Birgu Waterfront – All you need to know
The Birgu waterfront is one of the most underrated areas of Malta and a must visit when in Valletta.
Birgu itself, known also as Vittoriosa, is one of the most beautiful old towns that I have ever seen in my life.
You may think that there is not much to do in the waterfront besides dining and drinking, however, this is not the case.
In this guide, you will learn all about the best restaurants and bars, the places that you can visit and a hidden gem that you should not miss.
But let’s have a start, with one of the most charming experiences you can have in Malta
How to reach the Birgu Waterfront from Valletta
There are different ways to reach the Birgu Waterfront from Valletta.
The cheapest way is to catch the bus from the bus square, next to the Triton Fountain to be left at the Zejt bus stop, just meters from the water.
The bus ticket costs 1.5 Euro and the bus trip itself takes around 20 minutes, with a few stops between.
You can catch any of these buses: 1, 2, 3, 4 (check the Malta Public Transport website for more details)
Taking a bus in Valletta is super easy. There are around 10 bus bays, all marked with the buses that leave from that bay.
Once you jump on the bus, you can pay cash (take the exact change) or by credit card (touch and go)
I would personally suggest taking a bus only if you have a multi-day bus card and/or you want to save some money (but not that much), because the next meaning of transportation is so much better.
The most romantic and charming way is to take a dgħajsa, the traditional Maltese boat from the Valletta water side directly to the Vittoriosa waterfront.
Let me tell you straight away, that contrary to the popular thinking, this meaning of transportation is almost as cheap as the bus, in fact, it costs only 2 Euro.
The trip takes around 15 minutes and you will navigate through the Grand Harbour from Valletta straight to the old main gate of the waterfront, right in front of the St. Lawrence’s Church.
The view from the boat is just unique, firstly of Valletta and then of L-Isla and Birgu.
This is not a tourist trap, as someone may think of the gondolas in Venice, for example. It is a real transportation system, used by a few locals too.
The leaving point in Valletta is right in front of the Lower level of the Barrakka Lift, accessible from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, another great elevated spot with one of the best views of the Grand Harbour (a must visit).
There are usually multiple boats waiting for passengers. You may have to share the boat with 2-3 people.
Birgu Waterfront restaurants & bars
As you enter the waterfront through the old main gate, you will have the Marina on your left side and a few bars and restaurants on your right side.
They all have an indoor area and plenty of tables overlooking Senglea (known as L-Isla) on the other side of the tiny long bay.
I was there recently and there was a pleasant sea breeze that helped to cool down the hot temperature of the day.
Moreover, contrary to the typical modern construction materials, the limestone used in most of the waterfront (and Malta) does not transmit the heating (touch a typical limestone wall and you will feel the difference from a brick wall).
Here below is a list of the top 3 most popular restaurants in the Vittoriosa waterfront
This is my suggested restaurant in the area that provides the best experience in Birgu (of course, any choice is very subjective, more so for a restaurant)
I am a fish lover, and octopus is always on top of my choices.
The Octopus in Garlic at Cargo is just exceptional. It is marinated and fried in garlic, then served with a salad and a few chips.
It is a simple dish, but so yummy and very filling too.
Burgers also come in good size and with french fries on the side, another great option, although probably less healthy.
The Polipo e ciufetti calamari is another awesome dish to try. In this case, the octopus and the calamaries are pan fried, still with a garlic sauce.
The service at Cargo is young, attentive and proactive. Plus, they are super nice with kids, which helps if you are travelling with children.
You can read the Cargo menu here.
Sottovento offers more of an Italian-inspired menu with a few local dishes like the Cioppino Soup, a fish-based soup, much taster than you may have been used to.
Onion, celery and, of course, garlic are all in the soup.
If you like pasta, then go for the Spaghetti allo scoglio, which includes octopus, calamari, mussels, prawns and more based on the catch of the day.
Prices are very reasonable, the service is very attentive as usual and the view is to die for.
Overall, another great experience.
You can check more of the Sottovento menu here.
Don Berto is located between Sottovento and Cargo with a similar indoor/outdoor setup.
There is, however, a big difference.
Don Berto is positioned on the first floor so you get an elevated view from the balcony area to the Marina and L’Isla, on the other side of the tiny long bay.
This is a beautiful spot for sunset, but remember to book a table on the balcony well in advance.
The setup is lovely and elegant, but not luxurious, with a responsive service that will look after you during your meal.
Don Berto is famous for its massive portions, so do not go overboard with your orders.
The menu is similar to the Sottovento one, with plenty of dishes inspired by the Italian cuisine.
You can check more of the Don Berto Menu here.
What to see on the Birgu Waterfront
St. Lawrence’s Church
St. Lawrence’s Church is just before the Birgu Waterfront gate, right in front of the dgħajsa (the traditional Maltese boat) boarding point.
