A Day in Malta’s Three Cities

Senglea Tower

Watch tower protecting the Grand Harbor from Gardjola Gardens in Senglea

If you have something that everyone wants, then you better protect it; especially if it’s the 16th century and you have the Ottoman Empire salivating at getting revenge. The little island of Malta was a strategic point that has attracted a myriad of nations and tyrants through history. Malta has something that everyone wants – a Grand Harbor.

If you had a Grand Harbor and was positioned in the middle of the Mediterranean between Europe and Northern Africa, you’d be popular too. And you’d probably want to protect that harbor – which is exactly what Malta did. They fortified the harbor like no other. They built walls, forts, towers, and rolled in cannons; poised for attack. And there were many attacks.

Behind these thick impenetrable walls lie functioning cities and towns. Some of the most famous are the towns known as the Three Cities which lie around the Grand Harbor perimeter. They were bustling market centers and safe havens for the citizens in the 1500’s. The 3 towns of Cospicua, Vittoriosa, and Senglea were enclosed by the massive line of fortification created by the Knights of St John.

Today they are a neighborhood full of homes and families intermixed with historical buiildings and fortresses all flanked by an upscale yacht harbor. The area is in a constant state of revitalization as old ship warehouses and fortifications are changed into modern housing with a historical touch. These are the up and coming neighborhoods of Malta and will most likely transform extensively in the next 5 years.

I suggest you start in the morning and walk around the hilly streets of Senglea going down winding alleys and roads, interacting with the locals, poke your head into churches, stepping into the Band Clubs for a refreshment. Go through Cospicua and then go to Vittoriosa and stroll along the docks and view the massive yachts and grab lunch outside by the water at one of the many new restaurants serving the yachting crowd. Stop by the old men on the corner who are offering boat taxi rides and tours around he harbor for a small price and get a different perspective.  Then stroll up to see the Inquisitors palace or other museums making a day of the slow, simple life in the modern day Three Cities of Malta.

And of course, don’t forget your camera.

three cities malta harbor

The view from Senglea to Vittoriosa across the harbor


The up and coming neighborhood of Senglea

door knocker

A Dolphin as a door knocker is good luck

church Vittoriosa

Wander through Vittoriosa and find quiet little piazzas

malta boat

The boat taxis/tours on Vittoriosa are a great way to get a new perspective

malta wooden balcony

Victory Square in Vittoriosa has beautiful architecture

yacht harbor malta

Yachts park near Vittoriosa for a nice view of the Three Cities


The Three Cities is filled with numerous churches

boat harbor

Dusk falls over the Three Cities and it's harbor


Senglea's quiet atmosphere


The Three Cities are surprisingly hilly

Your Comments

45 Comments so far

  1. Nailah says:

    Unofficially adding Malta to the RTW trip itinerary. Those pics are beautiful!

  2. Bess says:

    It looks absolutely beautiful. Great pictures too. Can you walk between the towns?

  3. Mark H says:

    What historic gems. I love the honeycomb coloured brick and sense of something interesting around every corner.

  4. Jeff Dobbins says:

    Malta has long been on my wishlist, but this makes me want to head to the airport.

  5. Of the many places I’d love to visit, Malta is another. Absolutely stunning and so rich in history. Would love to visit one day. Some day soon. :)

  6. Leigh says:

    Beautiful photos! They make me want to visit right now. Loving your blog Sherry, keep up the great work!

  7. Hi there
    Comming August I go visit Malta for a week, and after seeing your photo s I am afraid I can not see it all.
    But also I hope it will be august verry soon.
    Last two years I was on the Azores on Holiday and someone said to me you will like Malta also.
    And I have a feeling she will be right.
    Keep up the good and great work you are doing

  8. Aldo says:

    Some great pics Sherry. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Emilia says:

    We had a great afternoon walking through the waterfront in Senglea: great local scenes and wonderful views! And we were surprised by the great atmosphere of Vittoriosa, Il Colacchio is a gem and there were no tourists, only locals enjoying the beggining of the night in the main square. Great tips, Sherry!

  10. Ken says:

    A short, two-day visit a couple of Decembers ago but Malta became one of only a few of my most favorite places in the world. Enjoyed your images!

  11. Michelle C. says:

    Hi, lovely photos. But can I just point out that the photo captioned “The Three Cities is filled with numerous churches” is actually a shot of the 19th century Naval Bakery on the Vittoriosa waterfront. It was built by the British and now houses the Maritime Museum. More info here: http://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/scamp/2.html

  12. Amazin post, cool article.
    Keep it up!

  13. Really liked it.
    Wish there are more to read…

  14. Grenville says:

    I first went to Malta in the sixties married a Maltese girl, lived on the island for a couple of years and visited on numerous occasions, yet never visited the three cities that is until last month. I spent three weeks in Malta and most of that time in and around Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea and what fantastic place’s they are. I’m now going through hundreds of photographs trying to sort the not so bad from the not so good. I only wish mine were half as good as yours which are a true inspiration.

  15. Jo says:

    First of all I must congratulate Sherry for such wonderful photos. Secondly, as I am a native (!) of Malta I have to say that Vittoriosa (name give to the town by the Knights of Malta after the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 – it is commonly known as BIRGU) is also rich in history and as someone else noted there is something new round every corner. Actually in those times there were two cities on Malta of some renown i.e. Mdina to the North of the Island and BIRGU which dominated the entrance to the Great Harbour. I recommend to everyone do not think twice and come to visit Birgu and of course the rest of Malta and Gozo. Of special interest there are temples on both Malta and Gozo dating back to over 5000 years ago.

  16. Roseman says:

    There is only one Malta & its a beautiful one !! Great pics.

