Malta (Valletta) (Photo:mRGB/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Jana Jones
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Malta (Valletta)

Sailing into Valletta, Malta, is akin to stepping into the pages of a J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy; once you are in the protected harbor, it feels as though modern civilization has disappeared. Oh, you can see a car or two driving on the winding streets amid the limestone battlements, crenellated castles and hillside structures, but they seem terribly out of place and unexpected.

Never mind that Malta, which owns 7,000 years of intriguing history, is fully modernized and contemporary. What you see when entering Valletta Harbor are the formidable defensive stone battlements of forts pockmarked by war guarding the strategic waterway. Cream-colored buildings and ancient church steeples grow out of the twisting streets and hillsides. In the bay and channels, Malta's colorful luzzo boats, fishing craft resembling an elf's shoe, ply the waters in the wake of modern giant cruise ships and tankers.

Valletta was built by the Knights of St. John as a place to take care of wounded soldiers and pilgrims during the Crusades in the 16th century. Its unique landscape and ancient buildings have appeared in films such as "Troy," "Gladiator," "Captain Phillips" and "World War Z." This tiny Mediterranean country is part of an archipelago of five islands, only three of which are inhabited. Cruise ships visit the island of Malta and the port of Valletta (designed by a colleague of Michelangelo).

Malta has been inhabited since 5000 B.C. and was colonized by the Phoenicians in 1000 B.C. Then, the islands went in turn to the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans and the Spanish, who handed them over to the Knights of the Order of St. John in a "perpetual lease" in 1533; this lasted until Napoleon seized control in 1798. The Maltese did not like the French, however, and rebelled by seeking aid from Great Britain; Malta became a British protectorate in 1800 and a part of the British Empire in 1814. Later, it shook off the British, as well, and was granted independence in 1964. Since 1974, Malta is a republic under the British Commonwealth.

The influence of all of these cultures is evident in Malta, with the Roman period seemingly taking precedence.

About Malta (Valletta)


Pro

From historical sites to botanical gardens and trendy shopping streets, Malta offers a bit of everything

Con

Most shops, restaurants and attractions are closed or have limited hours on Sundays

Bottom Line

Though Malta is rich in history and culture, its facilities are thoroughly modern


Find a Cruise to the Western Mediterranean

Where You're Docked

Cruise ships dock in Valletta, about a half-mile below the main shopping street of the city at the Pinto Wharf.

Good to Know

While crime rates are low, visitors should exercise caution in crowds, at beaches and at night. Also, if you are considering renting a car, keep in mind that the Maltese drive on the left-hand side of the road. In addition, if your ship docks in Malta on a Sunday, many stores, restaurants and attractions will be closed -- some all day and some until noon.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Currency is the euro. Visit www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for conversion rates. U.S. dollars are not accepted in many establishments, but major credit cards are good in most shops and restaurants. Most hotels and major stores will accept payment in dollars and pounds, although conversion charges may be applied.

Several banks in Malta are open Monday through Saturday, and you'll find several well-placed ATMs on the main shopping road and in the Valletta Waterfront complex at the cruise ship terminal.

Language

Both Maltese and English are the official languages of Malta, and English is widely spoken. Maltese traces its roots to Lebanese and includes Arabic and European influences.

Shopping

Gozo glass crafts are made on the island of Gozo but sold in shops throughout Malta, these silky, swirly and opaque glass creations use centuries of artistic skills passed from one artisan to another. You can purchase small items like perfume bottles or larger blown-glass sculptures.

Handcrafted jewelry made of fine silver filigree is a Maltese tradition that dates to the time of the Knights and has been passed down through generations of goldsmiths and jewelers.