The Best Travel Guide to Malta by BestTravelBook

Malta is like nowhere else. Here you’ll find great prehistoric temples, fossil studded cliffs, thrilling diving opportunities and a history of remarkable intensity.

“The Best Travel Guide to Malta by BestTravelBook” is segmented into 7 key travel themes to immerse you into everything Malta:

  1. An introduction and brief history to this wonderful city;
  2. Something funny – my entrée into Malta;
  3. Some Facts & Figures;
  4. My Top Tips;
  5. Some Great itineraries;
  6. A comprehensive lowdown of What to See;
  7. An insider guide

Hope you enjoy it!  Carpe Diem!

David-Joseph-Fox-black-lowres

 

 

The tiny Maltese archipelago, floating on the cusp of Europe and Africa, has been coveted and invaded through its history.  The Knights of St John (later of Malta) bequeathed palaces, fortresses and the glorious golden capital Valletta while the British left red telephone boxes, iced buns and a predilection for tea.

Valletta Skyline, Malta

Malta, Valletta, skyline with St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and Carmelite Church.It was the islands’s earliest settlers who left the most spectacular legacy: the extraordinary megalithic temples, unparalleled elsewhere in the world. Malta, the largest island, has the most cosmopolitan resorts and the edge of cultural treasures, while its sister island, Gozo and tiny Comino offer unspoilt countryside and a gentler pace.

Despite being made up of three tiny islands on the southern edge of Europe, Malta groans under the weight of its rich history and fascinating cultural influences.  As a melting pot of Mediterranean culture, Malta merits far deeper exploration than is often given to it by the package crowds whose first priority is hitting the beach.
Valletta Skyline, Malta
Valletta Skyline, Malta

From ancient stone temples and historic Arabic connections (listen carefully to the local language) to Sicilian-inspired cuisine and an oddly 1950s British atmosphere, Valletta and the Three Cities are famed for their grand churches, elegant palaces and honey-coloured limestone fortification, while nearby Sliema and St Julian are packed with restaurants and bars.  And don’t forget little Gozo to the northwest – a pretty, rural island where the pace of life is that much slower.  It’s the perfect chill-out spot with the dramatic Dwejra coastline.Like all islands subject to the vagaries of modern tourism, Malta throws up sharp contrasts, which are made all the more striking because of the island’s tiny size.  Ancient temples – some of the oldest structures on earth – and the massive fortifications and palazzi of the Knights of St John rub shoulders with the increasing sprawl of modern Malta and its tourist infrastructure.  Considerable wealth mingles with a simple, hard-working rural lifestyle.

Marsaxlokk, Malta
Marsaxlokk, Malta

 

 

Just across the water, Gozo retains much of its unspoilt charm.  If you’re hoping to get away from it all, consider a tranquil long weekend at a traditional farmhouse on the island, then head back to Malta for a holiday offering the best of both worlds.

3. Some Facts & Figures:

Malta Facts & Figures
Malta Facts & Figures

 

Malta boasts:

  • A population of 425,000 residents;
  • 1.6 million tourists;
  • an average temperature of 23 degrees C;
  • over 365 churches;
  • every village has its own musical band;
  • the cleanest bathing waters in Europe;
  • 300 days of sunshine on average per year;
  • the location of a number of blockbuster Hollywood movies e.g. ‘Gladiator’, ‘Troy’, ’Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘Game of Thrones

Further interesting snippets about Malta:

  • Malta is home to some of the worlds oldest temples. The temples of Imnajdra or Ggantija are much older than Macchu Pichu of Peru or the Pyramids in Egypt. They are prehistoric and go back to thousands of years. Not to mention the old capital medieval city of Mdina or the capital itself, Valletta with fortifications so grand and unique. The Maltese Knights of St John are also part of an important era and famous worldwide. Malta was the country that was most bombed during the World wars (in relation to its size) mostly because of its strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.
  • Following 150 years as a British colony, Malta gained state independence in 1964, became a republic in 1974 and later part of the European Union in 2004
  • Despite being a small island nation, Malta has 3 inscribed UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Valletta, the Megalithic Temples of Malta and Hal Saflieni Hypogeum) and seven sites are on UNESCO’s tentative list. (Grand Harbour, Victoria Lines Fortifications, Maltese Catacomb Complexes, Mdina, Cittadella (Gozo), North West Coastal Cliffs and Dwejra (Gozo). These sites are protected under international law and preserved in the interest of the international community and considered to be of major significance to humanity. These sites should be at the top of your list of places to see!
  • Malta was once part of Mainland Europe – Around 17,000 years ago, the Maltese islands were the mountain tops of one landmass which connected current-day Malta to Sicily and even mainland Italy

