Travel could become my middle name after Shopaholica! 🙂
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page!” and I for surely, would read all the pages in the world, everyday, at every hour, in every moment of my life. So, when one of my best friends asked me to go on a vacation with her, in Malta, even if it was Christmas, of course I couldn’t say no and I flew again.
I travel not to go anywhere, but to go! I travel to discover and rediscover myself, to discover people, cultures and traditions, new emotions and feelings. I travel to create moods and connections. And sometimes I travel for travel’s sake! The great affair is to move, to feel the needs and hitches of your life more closer, to come down off this civilization. I spent one wonderful week, enjoying the Maltese Archipelago, discovering the attractions of the island, having fun and I have to admit, eating too much!
And because “Every traveler has a tale to tell”, here is my Guide for MALTA.
Follow the footsteps of the Historic Knights and discover an Archipelago in the heart of the Mediterranean!
An amazing journey to discover centuries of history, the splendid monuments and priceless treasures of the Maltese Archipelago, the fortresses, churches and mighty ramparts built to protect its cities-artistic and architectural gems created by the Knights of the Order of St.John who controlled the islands for centuries.
Few places have a history as turbulent and inspiring as the Maltese islands. Much of Malta‘s historic prestige and present artistic splendour is due to the Knights. This important chapter in the history of the islands is still remembered and celebrated in the magnificent palaces and many portraits of the Grand Masters exhibited in museums and galleries. The island is a fundamental bridge between different worlds, cultures and traditions, using this role wisely. The Republic of Malta is located in the center of the Mediterranean Sea. The archipelago is formed of two main islands, Malta and Gozo which, as well as Comino, are the only inhabited islands and some smaller uninhabited islands named Cominotto, Filfla and St.Paul. Thanks to its position Malta has represented a bridge between Europe and Africa since ancient times. The islands are in fact only 90 km from Sicily and 290 from the African Coast.
Malta has the highest density of population per square kilometer of any European country.
Numerous peoples have occupied these islands in the course of its lengthy history ( Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish, French and English) leaving behind an artistic and cultural heritage of immense value. As early as prehistoric times large temples were built indicating a highly developed and sophisticated civilization. With its mild climate, clear sea, impressive cliffs and the bright colors of the Mediterranean shrubs, this group of islands is a true paradise and an ideal destination for holidays of all kinds. The Maltese have traces of all the various peoples who have lived in Malta and combine the traits of many ethnic groups, although characteristic Semitic and Anglo-Saxon features are predominant. Most of the population is, however, of Arab descent. The Catholic religion is practiced by 90 per cent of the inhabitants. The official languages are Maltese and English. There are numerous instances of Arab influence, which lasted some 300 years, especially in the grammatical structure of the language, as well as in the vocabulary.
Malta has a Mediterranean climate with warm dry summers and mild winters with 15 degrees still very pleasant. Snow and frost are unknown in Malta. Spend your holiday in Malta in spring or autumn, in summer it’s too hot! You will find a bright sun, clear sea and beaches, along with attractions such as the 365 churches, cathedrals and temples. This makes Malta an ideal country for a nice vacation. Discover the best deals with First Choice, one of the world’s leading travel groups, with everything that you want from last minute holidays to all inclusive and luxury ones.
There is absolutely loads to see and do in Malta. But if you’re tight for time, here are the Top 10 best things to do in Malta:
1. Visit the capital of the Island, Valletta
Not only is Valletta a celebrated UNESCO World Heritage site with an incredible history, but it’s also a vibrant shopping, dining and cultural destination. The capital, Valletta, is probably the most obvious place to start when in Malta.
Visit the must sees but then make sure to get lost in the less commercial parts of Valletta for a true taste of the city and its beautiful old streets (mostly in disrepair). The city was intended as a fortress to protect the two Harbors on either side of the rocky peninsula. A visit to Valletta must certainly begin with a stroll on Republic Street which is the true center of the capital, busy and always crowded. A fascinating pedestrian area stretching from the City Gate to Fort St.Elmo. The most prestigious shops, the most important offices and numerous monumental buildings are located on this important street. St. John’s Co-Cathedral has to be the ‘Must-See’ site, because is home to one of Europe’s most extraordinary and famous artworks – The Beheading of St. John the Baptist by the maestro Caravaggio.