  17. Maria says:

    The main island of Malta is only approx. 30km across so many things are within walking distance of each other- the beaches are stunning.

  18. charles says:

    These cities are part of the heart of UNESCO culture

  19. John says:

    I’ve been to Malta several times, my mother’s birthplace. I will visit again in September and these three cities are definately on my bucket list. To my surprise, my cousin who has lived in Malta all his life told me he hasn’t visited all three cities. Born in the US I have visited all 50 states!

    • Karen says:

      That’s common. As a 1st generation American born to Maltese emigrants, also, I find that I’ve been to more places in Malta during my vacations there, than some of my cousins who’ve lived there their whole lives. I always get a kick when they say they can’t go somewhere because “it’s too far.” My daily commute is the distance of going from Malta to Sicily! LOL

  20. Marie says:

    I spent half my life in Malta, but have not been there for many years now. Australia is a little bit far!! I cannot but agree that Malta is a very interesting place, with many gems to explore, both historically and archeologically, and the sun and the water only add to the charm. No problem getting around either, what with public transport working late and costing peanuts, and most people there speaking English, it does make for a great holiday.
    But as one who knows the island, can I warn you, that walking from town to town is ok is you like long distance hiking, but otherwise, take a bus!!

  21. victor says:

    I doubt if there is any other place on Earth the size of malta with such a rich history stretching more than 5,000 years.
    The three cities are the cradle of Malta’s history especially since the 12th century. The harbour has seenthe fleets of all the nations and empires which dominated the Mediterranaen from the Phoenicians to the British. Comre and visit us. You are all most welcome.

  22. Hi Sherry..well done for starting this blog! And great photography.As John above commented, many Maltese actually have never been to the Three Cities because it has, since post-WW2 been considered uncultured which is hugely ironic. Their loss anyhow as the growing number of tourists discovering the area can confirm. Its stunning. Unfortunately Cospicua the biggest the 3 Cities remains under-developed but still it has many interesting historic sites. But that will change when the Dock one embellishment project is completed. I settled in Cospicua 5 yrs ago and have since set up a thriving art studio on Pilgrimage Street next to the fabulous Immaculate Conception church where I sell original art and prints of the 3 Cities. Do stop by next time you’re in town!

    • Jennifer says:

      On, the other hand, if you are going to sample the local deserts and pastries, it is a great way to keep you in shape!

  23. Antida says:

    Great job Sherry. Keep it up.Wonderful pictures hi. I was born in Malta, now living in NY.The three cities are wonderful especially Birgu. I been there last year. The people are very friendly. So you who never been to Malta, try and make it to visit. and you won;t be sorry.

  24. A very interesting article. I am myself the councillor responsible for tourism in Senglea, and I do believe that we have a lot to offer. Residents also enjoy seeing tourists admiring our interesting streets and quiet atmosphere.

    Thanks for the nice pictures of our city :). Feel free to contact me if you visit us again in the future. I provided my e-mail.

  25. Katherine says:

    Love your clear, vivid photos Sherry.

    My homeland, but live in Australia. I still dream of retiring in Malta.

    Beautiful country.

  26. Omar says:

    Beautiful place! Was born in Malta, moved to Australia and now live in New Zealnad. Have travelled to many countries and there is not one place quite like Malta! Definetly worth the visit!!!

    • MaryRose says:

      First 17 years of my life in Senglea, 40 years in Toronto, love them both, but when those wheels hit that tarmac, I feel a surge of emotions like no other and somewhere from the depths of my being, a tiny little voice whispers … home. I think most of those born on this little gem of an island, who were old enough prior to leaving it, would agree that we may be off the island but we can never get the island out of our hearts and minds. If anything, it just makes the heart grow fonder and the memories more precious. Thanks for bringing it home that I must return sometime soon.

      P.S. I read the Sword and the Scimitar – David Ball, and it really gave me a fantastic view into a way of life in the days of the knights of Malta and how it may have been when they were building my home town of Senglea (Fort St. Michael. Part fiction/part historical events. Worth a read. The island is worthy of being on anyone’s bucket list. A Canadian friend of mine vacationed there with her husband. They came back and said, their expectations were high and Malta exceeded their expectations!

  27. John V says:

    HI All, The Three Cities comprise Bormla too, known also as Cospicua. It’s the largest and double fortified with a lot of heritage to discover: a social history museum Bir Mula Heritage; magnificent churches, 6km of baroque fortifications, Fort Verdala, mediaeval pedestrian areas, the old dockyards, festivals, socio-religious events, artists and artisans, friendly people … not to be missed and many fell in love with it too!

  28. Mandy says:

    I believe that Cospicua is one of the 3 cities, so why there is no single photo of our city?

    • Sherry says:

      Yes – another reader just mentioned that too. I was there over a year ago – so I don’t remember if I went to Cospicua/Bormla or not. But I took photos of everywhere I went – so I would assume that I might not have stopped there! Next time for sure!

  29. Karen says:

    Hi I just saw your interesting website,but I`m disappointed that you did`nt mention Cospicua!!!Cospicua is one of the three cities and a very nice place to be.Thanks

  30. JOHN DEGIORGIO says:


  31. Malta are the last Paradise in the EU.I am shore And now i live in Paradise since 2008 Malta and Gozo are beautiful The Sun the Sea and the peoples are fantastic

  32. nubwaxer says:

    and don’t forget the great tax dodging opportunities there.

  33. Kris Rycken says:

    If you want to really see all in the three cities, you have to take the electric cars of the Rolling Geeks. It are cars that talk and they bring you on a tour of 18km. A tour of the Three cities, Kalkara and Smart city. On foot to visit all is nearly impossible.
    Check it out, its fun and comfortable.

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