Of all the tours and excursions offered in the Maltese islands, the Valletta harbour tour Malta cruises – highlighting Valletta’s twin harbours – are among the most popular. Various companies operate these tours and there is a variety to choose from at the Sliema Ferries which is invariably the departure point of most of these excursions.
The Valletta harbour cruise tours are normally of an hour and a half’s duration and the better ones will take you to most of the ten or so navigable creeks. The tours have an on-board running commentary detailing the history of the harbours – in particular the two great sieges in which the Grand and Marsamxett Harbours were protagonists.
Excursion boats first make their way towards Manoel Island in Marsamxett Harbour. The ‘island’ is connected to the Gzira waterfront by a short bridge and has the finest fort in this harbour – Fort Manoel. The fort was built in the 18th century and is currently undergoing a massive restoration project. On the Ta Xbiex side of Manoel Island you will get a look at the somewhat tumbledown remains of the Lazzaretto – until a few years ago an isolation hospital but also set to be restored. Msida and Pieta creeks are next – these are Marsamxett’s innermost creeks and today pleasure yachts take up most of the berthing spaces here.
As the boat makes its way out of Marsamxett and into Grand Harbour, the mighty walls of Valletta come up close, and at the city’s tip is Fort St.Elmo where the bastions are at their most impressive. Fort St. Elmo was built in something of a hurry in the months preceding the Great Siege of 1565 and eventually fell after heavy bombardment by the Ottoman forces that controlled the heights of Mount Sciberras – as the peninsula where Valletta now stands was known back then. Needless to say it was rebuilt and reinforced over the ages and played its part in Malta’s second siege during World War II – in particular in repelling the Italian Navy’s daredevil manned torpedo attack on Grand Harbour.
In Grand Harbour itself the first fort to come up after St.Elmo is Fort Ricasoli. This is the largest fort in Malta and was a rather grandiose way of sealing the harbour’s fortifications at a time when the Ottoman threat had all but waned. The fort is nowhere near being restored yet and is mostly used for filming – parts of the blockbuster Gladiator were shot within its walls.
Kalkara and Dockyard creeks are next with the highlights here being Fort St. Angelo and the cityscapes of the walled towns of Birgu and Senglea. Both towns withstood the Great Siege of 1565 but Senglea in particular got heavily bombed in the Second World War due to its proximity to the then Naval Dockyards. The Dockyards eventually ceased their naval functions and became the loss making Malta Drydocks until they were privatised a few years back.
The two innermost Marsa creeks are a hotchpotch of stores and sheds with a couple of rust buckets completing the picture of a quaint, if somewhat sad, area that is yet to be regenerated.
Harbour cruises run hourly or more every day from the Sliema Ferries starting at around 10am - bar the exceptional days with inclement weather. Normal price per person is approximately 14 Pounds Sterling.
Information & pricing correct at time of publish