away.
  • Taxis are available everywhere, including the port of Valletta, and they operate at a fixed rate.
  • The regular ferry service connects Malta to Gozo Island (a neighboring island that is part of the Maltese archipelago). The ferry terminal is located below Fort Lascaris, around 450 m (a 5-minute walk) from the Valletta cruise terminal. Gozo Fast Ferry operates ferries to Gozo from Valletta and Mgarr town and the ride between Gozo and Valletta takes about 45 minutes each way. Check out the schedules at https://gozofastferry.com/. Other boat services also connect Malta with Comino, another island of the archipelago.
  • Water taxis using traditional Maltese “dghajsa” boats are also available next to the ferry terminal.
  • Driving on Malta is on the left and renting a car is a good option to get around the island, however, expect large crowds and lots of traffic in the summer season (July-August). Check out Malta rent-a-car deals
  • Malta Hop on Hop off sightseeing bus tours are available, and three routes are offered: South Malta Route/Red Route, North Malta Route/Blue Route, and the Gozo Sightseeing Route. The routes cover the major tourist attractions on the island, including Sliema, Blue Grotto, Mdina, popular bays and beaches. The nearest Hop on Hop off bus station is 250 m from the pier, close to where regular local buses stop. Check out Malta Hop on Hop off bus tours on Viator and Get Your Guide
  • Shopping in Valletta is mainly centered around the Republic and Merchants streets in the old town, where you’ll find local handmade products, artworks, shops, eateries and small businesses. Keep in mind that many shops may be closed between 1 pm and 4 pm.
  • Malta International Airport (MLA) lies 7.2 km/4.5 miles (a 10-minute drive) southwest of Malta cruise port in Valletta.
  • Explore Malta tours and activities
  • Book a private transfer to/from Valletta cruise port
  • Book accommodation in Malta

10 Best Things to Do in Cruise Port Valletta

Valletta, Malta’s stunning capital, was built in the 16th century by the Knights of St. John as a place to take care of wounded soldiers and pilgrims during the Crusades. The island’s turbulent history nowadays reflects in the architecture and archaeological heritage of Malta.

Before I share the best things to do in Malta, I invite you to grab your copy of theMediterranean Cruise Port Guide”, the most comprehensive guide to 45 Mediterranean cruise ports (including Malta), packed with practical information, expert tips & unforgettable experiences! (PDF format/200 pages)

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1. Valletta Old Town

The city of Valletta was founded in the 16th century by Jean “Parisot” de Valette, the 49th Grand Master of the Order of Malta and a Knight Hospitaller who defended the island against Ottomans during the Great Siege of Malta.

Due to its rich history and priceless cultural heritage, the entire city of Valletta has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are so many things to do and see in Valletta, but if you’re coming on a cruise ship just for a half day, you can explore the Old Town as some of the major attractions are located there:

1.1. St. John’s Co-Cathedral

Dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, the Catholic cathedral was built by the Order of St. John between 1573 and 1578 and is a symbol of Valletta. The elaborately decorated interior of the church represents one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Europe, compared to the church facade which is quite simple.

The Cathedral houses a series of tombs of 400 Knights and officers of the Order, as well as a crypt that contains the tombs of the Grand Masters.

1.2. Saint John’s Cathedral Museum

Situated next to the Cathedral, the museum is known for its impressive collection of Caravaggio’s artworks, including “The Beheading of St John the Baptist” from 1608.

1.3. National Museum of Archaeology

History buffs’ must-see place, the museum holds stunning collections of artifacts dating from Malta’s Neolithic era (5900-2500 BC), until the early Phoenician period (8th – 6th century BC).

1.4. Upper Barraka Gardens

The Barrakka Lift’s upper station is located at Upper Barrakka Gardens, a wonderful public park offering undoubtedly the most spectacular views of the Grand Harbour. The garden’s terraced arches date from the 17th century and offer perfect photo ops.

You’ll find several monuments and memorials dedicated to notable people, including Thomas Maitland, Winston Churchill, and Gerald Strickland.

