Steeped in history and blessed with a unique mix of Mediterranean and Arabic culture, Malta has plenty to keep you busy on holiday, whether you want to swim in the Blue Lagoon, shop in Mdina, or soak up history at the Rotunda of Mosta. Here are the attractions we think you shouldn’t miss.
Also known as the Silent City, the former capital of Malta, Mdina, is an absolute joy to visit. Behind its high walls lies a city that dates back almost 4,000 years. During medieval times, Mdina was dubbed the Noble City, as it housed, unsurprisingly, many noble families. Today, many residents of the fortified city (around 300) are descendants of these families, with the houses being passed down from generation to generation. Vehicle restrictions means you’ll need to explore on foot. Wind through the narrow, sodium-lit streets and experience a city where time seems to have stood still.
Malta enjoys 14 national public holidays a year, including days such as Freedom Day (the anniversary of the withdrawal of British troops from Malta) and the Feast of Our Lady of Victories (the anniversary of the end of the Great Siege of Malta in 1565). In addition to the national holidays, each village celebrates its own feast between the months of May and September. In recognition of each village’s patron saint, locals come together to participate in festivities that ooze Maltese tradition. Bands, food stalls, flags and statues line the streets, local businesses extend their hours and entertainment continues into the early hours. The pinnacle of each event is the fireworks display, which gets better and better each year.
At the edge of the Grand Harbour, Valletta, is perhaps the oldest saluting battery still in operation in the world, protecting the island’s capital from attack for almost 500 years. With spectacular views across the Grand Harbour of Fort St Angelo and the three cities of Senglea, Vittoriosa and Cospicua, the battery can be viewed from the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Arrive at 11.45am for the short commentary before the firing at midday.
Dating back to between the fourth and ninth centuries, this Roman burial chamber is the largest in Malta and lies just outside of Mdina. Mdina, previously named Melite, served as the Roman capital of Malta and as Roman law stated that the dead could not be buried within the city walls, this catacomb was created. Showing the earliest signs of Christianity in Malta, these catacombs have no relation to St Paul but are named so due to their location.
For unique gifts and souvenirs pay a trip to Ta’ Qali. This small but well-stocked crafts village is based in an old RAF wartime airfield where Nissen huts have been repurposed to house all kinds of original Maltese gifts and crafts. With workshops showing craftsmen’s skill in pottery and filigree-making, to stalls selling local gemstones and homemade preserves, this quaint village will provide you with plenty of traditional gifts to take home.
The town of Sliema is full of bars, restaurants and shops, but it’s not as busy as the capital of Valletta, making it a great place to spend a day. With a coastline running to St Julian’s, Sliema is Malta’s biggest coastline resort and attracts many as a main hub for meeting. As the primary location for large company recruitment and with stunning views of Valletta, it’s no wonder Sliema properties are much sought after. An easily accessible location from across the island, Sliema is a unique town that mixes the old with the new. The winding back streets feature traditional buildings that have remained the same for decades. It’s a great place to explore.
A collection of naturally formed caves and a 30m (94ft) arch make up the Blue Grotto. The site attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year suggesting it’s a place worth visiting. Experienced sailors transport visitors to caves where the waters leading in reflect various shades of cyan and emerald green. It’s definitely a photo opportunity not to be missed. Trips take place all year round, weather permitting.
Like most capital cities, Valletta becomes a lot busier during the Christmas period. Aside from the great shops, simply visiting the capital over the festive season is an uplifting experience. Boasting festive lights, street performers, choirs, bands, entertainers and activities for children, Valletta’s celebrations start mid-December. With the winter evenings drawing in early, the festive lights become even more spectacular as the dark sets in and a big attraction is the annual Christmas tree made purely from Mdina glass baubles.
Located in the area of Marsaxlokk, St Peter’s Pool is a dream for swimmers and snorkelers. Often described as a natural swimming pool, its strikingly clear, azure waters invite many to jump in from the rocks surrounding it, and with plenty of flat ledges available, holidaymakers can spend the day enjoying the scenery both under and above the water.
