Also known as the ‘Silent City’and a former capital of Malta, Mdina is an absolute joy to visit. Behind its high walls lies a city that dates back approximately 4,000 years. During medieval times, Mdina was known as the Noble City, housing, surprisingly, many noble families. Today, many of the 300 residents of the fortified city are descendants of these families with the houses being passed down from generation to generation. A car restriction means exploring needs to be done on foot. Wind through the narrow, sodium-lit streets in a place where time seems to have stood still.
Malta enjoys 16 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 firework displays, which get better and better each year.
At the edge of the Grand Harbour, Valletta, is 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 Barrakkara Gardens. Arrive at 11.45am daily for the short commentary before the firing at midday.
Saluting Battery, Battery Street, Valletta, Malta +356 2122 5277
Dating back to between the 4th and 9th centuries AD, this Roman burial chamber is the largest in Malta and lies just outside of Mdina. Previously named Melite, Mdina was previously meant to be 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.
St Paul’s Catacombs, St Agatha Street, Rabat, Malta +356 2145 4562
For a gift with a difference, pay a trip to Ta’ Qali. This small, but well-stocked craft village is based in an old RAF wartime airfield. With Nissan huts now converted on the interior, they home all kinds of original Maltese gifts and crafts. With workshops showing the skills in pottery and filigree-making, to local gemstones and homemade preserves, this quaint village will provide you with plenty of traditional gifts.
The town of Sliema is full of bars, restaurants and shops, making it a great place to spend a day among the hustle and bustle, yet not as busy as the capital of Valletta. With a coastline running to St Julians, Sliema is Malta’s biggest coastline resort and attracts many as a main hub for meeting in. A main location for large company recruitment, combined with views of Valletta, make Sliema properties are much sought after. An easily accessible location from across the island, Sliema has an eloquent mix of both modern and old. The winding back streets offer traditional buildings that have remained the same for decades. A great place to explore.
A collection of naturally formed caves and a 30-foot arch make up the Blue Grotto. Attracting over 100,000 visitors a year would suggest this is a place worth visiting. With the waters leading in reflecting colours of cyan and emerald greens, the Blue Grotto is accessible to visit all year round, weather permitting. Experienced sailors will get you there safely even if the waters are a bit choppy. A photo opportunity not to be missed.
Like most capital cities, Valletta too becomes a lot busier at Christmas. Apart from the shops, just 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 attracts swimmers and snorkelers to what is described as a ‘natural swimming pool’. Its strikingly clear, azure waters invite many to safely jump in from the rocks surrounding it, and with plenty of flat ledges available, it is a perfect place to spend a day swimming, enjoying the scenery both under the water and above.
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 stretching out for almost a mile, it is a perfect place for a paddle, a swim and for children to enjoy the Mediterranean. Having sun loungers and umbrellas for hire daily and surrounded by refreshment kiosks, sit back and relax for a whole day of 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 1871 using local funds and donations. During World War II, a bomb dropped into the church and remained unexploded. A congregation of over 300 people attending mass at the time escaped completely unharmed. A replica bomb is on display today.
Mosta Dome, Rotunda Square, Mosta, Malta +356 2143 3826
A main focal point in St Paul’s Bay, the National Aquarium can be seen from miles around. An attraction for all the family, the aquarium is split into separate zones, each depicting different themes such as the Grand Harbour, Shipwrecks, and the Tropical Ocean. Also including a reptile section, the whole place offers the opportunity to witness some of the most unusual sealife and reptiles firsthand. The aquarium also holds daily events for visitors to enjoy. With a bistro offering panoramic views on site, it is definitely worth spending a few relaxing hours here.
These war rooms were the headquarters of Malta’s defence during World War II. The underground operation rooms show exactly how it would have been set out during the time 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.
Mdina Glass became the first glassmakers in Malta by opening their doors back in 1968. Each piece is uniquely handmade by the workshop’s specialist artisan craftsmen. They produce a range of brightly coloured items making perfect feature pieces for the home. With several stockists across the island, the best place to visit is their large shop located in Ta’ Qali craft village, where visitors can enter the large workshop and see the craftsmen glassblowing and witness the work that goes into each piece.
Mdina Glass Head Office, Ta’ Qali Craft Village, Malta +356 2141 5786
The original film set of the 1980 film, Popeye starring Robin Williams. Spend a whole day in Sweethaven visiting 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 and open all year round.
Popeye Village, Triq Tal-Prajjet, Mellieha, Malta +356 2152 4782
Also more commonly known as ‘The Church of Miracles’, this sanctuary, situated in Gozo, attracts visitors worldwide. Records for this chapel date back to 1534 and by 1575, the chapel was due to be demolished due to its ill state. However, legend has it that when the first workman took his axe to the church, his arm broke. The sanctuary was saved and many stories afterwards have led to it becoming known as the Church of Miracles.
Protecting the villagers from the staggering amount of bombs that were dropped were these underground shelters. One of the largest air raid shelters on the island, with a length of over 500 metres, 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 only having one hotel in its 3.5 kilometres of space, the island is mostly inhabited. Comino’s inlet of the Blue Lagoon attracts snorkelers, divers and day-trippers who just fancy a dip. The salty, azure-blue, clear waters above a white sandy seabed make this place appear heavenly. A perfect way to spend a day away from it all.
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 displays 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 and Flemish tapestries. A passport is needed to enter to see this architectural gem.
Only allowing 80 visitors a day, tickets need to be booked in advance for an allocated time slot. This prehistoric underground burial chamber was discovered accidentally in the early 1900s during construction work. Dating back to around 4,000 BC to 2,500 BC, this UNESCO site 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.