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Malta is a country that is proud of its culture, rich in history, oozing with charm and filled with colourful streets and friendly people.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with where Malta is, the tiny archipelago is a series of islands floating on the cusp of Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Malta is a small country made up of three islands that has been invaded many times over the years. Malta has had its Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, Spanish, French and British ruling eras. During WWII, Malta became the most bombed place on earth with approximately 6,700 tonnes of bombs dropped on it in just a short six weeks. Around 1979, the last bit of British forces left the islands and finally, in 2004, Malta joined the EU.
With all the history, trials and tribulations that this little country has endured over thousands of years, Malta has a special place in my heart and is still one of the places I gush to fellow travellers about to this day.
Commonly referred to as the Pearl of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is highly underrated as a European destination by many mainly because most travellers have either never heard of Malta and if they have, they aren’t familiar with what there is to do and see there. It’s unfortunate because Malta is chalk full of wonderful beauty, both in its scenery and people. With hot and dry summers, humid spring weather and cooler, yet mild winters, anytime of year is a good time to visit Malta!
If you’re looking for somewhere to travel to that provides plenty of sun, sea, history and culture, look no further than Malta for your next journey abroad. Here are a few things to add to your Malta travel to do list.
Walk The Sliema Promenade
Sliema is one of Malta’s busiest towns, filled with tourists, casinos, pubs, restaurants and nightlife and is a popular coastal town situated on the northeast side of Malta, near the city of St. Julians. Try to look past the clubs and busy area and take a long walk along the promenade, which runs about 5 kilometres and is the perfect way to wind down at the end of the day, or to start your early morning before the crowds awake. Enjoy the many seaside benches along the walk to rest your feet and enjoy people watching and gaze at the luzzo boats as they bob in the water.
Take A Day Trip To Gozo
While in Malta, take a day trip to the beautiful island of Gozo; the second largest island that makes up the three Maltese islands. Gozo is the smaller, greener and quieter island off the main island of Malta and the coastline is made up of blue waters and large stunning cliffs that protrude out of the sea and can be reached by taking a bus, or private car hire to the ferry port at Cirkewwa. Make sure to rent an ATV to enjoy a fun filled day tour of the island, so you can visit the other sites around the island. Just remember that while driving in Malta, keep to the left side of the road. 😉
Visit The Blue Grotto
If you are visiting Malta during the spring and summer when the weather is perfect and the water is slightly calmer, make your way to the Southeast corner of the island and visit the Blue Grotto by hiring a boat with a local for about half an hour. The turquoise and bright azure coloured waters and unique grotto attract up to 100,000 or more tourists a year. The 30 metre main arch is the star of the attraction, but if you hire a boat, you will be amazed to find that there is a complex of seven caves below just waiting to be explored. The deep and clear waters of the Blue Grotto are also highly acclaimed dive and snorkel spots for underwater enthusiasts.
While in Gozo, make sure to visit the unique red sand beach of Ramla Bay. Ramla Bay is located at the bottom of a rich and fertile valley on the northern side of Gozo and is the only sandy beach on the island. The sand has a reddish/golden hue to it when the sun shines down on it and locals often refer to this beach as the “Ramla il-Hamra” – the Red Sandy Beach. Ramla Bay is also home to some astounding history. Over 2,000 years ago, a Roman villa was built on the scenic beach. You can still see the remains close to the water’s edge and apparently there are still portions of the Roman ruins beneath the sand.
Visit The Site Of The Azure Window
Although the Azure Window collapsed back in March of 2017, visiting the site of the once majestic beauty is still a must while on Gozo. The Azure Window collapsed into the sea after intense storms battered the area. The entire top portion and the column to the side both fell to the sea with a loud smash. Extremely strong gale force winds swept across Malta a few days before the collapse and resulted in intense and vicious waves that pounded against the Azure Window, which was more than likely one of the main factors in its fall. Natural erosion was inevitable, but it was never under any imminent danger of collapsing yet. Geologists actually said that the Azure Window should have survived a few decades, but unfortunately, it was not the case. Officials had put up numerous signs to warn people to keep off the top to help slow down erosion, but people failed to listen. I was fortunate to be one of the last few people in the world to see the Azure window in all its glory, but I definitely suggest going to the site still because the area and views are really gorgeous.
