Let face the thruth. At least once in your life you have opened Google in your phone and searched the magic words “ instagrammable/photogenic places/spots in X” as if you were the only one able to have the shot of the century, as if the world haven’t seen enough Bali swings or floating breakfast surrounded by white-sand beaches or fake Indiana Jones shots in Petra. I got you. We are all there. We all wrote once these magic words as they can take us to Hogwarts or something like that…
However, after a couple of years as a instagramer and a bit more of years as a historian I feel that what I consider insta-whorty is often different from what other people feel is whort in their galleries. I generally consider or insta-worthy places that can tell something to people because of their history, culture or simply because they have a story to tell that nobody knows. Sometimes these places coincide with the most known, sometimes not. Boring? Maybe, but I don’t see the point in posting my breakfast (although floating in a 50mt caribbean pool), I do breakfast every day, not like a VIP but in the end is always breakfast that we are talking about. I would really love to be one of those cool instagramers who write just “Good morning” as without reading these world Instagram couldn’t go on but unfortunately for you, I am not. Valletta is probably one of the most photogenic places I ever visited. Every corner looks like out of a travel magazine and I seriously couldn’t stop taking pictures. However, although most of the things I’ve seen were visually beautiful, not all of them were “insta-worthy” according to my point of you. For this reason, I’ve selected the ones that can offer to visitors a double chance of having their insta-worthy picture and learn something more important related to the Maltese culture.
The Grandmaster’s Palace
I put this place as first because I feel very close to it, having studied the Order of St. John for long time. The Granmaster’s Palace is an architectonical marvel hosting the most important Maltese dignitataries since the 16th century. As the Order of St. John established definitively in Malta during the early 16th century, the need of a permanent and official residence for the Grandmaster was at the top of the Order’s agenda. The palace was intended to be built in the southern side of Valletta but because of the existence of different buildings already in the hands of the Order, this was built in the current location by the architect Girolamo Cassar. The Palace (that during that period was known also as Magisterial Palace) had various interventions along the centuries. In 1724, frescoes have been added to decor the ceiling and part of the walls and in 1740 the Grandmaster Pinto da Fonseca gave the building the current aspect by embellishing the façade and by building the famous clock tower visible from the main streets of Valletta. Pointless is saying that this place is joy for the eyes! The colourful floor tiles and the incredible ceiling make the Palace not only a precious piece of history and concentrate of pure art but also a great insta-worthy place.
Some tips before visiting.
As you can imagine, this place is usually pretty crowded especially during the high season. The only way to visit it without people (or with a very few people) is going at the aperture time on a weekday. The best thing to do is visit the Armoury situated on the other side of the courtyard, which opens at 9.00 in the morning and then go straight to the Palace, which opens at 10.00. If you are lucky, as me and Alessio were, you will be probably the only visitor(s) for a while. The first tourist after us arrived only a half hour later so we had plenty of time to shoot pictures before focusing on our tour of the palace. Unfortunately for you, you will not be totally alone as a guardian will escort you all the time for security reason (in the end you are always inside a museum!).
The Palace Armoury and Grandmaster’s Palace are located in Merchants Street, Valletta, Malta. The ticket price is Palace €4.66, Armoury €4.70 you can have up to 40% discount by purchasing a Malta Discount Card (Thanks Visit Malta for providing this for our trip).
The Upper Barakka Gardens
If you want to enjoy the best view of the Grand Harbour, the Upper Barakka Gardens are perfect place. The gardens were created on a pre-existent bastion built in 1560 of which you can still admire the lower part where the famous Saluting Battery is located. The inital scope of the gardens was not that of being a public place. In fact, they were originally created as an exercise ground for the Italian section of the Knights of Malta. The current archade (pictured) was built at the expense of the Italian knight Fra Flaminio Balbiani in 1661 and it originally included a roof that was removed as a consequence of the rebellion known as Rising of the Priests in 1775 (it was believed the garden arcades were the main location for clandestine plots). The gardens were originally known as “Bastion of St. Peter and Paul” or “Porta d’Italia” and they became open to public only in 1800 under the British rule.
Tips for visiting.
The Upper Barakka Gardens are free to visit and offer the best panoramic view from Valletta towards the Three Cities. You can expect tons of people, especially in the afternoon/night when tourists and locals gather under the archades to enjoy the sunset or the fireworks from the harbour. Getting a picture alone for your insta gallery? Almost impossible. You have three options in front of you. Going very early at morning (but with a complete different light); wait for the perfect moment to get a lucky picture (it might works if you have time and patience); third option (what I actually used for my first picture) asking people ten seconds of their life to avoid passing behind you while taking your picture!
The Parliament House’s staircase
This isn’t the most fancy staircase you have probably seen around but, despite all, it has an incredible eyecatching charm. It was one of the first things I’ve seen in when I arrived in Valletta and it immediately catched my attention. Firstly, because I was wandering what there was at the top of the staircase and, secondly, because in its simplicity this is probably one of the most photogenic spots of Valletta. The Parliament House in Malta is one of the newest constructions of the country, having been completed only in 2015. Until 1976, the Parliament was meeting in the Tapestry Chamber of the Grandmaster’s Palace that was then moved to the Armoury until the opening of the new Parliament’s meeeting place in 2015. The new Parliament’s house and its staircase have been designed by the architect Renzo Piano. The new architecture fits perfectly with the pre-existent surrounding buildings featuring the famous golden stone typical of the Maltese constructions.
