Sitting in the middle of the Mediterranean, just south of Italy, is the remarkable archipelago of Malta. Its idyllic location means you can expect lots of sun, sand and inviting waters but, as an ideal strategic base, it has also seen countless cultures come and go over 7,000 years of history. Now the gates have swung back open to travellers in the UK, we’ve put together this ultimate guide to Malta.
Malta is the 10th smallest country in the world but its 500,000+ population also makes it the fourth most densely populated sovereign state on the planet. Perhaps that’s because people have been living here since 5900BCE. The tightly packed streets display architecture ranging from Renaissance and baroque to older medieval and Norman structures. The capital, Valletta, is a Unesco World Heritage Site, as are the ancient remains at Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and the Megalithic Temples of Malta, which are believed to be some of the oldest freestanding structures on the planet.
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All that history is surrounded by extraordinary limestone cliffs, in between which you’ll find stretches of golden sand that meet the rich azure waters of the Med. Snorkelling and scuba diving are two of the best things to do here, thanks largely to the calmness of the sea, as well as the safe-yet-diverse range of marine life, and countless fascinating shipwrecks and dive sites. On solid ground there are plenty of scenic hikes, quaint little towns and a fantastic multicultural food scene.
When you consider the age and diversity of the architecture, as well as the jaw-dropping coastline and consistent weather, it’s no surprise Malta has recently become a popular shooting location for Hollywood movies. Blockbusters such as World War Z (2013) and Assassin’s Creed (2016) are among many to have made Malta home, but long before Brad Pitt brought zombies to town, it was Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall who came here to make Popeye (1980). The purpose-built Popeye Village has been converted into a quirky park on the northwestern coast of the main island. Read our article to discover the fascinating history of this rustic little village.
Covid travel rules and guidelines
Malta is one of the countries that has been placed on the Green List by the UK Government. This means that arrivals into the UK from Malta will be welcome, as long as you take a pre-departure test as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of your arrival back into the UK. You won’t have to quarantine at all – unless you test positive, of course – and won’t need to take any extra tests.
Meanwhile the UK has been rated Amber by the Government of Malta, who has yet to add a single country to their Green List. This means that all arrivals from the UK are required to have physical evidence of a negative PCR test, dated within 72 hours prior to arrival, before boarding flights to Malta. Travellers arriving in Malta who fail to produce a negative PCR COVID-19 test will be subject to mandatory testing or a compulsory 14-day quarantine period. Again, you won’t have to quarantine at all as long as you have provided that crucial negative test. If you have a Maltese-issued certificate of vaccination you are exempt from pre-travel testing.
Everyone must complete a Public Health Travel Declaration Form and Passenger Locator Form, which you’ll need to show to airline officials on departure, as well as health officials stationed at the Terminal Temperature Screening Points when you arrive in Malta.
Other amber-listed countries include France, Germany, Spain, Canada and Ireland, check Visit Malta for the full list. You must have been in an amber list country for the last 14 days, if you have been in any red list country within that time, red list restrictions apply.
Everyone arriving (and departing) from Malta has their temperature checked. If you have a high temperature, you will need to take a swab test. The Malta International Airport COVID webpage provides further information.
General Covid restrictions have been slowly easing for a while in Malta. Masks are still to be worn in public, although the use of masks at pools and beaches has been recommended rather than enforced since 1 June. Up to six people are allowed together in public – including restaurants – while bars, kazini, cinemas and theatres have all re-opened.
Things to do in Malta
Malta may be a tiny country but there’s more to it than just spectacular Mediterranean scenery. So when you’re done enjoying the best beaches in town, make sure you squeeze in some sightseeing. We’ve chosen three must-sees in Malta but, if you’re looking for a longer list, read our selection of the 20 must-visit attractions in Malta, where you can learn about the beautiful medieval fort city of Mdina. And don’t forget you can also book classes, activities and tours with Culture Trip.
This is a one-of-a-kind experience. Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is a Unesco-celebrated prehistoric burial site, and the only one on earth that’s accessible to the public. The underground temple is an extensive three-level tomb made of numerous chambers, halls and staircases, first used more than 6,000 years ago. The remains of at least 7,000 people have been found here, and the necropolis was intricately designed to allow light to penetrate into the lower levels, while ochre patterns adorn the ceiling. Guided tours run throughout the day and are well worth the ticket price.
Head to the south side of the main island and hop on a boat tour to discover this magical natural wonder. The Blue Grotto is a complex of seven caves, marked at entry point by an impressive sea arch. Visit in the morning to catch the combinations of light and colour caused by the sun’s reflection on the deep yet clear blue waters, which combine with the cave’s white-sand seabed and the underwater flora to light the cave walls in a mesmerising display of natural lighting.
The smallest of the three Maltese islands, sandwiched between Gozo and the main island, is where you’ll want to go to appreciate the sheer natural beauty of the country. With only two inhabitants, one hotel and no cars, this is a genuine island paradise. While there are a number of great hiking trails and beaches, with ample opportunity for snorkelling, diving and windsurfing, the main attraction is the Blue Lagoon. It’s arguably the best beach in Malta, with clear cyan waters that allow you to see all the way down to the sandy bottom of the bay.
Where to stay in Malta
There’s no shortage of beautiful hotels in Malta. Whether you’re looking to book a luxury stay or more budget-friendly break, top hotel or swish apartment, there’s something here for you. To ease the decision-making process we’ve hand-picked three of our favourites, bookable with Culture Trip. Alternatively, search for your own dream hotel with our extensive collection of places to stay in Malta.
Find luxury in the heart of bustling Sliema, the nearest town to Valletta, which is full of shopping, nightlife and restaurants. Inside this hotel, however, is a calm space designed to help you relax, with spa and gym facilities, an indoor pool and a gorgeous rooftop infinity pool. Rooms are chic, and you can chill at one of the two restaurants, in the cafe or the lounge bar, the latter of which is conveniently placed next to that rooftop pool.
There’s no hotel quite like Hugo’s in all of Malta. Combining modern and classical art with hi-tech furnishings – the digital wall console controls pretty much everything in your room – this is a uniquely elegant hotel that’s priced much more reasonably than you’d think. Many rooms have balcony views, private indoor or outdoor hot tubs, or you can really splash out by booking a suite with a private pool. Alternatively, head to the roof and you’ll find a stylish shared infinity pool that functions as a beautiful viewpoint to watch the sunset over St George’s Bay.
If you’re looking to make yourself at home in Malta then book yourself into an apartment at Blubay Suites. The wide variety of options, from small studio to three-bed apartments, all share a clean, modern design, while many also have lovely sea views. These suites are convenient, spacious and offer that little bit more comfort and privacy to help make you feel at home.
Where to eat and drink in Malta
The food scene here is as diverse as everything else, having been influenced by all the surrounding nations. Find elements of Italian – and particularly Sicilian – cuisine, mixing with North African, Greek and Middle Eastern styles. Seafood is often a big player, naturally, while local delicacies include rabbit stew, kapunata (Maltese ratatouille) and the absolute must-try savoury pastry, pastizzi. There are countless delicious restaurants and local eateries to explore, but here are three of the best to start you off.
Head to the charming village of Mellieħa – an EU-designated Destination of Excellence – and you’ll find Mitħna, an old windmill lovingly converted into a brilliant restaurant. The menu offers a rich variety of pasta, rice and meat dishes, as well as some good veggie and vegan alternatives. Whatever you order, expect the plate to be presented with beauty, colour and precision.
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