Malta is a country in the Mediterranean that consists of three main inhabited islands – Gozo, Comino and Malta. Located near Sicily and Tunisia, the Malta archipelago is 316 square km, making it the 10th smallest country in the world.
The island of Malta is the largest of the three islands.
Malta’s capital, Valletta, and other tourist destinations like ancient Mdina, Rabat, the famous Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua and the international airport are all located in Malta Island.
A short ferry ride away are the smaller islands of Gozo and Comino.
Ever since the Neolithic period, Malta’s strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Africa and the Middle East has attracted the interest of the powerful neighbours.
Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and the Normans once ruled this land followed by the Knights of St John, who ruled for 268 years during the 16th century.
They were followed by the French and the British, from whom Malta received independence in 1964.
Being a small island, getting around Malta is easy as no corner is more than an hour and a half drive.
Despite being a favourite spot for European vacationers, Malta still feels like an undiscovered gem.
Getting bored is out of the question and things to do in Malta range from enjoying the Mediterranean waters to exploring historical places that date back to the dawn of civilisation to enjoying good food, wine and a vibrant nightlife.
16 things to do in Malta
12 things to do on Malta Island
1- See The Malta Experience Show
The archipelago is shaped by 7000 years of history, so it’s a good idea to brush up on Malta’s past before venturing into anything else.
The Malta Experience is a 45-minute audio-visual show in Valletta.
It’s available in 17 different languages and is educational and highly informative.
The show streams through the stormy history of this tiny nation that overcame almost unimaginable odds to survive and prosper as well as showcases the destination’s key scenic attractions.
It’s housed in a purpose-built auditorium which also occupies the Sacra Infermeria, a 16th-century hospital built by the Knights.
After the show, it’s worth visiting its premises to step back in time to visit the longest hospital ward in Europe.
2- Explore UNESCO World Heritage Valletta
After fighting off the invading Ottomans away in a battle in 1565, known in history as the Great Seize, the Knights built Valletta as their new capital.
Valetta’s landscape is studded with military architecture, palaces, cathedrals, churches, gardens, gates and monuments.
Most of these still exist today – like the Grand Masters Palace and Fort St Elmo – displaying 16th-century elegance.
The magnificent harbour and waterfront precinct is dwarfed by soaring fortification walls and church domes.
It’s not surprising UNESCO declared this city as a World Heritage Site and described it as the “most concentrated historic areas in the world”.
3- Discover the 2018 European Capital of Culture
Valletta though has moved on and is now considered the best city in Malta for culture.
The newly built City Gate, Parliament House and Opera House have changed its cityscape – now powdered with newer hotels, cafes and restaurants mingling with contemporary cultural influences.
Because of this, the city was named European Capital of Culture for 2018.
Valletta regularly hosts plays and concerts, as well as scores of exhibitions and street events.
The city’s Museum of Archaeology is home to an exceptionally rich collection of prehistoric artefacts while MUZA displays a rich collection of 15th to 20th art.
The 16th-century Palazzo Casa Rocca Piccola provides an insight into Maltese aristocracy of the time.
The internals of St John’s Co-Cathedral is no less than an elaborate art gallery, with its most prized exhibit being the ‘Beheading of John the Baptist’ – a painting by Caravaggio.
4- Wander the streets of the Three Cities
A short ferry ride from Valletta are the ancient settlements of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, often referred to as the ‘Three Cities’ perhaps because of their proximity and landscape synergy.
Vittoriosa and Senglea occupy two narrow peninsulas connected by a pedestrian bridge while Cospicua clings on to Vittoriosa on its southern side.
Rightly claimed as the cradle of Maltese history, all three have been home to past Maltese rulers, from the Phoenicians and Romans to the British.
As the first home to the Knights, their palaces, churches, forts and bastions are far older than Valletta’s.
Visitors pop in here to lose themselves in a timeworn atmosphere, to visit Fort St Angelo and Inquisitors Palace and to get a grand view of Valletta.
Check out these Malta excursions to the Three Cities and beyond here.
