Being one of the oldest cities and parishes in Malta, Birgu (also known as Vittoriosa) is definitely worth a visit and it smoothly transitions over to the neighbouring city Cospicua (Bormla). Both are rather small but so full of incredibly beautiful old streets with the iconic doors, doorknobs and religious icons inset in the walls. There are forts, churches and fascinating museums. This is how to make the most of your visit.
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Getting to Birgu & Conspicua
To get to Vittoriosa, you have to make your way to Valletta’s main bus station. From here, take the bus 1-4 towards Birgu centre. You can get off at the stop Zejt or Gulija and start your walk from here.
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Where to Stay
If you aren’t keen on nights out in Sliema or St Julian’s and don’t want crowded streets like in Valletta, Birgu is a good option. It is super photogenic and quiet and there are various options for hotels in Birgu.
You can get an apartment at Kharmen A 1565s House with Seaviews. It includes one bedroom, a kitchen with oven and microwave as well as a laundry machine. The bathroom is provided with complimentary toiletries and a hairdryer. Sou can enjoy beautiful days on the terrace. Check availability here.
A little cheaper is Casa Cara. It furnished in a modern style with a lounge area, flat screen TV and terrace. The bathroom comes with either a shower or tub and includes complimentary toiletries. While there is no kitchen, you can use the microwave, toaster and water kettle. View the rooms here.
If you don’t mind shelling out over 200€ per night for staying on a private boat, then secure yourself a cabin at the Seagull II Luxury Historic Static Charter. The boat is parked in the Grand Harbour and offers luxury cabins as well as a whirlpool on deck and a sun terrace. There is air conditioning, a flat screen TV as well as a bathroom with tub, robes and slippers. Reserve the boat now.
15 Places to See in Birgu & Cospicua
Fort Saint Angelo
The massive bastioned fort used to be the key to practically reigning over the Mediterranean. It sits overlooking the entrance to the Grand Harbour and you have a magnificent view all the way to Valletta.
The original building dates back to medieval times, when it was just a Castrum Maris (English: Castle by the Sea; Italian: Castello al Mare). It wasn’t until the British took over Malta that it underwent heavy fortifications and extensions.
Now, the Fort serves as a museum and you can get a combined entrance ticket for the Inquisitor’s Palace and the Maritime Museum, which lets you save on one entrance fee. The fort itself has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998. There is even a ghost story about the place.
The Inquisitor’s Palace
The Inquisition in Malta is no joking matter but it was also somewhat more civilised (put into historical context) than what it is often perceived as. To get an insight into what that dark chapter in Malta’s history was like, you gotta visit the Inquisitor’s Palace.
It was built by the Knights in the 1530s over the ruins of medieval buildings. In it, a total of 62 inquisitors lived and worked, coming from noble Italian families and wishing to climb the career ladder. Two even went on to become Pope, namely Alexander VII and Innocent XII.
The exhibition also sheds light on inquisition practices, trials, torture chambers and prisons, which you can enter as well. Artefacts and historical documentation on actual trials make the experience really insightful.
Birgu has a few restaurants and cafes, but if you’re looking for an excellent local restaurant, try dCente right by the main square. Definitely ask for the day’s menu. I can personally recommend the rabbit stew and the lasagne.
The restaurant has a rustic charm and you’ll sit inside a historic building with exposed stone walls. On sunny days you can sit outside by the road.
Malta at War Museum
To really get a good grasp on Malta’s role during WWII, Malta at War Museum is a must. The museum itself sits in an old barrack block and air-raid shelter within the city’s fortifications. During the war, the buildings served as police headquarters.
All in all, there are 9 galleries dedicated to different aspects of Malta during the mid 20th century wartime. The exhibition features around 10,000 original artefacts, including weapons, uniforms, medals, documents and more.
Birgu has extensive fortifications other than For Saint Angelo and those are quite impressive. A few gates are left standing, such as the Notre Dame Gate, which is a little outside. The Couvre Porte the Gate of Provence are part of the extensive gateway structure.
Yet another gate is the Advanced Gate, also referred to as the Gate of Aragon. It was built in 1722 and has engravings, a few of which are still visible.
