What to see in Malta
Malta is an insular country located centrally in the Mediterranean Sea, south of Sicily. The main islands of the Maltese Archipelago are Malta, Gozo and Comino (see map).
Although small in size (the total area of the three main islands is 316 square km) Malta is incredibly rich in history. The fascinating cultural heritage, supported by beautiful natural settings and mild climate, contribute to Malta’s success as a tourist destination. See below a few suggestions on what attractions no to miss on when visiting Malta.
Malta cultural and historic attractions
Malta’s strategic position in the heart of the Mediterranean, as well as the islands many natural harbours, made it, across many centuries, a very desirable location in the region. The influence from both western and eastern civilizations which fought for domination over the archipelago - Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Castilians and in the end, the British - is still visible today in an astounding number of historic monuments scattered across the island.
The most iconic Malta’s sights are related to the history of the Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as Knight Hospitaller, which first arrived to Malt in mid-16th century. Two centuries of the order’s domination over the archipelago (ended by the Napoleonic invasion in 1798) resulted in constructions many remarkable monuments. Amongst them is the UNESCO World Heritage site, Valletta, Malta’s capital. The Grand Master’s Palace, St. John Cathedral and St. Elmo Fort are the absolute must-see’s of Valletta.
Related article: Valletta tourist attractions – driving holiday in Malta.
Mdina and Rabat – the twin cities of Malta
Before the arrival of the St. John Knights, the city of Mdina, located in the centre of the island was the capital of Malta. One of Europe’s first walled cities, Mdina, is very different from Valletta. With the population of only 300 and nearly none cars allowed to circulate within the city limits, Mdina, also referred to as “the silent city” is a very peaceful place which breathes history. Palaces and churches abound in Mdina, which used to be a favourite location for the Maltese nobility. Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral (according to the legend St. Paul the Apostle lived in a grotto outside the city walls) and the Palazzo Vilhena which hosts the National Museum of Natural History. Stroll down the narrow winding streets and feel the city’s timeless glory, away from the tourist crowds.
From Mdina it is just a 5 minute drive to Rabat, an ancient town with its origin dating back to the Roman Empire. In Rabat do not miss out on the Domus Romana (Roman house) archaeological site and the St. Paul Church with its famous catacombs.
Archaeological sites Malta
With a history dating back to as far as to the fifth millennium BC and many well preserved archaeological sites Malta is a dream location for the enthusiasts of ancient history. Traces of pre-historic men are visible in Malta’s megalithic monuments, Bronze Age tombs (dolmens) and mysterious cart tracks carved in stone can be seen in many place on the island.
The megalithic structures of Malta and Gozo are believed to be one of the oldest man-built free standing structures in the world. A subterranean sanctuary and burial place, Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni, which dates back to 3000 BC is one of Malta’s most popular attractions. The three-level deep structure was carved in a solid stone. The tickets/admission to Hypogeum should preferably be booked a few weeks ahead to guaranty availability, as only 10 visitors at the time are allowed, which makes for long queues.
A great collection of artefacts from Malta’s ancient history can be seen in Valletta’s National Museum of Archaeology.
Modern Malta – Sliema and St. Julian’s
The neighbouring towns of Sliema and St. Julian’s northwest of Valletta are the modern centre of Malta. Benefiting from the coastal location, both town are very tourism oriented, hosting some of Malta’s most popular hotels and resorts.
With more than 100 miles of coastline Malta, as it is expected offers a great choice of aquatic activities and water sports and St. Julian’s Bay is an excellent place to try some of them. Scuba diving, snorkelling, wake-board, water ski and water jets are just some of the options available.
The Paceville district of St. Julian’s, with its many bars, clubs and discoes is the centre of Malta nightlife.
For shopping head to Sliema. With lots of high streets and luxury brand stores, the cosmopolitan Sliema is by far the best place on the island to shop. The biggest mall on Malta, The Point, is located in here.
Mellieha – day at the beach
The first time visitors to Malta may, at times get surprised with how many of the island’s beaches are rocky one. The best sandy beaches are usually found along the north-western coast of the island, being the area of Mellieha Bay by far the most popular among the beach-goers. Mellieha beach stretches over 800 meters, offering soft golden sand and a gentle descent of the sea bottom, which together with the calm waters of the sheltered bay, makes it an ideal location for families with children.
Family holidays Malta – attractions for kids
With its numerous beaches and resorts, Malta has plenty to offer to the youngest holiday-makers. If you are looking for a break from beach fun, however, there is a number of attractions in Malta to visit with children.
Playmobil Fun Park in Birzebugga in south-eastern Malta will surely delight younger children. Please note that in the summer 2016 the park’s outdoor play area is close for refurbishing.
On the north-western coast, near Mellieha, the Popeye Village Fun Park is advertised as the attraction “for the young and for the young at heart”. The park makes use of the original filming set of the Popeye musical from 1980, featuring Robin Williams.
If you are looking for a place for your children to spend some energy, BOV Adventure Park is a place to go. Located in Ta’ Qali, in the central part of the island, BOV is an outdoor recreational facility, featuring 5 different play areas with climbing frames and play equipment adapted for different age and ability ranges. There is also a picnic park and a petting farm, where children can interact with farm animals.
Water parks are a great option for a family day out. Splash and Fun in Bahar ic-Caghag on the northern coast is the most popular attraction of this kind on Malta.
In the same area you will find Mediterraneo Marine Park where apart from swimming with dolphins, children will also have an unique opportunity to learn about the marine life, as well as about other species of animals: birds and reptiles.
Scuba diving in Malta
With warm, clear waters and visibility reaching at times 50 meters, Malta is rated as one of top destinations for scuba-diving in the world. Diving courses and activities at different levels are available in diving schools across the island. Diving equipment rental is also widely available in Malta.
The Lantern Point in Comino is probably the most sought after diving site for advanced divers in Malta. Blue Lagoon, also in Comino, very popular for snorkeling will be a better choice for beginners
If you are diving on your own in Malta, please be aware that a diving buddy and a PADI Advanced Open Water certificate or equivalent are necessary.
See map of Malta diving sites.
Daytrip to Gozo
The island of Gozo is considered a smaller and much, much quieter version of Malta. With just as beautiful landscapes and an impressive concentration of historic monuments and sights, Gozo surely benefits from a smaller number of tourists and large resorts. DO visit the capital, Victoria and the charming villages of Ghajnsielem, Gharb and Ghasri.
Gozo’s Ghantija megalithic temples, included on the UNESCO list of Cultural Heritage are considered the world’s oldest freestanding construction.
Gozo can be accessed from Malta by a high frequency ferry from Cirkewwa. The journey takes about half an hour.
Malta car hire
Make a lot more of your visit to Malta and explore the island’s most remote locations at your own pace in a hire car. Compare Malta Airport car rental deals and book online
Related article: Driving in Malta - Malta car hire advice.