If you’re visiting Malta for the first time, you’ll probably already know about our stunning capital, Valletta, and the ever-enchanting ‘Silent City’ Mdina; but don’t forget about Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua - also known as The Three Cities! If you look out over the Grand Harbour from Valletta’s Upper Barrakka Gardens, you’ll see the imposing bastions that have protected these historic cities for centuries. You can easily get to any one of the three by bus, and it’s well worth spending a full day taking in all the authentic Maltese sights that each city has to offer. Before you plan your trip to the Three Cities, let’s take a look at a few things you might not know about them!
1. They’ve got two names
That’s right! Vittoriosa is also known as Birgu, while Senglea and Cospicua also go by the names of Isla and Bormla respectively. Confused? Don’t worry. You’ll get it in time.
2. You can get there by boat
If you don’t feel like taking the bus or driving to the Three Cities, then why not take the ferry from Valletta, right across the harbour? You’ll get to see some unbeatable views of the bastions and you’ll save time to boot!
3. Vittoriosa was our first capital cityAnd Mdina was our second! The Knights of St. John made Birgu their seat of power, later renaming the city ‘Cittá Vittoriosa’ (roughly translated to ‘the victorious city’) in celebration of the Maltese triumph over the Turkish armada in the Great Siege of 1565.
4. The Inquisition dropped by for a bit…When the Inquisition blazed through Europe and South America in the 16th and 17th centuries, they didn’t miss this little island in the middle of the Mediterranean. While very few structures from that period remain, Birgu is home to the Inquisitor’s Palace, which was built in the 1530s to serve as law courts (and a prison) for anyone accused of committed acts of heresy in Malta. Today, visitors can learn more about our island’s religious traditions, with historic reconstructions and exhibitions on display all over the beautiful palace.
5. Birgufest is totally a thingAnd you should attend if you have the chance! Birgufest is an annual event that celebrates the city’s rich, proud history. Streets are lit up by soft candlelight, looking almost other-worldly, and there are loads of activities, re-enactments, and museums (with discounted entry) to enjoy with friends and family. It’s a magical night out and definitely one you’ll remember!
6. The cities were hit hard during WWIIDuring what later became known as ‘the Siege of Malta’, the strategically well-positioned Three Cities were very heavily bombed, with almost every building either sustaining damage or being razed to the ground. Never to be defeated, the Three Cities rose again after being rebuilt in the 1950s and 60s.
7. Senglea keeps an eye on the harbourWe mean that quite literally! Head to Gardjola Gardens in Senglea and you’ll be treated to sweeping views of the Grand Harbour, best enjoyed from a beautiful watchtower perched on the side of the bastions. The watchtower has eyes carved into it, in a typically-Maltese style, which are said to keep misfortune or evil spirits at bay.
8. They’re home to some of the friendliest locals you’ll ever meetA visit to any one of the Three Cities will have you meeting some of the nicest, most welcoming people on the island. You’ll get a real taste of Maltese hospitality here - ask for directions, and the chances are your ‘guide’ will walk you there themselves and give you a quick tour of the place while they’re at it! (We’re only half joking about that one).
9. You can book a night tour of Vittoriosa…with dinnerIf you want to explore Birgu at night, then our Vittoriosa night tours are the answer! Join us for a one-and-a-half hour trip through the city’s enchanting history, with an optional dinner waiting for you at the end. These tours are perfect for small groups up to 10 people, but if you’re travelling with an even bigger group, just get in touch with us and we’ll make sure you get the absolute best that the city has to offer!