St. Lawrence’s Church
As is typical in Malta, there are quite a few churches everywhere. One thing to now, however, is that they are usually closed most of the day. Check for mess times, to catch open doors – especially in the mornings.
The Collegiate Church of Saint Lawrence in Vittoriosa was built in the late 17th century and features Roman baroquearchitecture with a beautiful and delicate interior. It used to belong to the Order of St. John.
When you’re hungry and want to grab a bite in the sun, settle down in this café underneath blooming bougainvilleas. There is a lovely terrace hidden from view in a traditional Maltese style.
It might be a small café with a simple menu, but you can get lunch here as well. They serve burgers, sandwiches and even English breakfast.
Auberge De France
The house, used to be the original seat of the knights of the Order of Saint John and nowadays functions as the city hall. Inside you can admire 16th century architecture though you obviously can’t enter the offices or cellar.
Even though the construction as you see it now dates back to 1533, it was erected on an earlier structure and is thus technically even older.
Malta Maritime Museum
Walking the western waterfront of Birgu, you will cross paths with the Malta Maritime Museum. The old cannons that are lined up outside and the big clock tower are hard to miss. The building itself used to be the Royal Naval Bakery and was erected in the mid 19th century. The façade design is said to have been inspired by Windsor Castle.
Today’s museum depicts Malta’s maritime history through the ages, all the way to prehistoric times and up to the now. There are over 20,000 artifacts in total. The focus isn’t just on the local important of Malta’s seafaring history but also globally.
Dom Mintoff Monument
Next to the Malta Maritime Museum and in front of St. Lawrence’s Church, you will notice a unique monument that also acts as a roundabout. A pile of Dingli rocks covered with cacti and shrubs with a few statues stacked in the scene, it might look curious at first glance.
The Freedom Monument, also known as Dom Mintoff Monument, celebrates the leave of the British government on 31 March 1979, after Malta was already granted independence a few years prior. The then prime minister Dom Mintoff commissioned and overlooked the entire process of the monument.
Bir Mula Heritage Museum
Vittorosia and Bormla host plenty of historical houses and while you cannot enter most of them, a few offer such opportunities. Bir Mula Heritage in Bormla houses a small museum as well as regular events and language courses.
It isn’t a regular type museum, more like a journey into the past and you gotta take a guided tour to really have it come to life. You will learn how each section of the house was accessible only to people of certain classes and how to spot historic graffiti on the stones.
Madonna tal-Karmnu Our Lady of Mount Carmel
This beautiful church isn’t on the radar of most tourists in Malta. As such, there is no entrance fee (when it is actually open). Your best bet is to visit early in the morning before and after mass.
On July 16, it’s possible to witness the procession and festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel during which the church and street are lavishly decorated. The Madonna is held and carried towards the city centre.
Walking the steps from St Lawrence Church towards the main market square, you will pass two quaint churches. On the left, you’ll find Oratory of the Holy Cross and to your right, it’s Oratory of St. Joseph.
You can peak inside, it’s free. There are a few beautiful religious items on display like in a museum. You really wouldn’t think it by its compact size. Do talk to the staff members to hear more about the items.
Don Berto Restaurant
Need a romantic dining venue? Take a seat at the Don Berto Restaurant and overlook the waterfront and marina from the old stone terrace. The entire style smoothly blends modern with the antique and you can enjoy fresh seafood and fish, of course.
If that’s your thing exactly, how about trying the Fried octopus in garlic or Fresh Norwegian Salmon? Prices at this luxurious restaurant are more of the higher end but not outrageously so. This really is fine dining.
Fort Verdala in nearby Cospicua (Bormla) has been through quite a lot of changes. It used to be fortified barracks used as British bastions in the 1850s. During WWI and WWII, it was repurposed as a prisoner-of-war camp and now it serves as government housing and an international school.
You can walk around the fort and take a stroll along the streets but not go inside, obviously. The area around the Fort isn’t too pleasant so better turn towards the Old Town after your short visit.
Tell me: Are you planning on visiting Vittoriosa in Malta?
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