St. John’s Co. Cathedral
Completed in 1577 and dedicated to St. John the Baptist, who was the patron saint of the Order of the Knights, St. John’s Co. Cathedral is a must visit while in Valletta. Although this cathedral is less than exciting from the outside facade, the real magic is when you walk inside and once you get inside, you’ll realize that you really shouldn’t judge a book (or cathedral in this case) by its cover. Dressed in glistening gold all along the walls and an intricately laid out marble flooring, the inside of the cathedral will take you back to the High Baroque era. As you make your way around the cathedral, make sure to look up at the impressive vaulted ceiling, which was done by the famous Calabrian artist, Mattia Pretti. While inside, do not miss visiting the Oratory, which contains, what may be one of the most famous paintings from the 17th century; The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (1608). Michelangelo Merisi, otherwise known as Caravaggio, painted this gruesome piece, showing the exact moment in which the sword meets St. John’s neck and he has fallen with a pool of bright red blood on the floor. Art history fanatics will definitely appreciate this artwork.
Once noted as the old capital city of Malta, Mdina is stepped in over 4,000 years of history. It was built by the Phoenicians then conquered by the Normans and later run by the Knights of Malta. Mdina was once part of the same settlement as its neighbouring city of Ir-Rabat until the Arabs decided to wall Mdina off and make it into a fortress city with an impressive Baroque style gate leading into the city walls, which was added in 1724. Also known as The Silent City, Mdina is virtually car-free, except for the residents that live there full time. Mdina can be reached via Malta’s local bus route 202 directly from Sliema in about an hour. As you make your way through the tiny streets, no bigger than alleyways, you’ll hear the echoing of horse hooves making their way through the city with a karozzin, which is a traditional horse drawn carriage, that dates back to the 19th century. Wandering around Mdina felt like getting lost in a maze. Around every corner, there would be something more beautiful than the last thing you saw, whether it was a brightly painted door adorned with a shiny brass door handle and knocker, or a gorgeous ivy covered villa. For a great bite to eat, make sure to check out Coogi’s as well as The Fontanella Tea Garden.
Read more: Wandering Around Mdina – Malta’s Silent City
Wander The Ancient Streets Of Valletta
No visit to Malta is complete without spending some time in the capital city of Valletta. It was built by the Knights of St. John and is a city built on a grid system and is only about a square kilometre in size. Don’t let its small size fool you. Valletta has massive appeal once you start exploring the streets and the inner parts that is surrounded by a massive wall and bastions. A lot of the streets are entirely made up of stairs, which adds to the charm of the Renaissance streets. When UNESCO named Valletta a World Heritage Site, they described it as “one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world” and rightfully so. It is jam packed with history spanning back as far as the 16th century. As you walk through Valletta’s ancient streets and gaze up at the elegant architecture and immerse yourself in the melting pot of cultures, it comes as no surprise that Valletta was chosen to receive the prestigious title of 2018 European Capital of Culture.
Photograph The Unique Door Knockers, Colourful Doorways & Balconies
Malta is full of colourful and unique door knockers and doorways that stand out beautifully against the sandstone walls and buildings. The vast majority of the bright coloured balconies can be found in Malta’s capital city of Valletta, as this is where the trend started back in the mid 18th-century. The history of the Maltese balcony has a few different variations depending on who you ask. The most popular story behind them is the association with North African culture and architecture, mainly derived from Morocco. The purpose of the balcony in Arab culture was to allow the women to have a view of the outside streets, while still remaining hidden from view, which tied in with the standards of modesty. The Arab origin of the balconies are referred to as a muxrabija, which is an Arabic word meaning the ‘look out place’. As you make your way through the streets, you’ll see a sea of colour jutting out from the buildings. Another unique design aspect of Malta’s streets are their quirky door knockers and Crayola coloured doorways. The door knockers, called il-Habbata in Maltese, range from lions to dolphins, or eagles to angels and it became my secret mission to photograph as many as I could. I probably snapped about a hundred photos of just doorways and door knockers, I kid you not!