1.5. Grandmaster’s Palace

A stone’s throw from the cathedral, the grandiose Grandmaster’s Palace dominates St. George’s Square and was built as the palace of the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, who ruled Malta from the 16th to 18th century.

The Palace used to be the seat of the Parliament from 1921 to 2015, however, it nowadays houses the Office of the President of Malta. Some parts of the Palace including the Palace State Rooms and the Palace Armoury operate as a museum and are open to the public.

1.6. MUZA – Museum of Fine Arts

Housed in the 18th-century knight’s palace, the museum showcases medieval to contemporary masterpieces of local Maltese and Baroque art.

1.7. Is-Suq Tal-Belt – Valletta Food Market

In the heart of the old town, you can visit this colorful market housed in a 19th-century building, featuring all sorts of groceries and a huge food court offering dishes from all across the globe.

1.8. Casa Rocca Piccola

Next to the Grandmaster’s Palace, you can visit Casa Rocca Piccola, the 16th-century palace which belonged to a noble Maltese family. The palace operates as a museum and you can visit dozens of lavishly decorated rooms from that period.

1.9. City Gate

Built on the site of the 16th-century city gate, the present gate consists of a pair of massive sloped stone blocks and was completed in 2014. Designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, the gate overlooks the Triton Fountain and Valletta Ditch and marks the entrance to the old town.

1.10. Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

With its massive dome that dominates Valletta’s skyline, this church is one of the finest examples of neoclassical 20th-century architecture.

1.11. St. Paul’s Cathedral

Located across from the basilica, St Paul’s Cathedral was built in 1844 in a neoclassical style.

1.12. Triton Fountain

The massive fountain is located by the entrance to the City Gate. A tourist information office and a bus terminal are nearby.

Check out Valletta Old Town tours and activities

Valletta old town, Malta
Valletta old town – The view of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Source: Pixabay.com

2. Valletta Waterfront

Upon exiting the cruise terminal, you’ll spot the bustling promenade lined with restaurants and cafes, including Hard Rock Cafe and Starbucks. Also known as Pinto Wharf, the Valletta Waterfront’s cafes and restaurants overlook the picturesque marina and stretch along the Grand Harbour. You can try some local dishes here such as fresh seafood, “Pastizzi” filled with savory cheese, rabbit stew and Lampuki pie.

If you keep walking along the waterfront promenade to your right, after a half mile you’ll reach the Lower Barrakka Gardens, another beautiful public garden offering sweeping harbour views.

Valletta Waterfront
Valletta Waterfront. Source: Pixabay.com

3. Megalithic Temples of Malta

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Megalithic Temples consist of several prehistoric temples built between 3600 BC and 2500 BC. Scattered around the island of Malta, these include the Ġgantija temple complex located on the island of Gozo, TarxienTa’ Ħaġrat, Mnajdra, Ħaġar Qim and Skorba temples. There are other archaeological sites, however, those temples have not been listed under UNESCO.

All the temples are located within a 20-40 minute drive from the Valletta port, except for Tarxien which is only a 10-minute drive and Ġgantija which you can reach by boat. The archaeological sites are nowadays managed by Heritage Malta.

Check out Megalithic Temples of Malta tours and activities

Tarxien Temple Malta
Tarxien Temple. Source: Pixabay.com

4. Mdina and Rabat

Situated 12 km/7.5 miles (a 20-minute drive) west of Valletta cruise port, the ancient Mdina is the former capital of Malta. This historic hilltop settlement is also known as the Silent City, nicknamed after the capital was moved out of Mdina to Valletta after the Great Siege of Malta in the 16th century. The city cannot be accessed by car, but parking is available in front of the entrance to the walled city.

Built on a plateau overlooking the verdant countryside, Mdina features an interesting blend of Norman and Baroque architecture reflected mainly in the city’s historic palaces and churches. The main places of interest include the fortified city walls (with Mdina Gate, Greeks Gate and the Torre dello Standardo), St. Paul’s Cathedral and Catacombs, Mdina Cathedral Museum, the National Museum of Natural History (housed in Vilhena Palace), the Norman House, and a few others.

Adjacent to Mdina is the town of Rabat, known as home to the famous Catacombs of St. Paul and of St. Agatha. Rabat is larger than Mdina and is renowned for dozens of churches and historic palaces.