For those interested in military things there is the Palace Armoury, the War Museum in Fort St.Elmo and an exact replica of the underground War Room in the Lascaris Ditch. Manoel Theatre is a gem dating from 1732 and recently restored to its former glory for, as its builder Grand Master Anton Manoel de Vilhena would have said,’…the honest recreation of the people.” For art lovers there are the Museum of Fine Arts and the Cathedral Museum, which contains various fine specimens. Also partially open to the public is the Grand Master’s Palace with its State Apartments. The Palace is today the seat of the Maltese Parliament and the official residence of the Maltese President. Tour the impressive armory collection and tapestries before enjoying some time relaxing in the pretty square opposite.
For a leisurely stroll and a panoramic view find a bench overlooking the incredible Grand Harbor and the Three Cities towards the Upper Barrakka Gardens. These gardens also provide access to the Saluting Battery. A gun is fired here daily at noon to re-enact the age-old practice of marking time with gunfire. The Grand Harbor is one of the world’s largest and deepest natural harbors and has played a central role in Maltese history since the Phoenician times. On its shoreline just beneath the capital’s fortifications, is the redeveloped Pinto Wharf, now renamed to the Valletta Waterfront. As one of Malta’s most vibrant destinations, the Valletta Waterfront is made up of a series of restored 18th-century vaults. These vaults now house cafes, bars, restaurants and shops, and are the docking place for an ever growing cruise ship industry. To get there, simply take the Barrakka lift down from the city center to the waterfront.
Valletta is a foodie hotspot with plenty of cuisines to choose from, including local food, delicious Mediterranean dishes and even Far Eastern options. Most restaurants here are housed in historic locations. You won’t have a bad meal in Valletta, as long as you skip the touristy restaurants in the main squares and follow the smell of simmering rabbit stew and freshly grilled fish to the side streets.
For an authentic Maltese breakfast, pick up a ricotta-cheese or mushy-pea-filled pastry at a pastizzerija. With its very own Facebook page Pastizzi can be easily deemed the nation’s favorite. These local delicacies are lovingly oven baked with a warm ricotta or a spicy pea filling. Try Capri Caffe on Zachary Street or rub shoulders with Malta’s politicians over an espresso at the opulent Caffe Cordina. For lunch, head to St. Lucia Street where local favorites vintage themed Café Jubilee. Piadina Caffe serve up Maltese-style ravioli and traditional sandwiches made with ftira bread.
As the sun goes down, have a spritz at the upmarket Charles Grech cafe on Republic Street. For dinner, book a table at Guzé for traditional Italian-Maltese fare in a 16th-century Palazzo in the heart of Malta‘s capital, or La Mere for a taste of contemporary Indian or Mediterranean in an old Maltese townhouse.
2. Don’t miss a Harbor Cruise
When in Malta book a Harbor Cruise and witness Malta’s living past. I recommend you with all my heart an afternoon Cruise which takes you to see the Three Cities from an unique perspective and offers an insight to the essence of Maltese History.
Cruise around the two natural harbors on either side of Valletta – Marsamxett Harbor and Grand Harbor and enjoy the Mediterranean Sea. This 45 minutes cruise into every creek is a great starting point for anyone visiting the island. A detailed commentary will unfold the history of Valletta and the Three Cities connected with two Great Sieges of 1565 and 1594, as well as the other places of interest including the historical forts, battlements and creeks which can only be admired from the sea. Luzzu Cruises is renowned for their cruises and offers the largest fleet of vessels for sea trips around the Maltese Islands.
When you disembark, why not take a leisurely walk along the beautiful seaside promenade to St. Julian’s? This is Malta‘s prime nightlife area, with several restaurants and bars to choose from and clubs to entertain you for the rest of the evening.
3. Visit the Three Cities
No matter your reason for visiting Malta, the Three Cities are a must.
In this historically rich part of Malta, winding alleys lead to intriguing museums and evocative buildings. They encompass so much of what makes the island so special – historical gems, beautiful architecture, stunning sea views and great food.
