The Ultimate Guide of The Three Cities, Malta

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three cities, Malta

The Three Cities refer to the three neighbouring cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua in Malta. Together, these three cities form the historical centre of Malta and served as strategic points of defence for various civilisations, religious groups, and the Knights of Malta who landed in Malta at different times. Today, the Three Cities are a must-visit attraction for tourists exploring Malta, and they showcase some of the most beautiful coastal landscapes in the country.

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three cities, Malta
The Birgu waterfront offers a charming and picturesque setting, perfect for leisurely strolls and enjoying the scenic views of the harbour.

Each city here boasts a tapestry of rich heritage, showcasing its well-preserved architectural gems, winding cobblestone streets, and formidable fortress walls. Against the backdrop of the Grand Harbour, these charming cities offer travellers an authentic and enchanting Maltese experience, promising unforgettable vistas and a deep connection to the island’s captivating past.

Brief History of The Three Cities, Malta

The Three Cities hold a storied past deeply entwined with the history of Malta. These cities have played a significant role in the island’s development and have witnessed the rise and fall of various civilisations. Vittoriosa, the oldest of the trio, was initially settled by the Phoenicians and later became a crucial stronghold for the Knights of St. John during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. Senglea and Cospicua, established during the rule of the Knights, also played vital roles in Malta’s defence against invading forces.

The square in Vittoriosa

Over the centuries, the Three Cities have thrived as bustling maritime hubs and have left an indelible mark on Malta’s cultural, architectural, and historical heritage. Today, they stand as living testaments to the island’s enduring past and offer visitors a captivating journey through time.

Where are The Three Cities, Malta

The Three Cities are located in the southeastern part of Malta. They consist of the historic fortified cities of Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea (Isla), and Cospicua (Bormla), situated across the Grand Harbour from Valletta, the capital of Malta.

three cities, Malta
The map of The Three Cities

An Overview of The Three Cities

The Three Cities, comprising Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua, form a mesmerizing trio of historical wonders nestled in the heart of Malta.

Vittoriosa (Birgu)

Among the Three Cities, the most famous is Vittoriosa. This city, originally named “Birgu,” is located on the edge of the Grand Harbour, boasting a strategically advantageous geographical position. Many significant battles in history took place here due to its strategic location. Vittoriosa served as the earliest gathering place for the Knights of St. John in Malta, and wandering through its streets allows one to deeply feel the historical ambiance. In 1565, the Knights built a fortress here to withstand the Turkish siege and achieved victory. In recognition of this triumph, Grand Master La Valette renamed the city “Vittoriosa” (meaning victorious city) to commemorate its glorious history.

Visitors to Vittoriosa can explore its narrow winding streets, historic buildings, and ancient fortifications.

Cospicua (Bormla)

Cospicua is the largest among the Three Cities. In its early days, this city was known as “Bormla.” During the Great Siege of 1565, the brave and valiant performance of its people earned them the name “Cospicua” (meaning “brave”) bestowed by Grand Master Valette. Walking from the Birgu Waterfront promenade in Vittoriosa to Cospicua is just a few steps away, and along the coastline, you will see old shipyards on the side.

Cospicua, Malta – Historic town with maritime heritage and a charming seafront.

Senglea (L-Isla)

Senglea, located on a narrow peninsula facing Valletta’s Grand Harbour, was originally known as “L-Isla” (meaning “the peninsula” in Maltese). During the 1565 Siege of Malta, the brave residents defended the city walls against the enemy, earning it the title “Citta’ Invicta” or “Unconquered City” bestowed by the Grand Master of Valletta. Unfortunately, during World War II, around 75% of Senglea’s buildings were destroyed, leading to the reconstruction of the city we see today.

Senglea has been rebuilt and now offers visitors a glimpse of its historical heritage

How to Get to The Three Cities

The Three Cities are not far from the opposite capital city, Valletta, and there are various transportation options that directly and easily connect these two cities.

  • Bus: Tourists can take buses 1, 2, 3, 4, or 213 to reach The Three Cities. From Valletta, the bus journey takes about 15 minutes.
  • Hop-on-hop-off: Visitors planning to use the Hop-On-Hop-Off service can also take the South Route to Vittoriosa. You can purchase tickets in advance here.
  • Local Tours: If there are several people traveling together, consider buying local tours, such as this customized full-day Malta island tour package, which includes time to explore The Three Cities.
  • Water Taxi: Taking a water taxi (boat) between Valletta and The Three Cities offers scenic views along the way. The boats operate almost all day (winter 06:45-19:15 / summer 06:45-midnight), and the timetable can be found on this website. The journey from Valletta to Bormla takes only 7 minutes, and the round-trip ticket costs €2.80, which also includes access to the Valletta Upper Barrakka Gardens elevator.
  • Self-Drive: The most flexible way is to drive yourself. The distance between The Three Cities and Valletta is 10 km, and the drive takes about 20 minutes. Parking is not a significant issue, with several public parking spaces available, but be aware of parking regulations, some of which have time limits and require the use of the blue parking card for Europe. You can read our post about driving in Malta.
  • Traditional Boat (dgħajsa): Near the Maritime Museum in Birgu, there are traditional Maltese dgħajsa boats shuttling between Birgu and Senglea. The boat ticket costs €2, and the journey is only a few minutes.
“Dgħajsa” in Maltese refers to a traditional Maltese wooden boat, often used for transportation and leisure activities in the coastal areas of Malta.