5. Some Great itineraries:

Day 1 Itinerary:

Malta Itinerary Day 1
Malta Itinerary Day 1

 

8am – Walk around the Grand Harbour:

Start the round trip in Senglea at the inner end of the Grand Harbour with fabulous views from the Vadette across the harbour at the centre of Valetta.  Stroll though the neighbouring Vittoriosa, the town of knights, where today the yachts of the mega-rich moor the marina.   After that go back 5000 years into pre-history and visit the temple of Tarxien, which is an excellent visitor centre.

 

11am – Visit the Ancient Temples:

The temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are beautifully located with a view out to sea.   Hagar Qim dates from the Ġgantija phase (3600-3200 BC) The Megalithic Temples of Malta are among the most ancient religious sites on Earth, described by the World Heritage Sites committee as “unique architectural masterpieces”  Near Siggiewi a visit to Limestone Heritage demonstrates how the stone from which many Maltese houses were built is quarried.

 

Afternoon – Visit a beautiful fishing village:

Visit Marsaxlokk the beautiful Maltese fishing village that has hundreds of Luzzi – the name giving to the colourful boats of Maltese fisherman.  Seek out fresh-off-the-boat fish and seafood at the Marsaxlokk fish market. Taking place every Sunday, the popular market has expanded in recent years to include stalls offering souvenirs and local produce such as jam, honey, vegetables and wine. It’s a fascinating opportunity to mix with the locals and experience everyday Maltese life.  When in Marsaxlokk, dining at one of the many seafood restaurants that line the harbour is a must. Pick a table on the terrace overlooking the harbour at Principino Restaurant or La Nostra Padrona and dine on fresh seafood as you watch the boats come and go. There are also several bars overlooking the harbour, such as Southport Villa, that offer fantastic views and drinks at sunset.

 

Evening – Visit the Blue Grotto:

You can board a boat at Wied iz-Zurrieq and visit the Blue Grotto.   This complex comprises of a massive (and very impressive) main arch, which is approximately 30m in height, as well as a system of 6 other caves, amongst which you will find the Honeymoon Cave, the Cat’s Cave and the beautiful Reflection Cave.  The cave walls mirror the brilliant phosphorescent orange, purple and green colours of the underwater flora, resulting in a mesmerizing scene of light and colour.

 

Day 2 Itinerary:

Malta Itinerary Day 2
Malta Itinerary Day 2

 

8am – Visit the ancient capital:

The history of Mdina traces back more than 4000 years. Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city and extraordinary in its mix of medieval and baroque architecture.

Walk along the cobbled streets which are lined with immaculately preserved noble houses, private chapels, palazzi, and cathedrals. The streets are narrow and winding and walking along them feels like trying to find your way out of a maze; a feeling which adds to the element of surprise at finding large squares. Silence pervades and is the perfect complement to a walk on the bastions, as well as taking in the panoramic view of most of Malta and the surrounding sea.

Noon – A picnic and sublime views:

Malta’s largest woodland (Buskett Gardens) is close to Mdina – which is loved by the Maltese as a picnic site.  Afterwards admire the uninterrupted view of the Mediterranean Sea from the Dingli Cliffs.  The cliffs offer breathtaking views and it is the highest point among all the islands of Malta is situated there – 253 meters above sea level. Extending from the shoreline to the Dingli Village. The Cliffs are massively wide, and they stretch for more than 2 km from Bahria and to Mungar.

 

Afternoon – Beach Time:

Make your way to Golden Bay for sunbathing, swimming and a whole host of water sports.  Golden Bay is located next to Għajn Tuffieħa on the north-west coast of Malta, nearby the village of Manikata and known for its red sand and naturally formed dunes on its surrounding slopes.

Għajn Tuffieħa (meaning “the Apple’s Eye”), is next to Golden Bay and it is one of Malta’s most popular beaches and because it can only be reached by a flight of 180 steps, it’s much quieter than its neighbour. Come for the unspoilt rural atmosphere, with tamarisk, samphire and acacia flanking a stretch of fine sand, then stay for the sunsets, looking due west across the waves. The beach is managed by the Gaia Foundation, a local environmental body.

