Where to Stay in Malta: Sliema, St Julian’s or Valletta
Sliema, St Julian’s and Valletta have their own unique charm and appeal. As a local that knows these 3 towns well, I will give you the details on each town, so that you can get a better understanding of what each one has to offer. To give you a quick overview:
Valletta is an old fortified city and UNESCO site oozing history and culture. It offers a more authentic experience than Sliema or St. Julian’s. On the other hand, Sliema is great for shopping, bars, restaurants and a good location for families. St. Julian’s also has bars and restaurants, but also clubs for late night partying.
Firstly, I’m going to give you an overview of their personalities. After that I will provide more details on places of interest, travel options, beaches, cost, kids activities and tips on where to stay in each case.
If you want to expand your search to other areas, here is a comprehensive guide on 9 areas to stay in Malta. It also includes Sliema, St. Julian’s and Valletta, but also covers Gozo, Mellieha, Marsaxlokk, Mdina and Rabat, the 3 Cities and St. Paul’s Bay. On the other hand, the Malta with kids guide covers itineraries and tips on the best places to stay and accommodation for families.
Personalities: Sliema vs St Julian’s vs Valletta
Valletta is the capital city of Malta and a UNESCO world heritage site, most of which is pedestrianised. It is a historic city that is known for its stunning Baroque architecture, museums, and cathedrals. Valletta is a fantastic place to stay if you are interested in history, culture, and sightseeing.
You will get a more authentic Maltese experience in Valletta. Plus it has a more laid back feel and is the perfect location for luxury travellers. In fact one the ultimate luxury stays in Malta is in Valletta.
The city is also home to many restaurants, cafes, and bars. However it is relatively quiet in the evenings compared to Sliema and St Julian’s. Except in particular locations like Old Theatre Street just off St George’s Square and some other places where there are bars and restaurants.
Sliema is a more cosmopolitan area with many modern and tall buildings. It has several prominent features attracting both locals and tourists alike. Firstly it is known for its seafront promenade that connect to St Julian’s that gets especially busy during summer.
It has bustling shopping areas in Tigne Point and the neighbouring areas that go along Tower Road and Bisazza Street. There is also a vibrant nightlife around these area that make for a really nice atmosphere.
St Julian’s is located just north of Sliema and is known for its lively nightlife, especially in the Paceville area. It is a great place to stay for anyone interested in partying, clubbing, and enjoying a vibrant atmosphere.
The town also has many restaurants, cafes, and bars. The St George’s Bay area has many large and modern buildings and it is usually brimming with activity during summer.
Places of Interest
Valletta has one of the highest concentration of monuments and places of interest in the world. The fortified city only measures 1.2km by 700 meters and has a staggering 320 monuments. No visit to Malta is complete without visiting Valletta for at least a day. In fact this 4-day itinerary and 7-day itinerary both include Valletta.
- St. John’s Co-Cathedral is one of the most iconic sights in Valletta. It is a Baroque-style cathedral that is home to exquisite art and impressive architecture.
- The Grand Master’s Palace is another popular attraction, which served as the residence of the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John and now houses the office of the President of Malta.
- The Upper Barrakka Gardens offer panoramic views of the harbour and are a lovely spot for a leisurely stroll.
- Casa Rocca Piccola is a 16th-century palace owned by the same family for over 400 years. It is open to the public as a museum, showcasing the history, architecture, and lifestyle of Maltese nobility.
- The Manoel Theatre – one of the oldest working theatres in Europe, operating since its opening in 1731.
- Fort St Elmo played a crucial role in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565. It now serves as a museum of Malta’s rich military history covering the medieval era to World War II.
- The National Museum of Archaeology is perfect for for history enthusiasts. Here you will find exhibits spanning Malta’s rich from prehistoric times to the Phoenician, Roman, and Byzantine periods.
- The Valletta Waterfront where many tourists and locals enjoy various restaurants and bars with a view of the marina and the 3 cities.
- The Malta Experience which offers an audio visual presentation of Malta’s history.
The bus terminus on the border of Valletta is one of its major pluses for opting to stay in Valletta. The terminus is a hub for buses that travel to all parts of Malta, making it easy for visitors to explore the island.
This means that you will have less travel time as you will avoid catching more than one bus to visit particular locations. Additionally, the terminus is conveniently located near the city’s entrance.
