This small archipelago has so much variety you won’t believe how they manage to squeeze it all in. So many cultures have been mixing and influencing each other for generations that you’ll be hard pressed to pigeon-hole anything here. For example, Maltese food is a combination of Middle Eastern and Sicilian. Another thing that mixes well here is modern life with the prehistoric. All the modern amenities you could ask for, plus everywhere you look there are tiny pockets where you’ll think you’ve gone back in time. Though the most famous asset is the gorgeous deep blue sea. Come for the red-gold beaches, limestone cliffs, sheltered bays, and every imaginable sailing vessel and forget about everything else. Here’s the best places to visit in Malta!
Valletta is the capital of Malta thanks to the famous defeat of the Ottoman Turks during the Great Siege of 1565. Built on a peninsula in the eastern part of the country, with a population around 6000, the entire town is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It sits on top of Mount Sceberras and has wonderful examples of baroque architecture dating from the 16th century. The stand out of these is St. John’s Cathedral and other auberges’ and bastions all built by the Knights of St. John. Valletta is the largest harbour town in Malta and from The Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens you’ll get incredible views of the Grand Harbour. If you’ve got the opportunity, the Maltese Carnival, which lasts three days, is phenomenal.
Just 5k from Valletta, Sliema is the Maltese hub for delicious food and fantastic shopping. It’s the main resort destination now, though it was once the playground of the country’s aristocracy. You’ll find a lot of expats here, as well as a large number of Maltese. There are a lot of options for boat trips around the Grand Harbour and Sliema serves as the starting point for hop on/off sightseeing buses that cover the entire island. In town, be sure to check out the Independence Garden and the De Redin tower (17th century).As you might expect from a resort town, the nightlife has a lot of energy and you’ll likely find yourself with too much that you want to do.
3. St. Julians
For those that want a little punch in the nightlife scene, St. Julians is the place. Known for its ability to entertain, this resort town is thriving with late night fun. St. Julians includes Portomaso, Spinola Bay, St. George’s Bay, and Paceville – which is where most of the action is. For beach bums, the large flat rocks that line the coast make a perfect sunbathing bed and the seafront promenade offers a great place for a long walk. Malta’s tallest building, Portomaso Tower, is here, as is the Love Monument and Spinola Palace (17th century). Come in August for the traditional summer festa, or come any time for unbelievable dancing, dining, and fine wine.
On a peninsula between Salina Bay and St. Paul’s Bay sits Qawra (Our-ra). Thanks to the peninsula, the town has three seafronts and with so much access, it’s quickly becoming a hub for tourists seeking water sports. It’s also close to St. Julians, so if you want to experience great nightlife, but escape to a more quiet and relaxed home base, Qawra is a great option. The promenade will take you all the way to St. Paul’s and provide stunning views all along the 3k walk. Don’t miss the parish church, dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, and the Malta Classic Car Museum.
Just off the coast of Malta is the small island of Gozo. Most tourists come for the day and enjoy sites like the Temples of Ggantija, Inland Sea, The Citadel, and the Azure Window. Gozo is a mainly farming and fishing community, and most people enjoy the villages of Xlendi and Marsalforn. There’s been very little development here so an afternoon roaming the island will give you a nice feeling for a more traditional Malta. Most arrive by ferry, but for some excitement, try the seaplane.
Head inland, to the “Silent City” of Mdina to experience medieval Malta. Built on a large hill in the centre of the country, the town has few inhabitants and no cars can enter. Combine this with amazing views of the entire island and you’ll quickly see the magic of Mdina. It’s a good place to relax as you stroll through the narrow alleys. Though it is small, there is plenty to do. Take in the Carmelite Church and Priory, the Natural History Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Magisterial Palace, and the Palazzo Falzon.
7. Birgu (Vittoriosa)
On the south side of the Grand Harbour is Birgu, one of the older cities in Malta. Because of its location, it’s been of military significance for centuries. The town even played an important role in the Siege of Malta. At one point, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Phoenicians, Normans, Arabs, and Aragonese all control the city and influenced its history and culture. The main entrance to the city is the love Couvre Porte and the entire place is surrounded by fortified walls. Inside you’ll find monuments and ancient history at every turn. Before leaving, explore the Inquisitor’s Palace (now a museum), The Parish Church, Notre Dame Gate, and the Malta Maritime Museum.