The Three Cities are made up of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. Although they were extensively damaged in World War II, a large-scale rehabilitation programme is ongoing here. Developments have included the restoration of derelict buildings and Vittoriosa Waterfront, which is now a picturesque port of call for countless yachts and super yachts.
Vittoriosa, with majestic Fort St.Angelo at its tip, has been described as the “cradle of Maltese history“. Most of its architecture harks back to the time of the Knights, as they chose the city as their seat upon their arrival in Malta and stayed until they built Valletta. The Knights made their marks by strengthening fortifications and construction of imposing baroque buildings, including the Auberges of the Knights, the church of Saint Lawrence, the Inquisitor’s Palace and the Bishop’s Palace. Fort St. Angelo still remains a jewel of Malta‘s military heritage and one of the finest fortifications found anywhere in the world.
Senglea, also, played an important role in the siege of 1565 and remained unconquered, earning the title Civitas Invicta from Grand Master de Valette. Situated on a peninsula jutting out into Grand Harbor, Senglea was founded in the mid-16th century. Its design and planning were inspired by the new ideas that emerged during the Renaissance, with a grid-like layout of streets. The city it was awarded the title of European Destination of Excellence for Aquatic Tourism in 2010.
Cospicua (also known as Bormla) is a double-fortified city located on the East side of Grand Harbour, opposite Valletta. Cospicua is flanked by Senglea (Isla) on the West and Vittoriosa (Birgu) on the East, making up the Cottonera region, also known as The Three Cities. Cospicua, the largest of the three, was declared a city in 1722 by Grandmaster Marc Antonio Zondadari. Quaint alleys surrounded with traditional Maltese houses provide a romantic and peaceful atmosphere, here.
Plot your itinerary depending on the time you allocate to the Three Cities, but your first stop should definitely be Vittoriosa. Wander around the Collacchio, before heading to the Vittoriosa Waterfront where you can enjoy the beautiful buildings on one side, many housing cafes and restaurants, and the stunning yachts on the other.
4. Take a boat and visit Blue Grotto
While the beauty of the Three Cities takes center stage in the south of Malta, there is also loads to see and do in the towns and villages that surround them.
If you can only visit one place in the south of Malta, make it the Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum, as this is the only underground temple and burial place of its kind in the world. There’s more prehistory to be discovered if you fancy it like the 5000 year old megalithic temple of Hagar Qim that pre-dates Stonehenge in England and the Pyramids in Egypt. Neighboring temple is impressive, being one of the most intact prehistoric temples anywhere in the Mediterranean region.
And once you’ve had your historical fill, you can cool off with a swim at one of the many charming bays in the area, such as Pretty Bay or St. Peter’s Pool. If you prefer natural sites to historical ones, Wed iz-Zurrieq is arguably one of the most beautiful spots in Malta. To see it best, hop on to a fishing boat to visit the picturesque Blue Grotto and keep your eyes peeled for the brilliant phosphorescent colors of the underwater flora. The presence of this deep sea-cave, in which the sea depths are of an unbelievably intense blue, has long been known to the fisher folk. During World War II, when an air-raid alarm was sounded the inhabitants took to their boats and rowed into the cave for safety.
The sea is a major draw of this part of Malta, especially the fishing villages of Marsaxlokk and Marsascala. Marsaxlokk is particularly well-known for its Sunday morning fish market, traditional local Luzzu‘s boats and seafood eateries that dot the promenade. Marsascala, meanwhile, is popular for its excellent fish and seafood restaurants.
5. Explore the island of Gozo
You should never visit Malta without exploring Gozo Island for at least one day!
Gozo may be smaller than it’s sister Malta, being only 67sq km in size. But it’s a destination in its own right with so much to offer, including a more traditional, green and slow-paced way of life. The ferry crossing to Gozo takes around 25 minutes, but it will probably feel like longer, especially as this island feels quite different to Malta. The whole boat trip to Gozo is fantastic and the Mediterranean Sea views are gorgeous. The ferry will drop you off at Mgarr Harbour, and picturesque scenery will accompany you as you walk or drive up the main road to the rest of the island. Buses are the main means of public transport on Gozo Island. But if you rent a car for the day you can wander through the winding roads that link different villages and stop to admire every aspect that catches your attention.