Possibly the largest and most popular sandy beach in Malta, Ghadira Bay is located at the north of the island, in the vicinity of Mellieha. With its clear waters remaining reasonably shallow for almost a mile, it’s a perfect place for a paddle, a swim and for children to enjoy the Mediterranean. Sun loungers and umbrellas are available for hire daily and refreshment kiosks surround the area. Sit back and relax for a whole day, enjoying the glorious Maltese weather, clear waters and sounds of the gently lapping waves.
The Rotunda of Mosta, or Mosta Dome, is the third largest unsupported dome in the world, designed by Giorgio Grognet de Vasse and built between 1833 and 1860 using local funds and donations. During World War II, a bomb dropped into the church and remained unexploded. A congregation of more than 300 people attending mass at the time escaped completely unharmed. A replica bomb is on display today.
A main focal point in St Paul’s Bay, the National Aquarium can be seen from miles away. Split into separate zones, each depicting different themes such as the Valletta Harbour, Roman Times and Tropical Oceans, and boasting a reptile section, the whole place provides visitors with the opportunity to witness some of the most unusual sealife and reptiles firsthand. The aquarium also holds daily events for adults and children to enjoy. With a bistro offering panoramic views on site, it’s definitely worth spending a few relaxing hours here.
These war rooms were the headquarters of Malta’s defence operations during World War II. The underground operation rooms are set up exactly as they would have been, with a large original wall map still in place. See the desk occupied by General Eisenhower during Operation Husky (the plan to invade Sicily) from where it was all organised. In later years, the premises became the headquarters for the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean fleet.
Visit the original film set of the 1980 film, Popeye starring Robin Williams and spend the day in Sweethaven exploring each building, enjoying their pools, taking a boat ride, watching animators and having a bite to eat. Set in stunning surroundings, there are regular buses directly to the set with something for the whole family to enjoy. The set is open to visitors all year round.
Protecting villagers from the staggering amount of bombs that were dropped during World War II were these underground shelters. One of the largest air raid shelters on the island, with a length of more than 500m (1,670ft), these shelters were completely hand-dug. Families were allowed to apply for a permit to dig their own separate rooms, which are still visible today. Walk through the silence and eeriness of these shelters and experience the place that became a safe haven for many of the 3,842 Mellieha inhabitants and 1,117 refugees flooding to the village.
In between Malta and Gozo lies the small island of Comino. Car-free and having only one hotel in its 2.2mi (3.5km) of space, the island is mostly uninhabited. Comino’s inlet of the Blue Lagoon attracts snorkelers, divers and day-trippers who fancy a dip. The salty, azure-blue, clear waters above a white sandy seabed make this place appear heavenly. It’s the perfect place to spend a day away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Dedicated to St John the Baptist, this Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral was built between 1572 and 1577 for the Order of the Knights of St John. Baroque in style, this magnificent masterwork features a polychrome marble floor depicting angels and skeletons, ornately painted ceilings and many lavishly gilded features, expressing the wealth of the Order at the time. The adjoining oratory is home to two original masterpieces by Caravaggio as well as Flemish tapestries. A passport is needed for entry to see this architectural gem.
Only allowing 80 visitors a day, tickets need to be booked in advance for an allocated time slot to visit this prehistoric underground burial chamber. It was discovered accidentally in the early 1900s during construction work and dates back to around 4,000BCE to 2,500BCE. A Unesco World Heritage site, it is said to have had the remains of over 7,000 individuals dispersed between its different levels of chambers. With ochre-painted symbols still visible on the walls and carvings in the masonry, this eerie yet spectacular place was the discovery site of Malta’s now famous ‘Sleeping Lady’ sculpture.
Now you know what you’re doing in Malta, it’s time to find your perfect place to stay. Check out our expertly curated guide to the top hotels in the country – all bookable with Culture Trip.
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