5- Fall in love with Mdina
Perched on the hilltop behind massive fortifications, like a king sitting on his throne inside his palace, Malta’s former capital Mdina captivates everyone who enters its premises through a richly decorated gate.
Also known as the Silent City, the 4000-year old settlement is characterised by narrow alleyways lined with limestone-built honey-coloured palaces and mansions with exquisite door knockers.
Around 1000BC, the Phoenicians fortified this town and called it Malet.
The name was changed to Melita under the Romans and became Mdina during Arab era in the 9th century.
Since the 12th century, Mdina has been the hub of Maltese aristocracy.
Few cars are allowed inside the walled quarter, so Mdina is one of the best places in Malta to explore on foot or by horse-drawn carriage as the nobles did centuries ago. It’s such a romantic thing to do in Malta!
6- Admire the Churches in Malta
As Malta is one of the oldest Christian countries in the world, some of the best places to go in Malta are its churches.
The apostle St Paul introduced the faith to the islands in 60AD.
Today, there are over 365 cathedrals, churches and chapels in Malta, and building of some of the newer ones funded by the devoted locals who look after their daily maintenance as well.
You won’t have time to see all of them but the ones you shouldn’t miss are:
- St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta
- Carmelite Church in Valletta
- St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina
- St Lawrence Church in Vittoriosa
- Santa Marija Assunta in Mosta (it has the third largest dome in Europe)
- Cathedral of Assumption in Gozo
Built by the Knights, St John’s Co-Cathedral has a stunning Baroque design that makes it one of the top attractions in Malta.
7- Follow film locations
From Hollywood to Bollywood, film directors from around the globe agree that Malta is a readymade set for movies.
Malta is an open-air studio and many places in Malta are perfect ringers for ancient Rome, Greece, Beirut, Jerusalem (or any other movie requiring a medieval background).
Fort St Elmo in Valletta was Marseille in ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, a Turkish prison in ‘Midnight Express’ and Beirut street market in espionage drama ‘A Different Loyalty’.
Another place in Malta, Fort Ricasoli, which commands the entrance to Malta’s grand harbour along with Fort St Elmo, appeared as ancient Rome in Russell Crowe’s ‘Gladiator’, as ancient Greece in ‘Troy’ and as the Egyptian city of Alexandria in ‘Agora’.
Not to be outdone, scenic Gozo has also starred in a fair share of movies.
Gozo’s imposing Citadel appeared as a Greek fortress in the BBC’s drama ‘Byron’ and took the guise of France in Angelina Jolie’s romantic film ‘By the Sea’.
Game of Thrones fans will be interested to hear that Mdina was featured as Kings Landing, the capital city of Seven Kingdoms. Here’s a Game of Thrones tour that will take you to all the locations in the series.
Malta’s famous Popeye Village was the film set for the 1980 musical.
8- Watch the parade at Fort St Elmo
Malta has no shortage of museums, galleries and shows to captivate culture vultures.
It’s not surprising that one of the top things to do in Malta is to plan a culture crawl of museums and galleries.
If you don’t have time to see them all, Fort St Elmo is one to tick off your list.
The War Museum at Fort St. Elmo, where every Sunday a spectacular military parade draws locals and visitors, brings the nation’s wartime stories to life.
This includes the Knights fight against the Invading Ottomans in 1565, known in history as the Great Seize nicely recrafted at a museum in Mdina.
9- See the fishing boats at Marsaxlokk
One of the popular things to do in Malta is to visit the fishing town of Marsaxlokk.
Not only is it the spot to taste fresh seafood but photographing the colourful fishing boats on the bay will brighten up your day.
These boats, called ‘Luzzu’ are painted boldly in blue, red and yellow with the watchful ‘Eyes Osiris’ on the bows.
Angelina Jolie liked this place so much that she made it the background of her film ‘By the Sea’ with Brad Pitt.
10- Eat Maltese cuisine
Maltese cuisine is an exotic mix of flavours that bear strong influences of its past occupiers – Romans, Arabs, Normans, French and the British.
The national dish is ‘Fenek’ which is rabbit either fried, stewed or grilled with garlic and wine.