Explore Mdina and Rabat tours and activities

Mdina Malta
Mdina. Source: Pixabay.com

5. Three Cities

The name “Three Cities” refers to three fortified historic cities – Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua – located on peninsulas right across the Grand Harbour. Vittoriosa’s foundation dates back to the Middle Ages, while the two other cities were founded by the Order of Saint John in the 16th and 17th centuries. You can visit the Three Cities by local bus (a 15-minute drive), Hop on Hop off bus, a water taxi, or a traditional Maltese “dghajsa” boat, all leaving from the Valletta cruise port.

Vittoriosa is one of the oldest cities in Malta and is often referred to as the “cradle of Maltese history”. In this ancient city, you’ll find numerous churches and palaces where Malta’s nobility used to live. The must-see landmarks include Fort St. Angelo, which dominates the Grand Harbour; Inquisitor’s Palace, the seat of the Maltese Inquisition for over 200 years; Malta Maritime Museum, which traces 7,000 years of Malta’s seafaring history; St. Lawrence’s Catholic Church, with its beautiful colorful artworks; and Malta at War Museum, depicting the role of Malta in the World War II.

Cospicua is the largest of the three cities and has been reconstructed several times throughout its turbulent yet rich history. The top-rated landmarks include Immaculate Conception Church and Cottonera Lines, the 17th-century fortifications surrounding the city.

Also known as Città Invicta (“the invincible city”), Senglea is a small city that has not been conquered during the Great Siege of Malta. However, a large portion of the city was destroyed during WWII which later resulted in a reconstruction of the majority of historic buildings. Nestled at the tip of the peninsula, Gardjola Gardens offer by far the most spectacular views of the Grand Harbour and the entire city of Valletta.

Explore the Three Cities tours and activities

Three Cities Malta
Three Cities. Source: Pixabay.com

6. Gozo and Comino

Gozo is part of the Republic of Malta and the second-largest island in the Maltese archipelago nestled northwest of the main island. Less developed than Malta island, Gozo is known for Ġgantija and other Megalithic Temples of Malta, marvelous geological formations, scenic hills, lively resorts and watersport activities.

The main places of interest include Ġgantija temples – the oldest Megalithic temples in Malta, older than the Egyptian pyramids; Azure Window, a collapsed natural arch; the Inland Sea – a lagoon of seawater also known as Dwejra; Xwejni Salt Pans – over 350 years old salt pans; Wied il-Mielaħ Window – a limestone natural arch; sandy beaches (Ramla Bay) and seaside resorts (Marsalforn and Xlendi).

On the crossing to Gozo, you’ll spot another small island of Comino, a bird sanctuary and a nature reserve. Between Comino and the adjacent islet of Cominotto lies the breathtaking Blue Lagoon, a picturesque bay with stunningly transparent blue waters, popular for swimming, diving and snorkeling. Besides that, you can also visit the beautiful Santa Maria Bay and Saint Mary’s Tower, one of the most important historic structures on the island.

The best way to reach Gozo and Comino is on guided boat trips and excursions as you’ll get the see the highlights of the islands. Alternatively, regular daily ferries depart from Valletta port or Mġarr harbour town. Check out the schedules and prices at https://gozofastferry.com/

Explore Gozo and Comino tours and activities

Comino Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon. Source: Pixabay.com

7. Malta Beaches and Bays

The best beaches, bays and popular seaside resorts are mainly located on the northern coast of Malta. These include:

