This tour is dedicated to Malta’s British history and war time events. During the tour we will discuss why the British came to Malta, what happened and why they left.
Private British History Tour
This tour is dedicated to Malta’s British history. During the tour we will discuss why the British came to Malta, what happened and why they left.
After pickup the tour will begin in Vittoriosa where we will see the fortifications which date back to the times of the Knights, and were later used by the British for their defensive purpose.
We will visit the maze like, underground Air Raid shelters and relive the conditions of what has been referred to as the Second Great Siege of Malta. These subterranean bomb shelters were excavated in the solid rock and were extended as the war progressed.
After a short walk of Vittoriosa we will drive to Valletta by bus. We will walk to the upper Barrakka Garden which enjoys a spectacular view of the Grand Harbour (the largest natural harbour of the Mediterranean Sea), which was a British military base and the main reason why Malta came under fire as soon as Mussolini declared war on the Allied forces.
A walk around the streets of Valletta will take us by the Palace which was used by Napoleon Bonaparte, the second world war Victory (Soup) Kitchen, Queen Victoria’s statue and the ruins of the Royal Opera House which was destroyed at the peak of the bombings in Malta.
After some free time for a lunch break we will walk to the lower level of Valletta to the Malta War Museum. The museum itself is situated at Fort St. Elmo, an original defensive system built by the Knights which also was modified to serve the British military purpose. Among the numerous exhibits are the fuselage of one of the legendary Gloster Gladiators and well as the E-boat (human torpedo).
Pick Up Times / Pickup Points
* For a private tour you can basically choose where you wish to go. Just write the details in the comments box below.
Pick Up Times / Points
This tour is normally available every Friday, but we are open to alternative days, and even times if requested for a private tour.
Clients are picked up from the following areas at the following time:
- For the group tour
Cirkewwa at 0830 hrs
Mellieha at 0840 hrs
Xemxija at 0850 hrs
Golden Bay at 0850 hrs
St. Paul’s Bay at 0900 hrs
Bugibba at 0905 hrs
Qawra at 0910 hrs
St. Julian’s at 0910 hrs
Sliema at 0855 hrs
Valletta at 0840 hrs
Attard at 0830 hrs
Alternativly you can suggest a private tour for 1/4 (Car) or up to 8 persons (Mini van) for alternative days and pickup times. Please request this from the inquiry form below.
Price & Includes
Apart of a larger group:
Adults: Eur 50 per person
Children (5-12): Eur 35
Children under 5 years: Free
Private guided tours (For singles, couples and families):
** This can be a private car or mini van. Dependant on group size.
** This is also a private tour so your pickup times and point is basically up to you.
Adults: Eur 60 per person
Children (5-12): Eur 40
Children under 5 years: Free
IF single person: EUR 110
Full Day Tour to Vittoriosa & Vallettaa
Learn about the island’s key role in WWII
Visit air raid shelters in Vittoriosa
Walking tour of Valletta’s military landmarks
Includes the National War Museum at Fort St. Elmo
Air Raid Shelters Ticket
Malta War Museum Ticket
Inquire / Book
Please fill in the form below, adding as many details as you can. We will then contact you either by email or by calling your Hotel once you arrive. Thank you.
British Heritage Visible Today
British Architecture: When we think of historical buildings in Malta, we tend to think first of the defences and architecture bequeathed us by the Knights of St John. But the British era left a significant mark too – sometimes altering or adding on to the work of the Knights, but also developing afresh. The colonial housing and barracks at Pembroke, the Garrison Church (now the Stock Exchange), in Valletta and the elegant Chamber of Commerce building in lower Republic Street, also in the capital, are examples of notable British architecture – practical but nonetheless with architectural merit. Tigne’ Point has incorporated the arcaded barracks into its development near the Point shopping centre, and you can easily spot Victorian influence in the massive, gothic-style building near Balluta Bay, and in the house on Mdina’s main cathedral square.
Museums With British Or Wartime Exhibits: National War Museum, Fort St Elmo, Valletta: the place to start as it focuses on the two World Wars. Displays the George Cross awarded by King George VI to Malta for the islands’ bravery in WWII.
National Maritime Museum, Birgu Waterfront: This vast museum housed in the old British naval bakery traces Malta’s sea-faring history from Phoenician times to WWII and beyond. Mock-up of a naval waterfront bar, uniforms, navy photographs, letters and memoribilia galore.
Malta at War Museum, Birgu: this new museum, housed in 18th century barracks, tells of the daily hardship and suffering of the islanders during WWII. Malta at War Museum, Couvre Porte, Vittoriosa: Tue – Sun 10.00 to 17.00hrs. Guided tours and film shows on the hour.
