This is intended to be a short guide to what to see in Malta and what to do on the island. I have been visiting this island regularly for more than 3 years and I have literally fallen in love with its spirit. Malta is a sort of mix between Sicily and the Greek Islands but with a charm all its own. The most striking thing when you arrive on the island is to have a set of “flavours”. From fun for the youngest to modern and ancient art, to a little known but incredibly fascinating archaeology. In addition to all this we find a wild and lively nature, with colours that fill our eyes and heart. In short, visiting Malta is something you really must do in life!
Island of Malta
The first time I arrived on the island of Malta I must say that I had a shock and not the best. The area around the airport is particularly bad and you feel as if you have arrived in one of those places in the Middle East constantly affected by war. I wondered where I had arrived! Then, the car in a few km reaches the coast and there, well I was literally enchanted by this place, magical and strange at the same time. Yes, because the island of Malta is an island of strong contrasts. It is a place where the Arabs, the English, the Italians and Christianity met creating something that at first sounds strange but then makes you feel good and fall in love.
The Maltese state is very small, covers an area of 246 square kilometres and consists of 3 main islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. The island of Malta is located 80km from the Sicilian coast with which it shares a wonderful sea.
Malta what to see
There is no shortage of places of interest in Malta. Although the island is small, it is literally overrun with places to see and things to do. From art to nightlife, from sport to nature, passing through UNESCO sites of incredible and rare beauty.
What to do in Malta
Valletta with its magnificent Cathedral and two famous paintings by Caravaggio. The mysterious Megalithic Temples of a disappeared people of which practically nothing is known. The magical Hypogeum, an underground temple carved into the rock, the only example in the world of a prehistoric underground temple. On this page I recommend the 20 things to see and do in Malta during a weekend or a longer holiday.
1. What to see in Malta: Valletta and its historic centre
Valletta is the current Maltese capital. When you arrive the thing that immediately strikes you are the huge fortified walls that envelop the city overlooking the sea. Entering through those doors is always an emotion because immediately afterwards a beautiful combination of ancient and modern awaits us, given by the government palace and the adjacent Roman Theatre. Here 7000 years of history meet making the historic centre one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as the set of numerous films including Assasin’s Creed.
The fortress town owes its name to the Grand Master of the Order of St. John Jean Parisot de la Valette. The centre is today a rich bustle of people and cultures, enriched by shops and cafés where you can stop and admire the colours of the city. As you wander through the alleys of the city, lift your eyes, you will notice the traditional colourful windows with Arabic charm.
If you are an art lover, a must stop is at St Johne Cathedral. Not only for its incredible frescoes or gilded wooden inlays. Not even for its exuberant interiors of clear Baroque origin, opulent as only Christian works of the time can be. Rather for Caravaggio’s two incredible works: The take-off of St. John and St. Jerome Writing. Two works of such strong beauty that you lose the sense of time.
Also worth a visit are the Upper Baracca Gardens where you can see a view of the harbour from above and watch the changing of the Maltese version of the guard with cannon fire!
2. Palace of the Grand Master in Malta
Its construction dates back to 1571 and is certainly one of the most fascinating buildings to visit when visiting Valletta. This building represents the most powerful place in Christian Malta. For over 3 centuries it has housed the seat of the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John, one of the most important orders of chivalry in Europe. Today it is the residence of the President of the Republic and the seat of Parliament. Worth seeing are the Council Chamber, the armoury where you will find over five thousand weapons and of course the original armour of the man who gave the city its name, the Grand Master Jean De La Valette.
3. Malta to see – La M’dina di Malta
Mdina is the ancient capital of Malta. It is located exactly in the centre of the island on a hill overlooking the territory. The small town, also completely fortified, is a small and precious jewel of rare beauty. All perfectly kept almost to look fake. An ancient place of 4000 years where Baroque, Middle Ages, Christianity and the Arab world meet.
The city is almost completely uninhabited with only 400 inhabitants and this perhaps makes your visit so suggestive. Rich aristocratic palaces such as Palazzo Falson which, in addition to having a museum full of treasures, also has works by Van Dyck. Another place not to be missed is the Cathedral of San Paolo built in 1600. My advice, however, is to go on a day when there are few people, get lost in the narrow streets of the centre and look at every single detail, aim at the views, photograph the coloured doors that burst into the yellow of the tuff.
4. Rabat in Malta
Rabat in Malta should not be confused with Rabat in Gozo also known as Victoria, the “capital of Gozo”. This town is the twin town of M’dina and is located on the hill opposite it. Equal in beauty to M’dina, it is linked to the birth of Christianity in Malta because it is here that the Apostle St. Paul took refuge after being shipwrecked on the island. Absolutely worth seeing are the Catacombs of St. Paul and St. Agatha and the beautiful Domus Romana dating back to the 1st century BC.
5. Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni in Malta
The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni (Ħal-Saflieni) is the only underground prehistoric temple in the world. It is located 5km from Valletta in a village called Paola and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site like many other places in Malta. It is a magical and unique place in the world, whose construction took place 4000 years before Christ. The temple consists of 3 underground floors connected by wells. It was discovered during the construction of a palace and was opened to the public only in 1908. Today, to avoid its deterioration, only very few visitors are allowed to visit it every hour. If you want to see it you have to book months in advance by going directly to the site and choosing the time and day you hope to find free. (To book: https://booking.heritagemalta.org/ )
Inside it was found the famous statue of the Sleeping Woman and over 7000 skeletons. Visiting this place is incredible, is particularly impressive when you think that it has been built about 1000 years before Stonehenge.
6. Temples of Tarxien
The temples of Tarscen or Tarxien, to put it in Maltese terms, are also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are composed of 4 megalithic temples which were built in several stages but the oldest one is dated to 3600 BC. They are located a few kilometres from Valletta and are also impressive. Personally, I have been impressed by these temples, especially the Temple of the South, which is the one that has been best preserved. Very interesting also the Temple of the East and the Central Temple where you can also notice some rock engravings that leave really impressed if you consider when they were made.
7. The Blue Grotto in Malta
The Blue Grotto is one of the first places I saw in Malta and it made me realise how special this island is. Coming from the city that seems almost endless, at a certain point the landscape changes completely and you are in the middle of nowhere. You look out from a ravine… and you see this spectacle of nature. An enormous cave suspended over the sea, of a blue that seems almost fake as beautiful as it is. My advice is to go first to the most classic observation point (the one from which you can see all the photos) and then take a boat ride from the harbour nearby (Blue Grotto Trips Departure Wharf). For a few Euros you will enjoy a wonderful show!
8. Things to see in Malta – Temples of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim
Not far from the Blue Grotto, there are two of the most beautiful and evocative temples you can find on these islands: Mnajdra and Hagar Qim. They stand on a hill near the village of Qrendi and are the oldest prehistoric temples discovered to date. Their construction dates back to 5000 years ago or 3600 years before Christ. I recommend you to visit the Temples because they are impressive, also seen where they stand they have a magnificent view from which you can take a lot of beautiful pictures! Also interesting is the museum where they explain how they were built and their purpose. In fact these temples were very complex astronomical calendars. They marked both Equinoxes and Solstices and the phases of the moon. If you are wondering what to see in Malta, this is definitely a “must do”!
the City of Sliema (yes I know it is a separate city) is the tourist centre of the island. It is that place so loved by tourists where you can find shopping streets, restaurants, shopping centres and many hotels where you can sleep. It is located halfway between San Julian and Valletta and is a favourite place for tourists and expats alike. The nightlife is not as intense as in San Julian but it is still very interesting. Let’s say that in Sliema you go to dinner… and then you continue to San Julian to drink, dance and have fun.
10. San Julian
San Julian is the most touristy place on the island of Malta. The bay is a pleasant place for the view and where you can find many bars and restaurants where you can refresh yourself. Just after the Bay you will find the elegant marina of Porto Maso Marina, where you can find ethnic restaurants of all kinds. In this area there are also several casinos where you can squander your savings. The last part of this town is called Paceville. This is the place of the Maltese “movida”! The district that never sleeps, where the music comes out of the various clubs. Where young (and old) people can find places to have fun, have a chat, drink and meet other people.
11. The three Cities: Vittoriosa, Cospicua and L-isla
The three cities are 3 tongues of land that develop in front of Valletta and host 3 small towns that are real jewels: Birgu (Vittoriosa), Bormla (Cospicua) and Senglea (L-isla) is their name in Maltese. They are three small jewels worth seeing, my advice is to spend half a day in Valletta, take the boat for just over a euro and get to the first of these towns by sea and continue the visit on foot. Apart from the ups and downs, you will be greeted by colourful doors, narrow streets and alleys typical of this island and many panoramic viewpoints from which you can photograph the port of Valletta and the sea of an incredible blue.
12. Marsaxlokk & Marsascala
You know those postcards of Malta or those brochures where you can see the small harbours full of colourful boats with a typical Maltese village in the background? This is the view you will find when visiting Marsaxlokk and Marsascala. They are a bit off the tourist routes in a part of the island that is “untouristy” but definitely more authentic and authentic. They are fishing villages renowned for their typical coloured boats, the luzzi. The peculiarity of these boats is that on their bow are drawn 2 eyes as a sign of good luck. These are the eyes of Horus, a very particular thing that links the island of Malta to ancient Egypt. There are many things you can see around here, including the salt pans, the historical market and many other things. Although in my humble opinion even simply walking around the two countries already makes the visit pleasant.
13. St Peter’s Pool
Not far from Marsaxlokk there is this wonderful natural chicken formed by the sea. Hence the name St. Peter’s Pool. Its incredibly clean blue waters attract millions of tourists during the summer months who use this beach to cool down. Unfortunately it is not very shaded and there is no way to defend yourself from the sun so keep this in mind especially if you have children or elderly people. It is also far from eating areas, here too I recommend a light packed lunch maybe with a few meals and ftira, two local streetfood.
