This small archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea is one of the liveliest archaeological museums in Europe. History lovers can learn more about the Roman legacy and architecture, while those looking for sun can fulfil their wishes on the idyllic beaches by crystal-clear, turquoise waters. Malta is the perfect destination to make your summer or autumn getaway a memorable break.
The chances of having good weather in Malta are quite high, as the sun shines more than 3000 hours per year. Experienced travellers also cite a safe environment and affordability as some of the island’s most characteristic features. What else does one need for the best vacation possible? Here are our favourite places you shouldn’t miss in Malta!
Explore charming Valletta
The richest historical and cultural legacy in Malta is not exhibited in any museum but instead in the narrow streets of the country’s capital, Valletta.
The city, which is the smallest capital in the European Union, was officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. A stroll along Merchants Street is always a good start, followed by a brief stop at the food market of Is-Suq tal Belt. The market is located in a 19th-century building and offers Italian delicacies, Middle Eastern food, and Maltese specialties to indulge in. From there, allow yourself to get lost in the beautiful small streets and secret, vibrant pathways passing by some 25 Baroque-era churches spread all over the city.
The city’s harbour played a critical role in trade throughout the Mediterranean region during the Middle Ages. Take a cruise on board a luzzu, a colourful traditional fishing boat from the Maltese islands, and explore the island from a different point of view.
Fall in love with the beaches
You shouldn’t get on a flight back home without having experienced some of the most well-preserved Maltese natural treasures.
Golden Bay is a very popular beach surrounded by natural dunes and a watchtower at the top of the hill. The crystal-clear waters will invite you to swim all day long, but be aware that this beach can get very crowded on the weekends.
Just outside the town of Mellieħa is the bay that gives this popular village on the northern side of the main island its name. The easy access to the beach makes it a convenient option for a sunny and relaxing day with the whole family.
And who doesn’t like paradise? We promise you’ll be nearly there on the small island of Comino. The Blue Lagoon and its turquoise water should definitely be on your bucket list, and if you’re looking for a more relaxing experience, don’t miss the Santa Maria and San Niklaw bays. The island is also a good spot for those looking to capture some unique views of a truly virgin paradise. Head to the cliffs for a view of the island and its crystalline waters.
Admire ancient Mdina
Located 15 kilometres from the capital, Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of a fortified settlement. Home of Malta’s noble families from the 12th century onward, this city in the north also offers outstanding medieval and Baroque architecture.
Mdina served as Malta’s capital until the arrival of the Knights of Malta, the military order that took control of the island in 1530. St. Paul’s Catacombs on the outskirts of the city had served as a burial ground during Roman times. It is believed that they were in use until the 7th and possibly the 8th century CE.
If you want to know more about the island’s architectural legacy, the Domvs Romana museum exhibits a collection of artefacts and antiquities as well as a marble statue of the famous emperor Claudius.
Discover scenic Gozo
If you’re looking for a scenic landscape, the second largest of the Maltese islands is love at first sight. Situated between high cliffs is the Għasri Valley, a breathtaking sea canyon that leads to the Mediterranean. There are several routes to walk and hike, and some companies also organise snorkel activities for those interested in discovering more about the local marine life.
Although the views are stunning, this is not the best place to take a dip in the sea unless you’re part of an organised activity. Instead, Ramla Bay with the Red Sandy Beach is the perfect place to swim and sunbathe. The area is also surrounded by dunes, which add extra beauty.
Like the rest of the country, Gozo has very high architectural value. Close to the village of Għarb, the Ta’ Pinu basilica was built in the 1920s. Although the outside is monumental, the inside of this masterpiece is even more impressive as it hosts a collection of sculptures and craftsmanship in Maltese stone. A few kilometres away from here we find the majestic Citadel in Victoria. Built at the top of a hill, it is visible from nearly every corner of the island.
Eat and drink locally
Maltese cuisine is a blend of different cultures, from neighbouring Italy to the flavours and spices of North Africa. Begin with stuffat tal-fenek (rabbit stew), which is popularly considered the national dish of Malta. You’ll find it on the menu in nearly every restaurant.
Fish is also present on every Maltese table all year long. Aljotta is a fish soup that was traditionally served during Lent, the period before Easter when eating meat is not allowed. Palazzo Preca in Valletta makes aljotta according to an old recipe and serves it with crispy bread. If you want something more substantial, fish pie is another icon of Maltese cuisine. It’s made with lampuki (a savoury white fish), mint, lemon, tomatoes, olives, and capers.
Although the production of wine on the island began 2000 years ago, it really only took off commercially a few years ago. Today, local winemakers are putting lots of effort into recovering local grape varieties such as Gellewza and Ghirghentina.
Don’t miss the temples
Malta has seven megalithic temples built between 3600 and 2500 BCE, all on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The temples at Ġgantija on Gozo are considered the oldest free-standing Neolithic monuments in the world. They were built with coralline, a robust pale-grey limestone. If you’re interested in prehistoric objects and statuettes, head to the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, which has a representative selection.
Architecture and water are always a good match. The prehistoric temples at Mnajdra are located by the seashore in a remote place along the southern coast of the country, and are therefore a must-visit. The complex consists of three different temples, the oldest one built more than 5500 years ago.
Dive into history at the Three Cities
Despite having become a crowded tourist hotspot in recent times, the Three Cities are an interesting location to dive into the history of this small nation. They can also rightly claim to be the cradle of Maltese history, as Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua have provided a home and fortress to almost every people who settled on these islands. The cities are strategically located directly across the harbour from Valletta. Visually striking and historically significant, they’re the ideal places to delve deep into Maltese culture.
The oldest of the cities, Vittoriosa, has existed since the Middle Ages. Its name pays tribute to the victory of the Order of St. John against the Ottomans in 1565. The ancient part of the city shows how prosperous and rich the country was at the time.
The local communities here also celebrate holy days and festas as nowhere else on the islands. The most spectacular events are the Easter processions, when statues of the Risen Christ are carried at a run through crowded streets.
Each Maltese village has its own festa dedicated to the patron saints. Fireworks and music are essential at all of these events, which have taken place every year since the time of the Knights of St. John. It is highly advisable to bring along a party mood, because feast days are the life of the islands and some holy days are in fact national holidays, such as the feast of Santa Marija in mid-August.
But life in Malta does not consist only of ancient traditions and celebrations. Introduced relatively recently, cultural events such as the Malta Fireworks Festival, the Malta International Arts Festival, the Malta Jazz Festival, the Glitch Festival, and Mediterranea on Gozo are becoming traditions in their own right.
Read more about Malta at visitmalta.com.