Most roads in Gozo lead to the capital, Victoria, which was so named on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. The heart of the capital is called it-Tokk and is home to a daily market selling all sorts of things, from knitted jumpers to traditional lace. Head up the hill to the Cittadel, the ancient fortified city, with its magnificent 360-degree views of the island. Visit the Old Prisons and some of the other interesting museums it houses. While you are here, make a quick stop and have a traditional lunch at Ta’Rikardu. Then move on to the village of Xaghra and find the world-famous Neolithic temples of Ggantija. Just beyond is the Ta’ Kola Windmill which has been turned into a museum. In the heart of the village you will find Ninu’s Cave and Xerri’s Grotto with a marvel of stalactites and stalagmites. The caves are sometimes off limits, but you can still enjoy the views of Ramla Bay below, remarkable for its deep red sand and turquoise colored waters.
But there are a number of other real Must-Sees around the island, such as Dwejra, famous for its sheer cliffs and the Azure Window – the most photographed view in the Maltese Islands. It’s untamed beauty has made it the perfect setting for scenes in a number of epic films such as “Troy”, starring Brad Pitt, and HBO’s “Game of Thrones’. This is the location of the Fungus Rock and the Inland Sea, as well as the Blue Hole, a world-famous diving spot.
It’s really striking to watch the sunset from this point!
At the end of the day you can dine in one of many restaurants in pretty Xlendi Bay nearby! Don’t worry about catching the ferry back… It runs regularly till late and occasionally through the night!
6. Take a bath in Blue Lagoon
A stone throw away from Gozo is the little, but uninhabited Island of Comino. The island is a pleasurable half day walk with 360 degree views of Malta and Gozo. It’s main attraction is undoubtedly the Blue Lagoon. Comino is the smallest of the three islands that make up the Maltese Archipelago and include the largest coastal tower built by the Knights of St. John.
The breathtaking Blue Lagoon is perhaps the most stunning spot perfect for picture postcards. It’s wonderful turquoise waters are a reminiscent of the best far flung exotic islands. A splash in these waters is an absolute must. Just remember to take your packed lunch with you as there are no restaurants here!
Even though popular with locals and tourists alike, the crystal clear waters are cordoned off to prevent any boats from entering the bay. This makes it possible to enjoy an unique area even in the height of summer when the surrounding shoreline is dotted with private yachts and larger vessels carrying dozens of tourists. You can settle on either side of the bay where you will find small patches of sand and larger areas of flat rock to sunbath from. The sea is also ideal for snorkelers with a number of caves to explore. It is also recommended to go for a walk around this little island, at least up to the imposing castle where you can awe the beautiful views of the cliffs. If you want to have a tour of the island take a day cruise and enjoy the caves and inlets around.
7. Hit the beach
The islands are also well known for their beautiful beaches, thanks to great weather and warm temperatures that last into the start of autumn. The north is renowned for its numerous sandy beaches and for its selection of bars and restaurants.
Make the most of this area’s beautiful beaches and stunning seascapes by chartering a yacht or by trying your hand at water sports or scuba diving. Bugibba offers a little bit of everything. Is especially popular during the summer months, due to its proximity to the sea and its varied outdoor entertainment venues. Adjacent to it is the smaller town of Qawra. Its scenic promenade has recently been given a new lease of life, and is home to the country’s first National Aquarium. Bugibba merges with its more tranquil neighbour St. Paul’s Bay. It was once a quiet fishing village and has retained some characteristics of times gone by, with quaint townhouses, pacing villagers and colorful fishing boats bobbing in the bay. Your next destination is most likely to be Mellieha, although it is definitely worth stopping at Mistra Bay on the way there or back. The bay is ideal for a quiet country walk in winter or a quick dip during the summer months. Mellieha Bay is recognised as a European Destination of Excellence and has been awarded with the Blue Flag, largely because of its rich history and stunning natural beauty.
The northern part of Malta is a marine protected area and has some excellent diving sites. If you prefer to stay above water, there are ample picturesque beaches to relax on and soak up some rays, such as Golden Bay, Armier Bay, Paradise Bay and Mellieha Bay.
