Three Cities Malta, the highlight of any Malta sightseeing trip

As you may have read in our article on the most stunning places to visit in Malta, the highlight of our trip to the islands was our exploration of Three Cities Malta. This area consists of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua or, as originally named, respectively Birgu, Isla and Bormla. Birgu is the oldest of the Three Cities while Isla and Bormla were founded in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Order of Saint John. Form Valletta, you can clearly recognise Birgu, with the Fort Sant Angelo at the tip and Isla, with Gardjola Gardens at the tip.

Grand Harbour views over Three Cities Malta

Three Cities Malta is also called Cottonera, a name that refers to the Cottonera lines. This massive line of fortifications, with bastions and triumphal gateways, was historically intended to serve as a large defence system for the Grand Harbour. After all, throughout history, Malta’s strategic location in the Mediterranean was highly sought-after. But in the end the Cottonera lines were partly demolished to create space for an extension of the dockyard.

Cottonera Lines in Three Cities Malta

Three Cities Malta Map

How to get to Three Cities Malta

Little girl on a ferry between Valletta and Cospicua or Bormla
We went to the Three Cities by taxi and that was a big mistake. Malta is a small island with many inhabitants which makes for terrible traffic. Another thing is that old cars, the kind that wouldn’t be allowed to drive anymore in most European countries, have somehow ended up in Malta. Add the warm climate to the mix and you get a cocktail of exhaust fumes from which there’s no escape. A taxi ride under these circumstances is anything but pleasant and always takes longer than planned.

So, go for fresh air by taking a 5-minute watertaxi ride from Valletta across the Grand Harbour to Cospicua (Bormla). This will also give you the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular views of the St Angelo fort as you come closer to Three Cities Malta.

Three Cities, three identities

  • Vittoriosa (Birgu), our favorite of the Three Cities

We were surprised to learn that initially, Vittoriosa was the Maltese capital. It wasn’t until 1571 that Valletta was built and became the new capital.

Two little girls running down a narrow street in Vittoriosa or Birgu, one of the Three Cities in Malta
A quaint narrow street in the heart of Vittoriosa or Birgu in Malta

This city definitely tops our list of best places to visit in Malta. For one, there’s not as much traffic here, since some streets are even too narrow for cars. That’s part of the authentic character of Vittoriosa that appeals to us. Secondly, the atmoshpere is still genuine. You’ll notice this in the various bars and small eateries. And last but not least, the harbour views are simply stunning.

View over Vittoriosa or Birgu from the city’s marina
View over Vittoriosa or Birgu from the city’s marina
A view of the harbour of Vittoriosa or Birgu
A view of the harbour of Vittoriosa or Birgu
Yachts on anchor in the marina of Vittoriosa or Birgu, one of Three Cities Malta
Yachts on anchor in the marina of Vittoriosa or Birgu, one of Three Cities Malta
Fort Sant Angelo in Vittoriosa or Birgu, one of Malta’s Three Cities
Fort Sant Angelo in Vittoriosa or Birgu, one of Malta’s Three Cities
  • Cospicua (Bormla)

A view over Cospicua or Bormla from the harbour

  • Senglea (Isla)

The highlight of this city is Gardjola Gardens. This park is located at the tip of the city and offers the best views over the Grand Harbour.

Little girl running down the path of Gardjola Gardens in Senglea or Isla, one of Three Cities Malta

Dad and his 2 little girls with in the background a view over the Grand Harbour and Valletta

How to explore the Three Cities

  • Harbour Cruise

One way to enjoy gorgeous views over Valletta and the Three Cities is by taking a cruise in the Grand Harbour.