Aviation Museum, Ta’ Qali: a veritable treasure trove of memoribilia of the R.A.F. in Malta, and Malta’s wartime air defence. Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire in aviation sheds. Great for kids too!
Lascaris War Rooms, Valletta: one of only four WWII military operations rooms remaining, it opened recently again after renovation and is now a fascinating insight into not just WWII operations but also NATO and the Cold War period. Run by Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, an NGO restoring and reviving ex-British military sites. Lascaris War Rooms, Lascaris Ditch, Valletta: Mon – Sun 10.00 to 17.00hrs. Guided tours and film shows on the hour.
Mgarr Second World War Shelter: Located under Il-Barri Restaurant, this is one of the largest underground shelters on the islands. Recently restored and open to visitors, it shows the hard life in the shelters for the local farming community. Open: Tue – Sat: 9.00am till 2.00pm; Sun: 9.00am till 11.00am
Forts, Barracks & Fortifications: Pill boxes & Gun Posts: these dot the skyline of Valletta’s perimeter. There’s a pill box now turned cafe-snack bar on the corner of Marasamxett and St Sebastian Streets just before the War Museum. If you do a harbour cruise or get under sail, you’ll see just how many concrete pill boxes there are still preserved around Valletta. For anti-aircraft gun posts, a good example is through the car park at the end of South Street, Valletta, overlooking Marsamxett Harbour.
Fort Rinella, Kalkara: Built in 1878, this is the world’s first mechanical fort and a rare remnant of British military engineering. It houses what was the world’s largest gun – the 100-ton Armstrong, which was placed to protect Valletta’s harbours. Weird, strange and incredible. The tour includes ‘living history’ demos. Open: Tue – Sun 10.00 to 17.00hrs. Historical re-enactment displays at 14.15hrs. Visit the first Sunday in May to experience the gun’s huge blast – the only day a year its fired! Click here for a preview!
Victoria Lines: This line of inland defence – built up with walls, forts and batteries – runs along a natural ‘great fault’ some 12km, in effect dividing southern and northern Malta. The fault has proved a natural defensive ridge since prehistoric times, but it was under British rule in the mid-1870s that it was fortified more extensively. Forts along its length include Fort Madliena, Fort Binġemma, and Fort Mosta – which is open to the public. Join one of three tours Mon-Fri; 09.30 – 12.30.
Pembroke: This area of Malta, just north of the Paceville/St George’s Bay area was the base of British military life in Malta, with its officers’ mess, barracks and married quarters. A drive around Pembroke gives you old, crumbling barracks, those put to new uses, as well as Australia Hall – still standing though somewhat derelict, but once an entertainment venue and cinema built in 1915 – and a host of wonderful street names like Alamein, Normandy and Anzio.
Auberge d’Angleterre, Birgu: first home of the English Knights of St John in Malta before the Order moved to Valletta. Today, it’s home to Birgu Libary. You can pop inside the courtyard and view, but it’s not an official tourist sight.
Dockyards: all the Three Cities area is of interest as the heartland of Malta’s naval history and maritime trade. Good to view from across Grand Harbour, and Upper Barrakka Gardens.
Garden of Rest, Floriana or Msida Bastion Cemetery, or ‘the Protestant Cemetery’: wonderfully tranquil spot with great views of the inner reaches (Msida Creek) of Marsamxett Harbour. Well tended, open to the public. Read the gravestones. Even holds concerts!
Queen Victoria statue, Palace Square Valletta
Victoria Gate, Valletta
Old Saluting Battery: Sited below Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta, the battery not only has the Grand Harbour views, but also offers a chance to learn how cannons worked and were fired in days gone by. Saluting Battery, Valletta: Mon to Sun 10.00 to 13.00hrs. Firing of Noon-day gun at 12.00hrs.
Sir Alexander Ball memorial, Lower Barrakka Gardens. Great views from these gardens out to sea and over the Fallen Soldier and Siege Bell memorials. Sir Alexander Ball was Malta’s first British Governor.
George Cross commemoration plaque on the Palace, Valletta. The Cross itself and King George VI’s message are on display in the War Museum (see above).
St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Valletta
Kenuna Tower, Nadur, Gozo: one of three semaphore towers built by the British in 1848 on the cliffs near Nadur.
Ta’ Qali & Hal-Far airfields: the Aviation Museum, Ta’ Qali, is the best source of information on airfield history.
Nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
The British took over the Maltese islands as a protectorate in 1800, and later as a colony in 1813. They initially used the Hospitaller fortifications without any alterations. Under the military theory of the time, the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet was regarded as the most reliable protection against invasion, and in fact the British Civil Commissioner, Henry Pigot, wanted to demolish the majority of Valletta’s fortifications in 1801, although this was never done. During the British period, the various forts of the Order were rearmed, refitted and altered a number of times to keep up with the latest military technology.