8. Explore the top sites – Mdina and Rabat
Mdina and Rabat are on any tourist’s must to do list.
A day out combining a visit to Mdina, once the capital of the island, and its neighbouring Rabat will be a highlight of your stay. Start your visit with a walk around the recently opened gardens in the ditch that separates Mdina from Rabat. Admire the newly restored mighty ramparts at close range. Churches, palazzos, catacombs, Roman remains, local markets and clubs are all part of this lovely village. The first attraction you must see is the Mdina dungeons, where prisoners were interrogated and punished. Then you must visit the Magisterial Palace, which is home of many artefacts and displays of the Museum of Natural History. Other must-sees within the Silent city include the Bishop’s Palace, the Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum, the Mdina Experience, the Banca Giuratale and the Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux, which has now been converted into an exquisite five-star hotel.
Mdina is one of my favorite place in Malta. As you walk through the silent, cobble-stoned streets of the island’s best-preserved medieval city, it’s easy to be transported back in the past! To a time in which it was Malta’s capital city, occupied by the aristocracy of the day. It’s so charming and there is no better way to enjoy it than just strolling around and get lost amongst the medieval streets. There are also some great dining options all within short walking distance.
As you make your way out of the city, head to a roadside cafe in the neighbouring Rabat, for a taste of some of Malta‘s best pastizzi. When you start to explore Rabat, make sure you get a glimpse of what lies beneath. The town is home to an underground maze of catacombs that runs below its streets – the Catacombs of St.Paul and St.Agatha. Rabat, originally the suburb of Mdina, is now a lot bigger than the old citadel.
If you’d like to give your feet a break but still see the sights, a trackless train tour of Rabat, Mdina, Mtarfa and the neighbouring area will let you do just that. The train will take you on a scenic route, with picturesque views of the surrounding countryside. The area around Mdina and Rabat is where the island’s most fertile land can be found so the countryside here is lush and scenic. The best walking routes start at Dingli Cliffs, Ghar il-Kbir, the cart ruts at Clapham Junction, Mtahleb, Bahrija dn Buskett Gardens.
9. Go to a Village Festa
A visit to Malta without experiencing a traditional Maltese Festa (religious feast) is similar to going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower. Celebrating the patron saint of a village is a popular tradition here, that has been going on for generations in Malta. Every town and village organizes an elaborate feast complete with fireworks displays, street decorations and outdoor festivities. It’s very easy to find one as every village has a Festa and they are mostly held between May and September. The activities are centered around Valletta in Malta and Nadur in Gozo.
Many tourists bump into this traditional festival by chance and absolutely love it. Perhaps the most unique experience to be had in Malta during summer is the Traditional Maltese Village Festa.
Must be seen to be believed!
10. Don’t miss an evening in Paceville
Get ready to make the most of Malta‘s nightlife scene: it has just been getting better and better!
St.Julian’s and neighbouring Paceville have long held the top spot for the best and most varied offering of nightlife, parties and entertainment. There’s surely something for everyone to enjoy here, be it a laid-back evening of lounge music and cocktails or a long night of clubbing. Most of the establishments offer a quality experience, however expect the streets of Paceville and many of its bars to be over-run by younger English language students in the peak summer season. Ask a local where to go!
I recommend you Level 22 located at the very top of the Portomaso Tower, the highest building in Malta, where you can have the most supreme views during the day. Sophisticated and stylish, Level 22 worth a visit. It attracts an upmarket crowd and progresses from a cocktail lounge bar to a club throughout the evening. Admission is against payment after 11pm.
Finally, if you want to take in some fresh air off the beaten track…what better way than to put on some walking shoes, pack a snack and drinks and enjoy Malta from a ramblers point of view. This is a perspective that only a few tourists actually get to see.
If you ask any local in Malta which time of the year they would rather be a tourist in their own country, the majority would probably opt for spring and autumn. This is when you can really enjoy the outdoors they’d claim. Plus is not so crowded and the temperatures are much more agreeable.
I choose Christmas for visiting MALTA thanks to the best all inclusive offer I found on First Choice and I had the best time of my life!
So ultimately, as a visitor to Malta, the call is yours…