 

Evening – Explore Valetta:

On a peninsula just 1km by 600m, enclosed in towering bastion walls and surrounded by clear blue Mediterranean sea, it is packed with historic sights and offers a wide variety of events and fine restaurants. Walk the narrow streets with their characteristic painted wooden, balconies the sun glows off the honeyed limestone walls.  Check out the interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral which is one of the world’s great baroque confections – a symphony of gold, paint and coloured marble.  A stone’s throw away is the Upper Barrakka Gardens, perched on the bastions overlooking the sparkling expanse of the Grand Harbour, one of the world’s great maritime sanctuaries and the heart of Maltese history.

 

Day 3 Itinerary:

 

Malta Itinerary Day 3
Malta Itinerary Day 3

 

 

8am – Take a Ferry to Gozo: 

From Gozo’s ferry port Mgarr, take a visit to the temple of Gantija – officially recognised by UNESCO as the oldest freestanding buildings in the world, the imposing Ġgantija Neolithic temples, just outside Xagħra in Gozo, are over 5,500 years old – that’s 1,000 years older than Stonehenge or the pyramids in Egypt.

 

Noon – A picnic and sublime views:

Then move onto Victoria (Rabat) and check out the wonderful citadel – from the fortifications there is a superb view all around the horizon with vistas over the tiny fields cut by yellow stone walls, domes of village churches rising from clusters of houses and the Gordan Lighthouse.  Browse around Victoria’s market and narrow winding streets and you’ll find everything from delicious fresh produce, cheeses and wines, to antiques, craft goods, fishing nets and knitwear.

 

Afternoon – A picnic and sublime views:

Visit Xlendi a charming fishing village, this bay, flanked by high cliffs attracts considerable crowds throughout the whole year. A 17th century tower rises on top of the high cliffs, adding to charm of the place. The town is surrounded by greenery that provides an opportunity for great walks. The pristine greenery hosts various flora and fauna, some of which are rare, such as seagulls, the Maltese Freshwater Crab and the national plant ‘Widnet il-Bahar’.

Also worth a visit is the former fishing village Marsalforn (the name is possibly derived from the Arabic for ‘bay of ships’) is Gozo’s main holiday resort – it has a lovely promenade lined by restaurants.

 

Evening – Explore Sliema, St Julian’s & Paceville:

The promenade is also an ideal place to take a leisurely sunset stroll.

During your walk, you will notice a number of historical buildings, including a British military installation, which is now a restaurant known as Il-Fortizza (The Fortress), one of Grandmaster De Redin’s 17th century coastal watchtowers, a cluster of Art-Deco terraced townhouses and an impressive neo-gothic Carmelite church in Balluta.

You can walk to St. Julian’s and Paceville which are popular locations for nightlife in Malta, offering a wide array of restaurants, pubs and nightclubs.

 

 

Valetta: The capital of Malta is a World Heritage Site whose neat streets are crammed with signs of its history, including enlightening museums; forts and monuments testifying to a valiant past; and remnants of British rule.
Perched on the tip of the Sceberras Peninsula, Valetta’s gridlock pattern of streets makes it easy to navigate.  Entering through City Gate, where you’ll find the bus terminus and the main street, Triq ir-Repubblika (Republic Street), which runs northwest to Fort St Elmo.  The main landmarks, St John’s Co-Cathedral and the Grand Master’s Palace, are on Republic Street.  Valletta is easily explored on foot.