You may not even notice it because it is not that big, and it is partially hidden by the Freedom Monument.
This is one of the oldest churches in Malta, dating back to at least the 15th century, although refurbished and partly re-built through the years and the many wars.
The Knights of St John, when escaped from Rhodes (Greece), first established in Birgu (1530), where they found a few abandoned buildings which they re-developed.
The Collegiate Church of Saint Lawrence was used by the Knights as the Order’s first conventual church.
In the church you will see works from Mattia Preti, Il Calabrese, the same artist that painted a few years later the amazing and unique ceiling of the St. John Co-Cathedral in Valletta (a must see, by the way)
Located right in front of the St. Lawrence’s Church, the freedom monument commemorates the new independent life of the country of Malta.
Malta’s independence from the British came in 1964 and the country became part of the Commonwealth in 1974.
However, it was only in 1979 that the last British military base closed in Malta.
The Freedom Monument, designed by local sculptor Antonio Agius, depicts that very last day that connected the British with Malta, with the exchange of the flags.
Malta Maritime Museum
This museum is temporarily closed for renovation (2022), and I am so looking forward to visit it when it will re-open.
The building itself is beautiful, home of the Royal Naval Bakery in the old days and converted into a museum in 1992, after it was mainly used by the British Royal Navy.
I will update this section on my next trip to Malta, as soon as it will be opened again.
Fort St. Angelo
Located right at the end of the waterfront, the Fort St.Angelo is an unmissable place to visit in Birgu.
Let me say first one thing: the picturesque sea views over Valletta are just unique and well worth the price of the ticket itself.
On the left side (south) you will see also Senglea/L-Isla and on the right side (north) there is the sleepy town of Kalkara, home of Esplora, the Science Museum so beloved by the kids.
It is, in fact, a 360 degrees view, because you can also see the maze of streets of Birgu and the last of the Three Cities of Malta, Cospicua (Vittoriosa and Senglea are the other two).
Today, Fort St Angelo is connected with a wide bridge where even cars can drive through to the Fort parking area.
However, you can still see on the side the narrow bridge used back in the days.
It is just half a metre wide, so that only one person at a time could use it, the best way to protect the castle from any attack.
The original fort was built in the medieval era.
When the Order of Saint John arrived in Birgu in 1530, they rebuilt the fort to make it the own headquarter becoming unassailable even during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565.
In fact, Birgu was the only part of Malta that did not succumb to the Turks.
I was very lucky because I entered the castle from the underneath caves that were open for the organisation of an event.
The ticket office is on the second floor. From there, there is an easy walk to the top of the Fort St Angelo.
On the rear of the fort, there are two rooms with permanent exhibitions and a theatre where you can watch a short movie about the history of Malta (projected in a loop).
What to see around the Birgu Waterfront
If you make it to the Birgu waterfront, then I highly suggest having a walk in the old town as well.
It’s a beautiful maze of tiny lanes with colourful enclosed balconies, small squares and plenty of hidden corners.
You will find also a bunch of convenience stores to buy an ice-cream or some water.
On the way, you can plan to organise a short visit to the two below places.
It would be a pity to visit Birgu and not see the Inquisitor Palace
The visit itself can take anything between 30 minutes and one hour, based on how much time you spend on the exhibits and the different rooms.
The inquisition has been one of the darkest periods of the European history and it started in the 1530s in Rome.
From Rome, the inquisition expanded in most of Europe and it arrived in the island of Malta in 1574.
The palace was used by the inquisitor Pietro Dusina, a Roman Catholic priest coming from Brescia.
You will see also the torture rooms in the palace’s tour which give a good overview of what could have happened to people once inside (you may want to skip them if you get easily shocked).
There is a quick 10 minutes video in the first room of the palace that gives a good overview of the inquisition. You can also visit a few exhibitions on the second floor.
Malta at War Museum
Planned on my last visit but I found it closed twice.
The first time I was too late (opens between 10am and 4:30pm) and the second time it was Sunday (closing day).
This museum is dedicated to Malta’s role during the second world war.
Personally, I was really looking forward to visit the air-raid shelters, a sequence of caves digged into the hard rock under the city of Birgu.
Another good reason to be back in the island of Malta.
The museum is literally a 5 minutes walk from the St. Lawrence’s Church.
Birgu Waterfront: Is it worth visiting?
Most definitely is the short answer.
I would personally suggest half a day for the visit to the Birgu Waterfront and the old town itself.
As part of the half-day experience, you can think of having either lunch or dinner there (the sunset is gorgeous).
Again, take a dgħajsa from Valletta through the Grand Harbour for the most charming experience.
And, what about the hidden gem?
Well, check out the Sottozero Gelato Factory, next to the Collegiate Church of Saint Lawrence, for an ice cream.
It is freshly made every day. A great stop either before or after visiting the waterfront.