Malta’s Three Cities aren’t anything like cities you may encounter everywhere else in the world.

Their stone-paved streets, their stone buildings, and their fortifications make the 3 Cities look like the scenery in one of the most popular computer games of my youth, Duke Nukem.

three cities malta

The Three Cities – view from the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valetta

What Are the Three Cities?

The Three Cities are fortified citadels located on tiny peninsulas spreading opposite to Valetta’s waterfront.

Even though they have names, Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu), Senglea (L-Isla), and Cospicua (Bormla), these citadels are better known as the Three Cities of Malta. They are surrounded by Cottonera Lines, the ancient fortifications that kept inhabitants safe and helped protecting the cities against enemy invasions.

The only clue that you’re in either of the three cities are the street signs.

According to Wikipedia, Vittoriosa dates back to the Middle Ages, while Senglea and Cospicua were built by the Knights of Saint John in the 16th – 17th centuries.

birgu waterfront cafe

Cool waterfront restaurant in Birgu – no clients by mid day in April, but chocked full in June

How To Get to the Three Cities from Valetta

There are several ways to get from Valetta to the 3 Cities of Malta: by walking, by gondola, by ferry, and by bus/taxi/ Bolt.

Birgu Map

A map of Birgu / Vittoriosa with its main landmarks

Walking from Valetta to the Three Cities

Let’s say you start your walk from the Triton Fountain, which is right in front of the main gate, near the bus hub. You want to reach St. Helen’s Gate to enter the 3 Cities in style.

The distance between the Triton Fountain and St. Helen’s Gate is 6.4 km, and it requires about 1.5 hours to walk.

That is what I did.

While it was a good walk, I arrived by the gate to Cospicua already tired. If I were to do it again, I’d take a bus or a taxi, in order to allow more time to walk inside the Three Cities.

Taking a Bus from Valetta to the Three Cities

There are several bus lines departing every 30 minutes from Valetta and needing about 20-40 minutes to reach St. Helen’s Gate.

Bus lines 1, 2, 3, and 4 will take you near the gate.

There’s also the bus line 91 going from Valetta to Marsaskala, that passes fairly close to St. Helen’s Gate.

If you choose this, you need to get off the bus at Fgura, then walk for about 10-15 minutes.

Bus stops are loudly announced inside the bus, so you’ll know when you have arrived.

Getting to the 3 Cities by Taxi, Uber or Bolt

Theoretically, you only need 15 minutes to get from Valetta to the 3 Cities of Malta by car. That’s what Google Maps would tell you.

I beg to differ, as I’ve seen how horrendous Malta’s traffic can be at times, particularly during the rush hour.

This leads us to the last and probably best way to get from Valetta to Senglea, which is by water taxi or gondola.

malta birgu harbour

The Birgu harbor – the gondola bay is somewhere in the middle. Just ask for directions, should you not see people waiting to board

Getting to the Three Cities by Gondola / Water Taxi

The gondola crossing costs 2 Euro each way and it takes about 10 minutes.

I used a gondola to get back to Valetta from Senglea and I loved it.

I was traveling solo, so I needed to wait for more passengers to be able to take the boat. In April, it only took about 10 minutes of waiting. I guess during summer time you may even need to do the line to grab a boat.

valetta view from vittoriosa

Valetta waterfront – view from Vittoriosa

Valetta to Cospicua Ferry Service

The Valetta to Three Cities ferry service is free for holders of a valid personalized Tallinja Card.

For everyone else the price is 2.00 Euro for the single ticket and 3.80 Euro for a return ticket. Click here to see the ferry schedule.

There’s a boat going every 30 minutes, from early in the morning until 19.00. On Sundays and public holidays there’s also a night service running until midnight at 2.50 Euro the single ticket and 4.20 Euro the return ticket.

When you travel from Cospicua to Valetta, you get a free ticket for the Upper Barrakka lift to get the Valetta from the waterfront.

Senglea 55

Street name signs, house numbers and door knobs are among the most creative I’ve ever seen

Things To See in the Three Cities

Walking along the narrow streets was my favorite pastime in Malta’s Three Cities.

three cities malta boat parking

In the Three Cities, you may find boats parked in front of some buildings

It matter less what landmarks you visit, as the 3 Cities experience is more about daydreaming of a time when people had to defend this tiny stretch of land many countries wished to conquer.

If you’re keen on visiting stuff on an organized tour, click here to see this Vittoriosa and Valetta full day tour of the Second World War.

If you’d rather do your own thing, keep in mind that you can visit the Malta at War museum in Birgu, just by the beginning of the street that descends to the port.

malta at war museum vittoriosa

Just like in Rhodes Town, the Knights of St John had several inns such as Auberge of Aragon, Auberge of Germany, Auberge of England, Auberge of Auverne & Provence, Auberge of Castille & Portugal, and Auberge of France (where the Birgu Local Council Office is nowadays).

There’s also Fort St. Angelo and San Salvatore Bastion, St/ Aloysius Bastion, Bastion of Il-Prexxa and St. James Bastion.

The Great Siege Monument and the Statue of St. Lawrence stand right in the central square of Vittoriosa.

In Senglea, visit the Gardjola gardens. The gardens are very small but very beautiful. Here you’ll find the watchtower with eyes and ears, and a magnificent view of Valetta’s waterfront.

malta ear eye tower

The watchtower at Gardjola Gardens bearing an ear, an eye and a crane, watching over the city

malta waterfront

The awesome view of Valetta’s waterfront

three cities scenic view of Valetta

The 3 Cities are such a peaceful place in April, with barely any visitors

If you want a tranquil holiday, without noise and crowds, consider finding a hotel in Senglea. You’ll be near the bus station that takes you to Valetta. From there, you can take a bus to any other part of Malta.

Before you go, check out my article about the best things to do in Malta to get some inspiration for your next trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Violeta Matei