A complete guide to visiting the Malta Three Cities (Birgu, Senglea, and Cospicua) from the nation’s capital Valletta.
Tourists visiting Malta will likely find their way to Valletta at one stage or another. Whether you’re staying in one of the traditional basque terraced buildings overlooking the Grand Harbour, or you’re just making your way into the city from Sliema or Paceville– you’ll want to designate some time to explore the Three Cities!
Staring across the Grand Harbour from the beautiful Upper Barrakka Gardens, you’ll likely notice three port neighborhoods of Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea, and Cospicua, alongside the prominent Fort St. Angelo. These neighborhoods are known as The Three Cities of Malta, a place full of history, culture, and stunning cultural sites.
In this blog post, I’ll detail everything you need to know about visiting the Three Cities, give you a quick rundown of the history and things to do and see, and throw in some photos and a quick recap of my experience.
- About the Three Cities of Malta
- How to Get to the Three Cities of Malta from Valletta
- Exploring the Three Cities – What to Do & See
- Grand Harbour Boat Cruise of the Three Cities
- Where to Stay in Malta
- Read More: Malta Travel & Adventure Inspiration
#1 Rated Three Cities Tour
Looking to cut out all the hassle of organizing a day trip to the Three Cities on your own? Book this top-rated 3 cities tour which includes a traditional luzzu or dgħajsa harbour ferry and a walking tour run by a knowledgeable local guide.
About the Three Cities of Malta
Malta has a very interesting and long history. From ancient prehistoric settlements to the rule of the Knights of St. John, there's much to learn and discover.
The Three Cities offer an opportunity for travelers to experience a more off-the-beaten-path destination, rich with culture and offering a slice of authentic Maltese life. This region is more laid-back and in fact, was one of the first settlements in the modern-day Grand Harbour, resulting in many identifying the Three Cities as the Cradle of Maltese history.
Settlers in Valletta used the many harbour inlets since Phoenician times, and this area was the original settlement for the Knights of St. John in the 16th century. As a result, you'll discover that many of the iconic churches, forts and palaces are much older here than in Valletta.
Exploring the Three Cities can be done in a single day via a combination of walking and Grand Harbour taxi boat transfers. If you read on, I'll detail my itinerary and include some highlights you'll want to add to yours.
How to Get to the Three Cities of Malta from Valletta
There are two main options for getting to the Three Cities from Valletta. Both of these involve a traditional Maltese water taxi called a dgħajsa (Għaqda Barklori l-Isl). This is a long, wooden boat with an outboard motor and long oars attached serving as a small ferry. These types of boats have navigated the Grand Harbour since the 17th century and continue to serve as the main way to travel across the channel.
The most convenient way to get to the Three Cities is to book a tour of the Three Cities online, which includes a tour guide and a habour ferry cruise aboard a dgħajsa. This costs roughly 35 euros and is well worth it since many of the main sites and attractions are difficult to find on your own.
Alternatively, you can also pay a water taxi driver just two Euros for a shared boat transfer across the channel. Keep in mind that you will need to wait for these boats to fill up before you depart. To find the boat drivers, head down from the Upper Barrakka Gardens via the Barrakka Lift and continue straight ahead towards the harbour waterfront.
While it is still possible to take public transport buses from Valletta bus station (lines 1, 2, and 4), I would highly recommend the water taxi option instead as it is cheap and much more enjoyable.
Exploring the Three Cities - What to Do & See
Need some travel inspiration? Perhaps you're just a little curious about what to do at the Three Cities.
In this section, I'll break down my experience exploring this important historic urban area, with an outline of the best things to do and the main places of interest to see, including historical buildings and some of the Three Cities' palaces.
Featured in: Best Things to do in Valletta
Crossing the Grand Harbour in a dgħajsa (Water Taxi)
While only a very short distance from the main Maltese city of Valletta, the ferry crossing is quite spectacular. Looking back, you'll get an incredible glimpse of Valletta, with its unique basque terraced buildings, domed churches, and iconic sandstone-colored harbour promenades.
Travel tip: If you book the Grand Harbor tour above, you'll also get a harbor cruise (not just a transfer). I highly recommend this as it cuts out a lot of walking time down the maze of narrow streets.
1. Vittoriosa (Birgu)
Coming in from Valletta, the first harbour inlet will likely be at the beautiful fortified city of Vittoriosa (also called Birgu). This is immediately recognizable for its giant yacht marina, housing some insane super yachts.
In my opinion, Vittoriosa is the most fascinating and beautiful of the Three Cities, and by far the oldest.
We disembarked immediately from the gondola-shaped boat and headed to Don Berto, an iconic restaurant and lunch spot that I highly recommend. Next, we explored the narrow streets, snapping some photos and enjoying the slow pace compared to Valletta.