Tips for photographing.
You can photograph the staircase at any moment of the day (it’s also free to do it). It can be quite crowded, but with a bit of patience you can have a perfect moment alone in front of the camera. I preferred to shoot at mid-morning when the sun was hitting the staircase in a way that created shade on half of the stairs.
The Bridge Bar
In the eastern side of Valletta, hidden among numerous alleys and lot of stairs there is a building famous for its colourful red balconies. Taking a picture here is more than natural even if you are not an Instagram fan. In fact, this place seems calling tourists like a mermaid calls her sailors. The colours of the balconies, the lovely bridge connecting two sides of the city and the flowers in the wall make this corner a great Valletta attraction. It’s likely you won’t be alone here. I had to wait for a while to shot my “insta-picture” (maybe I waited too long under the sun given that after this picture I felt really bad and needed to rest).
The majority of people will probably shoot their picture and archive this place among others seen in their holidays. What I suggest you is go twice and the second time go at night for one of their amazing Jazz Nights! You won’t be disappointed as the music is good and drinks are affordable! Moreover, you can enjoy the best view of Maltese fireworks from the Victoria Gate.
If you want to have a romantic dinner nearby the best place to go is Panorama Restaurant. I really enjoyed their Raviolacci with mushrooms we tried on our wedding anniversary. If you would like a table with a view on the Great Harbour is advisable to book in advance and specify your request.
The St. John’s Co-Cathedral
I think that no one picture I’ve made it (and also saw online) can make really justice to the beauty of this church as this is one of those places you have to see in person to fully admire its features. I admit I felt a bit overwelmed by the incredibly abundance of details and decorations all over the church.
Something you can never guess by just looking at the simplicity of its external Baroque facade. The construction of the St. John’s Co-Cathedral started in 1572. The church, however, was completed only in 1577 and its initial appearence was much more sober than the one presenting today. In fact, the current aspect took shape in the 17th century when the Grand Master, Raphael Cotoner, wished for the most important church of Malta a visual aspect equal to that shown by the churches of Rome. Well, I guess that he would be more than satisfied now!
Tips: As I said before, visiting this church can be a little overwelming. Especially if you don’t know where to look at. You might have the impression of being surrounded by too many things all together (beautiful but too many!). If you don’t have a guide or audio guide my suggestion is to focus on little things first. For example, look at the first picture of the church here. Can you see the Christ in the centre of the decorated wall? That’s an optical illusion. It may look as a marble statue from distance, but the closer you get the better you will see is “just” a painting (made by the genious of Mattia Preti. Look at the floor then (second/third picture).
It’s true, these tombstones are a bit creepy with all those skeletons and sinister figures looking at you ambiguously. Are you feeling unconfortable uh? Well, it all been studied to have exactly this effect. Visitors looking at the tombstones have to learn that nothing is forever and what you have in life like richness, fame, power is perishable in death (unless you’re a historical knight with a forever-resting place seen by thousand of people every day). Something to not miss inside the Co-Cathedral is the Oratory in which are displayed The Beheading of St John the Baptist and St Jerome Writing made by Caravaggio.
St. Ursula Street
This area of Valletta is historically known to have been the place of residence of the Knights of Castille, Leon and Portugal who were in charge of the defence of St. Barbara Bastion. The main attraction is the famous Auberge de Castille of which original construction date back to the 1570. The current building has been rebuilt in Baroque style in 1740 and its now the Office house of the Prime Minister of Malta. The building is known to be one of the finest architectural works of the country. Unfortunately the building is not open to the public but you can always admire the facade. If you go around Valletta you will probably pass through the square a few times. I admit I really liked this place at dusk when the fountain was enlightened and looked like a magical feature.
The Triton Fountain
Located before the City Gate of Valletta the Triton Fountain will be probably one of the first things you will see once arrived in the capital; and if you will use the public transport, you will probably see it more than once in a day. The fountain was built between 1952-59 and designed by thes sculptor Vincent Apap. The design of the fountain is inspired by the Turtle fountain in Rome but the choice of the Tritons symbolised the long-lasting relationship of Malta with the sea. If you went to Malta last year you would probably have missed this fountain because it was under restoration since 2015 and inagurated again in January 2018. The bronze tritons were, in fact, so damaged that they needed a full restoration. A controversial proposal aimed to relocate this symbol of Valletta away from its current position (closer to the city of Floriana). Luckily, the project was rejected and the fountain remained in its prominent position welcoming the new tourists before their access to Valletta.
This mini-guide to the most photogenic places of Valletta is over! Of course, I shot also 3,500 other pictures of hidden photogenic spots around the city. I loved especially, the colourful balconies, the flowers and the cobbled alleys, I’ve practically shoot a picture every meter. Valletta is a city that need to be explored by walking around its hundreds of secret corners so, from what I can suggest you is wake up early, wear your most confy shoes and go explore! This map below shows you where these places are located and the most coherent itinerary to follow starting from the Triton Fountain.
You can use this guide as a point of reference for your next insta-posts or as an occasion to research more about Valletta and Malta history before your visit! Enjoy your travels!!