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, with shore excursions from port Valletta, you’ll discover that Malta is in a class of its own.
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. In particular, the capital Valletta offers a rich culture, beautiful architecture, and Mediterranean cuisine to make your mouth water.
As your cruise ship eases into the harbor in Valletta, you’ll see the white, limestone city basking 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 Mediterranean culture, food is central to daily life, with open-air markets and active fishing communities. The cuisine 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.
A walking tour from Valletta cruise port
The cruise port in Valletta is just 1.5 km from the city center. There are two passenger terminals and berths for up to seven cruise ships at a time.
While taxis, local buses, and hop-on/hop-off buses are plentiful, you can walk from the cruise terminal into the city. The whole of Valletta is easy to navigate due to its compact size.
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.
Ride the elevator for just 1 euro, and as you exit, head to the upper and lower Barrakka Gardens, and photograph the picture-perfect view over Malta ahead of you.
We recommend you start with a visit to The Grandmaster’s Palace in St. George’s Square. If you enjoy art and architecture, purchase skip-the-line tickets and go inside to see the breathtaking ceilings and incredible artwork.
Built over 500 years ago, the palace was once the seat of the heroic Knights of St. John and today is the official residence of the President of Malta.
From the palace, head to St. John’s Co-Cathedral. The floor inside is visually stunning, as are the rich artworks, artifacts, and tapestries.
Don't miss a visit to the Valletta Food Market, just a short walk from the cathedral. This beautiful, fully restored building offers an array of eateries and food stalls for all the family. Take your pick from local, athentic dishes or international menus. You can even shop for local produce on the lower level for delicacies to take home with you.
Walk towards the Church of St. Paul’s Shipwreck and browse the tiny shops along the way. Visit local artisans, and choose souvenirs, such as locally made filigree jewelry and pottery. Spend some time in this area as there is so much to see and plenty of cafes where you can sit to escape the heat.
Note that the sun is intense in Malta - the island has one of the highest average temperatures in Europe. Together with the landscape's bright, white limestone reflecting heat, it can be extremely hot in peak season. Be sure to include lots of cotton cover ups, sunscreen, and a hat in your cruise packing list for this destination.
Malta 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 city tour with a knowledgeable guide will give you a fantastic insight into the culture of Malta and show you some stunning sights.
In addition, you’ll have air-conditioned transportation and entrance tickets to the major sights included in the price of your tour.
Valletta’s popular Hop-on/Hop-off bus
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 panoramic views of the island. The bus takes you around the city and out to some of the best fishing villages surrounding 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 just for one day on your cruise.
Alternatively, local buses in Valletta 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.
Further afield – the best shore excursions from Port Valletta
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.
If you want to explore further afield, the surrounding area around Valletta is stunning. Pick the experience that you want to tick off your bucket list.
Sunday market at Marsaxlokk
If you are visiting on a Sunday, visit 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
Delve into authentic Malta and its rich history with a visit to The Three Cities.
Book a guided tour to explore the three fortified cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua. With a combination of a walking tour together with taxi boat transfers, you will have time to see all the most important sites from the best viewing spots.
The charm of St. Julian’s
St. Julian’s historic fishing village and beautiful coastline make this an excellent choice for a shore excursion 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 without a guided tour, 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 accessible by ferry from the harbor or by booking a guided tour by boat or catamaran.
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. And the 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.
Popular tours from Valletta
Shore excursions offered by the cruise line can be expensive. If you prefer not to explore by yourselves, you can book an independent tour guide. Our favorite tours hosted by trusted suppliers such as Viator or GetYourGuide are those led by expert historians who live on the island.
Read the reviews and make up your mind before you book. A few of our favorite tours include
- Full-day customized tour with pick up at the port with a visit to Marsaxlokk, the Three Cities, Mdina, and the Blue Grotto;
- Visit Gozo and the Comino islands by boat or catamaran
- The Valletta food tour – a fantastic opportunity to cook and eat with the locals.
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 10-night cruise, including Valletta, onboard the elegant cruise ship Silver Spirit, sailing from Rome to Venice.