Covering just a small archipelago of three islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Malta surprises its visitors with its astounding ability to meet everyone’s expectations and desires. From prehistoric sites, unique architecture, fascinating museums to beautiful beaches and natural wonders, Malta packs up marvelously all the ingredients that make a place stand out on our bucket lists. Home to a captivating mix of cultures, Malta wears the marks of a rich legacy, where the beauty of history and tradition combine with that of nature. For those who wonder where to start their exploration, here are some tips.
The Grand Harbour
The Grand Harbour is one of the great pillars of Malta’s history. It has witnessed the Great Siege of 1565 when the Knights of St. John fought to protect the land against the Ottomans, but also the tragic events of World War II when it had to host the British Royal Navy. Besides its historic merits, the harbour is a picturesque place packed with colorful little wooden boats, the traditional dghajsas. The boats are available for tours.
Malta offers some of the best diving experiences in the Mediterranean. Although there is an abundance of sea life to discover, diving in Malta is more about the opportunity to check amazing underwater landscapes, including wrecks. Both amateurs and experienced divers will have no issue with the logistics, as dive centers abound all across the country, offering from beginners’ courses to equipment. Most of the dives are either available from the shore or within easy reach by short boat trips.
Valletta is Malta’s capital and being almost an open-air museum, it is now considered a World Heritage Site. Home of emperors, heads of state, and artists, the city boasts a Baroque architecture nothing short of majestic. A visit to St. John’s Cathedral is a must, not only for its grand architecture but also for the excellent works of art that it hosts, especially Caravaggio’s masterpiece “The Beheading of Saint John”. A short stroll will reveal an abundance of imposing churches and bastions standing across quaint cafés, restaurants, or wine bars. Although covering less than one square kilometer, Valletta has its own distinct character, emphasized by the historic buildings, colorful balconies and doors, and the stunning views over the Grand Harbour.
Mdina is Malta’s old capital, a perfectly preserved walled city, known also as Citta Notabile (The Noble City), where in the past, most of the Mediterranean elite had a home. Some call it the “Silent City” since very few cars are allowed to get there and disrupt the peace of its narrow, cobbled streets. The Baroque architecture is punctuated by the charm of medieval monuments, churches, palaces, or fortified walls. Protected by massive ancient ramparts lay unique sandstone buildings. The heart of Mdina is the Cathedral of Saint Paul, a magnificent example of the Baroque, with lavish decorations and intricate design. While strolling around on the winding streets, you pass by several grandiose medieval palaces of great historical and architectural value, such as Pallazo Santa Sofia, Palazzo Vilhena, or Palazzo Falson.
The Blue Lagoon on Comino Island
Comino is the smallest of the three inhabited islands of the Maltese archipelago, located between Malta and Gozo. The tiny island is a nature reserve and bird sanctuary, but the real reason for its huge popularity is the stunning Blue Lagoon, one of the perfect places in the Mediterranean for snorkeling, diving, or enjoying views over crystal-clear turquoise waters. Easily accessible by ferry, the large lagoon protected by rocky hillside makes for a perfect, natural swimming pool. It is clean, calm but crowded.
A day trip to Gozo is a wonderful way to explore a different aspect of Malta. Although it is less developed, the island of Gozo has an idyllic charm while still offering a wide range of attractions. You can explore the fortified medieval city Victoria, or the bustling seaside resort Marsalforn. The Musem of Archaeology, the Cathedral of the Assumption, or the Cittadella, a medieval castle turned into a modern fortress, are well worth your time. If you prefer nature to history, there are gorgeous caves to discover, such as the popular Calypso Cave, which overlooks the red sands of the island’s finest beach at Ramla Bay. With its picturesque landscape, peaceful old fishing villages, and unspoiled beaches, Gozo is ideal for enjoying a relaxed pace without giving up on the attractions of culturally-rich places.
The Megalithic Temples
Older than the Pyramids of Egypt and the world’s second oldest religious structures, the Ggantija temples on the island of Gozo will fascinate history buffs. The megalithic temple complex is over 5,500 years old and was entirely built with the use of bone and wooden tools. On the main island, in the small town of Qrendi, there are two equally fascinating temple sites, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. While Hagar Qim stands on a hilltop with spectacular views over the sea and the tiny island of Filfa, Mnahdra is just 500 meters away, on a lower side of the cliffs. Although all three sites feature incredible archeological treasures, such as altars, statues or partially intact facades, Mnajdra has its own unique atmosphere due to the complexity of the site, with three temples overlooking an oval forecourt.
The Blue Grotto
On the southern coast of the main island you can find the Blue Grotto, a chain of sea caverns, perfect for sailing and scuba diving. Each morning, the sunlight shines through the caves just at the right angle for a perfect view over the phosphorescent colors of the marine flora, turning the waters into a brilliant, vibrant blue. To enjoy the Blue Grotto, you can take a boat tour in a colorfully painted traditional fishing boat, known as luzzu. You will pass under a massive arch of over 30 meters and enter the system of caves where you will witness an amazing spectacle of colors and shades as the caves mirror the purple, orange, and green off the mineral in the rocks. The best time to visit is early in the morning when the overwhelming crowds of visitors haven’t arrived yet. The coastal scenery when approaching the Blue Grotto is also spectacular, as the road winds on a cliff at great altitude.
Combining outstanding living history with Mediterranean hospitality and charm, Malta is a great destination for anyone. Although tiny, the country offers an endless list of attractions that will impress even the most spoilt of us.