Situated in the heart of the Mediterranean, Malta is an enticing, sun-drenched island that hosts cruise ships year-round. If you are lucky enough to have the island on your next cruise itinerary, you’ll discover that Malta is in a class of its own.
In particular, the capital Valletta offers a rich culture, beautiful architecture, and Mediterranean cuisine to make your mouth water. Known as the City of Palaces, this warm and sunny place will inspire you to make Malta a destination you want to revisit. And not just once.
As your cruise ship eases into the harbor in Valletta, the white, limestone city basks in year-round sunshine. Across the island’s urban and rural landscapes, the patina of this stone punctuates the land with age-old monuments, ruins of history, and architectural masterpieces.
The Maltese way of life
Among Malta’s half a million residents, English is widely spoken, together with the local Maltese language mixed with Italian. The currency is in Euros, and infrastructure and facilities such as banking, transportation, and health care are of a high standard.
Typical of the Mediterranean culture, food is central to daily life, with open-air markets and busy fishing communities. The cuisine in Malta is rustic and seasonal. In addition to local foods, you’ll notice strong influences from Sicily and North Africa in its dishes.
Seafood is, of course, plentiful here. And fishing is a popular sport with both locals and visitors. Prime fishing waters along the coast offer plenty of opportunity for a spot of shore fishing or a chartered fishing trip with a local expert.
To experience the best gastronomic delights and local delicacies, we urge you to find a seat in the sun and try the local cafes and restaurants during your visit rather than return to your cruise ship for lunch.
Valletta cruise port
The cruise port in Valletta is just 1.5 km from the city center. It’s an easy walk from the terminal into the city. The whole of Valletta is straightforward to navigate due to its compact size.
There are two passenger terminals at the cruise port and berths for up to seven cruise ships at a time. Taxis, local buses, and hop-on/hop-off buses are plentiful and easy to find.
From the cruise port, head towards the Barrakka lift, an outdoor elevator constructed ten years ago to link the harbor with the city center. It costs 1 euro to ride the elevator and saves you a lot of walking up and down steps.
The best shore excursions from port Valletta
A walking tour of Valletta
After you disembark your cruise ship, start by discovering Valletta Waterfront. Packed full of retail stores, food outlets, and entertainment, the historical “Pinto Stores” are identified by their colorful doors. Enjoy a stroll before heading into the historic center via the Barrakka lift, just a short walk away.
Stroll through the upper and lower Barrakka Gardens, and photograph the picture-perfect view over Malta ahead of you. We recommend you head to The Grandmaster’s Palace before you continue your tour. That way, you are more likely to get ahead of the crowds to enter the Palace. Built over 500 years ago, it was once the seat of the heroic Knights of St. John, and today is the official residence of the President of Malta.
And it’s well worth a visit for the breathtaking ceilings and incredible artwork.
From the Palace in St. George’s Square, head to St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Inside the Cathedral, the floor is visually stunning, as are the rich artworks, artifacts, and tapestries.
Heading towards the Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck, browse the tiny shops. Visit local artisans, choose souvenirs and buy local snacks. This area is packed with so much to see and experience it’ll be challenging to fit it all in during your day on shore.
And it’s for this reason that we recommend participating in a guided tour. Especially if you love history and architecture, choosing a half-day tour with a knowledgeable guide will give you a fantastic insight into the culture of Malta and show you some stunning sights.
With a guide, you will squeeze a lot in before having the rest of the day to explore yourself and shop on famed Republic street for locally made filigree jewelry and pottery. Alternatively, continue with your guide over The Three Cities and the heart of historical Malta.
Sunday market at Marsaxlokk
If you are visiting on a Sunday, do check out the opening time of the shops and museums before you arrive. An excellent way to spend a Sunday is to see the fish market at Marsaxlokk. The attractive harbor is full of colorful fishing boats, and small cafes along the waterfront are great for relaxing. You’ll find all kinds of local food here. Try pixxispad, marinated and grilled swordfish, a specialty of Malta.
Local buses can take you from Valletta’s central bus station to Marsaxlokk, about 30 minutes from Valletta. The bus station is a 15 walk from the cruise terminal. Buses will be busy, so plan your return to your cruise ship in good time.
The Three Cities
Our top choice for a first-class shore excursion when visiting the Port of Valletta is to tour The Three Cities. Delve into authentic Malta and its incredible, rich history.
We recommend you book a guided tour to explore the three fortified cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua.
Ideally, you would spend at least three days exploring if you have a cruise that departs from Valletta. However, on a shore excursion for just one day, book a guided tour with transport to see the most significant sites and the best viewing spots for an unforgettable day.