Dwejra is on the west coast and centuries of work by the sea have made it one of the most astounding places in Malta. There are two underground caverns which have collapsed to form two circular depressions – current day Inland Sea and Dwerja Bay. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll recognize this place immediately from the shows first season. The Inland Sea is a lagoon with steep cliffs on all sides and a 100m tunnel leading to it. Fishermen find their best catches from here and on the side they shuttle tourists back and forth through the tunnel. Dwerja and the surrounding areas are Malta’s most popular diving and snorkelling spots.
Home of the famous Blue Lagoon, Comino is a small island much loved by surfers, divers, and those wanting a day trip get away from their cares. The island is car free and virtually uninhabited. It’s got white sand beaches and an intensely blue sea making everything about Comino inviting and luxurious feeling. You can swim over to the islet of Cominotto and when you’re finished rent an umbrella and a deck chair for a nice long nap in the sun. It does get busy in the summer, so consider a winter visit to maximize your pleasure.
This is Malta’s largest beach and takes its name from the Arabic word for salt. Another popular tourist spot, Mellieha is picturesque and a favourite among the Maltese. Wonderful seaside hotels and fantastic restaurants add to the hospitality that permeates the place. In September you can take part in the Village Feast, known as “Il-Viorja,” which includes fireworks, concerts, folk singing, more great food, and many religious processions honouring Our Lady of Victories. While visiting, be sure to explore Ghadira Natural Reserve, Ghadira Bay, Armier Bay, St. Agatha’s Tower, and Popeye’s Village where the 1980 film Popeye was filmed.
In southern Malta you’ll find Marsaxlokk, a fishing village known for the Sunday fish market and the many colourful Luzzus – decorated “eyed” painted boats. The history here traces back to the 9th century and was used by Phoenicians and later the Turkish fleet during The Great Siege. On the Tas-Silg hill, archaeologists have even found Bronze Age tools. Though industry is a major part of life in Marsaxlokk (the nation’s main power station is here). The mouth-watering seafood and green water make it worth a visit. There is a lovely beach leading to the gorgeous St. Peter’s Pool and cliff diving here is an amazing experience.
12. Victoria (Rabat)
The capital of Goza is Victoria (or Rabat) which includes both the old city and the Citadel which sits on top of the hill. Because of its location, The Citadel serves as the heart of the island and is sometimes called the “Crown of Gozo.” Independence Square (18th century) was once the government centre and is now home to a lively open-air market with cafes serving pastizzi and tons of fun souvenirs. The Grand Basilica is located in perhaps the oldest part of town and you’ll love walking around this area. Be sure to check out the local delicacies as you go. And don’t leave before checking out The Folklore Museum, the Old Prison, Villa Rundle, and Gozo Cathedral.
13. Hagar Qim
The best preserved and staggering of all the prehistoric sites in Malta are the standing stones known as Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. Sitting right at the top of the sea cliff, the atmosphere here is awe-inspiring. Hagar Qim is the first temple and has been restored so that you have a better sense of what it originally looked liked. Next to it is the 20 tonne megalith. This is the location of where the famous Venus de Malta, or “fat lady,” figurine was found. She’s now on display at the National Museum in Valletta. Mnajdra is a series of three elaborate temples which date back to 3000 BC. There’s a great visitors centre here which will reveal all the secrets and mysteries of these ancient temples and afterwards, take a hike along the cliffs to Ghar Lapsi.
14. The Hypogeum
Discovered in 1902, The Hypogeum is a mysterious underground necropolis. The passages and chambers have been cut out of the rock and cover over 500 square metres. Since it was built, sometime between 3000 and 3600 BC, some 7000 people were buried here. This incredible structure was carved by hand. The site was shut for a decade as the government worked to restore and protect it, using UNESCO funds, from carbon dioxide damage from tourists. Now it is structurally safe with a controlled micro-climate. Because the number of tourists is limited to ten per tour, pre-booking is essential.
15. National Museum of Archaeology
Located in the Auberge de Provence, in Valletta, the museum has an unbelievable range of artefacts all the way back to the Neolithic period and Phoenician period. There is so much ancient history in Malta and here, you’ll get a great introduction and context to most of sites you’ll visit as you travel the country. You can see the Venus of Malta, the Sleeping Lady from Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, bronze daggers from the Tarxien Temples, and the Horus and Anubis pendant from the Phoenician period. And not only will you learn about the artistry and daily lives of the first island dwellers, but the museum itself is architecturally one of the most elaborate Baroque buildings in the capital.