14. Munxar Path
This naturalistic area is located in a little known area of the island with almost no tourism. Getting there is not very easy and it seems for a moment to arrive in the cosmic nowhere. You leave your car at a certain point… and continue on foot along this path that leads to the top of this wonderful cliff. From here we can not only admire the sea and the whole south coast of the island, but if we look down towards the sea (you must not suffer from vertigo) you can see some Cart Ruts entering the sea, one of the mysteries that surrounds the island of malta and which one day I will surely talk about. This place is special because looking at the high white cliffs you might feel like you are in Cornwall or Dover or even on the high Irish cliffs.
15. The Blue Lagoon of Comino in Malta
Halfway between Malta and Gozo lies the island of Comino, the third largest island in the Maltese archipelago. The island takes its name from the cumin plant (yes, the one used to make curry), it is completely car-free and its inhabitants are very few (not even 10). It is a small tropical paradise, far from the tropics. When you see the word “Malta” on some brochures it is usually accompanied by a photo of this lagoon, whose beach is the most beautiful and crowded in the whole Mediterranean! ;) To get there obviously the only way is to take a ferry which you will find with regular departures.
16. The temples of Ggantija in Gozo, Malta
On the island of Gozo, too, the builders of temples decided to build a temple that is perhaps the most impressive of the stone blocks: Ggantija. We are located in Xaghra, a small village of Gozo, and the 5-metre-high blocks dominate with their simplicity whoever visits these mysterious and beautiful prehistoric remains also built around 5000 years ago.
17. Dingli Cliffs, the high cliffs of Malta
A charming place where several films and TV series have been shot including Game of Thrones, the Dingli Cliffs are magnificent cliffs and the highest part of Malta. Take a few hours to walk in this area because it’s really worth it. Breathtaking scenery, incredible colours and here and there remnants of over 5000 years of history that have touched this island.
18. Popeye Village
In the 80s the famous actor Robin Williams filmed the fim Popeye here and rebuilt for the occasion an entire fantasy village in Anchor Bay near Mellieha. Once the filming was over, they decided to leave it all behind and turn it into a children’s playground, but it was also enjoyable for us adults. In addition to popcorn, you can also take the boat ride that I recommend because it allows you to take a tour of the bay and see the village from the sea. In the summer months the beach is equipped and in the water there are water games for adults and children.
The village of Mosta is worth a visit to see the Rotonda di Santa Maria Assunta. The church is inspired by the Pantheon of Rome, and is famous for being one of the highest domes in Europe. Its architect Giorgio Grognet de Vassé was also the one who worked on the discovery of the temples of Ggantija and Hagar Qim.
20. Malta National Aquarium
In the town of Qawra, right on Saint Paul’s Bay, is the National Aquarium of Malta. It is the ideal place to take children to get to know the fish of the Mediterranean and the island of Malta as well as those of the Pacific and Indian Ocean. This can be an ideal destination when you are visiting Malta in winter and it rains.
But where exactly is Malta?
To understand where Malta is, we have to look right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The Maltese archipelago is located about 80km from the coast of Sicily and 330km from the beaches of Libya.
The three main islands as mentioned above are Malta, Comino and Gozo but there are many other small islands that make up the state. Filfola and Filfoletta, Cominotto, Isola Manoel, Isole di San Paolo and Rocca del Generale are the smaller islands of the archipelago.
What to eat in Malta
Maltese cuisine is a combination of Italian and Arabic cuisine. It is reminiscent in many ways of Sicilian cuisine but with an “exotic” touch. We find many typical streetfood such as:
- Pastizzi – Mini savoury puff pastry cakes whose filling varies from place to place.
- Qassatat – Puff pastry reminiscent of Neapolitan pastry but savoury filled with different things
- Ftira – In the Malta version it is a round bread filled with everything… excellent while sipping the Kinnie, a typical Maltese drink similar to our crodino.
Or we find more traditional dishes both from the sea and from the land, for example:
- Lampuki – Lampuga cut into pieces with sauce and chilli pepper
- Fenkata – Rabbit stewed in the Maltese way. Yes, the rabbit is the animal of this island!
- Gbejna – traditional cheese made from sheep’s milk
- Ravjul – ricotta and parsley ravioli served with a tomato sauce
- Timpana – A pasta pie in which macaroni are “divided” by puff pastry… light light light dough :D
Where to Sleep in Malta
Here there are 2 different lines of thought, those who prefer to sleep in central places like Sliema and San Julian and those who prefer to choose small villages. If you decide to opt for the tourist areas you will find comfortable hotels both in Sliema and San Julian, I personally advise against sleeping in Valletta because after a certain hour it is rather dead and above all it is unnecessarily expensive.
Another option besides B&B’s can be the FarmHouse. They are something in between our farmhouses and holiday homes. The great thing about this solution is that you usually sleep in very typical structures, in tuff, the downside is that they are often located in country areas and therefore you need to have a means to move around. Per chi vuole invece fare un viaggio low budget ci sono ovviamente anche diversi ostelli