Malta is one of three islands that make up the Maltese Archipelago. The other two islands are Gozo and Comino. The archipelago is located in the central Mediterranean between the North African coast and Sicily.
Malta is known for being nicknamed the jewel of the Mediterranean. The island is a popular tourist attraction that offers tourists a bit of everything. It’s known for being home to the Knights of Malta, the UNESCO-listed city of Valetta, and ancient sites older than the pyramids.
The Ancient City of Valetta
The entire city of Valetta has been designated as a UNESCO Heritage site. The history of the city is tied with the Knights of St. John, which set out to create a city that would be amongst the finest in Europe. The city’s stunning architecture reflects the stature of the wealthy noble families from Europe that once called the city home.
This beautiful city has an abundance of historical monuments to visit alongside vibrant cultural events. It was even named Europe Capital of Culture in 2018.
The Knights of Malta
The Knights of Malta started as the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1048. This was a monastic community that ran a hospital for pilgrims in the Holy Land. In 1113, they became a religious order and eventually moved to Malta before Napolean forced them out in 1798.
They are still active in Malta today, and they operate as a massive global charity, counting around 13 000 members, 80 000 volunteers, and 25 000 employees. The history of Malta and that of the knights are wholly intertwined, so learning more about the Knights will only enrich your visit.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
This cathedral nestled in the capital’s center is widely seen as one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world. It was built in the period 1572 to 1577 by the Order of St. John. Not only does the building itself attracts hordes of visitors, but the art inside is spectacular in its own right.
Many of the past Grand Masters and Knights of the Order of St. John donated pieces of art as gifts to the cathedral. Here you can see the artist Caravaggio’s most renowned painting, The Beheading of St John the Baptist.
The Blue Lagoon is by the island of Comino, but you can easily get there from Malta. It’s one of the top attractions in the area and guaranteed will be one of the most beautiful spots you’ve ever seen. The lagoon is like a massive swimming pool with crystal clear water to swim in.
Savor Local Life in Marsaxlokk
Visit the tiny fishing village of Marsaxlokk and indulge in the relaxed Maltese way of life. Stop by the daily market to shop for some local goods and have lunch at one of the many restaurants that line the harbor. If you visit on a Sunday, you’ll find an even bigger market as the fishermen then get a chance to sell their catch.
The Island of Gozo
The island of Gozo is only a short ferry ride away from Malta. However, as Malta has started becoming a more popular tourist destination, many locals like to think of Gozo as Malta of the years past.
It’s an idyllic little island dotted with more laid-back towns and pristine beaches. It also offers a lot in terms of cultural attractions. Don’t forget to check out the fortified medieval city of Victoria or the seaside resort of Marsalforn.
Soak up the sun at one of the Beaches
Malta has plenty of beaches for the sun-worshipper to love. In fact, the total shoreline of Malta is around 136 miles (219 kilometers). One of the favorite beaches is, without a doubt, Golden Bay. The beach is known for its white sand and crystal clear waters. Other popular beaches are Mellieħa Bay and Għajn Tuffieħa.
World War II History
Malta was one of the most heavily bombed countries in Europe during the Second World War. Today there are sights attesting to this dark period all over the island. One of the must-see attractions for history buffs to visit is the Lascaris War Rooms.
The Lascaris War Rooms are an underground complex of tunnels and chambers in the country’s capital. This complex was used as the War Headquarters during the Second World War, and later on, they were used by NATO. The complex has since been turned into a museum open to the public.
Mdina is also known as the Silent City, located in the heart of the island. It’s a fortified town atop a hill, and it also used to be the old capital. Today you can wander its narrow streets and admire the splendid architecture of the houses that used to belong to the island’s wealthy families.
There are plenty of sights to see in Mdina, all close together, making this the perfect day trip. There are hardly any cars allowed in the center, so you can get lost admiring the Norman and Baroque architecture.
Close to Mdina is the town of Rabat. It’s a slightly less touristy version than neighboring Mdina, but it still offers a number of notable attractions.
One of the top sights is the Casa Bernard. It’s a grand 16th-century house that belonged to a prominent Maltese family with French roots. Today it’s still used as a private residence, but it is also open to the public for guided tours.
Oldest Manmade Temples in the World
You can find seven Megalithic Temples and other ancient structures, such as burial sites on the islands of Malta and Gozo. They were built during the 4th millennium BC and the 3rd millennium BC. This makes these temples some of the oldest manmade structures in the world: even older than the pyramids in Giza or Stonehedge.
Today you can visit parts of these sights. However, if you are short on time, visit Ħal Saflieni. This prehistoric site is deemed to be one of the best-preserved subterranean monuments in Europe.
Cottonera is the name given to Malta’s three fortified cities. They are known as Birgu, Cospicua, and Senglea, and together they have a population of around 11 000. These cities were heavily bombed during the Second World War, but today they are starting to thrive again as new residents are moving in.
Stroll the ancient streets and marvel at the structure built by the Knights of St. John. Visiting the cities is easy as they are a quick bus ride away from Valetta.
Top Diving Destination
Malta is a top diving destination that offers something for divers at all levels. One of the top sights for divers is exploring the wreck of HMS Maori, a Second World War wreck.
Another top diving spot is the Blue Hole, situated close by on the island of Gozo. If you haven’t given diving a go yet, there are plenty of dive schools on the island to choose from.
The Popeye Village
Those that love the Popeye cartoons can’t miss a visit to the Popeye Village. It was built as a Film Set for the 1980 Musical Production ‘Popeye’, and it has since turned into one of the major attractions on the island.
You’ll find a cinema in the village’s center where you can learn more about the film itself and the construction of the set. During the year, there’s also a variety of activities that visitors can participate in.
Step Back in Time at Ghar Dalam
Ghar Dalam is Malta’s oldest prehistoric site. You’ll find a range of ancient animal bones belonging to animals that haven’t lived in Malta for thousands of years. The remains of small-sized elephants and hippopotami are some of the most interesting exhibits, but you’ll also find the remains of other Ice Age animals here.
Also, stop by the Domvs Romana Museum. The museum provides a fascinating insight into everyday life during the ancient Roman era. You’ll find exhibitions of entertainment, cuisine, and fashion.
The Blue Grotto
The Blue Grotto is a complex of seven caves found along the island’s southern coast. The complex is most known for its massive main arch, approximately 30m in height. According to mythology, the Blue Grotto was home to sea nymphs that put sailors under a spell with their charms.
Tourists can visit the Blue Grotto by taking a guided boat tour in one of the traditional Maltese fishing boats called Iuzzus.
Mellieha is a family-friendly resort town thanks to its relatively shallow water, no undercurrents, and more laid-back nature. Here you’ll also find Malta’s longest beach, Mellieħa (or Għadira) Bay, with almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) of white sand.
It’s located on top of a hill affording it beautiful views. At the village’s highest point is the Parish Church of Our Lady of Victory, a beautiful 19th century Baroque building. If you enjoy bird-watching, head over to the Ghadira Nature reserve with its bird sanctuaries.
Join a local Festa
If you want to meet locals, there’s no better way than to join a feast. And there are more than enough in Malta, with around 95 held each year.
A village festa is primarily a religious celebration held annually in the honor of a patron saint. Each village celebrates a different saint depending on the number of churches in the village. If a town has several churches, several festas are held in the same year.
The key elements of a festa are the religious processions, fireworks, band processions, community gatherers, and traditional sweets and food.