A visit to Malta is not complete until you have made a day trip to the Three Cities. Many tour operators offer tours to the Three Cities starting from £28. However, what they fail to tell unsuspecting tourists is that these 3 cities can easily be accessed by ferry for only €1.50 per person. You can then amble around the Three Cities at your own pace with just the help of a guidebook. Unless you are desperate to indulge in a Maltese wine tasting experience (often paired with a tour to to the Three Cities) these tours do not warrant the exaggerated price tags. It is entirely possible to do an easy day trip to the Three Cities without a guided tour so let’s find out how.
What are the Three Cities
Talk of the Three Cities will lead you to believe that these are distinct cities which may well have been the case in medieval times. However, these days all 3 cities seamlessly merge into one another. Vittoriosa (still more commonly known by its ancient name of Birgu) sits on the right of the inlets shown below. Cospicua is at the head of the marina before you loop around to Senglea.
It is impossible to differentiate between the 3 on foot but they do have distinct characteristics in the modern-day era. Birgu waterfront is chic and cosmopolitan. Its swanky bars and restaurants attract luxury yacht owners keen to savour its delights whilst they admire spectacular views of Senglea on the opposite bank.
Cospicua appears to have less to entice tourists however Senglea is a little gem. It is a labyrinth of narrow streets crammed full of stunning Maltese townhouses. Ancient fortresses and battalions litter the peninsula, churches peep above the walls and a jumble of delightful houses tumble to the water’s edge where sleek boats line the marina. Vivid flower boxes decorate ornate balconies and add splashes of colour to honey hued alleyways.
Whilst there are not tons of dramatic sights to see, the joy is in wandering the streets and admiring the architecture. Do not miss the stunning view of Valletta from La Guardiola (Safe Haven Gardens). Selfie lovers can pose uninhibited in these peaceful gardens on the edge of the inlet.
Getting to the Three Cities
The two main options to get you to the Three Cities are bus and ferry. This post explains more about the bus and ferry system in Malta but the following highlights the key points to be aware of.
- The ferry from Valletta costs €1.50 single for an adult or €2.80 return. It takes about five minutes and deposits visitors in the heart of the Three Cities.
- The service runs every half hour from dawn until dusk in winter but midnight in summer and the full timetables can be found here.
- There is a free lift up into town from the ferry terminal in Valletta. Just follow the signs for the bus stop which whisks passengers to the ferry stop for Sliema. Keep your ferry ticket as this includes the cost of the lift. Otherwise, it is an extra €1 per person but worth every penny to save your legs a workout!
Hop on hop off bus
The hop on hop off bus stops in the Three Cities but note, this is far from the easiest way to visit. Once you hop back on the bus, you have over an hour’s journey to get back to Valletta. Worse still, buses only run hourly. Take the ferry instead! It’s much quicker.
Once you realise just how close the Three Cities are to Valletta, you will realise it is a much better plan to visit independently. You can spend as little or as long as you would like in the area and hang out at the bars and restaurants. Just let me know how you like it.