Malta Day 2: Valletta and Marsaxlokk

Posted by Adam YWW on September 24, 2017 in Trip Reports

This is part 16 in a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta.  You can read an overview of the trip here.

There are a lot of things you can see in Malta – even on the main island itself.  And although the island isn’t that large, the sights are fairly spread out. Since I relied on bus transportation, this limited how many places I could see in a day.  With a rental car or taxi you could cover a lot more.  Day 2 in Malta actually ended up being my least favorite day, and I would have done it completely differently – spending more time in Valletta, making sure to hit the ancient capital of Mdina, and visiting the World Heritage Site of Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, an underground prehistoric burial site which I tried but couldn’t get tickets for a few weeks out.  But here is what I did do on my one day exploring the main island of Malta.

It was a five-minute walk from the Intercontinental to the bus stop in Paceville that would take me right into Valletta. It was already quite hot out, 90 degrees before 10am, but the bus was air conditioned and new- and came quickly.  I paid my 2 EUR and was on my way.  The bus takes a lot longer than a car would, as it hugs the coast and goes around each of the small peninsulas of St. Julian’s.  The heart of St. Julian’s looked a lot nicer than Paceville, with lovely promenades on the bay.  There were several hotels like the Cavalieri and Hilton that looked lovely.

St. Julian’s, Malta

The bus proceeded into SIlema, and I decided to get off there and take the ferry across the water to Valletta, as it would save a ton of time.  It’s a 5-minute ferry ride – much prettier than the 20 minute bus ride. It’s also only 1,50 EUR. Of course I had just missed a boat and had a 20 minute wait, so I got a cold Diet Coke from a kiosk and waited in a rare shady spot.  The Silema piers are a bit of a scene as there are lots of tourist boats that leave from there as well, and there are hawkers selling different day trip tickets.  The Valletta ferry doesn’t have a manned booth, so some of the tourist company salesfolk had the unfortunate job of answering questions despite the very clear ferry signage.

Silema-Valletta Ferry

I sat up top for the very short ride across the bay. I videotaped most of the ride, which you can see along with my walk through the Upper Barrakka Gardens below:

Arriving by ferry definitely gives you a great view approaching the city, as you get to see its walls and see the fortress nature of the tiny  but character-filled city.  The ferry drops you off at the bottom of a large hill, and you can take a shuttle into the town center for an extra 1 EUR, but it’s not that bad a walk.

Arriving in Valletta by ferry

I got into the city at 10:40am.  In retrospect, I wish I’d spent more time wandering through Valletta. I only had a loose plan, though, and sort of wandered without making any real stops. The city is like a step back in time, as there isn’t a ton of commercial development by international chains. There are a lot of old shops and signs that look right out of the 1950s.  Every street seems to lead to a stunning view of the sea, and the sandstone bricks were all set off with garlands for some festival (as a very Catholic country, there’s always a festival).

Streets of Valletta

Valletta makes up the northeastern end of a small peninsula, with Fort St. Elmo on one end, and the gates and the new Parliament of Malta at the other.  The ferry drops you off kind of at the top-middle.  I didn’t make it the Fort for some reason, but did wander by the National Library and St. George’s Square.  I walked past the Grandmaster’s Palace – one of the oldest buildings in Malta, but, again or no reason, didn’t go in.  You could see the guard, though.

Malta National Library

St. George’s Square

Palace of the Grand Master

St. George’s Square, Valletta

The St. John’s Co-Cathedral, a 16th Century cathedral and a major sight of Valletta was unfortunately closed for renovations.  I could have gone into the Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, instead, which had some heavy marketing, but did not.

Color me doubtful

I kept wandering a bit and found a lot of little streets that all seemed to lead to stairs, so bring your walking shows.  Eventually I made my way to one of the must-sees, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which are lovely gardens looking out over the water.  They were absolutely packed, with both tourists and locals – apparently the gardens have some of the best free wi-fi in town!  I sat for a bit and took in some of the sights and sounds, and drank water, before continuing onward.

More Valletta streets

Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta

Castile Square, Valletta

I found myself right near the new Parliament House, which is a Renzo Piano-designed new building, that manages to blend in rather nicely.

Parliament House of Malta, Valletta

Rather than loop back around and explore Valletta more, I realized I was right near the bus station, which is right outside the city gates. I looked and saw a bus to Marsaxlokk, a small fishing village I’d heard good things about, was leaving soon, so I headed that way.

Slow but comfortable buses

The bus ride only covered 4 miles, but there were 39 stops, making it a 45 minute trip to the southeast tip of the island.  The village of Marsaxlokk was pretty disappointing.  There’s basically a market selling touristy stuff, and a bunch of restaurants, and nothing else.  The ride there was at least interesting, though, as I saw some of the more commercial, modern parts of the island. In the harbor at Marsaxlokk, there are a lot of men with small motorboats offering to take you on rides to St Peter’s Pool for 4 Euros.  Again, I’m not sure why I didn’t do it.  I had originally thought about doing a hike that way but it was too hot. I did stick around for lunch though.  All the places on the waterfront were more or less the same, and I did a fish set menu for 13 EUR.  It would have been fine but the fact that there were so many flies and beers around that I was pretty anxious.

Church in Marsaxlokk

The rest of Marsaxlokk

Not far from Marsaxlokk is the Blue Grotto (not to be confused with the Blue Lagoon, which I hit the next day, on the island of Comino).  I had hoped to do that while I was in the area as well, but the public transportation options are not great, and there are no Ubers in Malta, so I just headed back to the bus.  The bus trip home was a major fail.  I had to transfer closer to Valletta, but was standing at the wrong spot and missed the first connection.  Then another bus came on marked “TD9,” but the driver insisted my transfer wasn’t valid.  I later realized that was an express bus and I should have paid the 3 EUR and been back at the hotel in 15 minutes.  Instead I waited 15 minutes for the next regular bus, which I rode for 40 minutes before getting out and walking in the heat because it was too crowded and jerky.  That walk allowed some gelato and some exploring on foot of some of the areas of St. Julian’s I’d only seen on the bus. I also hadn’t put sunblock on, so had quite the burn.  I arrived back at the Intercontinental at around 3:30, picked up my bags, and headed to the Radisson Blu.  I thought about going to Mdina that evening around dusk, but decided the taxi price for one person wasn’t worth it.

Spotted walking back through St. Julian’s

So yeah, not a particularly great day, but some lessons learned for you.  It’s probably worth it to just rent a car or hire people to take you around the island, so you can easily get to lots of places. The island is not big, but relying on public transport really limited how much I could see in a day. I really wish I’d been able to get a third full day in Malta, as that would have allowed me to see a lot more of the main island.  I do not regret spending my last day in Gozo and Comino, though, which I’ll get to in an upcoming post.



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