Valletta was planned on a grid-iron design with straight streets and others intersecting the main ones. The main street leads straight down to Fort St Elmo. Apart, from the main streets, most streets in Valletta are narrow and on steep slopes. Getting lost in the streets is a good way to wander around the city. Open squares were planned to provide areas where soldiers could gather in case of an attack by the enemy and for other activities to be held. A popular square is Piazza Regina with its open air cafes and baroque style buildings. The most interesting buildings of the city include the Grand master palace, the Auberge of Castille, the Manoel Theathre, St John’s Cathedral, the National Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Museum of Archaeology. The City Gate is the main entrance to Valletta and is currently under construction. Valletta can be classified as a museum city.
Today in Valletta one can admire five different auberges still existing from the period of the knights. The most impressive is the Auberge of Castille which today houses the office of the prime minister. The knights built eight different auberges, each belonging to a different language. The last auberge still standing is the one that belonged to the knights from Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre. This is the only one that was never modified and provides a good idea of how the first buildings in Valletta looked like. The last public building by the knights was The Bibliotheca, today the National Library, which is worth visiting.
One of the most imposing buildings in Valletta is the former "Sacra Infermeria" of the Order of St John, today known as the Mediterranean Conference Centre. It is located adjacent to Fort St Elmo, overlooking the Grand Harbour. Within its halls, the knights provided medical help that was needed. The lower hall of the Hospital of the Order, with its impressive ribbed vaulting, measuring 155 metres in length, was at that time one of the largest in Europe and was described as “one of the grandest interiors in the world”. It was considered to be one of the best hospitals in Europe and could accommodate almost one thousand patients. Today, it is an important place for conferences and also a popular venue for performing arts.
The entrance of Valletta is nowadays being rebuilt completely. Opposite the main city Gate lies the famous Triton Fountain built in the 20th century. The entrance houses the remains of The Royal Opera House which was first gutted by fire and then destroyed during the Second World War. The first theatre was however the Manoel Theatre which is still in operation today.
One can admire stunning views from the streets and bastions of the city. The walks along the bastions offer different views of Marsamxett and the Grand harbour. The latter is certainly one of the most beautiful harbours in Europe. Gardens have also been laid out on some of these bastions, the most impressive being the Upper Barrakka Gardens, situated at the highest point of the fortifications facing the Grand harbour. Just under the Upper Barracca Gardens, there is another garden smaller in size, known as the Lower Barracca Gardens. Valletta skyline is dominated the the basilica of Our Lady of Mt.Carmel and its eye catching dome.
The Valletta Waterfront which faces magnificent views over the Grand harbour is another must visit. It is composed of nineteen 250 year old warehouses built by Grand Master Pinto. Also part of the Waterfront is the Forni Stores, built in 1626 at the order of Grand Master de Vilhena. They have been restored and now house a number of shops, bars and restaurants among a small shopping centre. This is where cruise liners dock in Valletta and is about a 15 minute walk to the city centre.
Valletta is a busy city during the day with lots of maltese shoppers and tourists visiting the interesting sites. It is completely the opposite in the evening when it is transformed into a quite city. Valletta is a small compact city which makes it quite possible to visit all the various historical sites in a day. Valletta is interesting not only for the various museums it houses but also for the different details on the facades of the buildings, the street niches, monuments and beautiful squares. Valletta is a major centre of shopping on the island and home to some of the islands’ best restaurants.
Valletta comprises of an interesting mix of new and old buildings, historic attractions, modern culture and a bustling atmosphere only few minutes away from the more hectic towns of Sliema and St.Julians. It is a largely pedestrian-oriented city with few roads accessible to cars. Valletta will be European Capital of Culture in 2018.