  • Mellieħa Bay (Għadira) – Nestled on the outskirts of the village of Mellieħa, it’s Malta’s largest and most popular beach awarded with Blue Flag status for its clear waters. You’ll find plenty of facilities and water sports activities on the beach, such as kayaking, windsurfing, and banana boat rides. Distance from Valletta port: 26 km/16 miles (a 40-minute drive)
  • Golden Bay – This Blue Flag-certified beach boasts golden sands and is popular for its scenic cliffs. Numerous amenities are available, including large parking, water sports, and a few eateries and bars. Distance: 20 km/12.5 miles (a 30-minute drive)
  • Għajn Tuffieħa – Situated close to Golden Bay, this wonderful dark sand beach is popular for surfing and is surrounded by picturesque hills. Distance: 20 km/12.5 miles (a 30-minute drive)
  • Blue Lagoon – Taking a boat trip to Comino Island’s Blue Lagoon is a must-do in Malta!
  • Paradise Bay Beach – The beach lies in the northernmost part of Malta and overlooks the islands of Gozo and Comino. Tucked in a natural secluded cove, this beach is perfect for families and offers nice snorkeling ops. Distance: 28 km/18 miles (a 40-minute drive)
  • Ġnejna Bay – A 10-minute drive south of Għajn Tuffieħa, Ġnejna is a secluded gem and a great alternative for some other, busier beaches. It’s a family-friendly sandy beach that is best reached by car. Distance: 20 km/12.5 miles (a 30-minute drive)
  • Qawra Point Beach – Located in St. Paul’s Bay, this rocky beach is a great place for snorkeling. Distance: 18 km/11 miles (a 30-minute drive)
  • St. Peter’s Pool – Nestled in the southeastern part of Malta, this is a natural pool with crystal clear, blue azure waters, backed by a scenic horseshoe-shaped rock formation. Distance: 12 km/7.5 miles (a 20-minute drive)
  • Xlendi Bay Beach – Although very small and crowded in summer, Xlendi Beach is located on Gozo Island and offers incredible views of the bay backed by the panorama of Xlendi village.

Explore Malta beaches/bays tours and activities

Malta beach
Source: Pixabay.com

8. Sliema

Sliema is a seaside town and a popular tourist resort located about 9 km/5.5 miles (a 15-minute drive) north of Valletta cruise port. This vibrant city boasts numerous Baroque churches and a 5 km-long seafront promenade known as “The Front”, popular for walking, jogging, or enjoying the sea views in one of the countless bars and restaurants. Sliema has become a hub for shopping and nightlife and while there, you can check out The Point Shopping Mall and The Plaza Shopping Center for some ultimate shopping experience.

Some of the main Sliema points of interest include Torri ta’ San Giljan (the 17th-century hilltop tower offering panoramic views), Stella Maris Church (Our Lady Star of the Sea), Parish Church of Sacro Cuor (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart), Ġnien Indipendenza (Independence Garden), Tigné Point peninsula and Fort Tigné with its scenic coastal views and amazing sunsets, Manoel Island with the 18th-century Fort Manoel, and Sliema Point Battery. The best way to reach Sliema is by ferry boat that departs from the Valletta ferry terminal.

Check out Sliema tours and activities

9. St. Julian’s

St. Julian’s is another popular seaside resort town lying just north of Sliema, within a 15-minute drive north of the port of Valletta. Named after Saint Julian, the town’s patron saint who is widely known as Julian the Hospitaller, this historic town boasts churches, forts, historic palaces and scenic bays. Together with Sliema, this lively city is a hub for nightlife and features a wide range of bars and nightclubs. The Bay Street Shopping Complex is one of the most famous shopping and entertainment places in St Julian’s.

St. Julian’s highlights include St. Julian’s waterfront promenadeBalluta Bay Beach (a hotspot for swimming and sunbathing), Portomaso Marina overlooking St Julian’s BaySt George’s Bay, the iconic 19th-century Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Balluta Bay, Spinola Palace and Spinola Bay, and Paceville nightlife district. To get to St Julian’s, you can take a ferry from Malta cruise port.

Explore St Julian’s tours and activities

St Julian's, Malta
St Julian’s. Source: Pixabay.com

10. Popeye Village

Situated in the north of Malta island, 24 km/15 miles (a 35-minute drive) northwest of Valletta cruise terminal, Popeye Village is a purpose-built film set for the 1980 musical “Popeye”, converted into a small theme park. Inside the complex, you can roam through the streets of the village filled with rustic wooden buildings and several eateries. The best panoramic views can be admired from the road, especially during the sunsets which make the whole scenery truly magical!

Explore Popeye Village tours and activities

Popeye Village Malta
Popeye Village. Source: Pixabay.com

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