Grand Harbour views over Three Cities Malta from an outlook in Valletta

  • Organized tours

There are several excursions in Three Cities Malta, some offering a combination of cruising and walking. Here are some options:

  • Rolling Geek

I must admit that I had never heard of the Three Cities until I read about it in Air Malta’s onboard magazine. It was mentioned in an ad for the coolest little electric cars ever – Rolling Geeks – and that’s why it stuck with me. I was determined to test out this golf cart-like vehicle with pre-programmed GPS with the girls. There’s even a minion on standby to help you out via the intercom should you get lost and it is equipped with a selfie-cam. Car boosters are available for your minions – uh – kids. These Rolling Geeks are pretty neat! If you’re ever in Malta, you should test them out! We had a blast!

Two little girls sociazising with the dog at the Rolling Geeks office in Vittoriosa or Birgu

Little girls in the back seat of a Rolling Geek electric cart in the streets of Senglea or Isla, one of Three Cities Malta

Catch a regatta race

As a treat, the fellow-Belgian owner of Rolling Geeks took us to the – top secret 😉 – club house of the Conspicua (Bormla) rowing team to admire the regatta boats. Traditional regatta races are held twice yearly in Malta’s Grand Harbour: On 31st March (Freedom Day) and on 8th September (Victory Day). Rowing crews participate in 10 races under 2 different categories in typical traditional Maltese boats. It just happens that this same Conspicua crew won the March race this year, just a few weeks after our visit, for the 17th time in history. Karma! 🙂

Regatta boat in the clubhouse of Cospicua or Bormla

Where to stay in Three Cities?

Not many hotels have found their way to Three Cities yet. That might just be a good thing, since it gives the area a certain exclusivity. But don’t worry, we’ve found you this little gem: The Cugó Gran Macina Grand Harbour. It’s a 5* hotel in Senglea (Isla) that’s part of Marriott’s Design Hotels collection and it offers the most stunning views (especially from the rooftop pool). Click here to check out the TripAdvisor reviews.
Should you prefer to stay in Valletta then you might find your next hotel in our article on 5 star hotels in Malta.

When will you visit the Three Cities?

Do you see yourself cruising around Three Cities Malta in your little electric cart? We bet you do! Take it all in: the picture-perfect streets, the gorgeous views over the Grand Harbour from Gardjola Gardens in Senglea (Isla).

Along the way, you can enjoy a picnic on the soft sand of tiny Rinella Bay. That’s about the only beach you’ll find in this area. (Check out our article on the best beaches in Malta to find your perfect beach on the islands.)

Little girl with hands in the air at Rinella Bay, a tiny beach in Three Cities Malta

Have you been to Birgu Malta and loved it as much as we did? Or are you planning a trip to Malta soon and are the Three Cities on your Malta sightseeing list? Let us know in the comments.

Pinning one of these images would be much appreciated!


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  1. As it turns out, Malta just went on my travel list one day ago! I was so excited to see your blog post. Yes, I will try out those cute golf carts (how brilliant!) and I’ll skip the taxis and opt for the water taxi instead!

    1. Sarah

      Great to hear that this article has given your Malta travel plan a boost. You’ll have a blast, especially on the golf carts! Enjoy those water taxi sunsets over the Grand Harbour.

  2. Consider me inspired Sarah! Beautiful photos of a special place. I love everything about the Mediterranean and this is a pocket I hadnt heard of until now. Counting the days until I can take a water taxi to the three cities! Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    1. Sarah

      We feel the same about Gozo, which was a day trip for us. I realize that there’s so much we didn’t get to see, especially now that I’ve found the Gozo articles on your blog. Ha! The Ciutadella and Red Sand Beach are our favourites so far. What a contrast with the main island, which can be so busy at times. That’s why we like the Three Cities so much, it’s a pleasant escape from the traffic and crowds.

  3. Kat

    I don’t know much about Malta but have read somewhere that it might turn out to be Europe’s No. 1 destination for 2018. I would love to visit Malta – it looks so pretty – hope to make it there soon before it is swarmed by tourists! 🙂 #FarawayFiles

    1. Sarah

      Malta is getting increasingly popular, indeed. I certainly hope you’ll get the chance to wander the narrow streets of picture-perfect Vittoriosa this year or the next, Kat!

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