  • Date of Birth: 1566; Valetta was built by the Knights of the order of St John
  • Population: ~ 7000
  • Size: 0.6 square km
Defining Experience:
  • Grand Harbour
  • 300 days of sunshine per year
  • Mediterranean film studios – Europe’s biggest firm-set water tanks
  • The city’s fortifications
  • The Grand Master’s Palace
  • National War Museum
  • Maltese folk music at the St James Cavalier Centre for creativity
  • Excellent scuba-diving , a warm sea and rich marine life
  • Kinnie orange-and-herb soft drink
  • Cisk Lager
  • Hopeless beer
  • Agius Pastizzerija for pastries
  • Carnival (February / March)
  • National Museum of Archaeology
Dwejra: The coastline of Dwejra, in Gozo, features some astoundingly beautiful rock formations that have been sculpted by the wind and sea.  From there you can take a boat trip through Azure Window, an arch of rock that forms a doorway to the open sea.  There’s also the Inland Sea, which is a wonderful place to swim and snorkel when the sea is calm.  Close to the coast, the great chunk of Fungus Rock rears the piercing blue Mediterranean.
Victoria: The II-Kastell of Victoria is an evocative place to wander this tiny medina (walled city) almost seems to grown out of its rocky outcrop.  It was built after a particularly devastating raid on the island, when almost every Gozitan was carried off to slavery; there was a time when the entire population of around 3000 used to sleep here at night.  Sweeping sea views can be enjoyed from its battlements.
Mdina & Rabat: Malta’s tiny historic capital perched on a hilltop, filled with honey-coloured buildings.  A treasure trove of museums, artefacts and churches, it’s also appealingly mysterious at night, when everything’s closed and the city is dimly lit and empty.  Wander around after most people have left and you’ll understand why it’s known as the ‘Silent City’.  Dina adjoins Rabat itself a lovely town with some fascinating sights, many of them underground.
Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Temples: These mysterious megalthic temples were built between 3600 BC and 3000 BC and are the oldest freestanding stone structures in the world predating the pyramids of Egypt by more than 500 years.  Their purpose is the subject of much debate, but their location is undoubtedly evocative; high up on the edge of coastal cliffs that are carpeted by wild flowers in spring, and with magnificent views out to sea and over to the distant islet of Filfa.
Vittoriosa’s Backstreets: Vittorios known logically as Birgu, its name before the Great Siege of 1565 – is the most fascinating of the Three Cities.   This petite town, perched on its small lip of land, has stunning views all around it and perfectly preserved ancient streets within.  It was the original home of the Knights of St John, but it’s no museum – this is a living, breathing city with a strong sense of community.  You’re in luck if you’ve timed your visit to see Birgu by Candlelight in October.
Sunday Lunch in Marsaxlokk: It gets packed every Sunday at the small coastal town of Marsaxlokk.  Locals and tourists throng to visit the buzzing fish market, where you can buy all manner of sea bounty, from colourful rock fish to baby sharks.  The harbour bobs with colourful fishing boats painted with the eye of Osiris – a tradition that is thought to hark from the Phoenician era.  The seafront, lined with fish restaurants, is a great place for a long lazy lunch – a favourite activity of locals as well as visitors.
Comino: This small, rocky island has a beautiful coastline and an eclectic history, having served as a hermit’s hideaway, a cholera isolation zone and a prison camp.  Today it attracts huge numbers of visitors to its Blue Lagoon.  This seen sea pool is so blue that it looks like an over-saturated image – if you manage to see it without the crowds, it’s breathtaking.  Coming is an equally beautiful place to walk, with easy paths around the island leading up to the 17th-century watch-tower and around the coast to the island’s only hotel.

6. A comprehensive lowdown of What to See

Malta Sights
Malta Sights

 

Valetta City Gate:

Valetta City Gate
Valetta City Gate

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • The City Gate of Valletta is one of its most popular sites: every visitor of the city has to pass through it. Originally it was designed by the architects who oversaw planning the city and were erected while the Maltese capital was being built. Since that time, the Gate has undergone five reconstructions and acquired its actual look only at the beginning of the 21st century.
  • The building of the Fifth Gate led by Renzo Piano began in 2011 and was finished in 2014. The Royal Opera House was also part of the Project were its ruins were turned into the open-air theatre.

 

Fort St Elmo:

Fort St Elmo Malta
Fort St Elmo Malta

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • This fort has an outstanding strategic position at the tip of the Sciberras Peninsula and guards the entrances to both of Valletta’s ports, the Grand Harbour and the Marsamxett Habour.
  • Since the sixteenth century, Fort St. Elmo has protected the peninsula of Valletta, capital of the island nation of Malta. In 1552, four Italian architects were commissioned to begin construction of the fort, and a number of expansions were made from the sixteenth to the twentieth century.
  • The result is a 50,400-square-metre complex with intimidating defence walls, upper and lower parade grounds, arsenals, a chapel, a gate, and storage houses. Having endured many sieges, the fort is now part of a larger harbour fortification complex. Originally built to house 800 knights and soldiers, the fort currently houses a police academy.