The charm of St. Julian’s
St. Julian’s historic fishing village and beautiful coastline make this a great choice when visiting Malta. Just 20 minutes from Valletta, you can easily combine a visit to St. Julian’s with a guided tour of Valletta on the same day.
Discover a picturesque marina, luxury shopping, and a fantastic selection of restaurants in Portomaso Bay and Balluta Bay.
To reach St. Julien from the port in Valletta, walk 5 minutes to bus stop A15. Bus number TD13 gets you there in 18 minutes.
Gozo, Camino, and the Blue Lagoon
Malta’s sister islands, Gozo and Comino, are reachable by ferry from the harbor.
Gozo is 5 km from the mainland and a 25-minute ferry ride. The island is a world away from the busy capital, Valletta. Dotted on the landscape are church spires and small villages. Explore the beautiful coastline and excellent hiking paths. In addition, if you love the water, there are some fantastic diving sites to experience and plenty of diving shops where you can rent diving equipment or snorkeling gear.
The island is developed just enough to have everything you need. It’s an idyllic spot where the pace of life is at a gentle nudge, and the locals have time to chat. With year-round sunshine, this is the best that nature has to offer.
Comino has no inhabitants and is entirely rural. It is famous for its Blue Lagoon and Crystal Lagoon. The other beaches of Santa Marija Bay and San Niklaw Bay are equally enticing.
The Blue Lagoon gets thousands of visitors each year, and it can be hectic in the summer season. We recommend booking a shore excursion to take you there by boat and start as early as possible in the day. A reputable tour guide can pick you up at your cruise terminal- This is a full-day excursion and an unforgettable day out.
Note that the sun is intense in Malta - the island has one of the highest average temperatures in Europe. Together with the landscapes bright, white limestone reflecting heat, it can be hot in peak season. Be sure to include lots of cotton coverups, sunscreen, and a hat in your cruise packing list for this destination.
Getting around Valletta
The only public transportation in Valletta is by bus. They run frequently and are generally very liable. Buy your ticket on board and bring euros if you want to pay cash. You will need the exact fare. Paying by card is also possible. Any single ticket within a two-hour radius costs 2 euros, and you’ll pay 3 euros in the evening.
If you are a fan of the hop-on/hop-off buses, then you have two bus routes and a total of 46 stops to give you those panoramic views of the island. The bus takes you around the city and out to some of the best fishing villages surrounding Valletta.
Hop on/Hop-off the bus in Valletta
From the Valletta waterfront, you can find hop-on buses for both the blue and red routes. We like the red route. It takes you to the center of the city, St. Julien’s, Balluta Bay, and Sliema seafront, some of our favorite spots.
You will not have time to do both routes. If you have your heart set on visiting the stunning, ancient walled city of Mdina and nearby Rabat with its ruins of Domus Romana, then you’ll need the blue route.
Expect to pay around 25 euros per person for a 24-hour ticket, the minimum you can purchase even though you are stopping for a day on your cruise.
Book an independent shore excursion or follow the ship’s group tour
Shore excursions from port Valletta offered by the cruise line can be expensive. Many guests choose to book an independent tour guide or go alone and explore themselves with a good guidebook.
There are countless ways to plan and book your day out. Find more about your options by reading our article about shore excursions here.
How to get the best Maltese experience in just one day
Plan your shore excursions from port Valletta before your travel. It will be impossible to do everything the island offers in just one day. Take the time to read as much as you can about Malta, and then decide what kind of shore excursion you are looking for. Whether this is your first time in Malta or if you are a returning visitor, the port of Valletta has something for you.
Which cruise lines offer Malta as a port of call?
MSC Cruises offer cruises departing from Valletta during the summer of 2023 onboard MSC Divina. Extend your cruise holiday by arriving 3 or 4 days in Malta before your cruise begins to explore this beautiful island at your own pace.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line includes Valletta on their itinerary in the Meditteranean onboard Voyager of the Seas, departing from Athens, Greece, as part of a fantastic 9-night cruise.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers Valletta as a port of call on a 9-night itinerary from Rome to the Greek Isles. You sail on Norwegian Breakaway.
Oceania Cruises visit Valletta on their 10-night Mediterranean voyage from Rome. Its luxury ship, Riviera, is a firm favorite with cruise travelers.
Celebrity Cruises from Athens to Barcelona include Valletta as a port of call on their Greek Isles cruise ending in Spain.
Silversea Cruises, an ultra-luxury cruise line, has a wonderful 10-night cruise, including Valletta, onboard the elegant cruise ship Silver Spirit, sailing from Rome to Venice.