There are several restaurants and cafes scattered throughout the land.
Fontanella Tea Garden (fontanellateagarden.com) in Mdina is popular with tourists for a ‘Ftira’- a sandwich in traditional Maltese bread – with a great view.
Rubino (rubinomalta.com), one of the oldest restaurants in Valletta, Diar il-Binet (diarilbinet.com) in Dingli and Da Luigi (daluigimalta.com) in Rabat for a fine dining experience.
Maltese wines and beer are excellent to accompany the meals.
11- Snack on Pastizzi
A great snack option is ‘Pasttizzi’, a pastry filled with ricotta cheese or mushy peas.
It’s available everywhere but the best is from a little place – Is-Serkin Crystal Palace Bar – in Rabat town next door to Mdina.
12- Visit the Tarxien Temples
Built between 3600BC and 2500 BC, four megalithic structures are decorated with prehistoric art, stone blocks, reliefs carved with animals, altars and statues.
Imagine the surprise on the faces of the local farmers who discovered the Tarxien ruins in 1913.
It’s one of the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites inscribed as ‘The Megalithic Temples of Malta’ and the largest and most complex of the prehistoric sites on the islands.
4 things to do in Gozo
With rocky cliffs, sparkling bays and magical sunsets, Gozo is a microcosm of Malta.
This tiny island is an amazing place to swim, snorkel and there are plenty of sights worth seeing too.
In fact, Gozo is small enough to tour the island comfortably by tuk-tuk!
13- Explore the Citadella
Victoria is the little urban hub of the island which has an impressive citadel and cathedral.
The Citadella is an impressive sprawling site with historic military buildings that take you back in time.
You could spend hours exploring the buildings in the square, such as the baroque Cathedral of Gozo, law courts and Bishop’s Palace.
Nearby are a collection of museums worth a look, such as The Cathedral Museum, the Old Prison, Old Gunpowder Museum and the Museum of Archaeology.
14- Discover Ggantija Temples
What remains of the 6000-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Ggantija Temples makes essential viewing.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ġgantija Temples in Xagħra are two temples that date back to 3600 BC and 3200 BC.
According to legends (Ġgantija means giant), the temples were once associated with a race of giants and was where rituals involving animal sacrifice were performed.
15- Take a tour of the Xewkija Rotunda church
Designed to resemble Venice’s Sanda Maria della Salute, the Xewkija Rotunda Church is an impressive landmark on Gozo.
Built around a smaller 17th-century church, it has a baroque rotunda, ornate Carrara marble floor and a circular interior covered in scenes from the Bible.
The reason why this Gozo church is impressive is that it has the third-largest freestanding dome in the world.
At 75 m (246 feet) the only two other church domes that are bigger are in the Vatican and St. Paul’s in London.
Most tours around Gozo include a stop at the Xewkija Rotunda Church.
16- Swim in the Blue Lagoon
On the way to Gozo, Comino is a small island with a famous beach.
The Blue Lagoon is a slice of paradise with a sparkling shallow bay that’s perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
You can take a full-day boat trip to the Blue Lagoon or combine a day tour of the Blue Lagoon and Gozo. Check out some tour options here.
For more Malta information go here.
Where to stay in Malta
There are several places to stay in Malta. Here are some recommendations to get your started:
St Paul’s Bay
Dolmen Hotel has a lovely view of the Mediterranean
Sliema is in a convenient location near restaurants, the Valetta ferry and is easily accessible to the tour boat departures.
Check out Palazzo Violetta boutique hotel or Three Pillows Boutique Hostel for budget-friendly private or shared rooms.
St Julian’s has the best of both world’s – the beach and a vibrant nightlife. It’s very close to Silena, so things to do in St Julian’s include walking tours, shopping, eating and having fun on the beach.
Hotel Valentina is a romantic hotel near the marina.
Malta’s capital is a charming city and the best area in Malta to stay for exploring city attractions.
Sleep in a beautiful B&B, Ursulino Valletta.
TripAdvisor Malta also has a range of hotels. Compare prices here.