 

The Grand Master’s Palace:

Grandmasters Palace Valletta
Grand Masters Palace Valletta

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Destined for grandiosity, right from its beginning, this Palace was one of the first buildings which were constructed at the heart of the new city of Valletta, founded by Grand Master Jean de Valette. Successive Grand Masters enlarged and developed this building to serve as their official residence. Later, during the British Period, it served as the Governor’s Palace, and was the seat of Malta’s first constitutional parliament in 1921.
  • Among the distinguished collections, visitors can view the most comprehensive visual narrative of the Great Siege of 1565 painted by Matteo Perez d’Aleccio, the only complete and intact set of the famous 18th century French Gobelins tapestries entitled “Les Teintures des Indes”, and the late 18th century Baroque illusionistic ceiling paintings.

 

St John’s Co-Cathedral:

Malta St John's Co Cathedral
Malta St John’s Co Cathedral

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • The impressive St John’s Co-Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in Valletta dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.
  • It was built between 1572 and 1577 by the Knights of Malta on request of Grand Master Jean de la Cassière to act as the Conventual Church of Saint John. Its design is a prime example of Baroque architecture.
  • Several artistic pieces of great value enrich the co-cathedral, with paintings from the great Caravaggio to works of art donated as gifts by past Grand Masters and Knights of the Order of St. John.
  • In the 17th century, Mattia Preti and other able artists gave its interior the Baroque imprint. Over the centuries several gifts and inheritances left by the various Knights further embellished the cathedral to become a true jewel and a must-visit place of interest in Malta.
Malta Sights
Malta Sights

St Paul’s Cathedral:

St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral, Valletta Skyline, Malta
Malta, Valletta, skyline with St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and Carmelite Church.

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • The beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the defining sights of Valetta and Malta.
  • The temple was built in neoclassical style between 1839 and 1844, architect William Scamp, commissioned by Queen Adelaeda, widow of King William the Fourth and aunt of Queen Victoria.
  • During its history, the cathedral was expanded and repeatedly restored. In 2005, the temple was restored and modernised.
  • The cathedral is constructed of the Maltese limestone, its internal dimensions are 33.5 x 20.4 meters. Height of a tower spire of a northwest corner of cathedral exceeds 60 meters. This spire is the known reference point of Valletta which is well visible from Sliema.

 

Upper Barracca Gardens:

Upper Barracca Gardens, Valetta
Upper Barracca Gardens, Valetta

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Perched above Valletta’s Grand Harbour is an exquisite park of flowers and statues, from where a cannon salute is fired every day – it is a beautiful park that lies high above the Grand Harbour.
  • From the harbour area, climb up the stairs to the gardens or take the elevator. From here you will be able to see the medieval cities of Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea.
  • Just below you is the saluting battery of cannons. For nearly 500 years the guns protected the harbour and fired salutes on special occasions such as religious festivals, anniversaries and the arrival of dignitaries.
  • At the beginning of the 19th century, they started to fire a signal at midday, a practice that continues to this day. Turn up 1 hour before they are due to fire for a guided tour of the battery and to watch the canons being loaded.

 

The National Library:

National Library of Malta, Valetta
National Library of Malta, Valetta

 

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • Located in the very heart of the old city of Valletta, a majestic building of the National Library of Malta attracts attention with its beautiful architecture and a fabulous marble monument of Queen Victoria, decorating space in front of the building.
  • With a well-graced neoclassical style, the library has a unique collection of manuscripts, originated from the time of the crusaders.

 

National Museum of Fine Arts:

National Museum of Fine Arts, Valetta
National Museum of Fine Arts, Valetta

BestTravelBook Top Pick:

  • The National Museum of Fine Arts presents a multifaceted overview of art and artistic expression in Malta from the late medieval period to the contemporary.
  • It is set in a historic building that served as a residence to successive knights of the Order of St. John.
  • It also hosted high-ranking personalities both as residents and guests. These include Lord Mountbatten of Burma, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George V and Queen Elizabeth of England.
  • The palace was officially inaugurated as the National Museum of Fine Arts in 1974 and has since then been Malta’s most important museum for the arts.
  • The architecture of the building is an important example of the mid-eighteenth century late baroque style in Malta boasting one of the finest main staircases to be seen on the island.

 

 

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