One Way to do Malta

Malta, the George Cross Island, is an excellent destination for a cruise ship visit.  My wife and I visited the island while cruising on board P&O’s Azura.  The capital of Malta is Valletta which straddles the north western edge of Grand Harbour, where visiting cruise ships berth…

 

This is the cruise ship berth coming up left centre on this photograph….

 

 

I’m not totally sure of the protocol but on Azura’s visit we were afforded a welcoming gun salute as we sailed in past Valletta’s ramparts…

 

 

My wife and I had spent a fortnights shore based holiday in Malta a couple of years previously so we were pretty ‘au fait’ with the lay of the land.  On this visit we had decided to return to the hilltop medieval walled town of Mdina, which is situated at the centre of the island.

 

 

…and to do this we planned to take our chances with Maltese Public Transport.

 

The island’s main bus terminal is situated just outside Valletta’s main walled entrance, as indicated on the following street plan…

 

 

So, on disembarking the ship we headed straight for the set of steps that would take us from Grand Harbour towards the bus terminal, the start of the steps  I have highlighted with the red arrow…

 

 

The steps were, at the time, reasonably well signposted…

 

…though they are actually quite steep…

 

For those who may find the steps a little daunting there is the new Upper Barrakka lift linking the Grand Harbour to the Upper Barrakka Gardens and Valletta city centre. It is located on the original site where its predecessor, which was dismantled in 1983, operated between 1905 and 1973. The charge to use the lift is currently €1.00.

 

At the top of the steps is the War Memorial to the Royal Malta Artillery

 

…and just a little further over, almost opposite the bus terminal, the Floriana War Memorial

 

 

From the bus terminal in Valletta you can take a bus to Mdina. Buses run every 10 minutes and the journey takes around half an hour. A ticket costs € 2.60 per person and is valid all day. Tickets can be purchased on the bus.

Update. Thanks to Michelle for the comment. I now understand that since the Maltese Government took over the running of the buses the day ticket fare has been decreased to €1.50 per person.

On arrival it is a short walk from the bus drop off point to the main gated entrance…

 

…having crossed the moat…

Once inside the walls the impression is that nothing has changed here for more than a millennium. No vehicular access is allowed  apart from a limited number of residents and emergency vehicles and it is a joy to stroll around virtually undisturbed.  Between the obvious attractions of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Cathedral Museum, the views from the walls and The Natural History Museum, a maze of alleys and narrow roads give the visitor a feeling of both serenity and silence. Indeed, Mdina  is a joy to stroll around…

The main attraction, St Paul’s Cathedral,  whose design inspired many of the other churches in Malta…

 

*****

 

The National Museum of Natural History

 

 

The National Museum of Natural History now occupies an eighteenth  century palace. Designed in Parisian Baroque style, Vilhena Palace also served as a temporary hospital during 1837’s cholera outbreak: as a sanatorium for British troops in 1860 and as a hospital for tuberculosis patients in the early twentieth century.

In 1973 it was officially inaugurated as the National Museum of Natural History. The main responsibility of the museum is the acquisition, collection and conservation of natural history material, with importance given to local biota…

 

The Walls

 

…and the view…

 

 

There are one or two excellent restaurants within Mdina, one particular one I recall from our previous stay…

 

 

 

 

There are also plenty of cafes and gift shops, some of which specialise in Mdina Glass

 

 

We returned to Valletta by bus just after lunch and took a walk along the main thoroughfare (Triq lr Repubblika) past the Great Siege Monument

 

 

 

…and the National Library…

 

…which doubles as the centre of Valletta’s café society.

 

Malta featured prominently during the majority of my early service years  in the Royal Navy. If there was one feature of Valletta became renowned for it had to be the infamous Strait Street…

Now a shadow of it’s former past when it was colloquially referred to as ‘The Gut’ – a seedy street of shall we say, ‘lively bars’ – which still evokes fond memories…

 

Pilgrimage over we touched further left and onto Sliema Creek which is the opposite side of Valletta to Grand Harbour…

 

 

…before following the waterline around Valletta in the direction of the entrance to Grand Harbour, seen here to the top centre…

 

 

…with the intention of following the harbour walls back to the ship. Apart from the stunning views across Grand Harbour towards Kalkara

 

 

…the opportunity arises to get close up to one of the most prominent monuments that cruise ship visitors are likely to experience, the Siege Bell Memorial 

 

*****

It was erected in 1992 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the presentation of  the award of the George Cross to Malta, and to honour over 7000 service personnel and civilians who gave their lives during the Siege of Malta, 1940 – 1943.  It was unveiled by Queen Elisabeth II and the collonaded belfry contains a huge bourdon bell which is the largest bell in Malta.  The columns rise from a high base designed on the plan inspired from the form of the George Cross.

Adjacent to the belfry and overhanging the bastion parapet is a bronze catafalque symbolising the burial of the corpse of the unknown soldier at sea…

 

 

The short distance back to the ship also reveals how Malta’s strategic position in the Mediterranean was utilised over the years: no more so than in this  harbour-side store complex dating back to 1712…

 

And finally, adjacent the ship’s berth, is the Viset Laguna. Tastefully redeveloped with a full range of  shops, restaurants, cafes and bars…

 

…an ideal place to while away those remaining hours or minutes before returning on board.

Our full tour took minutes short of 6 hours. For those who may have mobility issues there are other options for getting the most out of a visit to Malta. These include the ubiquitous HoHo bus…

 

…which has a departure point near the cruise ship berth or, for a more quaint and traditional means of tourist transport, the Maltese horse carriage tour…

 

*****

 

 

Whatever method one choses to take when visiting Malta on a cruise ship there is never a shortage of places and sites to see. The Maltese people are proud of both their heritage and history and its past links with the United Kingdom makes it a top destination for British cruise ships.

 

 

5 responses to “One Way to do Malta

  1. Thanks once again Richard for the excellent review we haven’t been to Malta for quite a few years now we may well include Malta in our next cruise and will be sure to take your how to do guide with us. Marie

  2. Richard this is excellent. we were in malta a few weeks ago on a land holiday, returned after 20 years and boy has it changed, a lot more modern, but still totally love malta. one thing is the buses are now run by the government and are a lot cheaper a day ticket only costs 1 euro 50 pp. we got the bus from Valletta to mdina the journey is lovely too and what makes it nicer is all the locals using the bus gives you a better experience than the tourist buses. really enjoyed reading your review. thanks.

  3. Thanks for this Richard. Malta is certainly a wonderful place to travel around on your own. The photography opportunities are fabulous as yours show. Looks like you had gorgeous weather too.

    The people of Malta certainly endured a great deal during that Second Seige to preserve their freedom. My Dad was there during WW11 in the Royal Navy & he went back there in the eighties to revisit some of the old places. No doubt The Gut was one of them!

    The buses have changed quite a lot since the last time we were there like you we really enjoyed travelling with the locals & getting a taste of the real Malta.

    Thanks again Richard.

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