Moreover there are the ferries. One that can take you for a trip to the Italian island of Sicily. Plus a couple of inexpensive water taxis that give you easy access to Sliema and the 3 cities.
If you want to rent a car, then you should know the driving and parking rules in Valletta. There are taxes to enter and also limited parking spots, but the guide will provide all the information and tips on where to go.
Valletta is on a peninsula surrounded by sea with some a select few bits where locals choose to swim. However the sea on both sides are used as harbours, as a result they are not the most suitable or cleanest. Additionally the are very narrow rocky areas with no sand so are generally not the most comfortable.
However you could get a quick ferry to Sliema to access some better beaches. Or better yet, catch a bus and travel to one of the best beaches in Malta.
You also have the possibility to travel to Sliema by ferry and then catch another ferry to the Blue Lagoon in Comino which is absolutely stunning. However this beach is not the best for little tots. So if you have little kids in tow, it is better to stick to the recommendations that I made on the best beaches in Malta article.
As a general rule, hotels in Valletta are 73% more expensive than the national average. However it depends on how many rooms the rental has. Rentals with 1 bedroom is on par with the average cost, but more bedrooms accommodation is also more expensive.
Valletta is mostly suitable for older kids and adults that appreciate beautiful art, architecture and history. There are no kids playgrounds except for one here which is temporarily closed. Plus there are no other venues that cater for younger kids in Valletta.
There are a few things I’ve seen cute younger kids enjoying in Valletta. Firstly stepping into the fountain in St George’s Square and getting all wet during warmer months. Secondly running after pigeons, especially the many pigeons that hang around the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Finally getting a karozzin ride around Valletta.
On the odd occasion there is something organised to attract young families into Valletta. For example Carnival or Fairlyland during Christmas time, but that’s pretty much it.
Accommodation That’s Good for Kids
When it comes to accommodation I would suggest booking a hotel with a pool. Like this they have an activity on hand that is easily accessible.
- The Embassy Hotel is pretty good because it is in a great location in central Valletta, has family rooms, looks stunning and well rated. The draw back is the pool area isn’t that large.
- The Grand Hotel Excelsior is better in this case as there is more room around the pool area. Plus you have a lovely view of the sea and Sliema right opposite. This particular hotel is well known among locals as many families enjoy going for Sunday lunch here. It also has family rooms, but it on the outer side of Valletta segregated by the bastion walls. This means you have to walk 10 minutes to get to Valletta’s main gate, which is still easily accessible.
- Tritoni Valletta Harbour suites is an alternatively since the first 2 hotels are quite expensive. It also have a pool area, plus since they are apartments there are some that have more than 1 bedroom. It is well rated and not far off from St John’s Co-Cathedral and the Upper Barrakka Gardens.
Other Places to Stay
If you would like a place to stay with a swimming pool, there is no reason you couldn’t opt for any of the stays listed above, regardless of whether you have kids in tow or not. However I have a few more suggestions up my sleeve.
- Casa Rocca Piccola B&B is a luxury stay fit for nobility. Casa Rocca Piccola is a Palace that is one of the highlights to visit in Valletta. It was built for the noble de Piro family who have owned it for centuries up until today. The B&B is part of the palace, sectioned off to provide accommodation to discerning visitors.
- The Phoenicia Hotel is another hotel that is well-known and enjoyed by locals. It provides a luxury stay in Valletta, and is located just outside the city gates. The hotel was originally opened in 1947 and underwent extensive renovations in recent years and has been restored to its former glory. It is an elegant and classy hotel with a spa, a swimming pool, multiple dining options and exceptional service.
- Alternatively for accommodation that is lot less expensive, below the average Valletta price there is Casa Asti and Tritoni St Ursula Suites. Casa Asti in particular is beautifully furnished in a traditional Maltese style, with the limestone walls like a local townhouse or house of character. Both places do not have pools, but they are well-rated and in good locations in Valletta.
Places of Interest
Sliema is mostly about the shops, restaurants and cafes in the area around Tigne and Tower Road and Bisazza Street close by. The other thing is the Sliema promenade also known as ‘the Front’. It has 2 sections to it, but the main part starts from The Compass Lounge and stretches for 2.6kms to the Love Monument in St. Julian’s.