Read more: The Quirky And Beautiful Doors Of Malta
Read more: The Colourful Wooden Balconies Of Malta
Explore The Grand Harbour and The Three Cities
One of the major ports and must see places in Malta is the majestic Grand Harbour. Malta’s historical records show that the Grand Harbour was used as a main port since the Roman period. Medieval times in Malta were almost always distinguished by constant conflicts at sea. Foreign people with great power had their own large ships, which visited the Grand Harbour on a regular basis throughout the years. The Grand Harbour is a natural harbour in Valletta and also connects Valletta with the Three Cities otherwise known as Vittoriosa (Il-Birgu), Senglea (L-Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla). Cospicua is the largest of the Three Cities and is known to most by its earlier name, Bormla. The city was actually renamed as Cospicua by the Knights of St. John because of the brave (‘conspicuous’) role played by its people during the Great Siege of 1565. The crumbling stairways that lead up to other hidden streets feels as though you’ve been transported in time. Vittoriosa, otherwise known as Birgu, is the oldest of The Three Cities with its origins reaching back to medieval times. At approximately 800m long and 400m wide, Vittoriosa is easily navigated by foot and enjoyable as you make your way through the old streets with windows lined with bright flower pots. Birgu occupies a portion of land with Fort Saint Angelo at its head and the city of Cospicua at its base. The view of the Grand Harbour from the Fort is definitely a site to see, as you’ll get a full panoramic view of Valletta.
The Blue Lagoon is located on Comino Island and is home to some of the most picturesque waters in the entire country. To have this piece of Maltese paradise to yourself, you’d have more luck visiting during low season, depending on the weather conditions of course, because in the summer months (July – September) the Blue Lagoon gets absolutely rammed with tourists during all hours of the day. To reach the Blue Lagoon, you can take a day trip from the ferry port of Cirkewwa, or take a boat day trip from Sliema, Buġibba, Qawra, or St. Paul’s Bay. For more info regarding trips, dates and rates, head to Malta Excursion to get the full list of details.
Situated midway between the main island of Malta and Gozo lies the smallest of the three islands that make up the country of Malta. Comino is very small and at approximately 3.5 kilometres square, it is one of the most peaceful places in the country…except during the very busy summer months when it is overtaken by tourists. Comino is home to a bird sanctuary and nature reserve and is also home to the very poplar Blue Lagoon and can be reached via private boat tour, or by ferry. If you visit during off season (Feb – Apr), you will have less tourists making their way to Comino and you can enjoy walking a trail that goes all around the island, which you could do in a couple of hours, making Comino the perfect place to get some peace and quiet.
Relax By The Water
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the Maltese absolutely love being by, or on the water. Waterways and boats are a major source of transit for the Maltese people therefore you can always find them near the sea. Being an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, relaxing by the water is a must while visiting Malta. Although there aren’t many sandy beaches around the country, you can find no shortage of benches, promenades and rocky beaches to prop yourself on and enjoy watching the luzzo boats float by while men fish early in the morning, or water taxis take people to and from other parts of the island. Grab a coffee from one of the many cafés and take a seat to sit back and relax while listening to the soft waves against the city’s walls and the birds chirping as they fly above.
Visit Archaeological Sites
Malta is steeped in approximately 6,000 years of history, making it one of the largest archaeological site locations in the world. While visiting Malta, history lovers will be in heaven while walking among the handful of sites all around the country. One of the more popular temples, the Hypogeum, is a labyrinth of underground chambers, which was more than likely used as both a burial site and a temple. The Hypogeum is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open for the public to see. Some other archaeological sites around Malta include, Ġgantija Temples, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Ta’ Ħaġrat Temples, Skorba Temples and Tarxien Temples. If you don’t feel like visiting the actual sites, head to the National Museum of Archaeology located in Valletta.
In a country that is so small in size, you’ll have a ton of outdoor activities to do, small villages and towns to explore, a thriving capital city to enjoy, incredible food to try and you’ll be able to bask in a relaxed, laid back Mediterranean lifestyle that we all crave. Have I convinced you to visit Malta yet? Let me know if you’ve been to Malta before and if you have, what did you do while visiting the Pearl of the Mediterranean? Let me know in the comments below. xo