Top highlights in Vittoriosa (Birgu) include:
- Malta Maritime Museum - found in the former Royal Naval Bakery, a great museum for those interested in Malta's great naval history. The museum houses naval artifacts and weapons. This is a great place to learn about significant historical events like the Great Siege of Malta from the times of the Order of St. John to Malta's role in the Second World War.
- St. Lawrence's Church - a 17th century church directly near the small harbour boat dock
- Inquisitor's Palace - a historical building where the Maltese inquisition took root (16th - 18th century)
- Victory Square: - the main square in Vittoriousa where you will find some statues and some small cafes popular with local people and tourists
Fort St. Angelo
Next, we took the chance to explore Fort St. Angelo, the jewel in the crown of the Maltese Islands' military heritage. To enter, you'll need to pay €10.00 (adults) or €6.00 (for kids under 18) but this is definitely worth it! This is one of the most iconic forts in Malta and has played an important role in its long history.
Best of all, Angelo Fort offers some of the best panoramic views of Valletta and the Grand Harbour from its towering bastions and fortified city walls.
Senglea is the second of the Three Cities in Malta and is located directly west of Vittoriosa. This is a smaller neighborhood with fewer places of interest. However, it's still definitely worth visiting to see the Gardjola Gardens and the iconic Sanglea Basilica. If you're taking the Grand Harbour Three Cities boat tour, you'll likely stop by the gardens and get a good glimpse of them from the water too.
There are also several cafes and wine bars in the city of Senglea, where you can sit on a street corner to enjoy the less crowded streets.
After exploring much of the Three Cities, we made a quick visit to Cospicua (also called Bormla). This neighborhood sits between Senglea and Vittoriosa and has some beautiful streets with iconic Maltese balconies. I recommend walking down its scenic streets and enjoying a slice of authentic life.
Top attractions in Cospicua include:
- Immaculate Conception Church - a beautiful church beside a nice walking area surrounded by grass
- Bir Mula Heritage Museum - a private museum exhibit of an Arab-era farmhouse developed into a 17th-century palazzo.
- Harbourside promenade - nice walk along the beautiful yacht marina from Cospicua to Senglea
- Cottonera Lines (Valperga lines) - a line of fortifications serving as the outer defenses of the Three Cities and surrounding areas built by the Knights of Malta
Grand Harbour Boat Cruise of the Three Cities
Those who booked the Three Cities tour will be treated to a Grand Harbour boat cruise aboard the iconic dgħajsa. This for me was one of the highlights in Valletta. We navigated the harbour, stopping by the Three Cities, passing around Fort St. Angelo, and completing a short detour around Rinella Bay and Fort Rcasoli before making our way past the Lower Barrakka Gardens and back to the Quarry Wharf.
The Ultimate Malta Travel Resource
Looking for more Malta travel guides and inspiration? Below are my most comprehensive blog posts that will serve as a great free resource for your trip.
Where to Stay in Malta
While travelers will find hotels and resorts scattered all over Malta's islands, the most popular neighborhoods to base yourself in Malta include Valletta, Sliema & St Julian's, Mellieħa Bay, and Gozo Island
There are also a broad variety of accommodation types, from 5-star resorts to traditional terraced boutique hotels. To save you time searching, make sure to check out my comprehensive guide to where to stay in Malta, or take a pick from the four options below based on location, reviews, and my personal experience.
- St Julian's & Sliema Area: The Hilton
This is Malta's premiere resort, located at the heart of the picturesque Portomaso Marina. This is a great pick if you're trying to balance great location with utmost luxury.
- Valletta: Iniala Harbour House
Perched atop Valletta's stunning St Barbara Bastion, this incredible boutique experience is well-regarded as one of the best accommodation options in Malta. The experience offers stunning views of the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities from traditional Maltese balconies.
- Mellieħa - db Seabank Resort
The db Seabank is well-regarded as the best resort in the calmer Mellieħa area. Situated just feet from the white sandy shores of Malta's longest beach, this complete all-inclusive hotel offers features five restaurants, a fitness center, a spa, multiple pools, and even a bowling alley!
- Gozo - Quaint Boutique Hotel (Nadur)
Accommodation on Malta's quieter sister island should reflect its more peaceful and traditional ambiance. This beautifully renovated boutique hotel is situated directly beside the Nadur Parish Church, with spacious balcony terraces looking over the town square.
Travel tip: Accommodation in Malta sells out quickly, especially for the summer vacation period. This is a location where you do not want to book at the last minute!
Read More: Malta Travel & Adventure Inspiration
I hope you've enjoyed this quick travel guide to visiting the Three Cities in Malta!
While you're here, take a pick from the below list for more inspiring travel blogs from the Maltese Islands!