The Front is popular among locals and tourists alike. It has a wide pavement with some lovely views of the surrounding areas. People walk or jog along the front in the morning, but it gets especially busy in the evenings during summer months. However the atmosphere is relaxed as most people go out for a leisurely stroll, relax on the benches and perhaps eat ice-cream.
Similarly to Valletta, Sliema is really well connected by public transport buses, even though it is not a hub. This is especially because it is a large town and many tourists choose to stay there.
Hence a lot of buses will take you to many different places from Sliema. On the odd occasion you will need to catch 2 buses, either because there is no direct route, or the one direct bus route is not at a suitable time.
The good thing about Sliema is that you can get to Valletta by bus within around half an hour or so. Alternatively there is also the ferry located here that takes 10 minutes to get to Valletta.
There is also the ferry to the Blue Lagoon in Comino which I absolutely recommend you visit. However with kids in tow, Ghadira or Golden Bay are much better which you can get to by bus.
Sliema’s coastline is mostly rocky, as a result anyone looking to swim will settle on flat rocks or concrete platforms.
Here are the beach areas used in Sliema:
- Qui-Si-Sana Beach
- Exiles just next to Exiles Beach Club located here
- The teeny-tiny beach at Balluta Bay located here
- The area just below Surfside located here
Locals that live in Sliema go to swim at Exiles as it’s the trendy thing to do. Tourists on the other hand tend to gravitate towards the other beach areas.
To be perfectly frank most except Exiles are not that popular. As there are many other beaches that are much better and nicer than the ones in Sliema. Plus none of them are that great for little ones.
The cost of hotels in Sliema are usually around 25% cheaper than the national average. However during the summer prices increase and go over the national average. Of course like anywhere else, you will find budget stays, luxury stays and anything in between in Sliema.
The cost of food in cafes and restaurants in Sliema is on par with most other popular locations and many places around the island. Prices have risen quite a lot over last few years.
However the good thing is that most if not all restaurants have their prices either on their website or on their facebook page. This means if you are on a budget, you can find some cheaper places to eat with some forward planning.
There are a few areas around Sliema that are perfect for kids to use up their excess energy. There is:
- Independence Garden – located here is a lovely garden for kids to run around. Plus it also has a small play ground on the southern end of it.
- Exiles Playground – located here is not far off from the Independance Garden.
- Tigne Playground – located here.
Accommodation That’s Good for Kids
Like with what I suggested for Valletta, I’m going to suggest stays with swimming pools for kids.
- Plaza Regency Hotel is rather lovely and offers budget-friendly accommodation. It is located very close to Balluta Bay and the teeny-tiny Balluta beach. It has comfortable family rooms and also 3 swimming pools, one of which is an outdoor shallow kids pool. There is also an indoor swimming pool for anyone visiting when the sea water is still cold.
It is also within 20 minutes walk of the Chalet bus stop and the one in front of M&S. Here is where many buses start off their routes to get to other locations around Malta. It is also within 250 meters of a large children’s playground near Exiles located here.
However the draw back with this hotel is that it does not have a car park. I’m mentioning it just in case you rent a car. Parking here can take up to 30 minutes to find in busy summer months.
- AX The Palace is a luxury and pricy 5 star hotel. As you can imagine the hotel is wonderful and you will very likely enjoy a beautiful view from your hotel room. It also has 2 swimming pools one indoor and one outdoor and many other amenities. There are a couple of good thing about this hotel.
Firstly it has its own car park. Parking is not as expensive as gold, but highly valuable in Sliema where there is precious little of it. Secondly it is in an excellent location. In a road that is not overly busy, and within 10 minutes walk of several locations: the Tigne kids playground, Independence Gardens, the Exiles playground, The Chalet bus stop and the M&S bus stop and Sliema ferry.
Other Places to Stay
Although Sliema has a lot of residents due to the high rise flats, it is actually a small area. This means most places are easily accessible by foot. Albeit some places will require more walking time which you may not be too keen on.
Here are a couple of good places to stay that are well priced and not excessively expensive. The first 2 are 300 meters from the Sliema ferry and the bus stop in front of M&S. This bus stop is the starting point for buses that take passengers to many other popular touristic locations across Malta. Plus they are close to the shopping area and quite a lot of cafes and bars.