In the 1850s, the British built Fort Verdala and St. Clement’s Retrenchment in the Cottonera area, while Lascaris Battery was built in Valletta. Later on in the 19th century, parts of the Cottonera Lines, Santa Margherita Lines and the fortifications of Senglea were demolished to make way for extensions of the Malta Dockyard. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the British built barracks in various parts of the island, such as Tigné Point and Pembroke.
In 1866, Colonel William Jervois produced a report entitled “Memorandum with reference to the improvements to the defences of Malta and Gibraltar, rendered necessary by the introduction of Iron Plated Ships and powerful rifled guns”, in which he gave Malta (along with Gibraltar, Halifax and Bermuda) the status of an “imperial fortress”. A programme to improve Malta’s fortifications began soon after, and a number of new polygonal forts and batteries were built, including Sliema Point Battery (1872), Fort St. Rocco (1872–73) and Fort Leonardo (1875–78).
From 1871 to 1880, the Corradino Lines were built on the Corradino Heights. The V-shaped trace and ditch were meant to protect the dockyard and harbour from landward attacks. They were abandoned in the early 1900s due to advancements in technology, although they saw some use once again in World War II.
Starting from 1875, the Victoria Lines, originally known as the North West Front, were built along the northern part of Malta, dividing it from the more heavily populated south. The system of defences consisted of a line of fortifications flanked by defensive towers, along with entrenchments and gun emplacements. Several artillery batteries were planned, but only San Giovanni Battery and Tarġa Battery were actually built. Three forts were also built along the lines: Fort Binġemma, Fort Madalena and Fort Mosta. The lines were completed in 1899, but exercises in 1900 proved that they were of dubious defensive value, and the entire system was decommissioned in 1907, with the exception of the coastal towers. Today, parts of the lines have collapsed but other parts in the countryside, including the three forts, still survive. Another fort, Fort Pembroke, was built between 1875 and 1878 to cover the gap between the Victoria Lines and the harbour area.
The British also built a number of forts to protect Marsaxlokk Harbour. These included Fort San Lucian (1874–78), Fort Delimara (1876–88), Fort Tas-Silġ (1879–83). In 1881 and 1882, Saint Paul’s Battery and Żonqor Battery were built in Marsaxlokk and Marsaskala respectively.
Following the arming of the Italian ironclads Duilio and Dandolo with 100-ton guns, the British feared an Italian attack on Malta, as the ships could fire on Malta’s batteries, destroying them one after the other, while keeping outside their guns’ range. To prevent this, the British requested that four 100-ton guns be built. Two of these were installed in Malta, and Cambridge Battery and Rinella Battery were built specifically to house these guns. Construction of the batteries began in 1878 and they were complete by 1886. The gun at Rinella still exists.
From 1888 to 1910, a new series of fortifications were built to house breech-loading guns. These were Della Grazie Battery, Spinola Battery, Garden Battery, Wolseley Battery, Pembroke Battery and Fort Benghisa. The latter was the last polygonal fort to be built in Malta.
World Wars and aftermath
After the early 20th century, few fortifications were built in Malta. However, new military installations such as airfields began to be built in World War I, when the seaplane base of RAF Kalafrana and the airfield at Marsa were built. More airfields were built in the interwar period and the Second World War, including RAF Hal Far, RAF Ta Kali, RAF Luqa, RAF Safi, RAF Krendi and Ta’ Lambert Airfield.
From the Abyssinian Crisis of 1935 onwards, the British built many pillboxes in Malta for defence in case of an Italian invasion. Many others were built during World War II. Many pillboxes still exist, especially on the north eastern part of the island. A few of them have been restored and are cared for, but many others were demolished. Some pillboxes are still being destroyed by the Maltese they are not considered to have any architectural or historic value.
The last fort to be built in Malta was Fort Campbell, which was built near Mellieħa between late 1937 and 1938. The design of the fort is completely different from the earlier fortifications in Malta as it was designed to counter the new threat of aerial bombardment. It had an irregular plan and its perimeter was guarded by machine gun posts and a few rifle loopholes. The buildings inside were scattered so as not to create a concentration of buildings. The fort still exists, although it is largely in ruins.
During the Second World War, the Lascaris War Rooms were built in Valletta to serve as the war headquarters for the defence of Malta. They were later used in the headquarters of the Allied invasion of Sicily. Throughout the war, many air-raid shelters also were dug in the limestone rock of the islands, either by the government or by individuals or families, to protect the civilian population of Malta from Italian or German aerial bombardment. Many of the shelters still exist, and a few are open to the public. Many anti-aircraft batteries, gun positions and radar stations were also built throughout the course of the war.