How to Get Around The Three Cities

As the three cities are closely situated and not too large in size, walking is the best way to get around. Once you arrive in one of the cities, you can explore all of them within walking distance, which is quite convenient. For a more in-depth exploration or to discover specific attractions, we recommend exploring on foot.

If you prefer not to walk but still want to see all three cities, you can opt for the Happy Train. This trackless little train departs every hour from Birgu Waterfront, and the cost is €6 per person. The train will take passengers on a tour through the three cities with English commentary, making it a good option for a quick overview of the area’s scenery.

What to See and Expect When Visiting The Three Cities

Exploring The Three Cities in Malta takes you on a captivating journey through history, where you’ll immerse yourself in their enchanting ambiance and remarkable heritage. Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua each boast distinct attractions and experiences, promising a delightful and unforgettable exploration of Malta’s past and present.

CityAttractions: What to See
Vittoriosa➤ Discover the imposing Fort St. Angelo, a key fortress with a significant role in Malta’s history.
➤ Explore the Inquisitor’s Palace, a fascinating museum showcasing Malta’s past.
➤ Stroll along the Vittoriosa Waterfront, where you can admire the picturesque harbour views and traditional dgħajsa boats.
➤ Visit St. Lawrence’s Church, a remarkable architectural gem and a significant religious site in Malta.
➤ Explore Sicolo Norman House (Casa Normanna) that that showcases a unique blend of Norman and Arabic architectural influences.
Senglea➤ Marvel at the stunning architecture and historic buildings as you walk through its narrow streets.
➤ Visit the Gardjola Gardens, offering panoramic views of the Grand Harbour and Valletta.
➤ Don’t miss the opportunity to see the stunning St. Philip’s Church, an architectural gem in Senglea.
Cospicua➤ Explore the charming streets, lined with quaint houses and historic churches.
➤ Visit the imposing Fort Saint Margherita, once a vital defence structure for the city.
➤ Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the waterfront and admire the views of the Grand Harbour.

Tips for Visiting The Three Cities

  • Exploring The Three Cities involves a lot of walking, so be sure to wear comfortable footwear to navigate the narrow streets and uneven surfaces.
  • Take a leisurely stroll along the picturesque waterfronts of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua to enjoy stunning views of the Grand Harbour and its surroundings.
  • The Three Cities offer numerous photo-worthy spots, especially during golden hour and sunset. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the breathtaking scenery.
  • Experience the magical ambiance of The Three Cities at night when the streets are illuminated, creating a romantic and enchanting atmosphere.
  • Take a water taxi ride between the cities to enjoy a unique perspective and a refreshing way to travel.

Where to Stay to Visit Mdina, Malta

Malta’s small size makes it unnecessary to constantly change accommodations. We recommend staying in Valletta or Sliema. These two cities are convenient, offer various amenities and restaurants, and provide a wide range of accommodation options.

Attractions Near The Three Cities

Near The Three Cities in Malta, there are several noteworthy attractions that visitors can explore. One that we would highly recommend is Kalkara.

Kalkara is situated on the eastern side of the Grand Harbour, near The Three Cities. Known for its scenic waterfront and picturesque harbour views, Kalkara offers a tranquil escape from the bustling urban areas. The town is dotted with colourful traditional Maltese houses, quaint cafes, and restaurants serving delicious local cuisine. One of the notable attractions in Kalkara is Fort Rinella, home to the impressive Armstrong 100-ton gun, which provides insight into Malta’s military history. With its laid-back atmosphere and proximity to historical sites, Kalkara is a delightful destination for travellers.

Kalkara is a serene coastal town.

Are Three Cities Worth Visiting?

Yes, The Three Cities are definitely worth visiting. They offer a unique glimpse into Malta’s rich history and cultural heritage, with well-preserved architecture, charming streets, and stunning waterfront views. The cities provide a serene and authentic experience away from the bustling tourist crowds, making them a must-visit destination for travellers seeking an immersive and enchanting experience in Malta.

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