- Mr Todd Hotel – Apart from being a lovely hotel it has family rooms and a private parking area. This is fantastic because Sliema has a very acute parking problem. So if you do not find parking in the street you can rely on finding a spot in this car park.
- Cozy Rooms Hotel – The hotel offers everything you would expect from a hotel, comfortable rooms with modern amenities, including air conditioning, free Wi-Fi, and en-suite bathrooms. It also has family friendly rooms.
Places of Interest
St. Julian’s is a lively town on the east coast with several places of interest:
- Spinola Bay is a picturesque bay in the heart of St. Julian’s. It offers a beautiful view of traditional Maltese fishing boats. It’s surrounded by many restaurants and cafes and a popular spot for dining out.
- Portomaso Marina is close to Spinola Bay and is a luxurious complex with yachts, high-end restaurants, shops, and apartments. It’s a great place for a stroll, with stunning views of the sea and the coastline.
- Paceville is known as Malta’s nightlife hub. It is a lively district filled with clubs, bars, gentleman’s clubs and restaurants. It’s a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
St. Julian’s is also really well connected by public transport buses. You can get direct buses to most places of interest on the island. At times you may need to catch more than one bus when the bus schedule does not suit you. You can catch most buses from the bus stop in St George’s Road opposite the Spinola Garden located here.
Unlike Sliema and Valletta, St Julian’s does not have any ferries to get to other places. So you will either need to take the bus or cross over to Sliema or Valletta and take the ferry from there.
The only beach that is in St Julian’s is a sandy beach in St. George’s Bay located here. It is larger than the ones in Sliema, but you have to take great care here. It is one of the worst beaches in Malta for theft with many people having had their belonging stollen while having a swim.
Make sure you do not take any valuables with you. However you cannot totally avoid taking nothing at all, so I found using these waterproof mobile pouches from Amazon is the perfect solution. I got one slightly larger than my mobile so that I can insert my phone, some cash notes and car keys. I take it with me when I swim at any beach and it helps me relax, since I do not need to keep looking back regularly to check on my items.
St. Julian’s is another trendy area, and more so with tourists because of the party scene. There are more hotels that are nicer and they tend to have a modern look and feel more so than the ones in Sliema. As a result it is about 20% more expensive than Sliema, but still cheaper than Valletta.
St. Julian’s is more for anyone that wants to party, mainly because of Paceville which is north of St. Julian’s. It does not just have clubs and bars, but gentlemen’s clubs as well. Hence you do not want kids anywhere near there.
Having said that, there are parts that are away from all the activity in Paceville, to the point where you wouldn’t even notice unless someone told you, and you went to explore to confirm.
The border where St. Julian’s connects to Sliema is far away from Paceville. There are some bars there, but that’s pretty much it. On the other hand, the Portomaso area is on the cusp of Paceville, but it is well cordoned off and is quiet.
However during the day you may want to take them to Bay Street in Paceville. Here you will find:
- Multimax laser tag, and
- The Rainforest Cafe
Accommodation That’s Good for Kids
Mostly I would not recommend anyone with kids stays in St. Julian’s. Sliema is much better as you have playgrounds and gardens that are perfectly suited for families. In St. Julian’s, even the area close to St. George’s Bay has quite a bit of partying going on.
The Hilton in Portomaso is an exception, because it is well cordoned off and peaceful. It is a luxury stay however and incredibly expensive. It has family rooms, many pools including a kids pool and many amenities, like a spa, fitness centre and a car park. Additionally it has many activities available like water sports, squash, diving, windsurfing, table tennis, a tennis court and more.
Other Places to Stay
The Hilton is a perfect luxury stay for anyone and not just for families. However there are some other places I suggest. They are still beautiful, much less expensive and have a car park:
- Hotel Argento is in a fantastic location within 100 meters of the bus stop where most buses will take you anywhere around Malta. It is right on the edge of the part where the clubs start. There is even a bar on the same block as the hotel, but the hotel is on the inside in a quieter location. There are several activities available, there is a pool and is located 500 meters from St. George’s Bay.
- The George, Urban Boutique Hotel is in the centre of Paceville. It is in a part where there are many restaurants so you will get a nice vibe in the evenings. Plus if you want to party you need to walk a couple of hundred meters and you will be at the centre of all the action. It is 300 meters from St. George’s Bay and 300 meters from the bus stop.