Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Places not to miss in Malta

It never takes more than an hour to get anywhere in Malta, even with the public transport. This is why with just 8 days I was able to see many different things, on different parts of the island. Here's my personal top five of places not to miss in this charming  and fascinating Mediterranean country.

A street in Valletta

Valletta is the smallest capital city in Europe (the historical town only counts 6,400 inhabitants!), yet it's full of things to see, not to mention beautiful views. When I was in Malta I started to read about the history of the island which I find really engaging and unusual, especially with regards to the military and religious order of the Knights of Malta, founded during the crusades and which lasts to this day. I learned that Valletta was founded in the 16th century and it bears the name of Jean de la Vallette, the Great Master of the order of St. John who defeated the Turks in the Great Siege of Malta.

I was left in awe at the Co-Cathedral (entrance fee 10€), because it has gold literally everywhere and it hosts one of the most famous paintings by Caravaggio, who by the way ended up in Malta because he was wanted for murder in Rome! Its glorious past aside, Valletta is undoubtedly the place to photograph the famous Maltese balconies, because it's full of hilly streets. I couldn't stop taking pictures of them from all different angles.

A downhill street in Valletta

In Valletta I cherished the view of the three cities from the Barakka Gardens, enjoyed visiting the armour of the Order of St. John, and relaxed by the shady squares with alfresco restaurants. Valletta is also a good choice in terms of accommodation because, as I soon discovered, I had to go there to change buses anyway. The choice of accommodation is nevertheless limited there and a lot of the budget accommodation - including mine - is in nearby Sliema, a pleasant (but more modern) area with a long seafront promenade and a good choice of restaurants.
A square in Valletta

In the interior of the island and surrounded by barren hills, Mdina is a beautiful walled city that used to be the capital of Malta until the Medieval period. Its name comes from the same root as the Arabic word medina. It is nicknamed The Silent City because of its quiet streets. Sometimes all I could hear was the sound of my footsteps. It is hard to think that people still live here, among the boutique hotels and the romantic restaurants. 

The atmosphere is magic: the colourful doors and balconies with overflowing plants, the cream-coloured houses and the baroque churches make for a picturesque backdrop to a relaxed stroll in the compact historical centre.

A corner of Mdina


When people talk about Malta they tend to forget to mention that there is a second smaller island. It's called Gozo, and you can easily reach it with a ferry boat from the westernmost tip of Malta. Gozo is more rural, quiet and less touristy than Malta, but equally charming. In my experience it was a really good idea to devote at least a couple of days to Gozo.

I stayed in a tiny village called Zebbug (olives in Maltese) that has beautiful views over the hilly countryside until the sea.

The Gozitan countryside
Hiking possibilities abound in Gozo and it is here that you can find the famous Azure Window, a natural stone arch over the sea that you can actually walk on (at your own risk!). Guess what, even this natural marvel was reachable by public bus!

The Azure Window in Gozo

The main town in Gozo is called Victoria (or Rabat - as many place names in Malta have more than one name) and it's the typical Maltese maze of narrow marble streets and baroque churches to explore. From here buses depart for every corner of this small island, from the red beach of Ramla Bay to Marsalforn with its salt pans.

Victoria, the main town in Gozo

Prehistoric temples

Malta abounds in historical sites, but ones that are often overlooked are the  so-called prehistoric temples that dot the island. They are claimed to be the oldest free-standing structures in the world (3,600-2,500 a.C), older than the pyramids, the Knossos palace in Crete or Stonehenge. I went to Ħaġar Qim and Mnjandra (entrance fee, 10€), but there are several. The famous and UNESCO-listed Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, which is an underground prehistoric burial site, was unfortunately temporarily closed at the time of my visit due to restoration works.
Ħaġar Qim and Mnjandra are two prehistoric temples like none I have seen (and I have been to several in Ireland, Scotland and England). You can distinguish the carvings of some holes as decorations in the stone, the benches where the worshippers could sit and - most astonishingly - the altar. 

The prehistoric temples
The location is magnificent: close to some dramatic cliffs and overlooking the sea. Just a short bus trip from here, I discovered, is the Blue Grotto, a sea cave where the water is so clear that you can clearly see underwater and distinguish the lines of the sand on the bottom, not to mention everything that swims.

The cliffs close to Hagar Qim


Famous for its Sunday fish market and the fish restaurants, Marsaxlokk is a quiet village in south-eastern Malta, with the usual baroque church and a British phone booth. Aside from that, its harbour is full of photogenic and colourful luzzus, the traditional Maltese fishing boats whose design date backs to Phoenician times. The eye of Osiris depicted on the boat is said to protect the fishermen from dangers.

Boats in Marsaxlokk
To eat lunch in Marsaxlokk is inexpensive - I don't think I ever paid more than 15€ in Malta for a good lunch with fresh ingredients. The most common fish in Malta is called lampuka - I had it with tomatoes and capers in Marsaxlokk if I remember well - but in the market in Marsaxlokk you can find anything else, from honey to delicious kannoli and other Maltese delicatessen. When you're done with the market, just nearby there is Saint Peter's pool, a swimming pool of crystal clear water that you can only reach by boat.

Maltese Kannoli in Marsaxlokk
In order to travel around Malta with the public bus system, you can buy a 7-day Tallinja card (21€) that gives you unlimited journeys on the entire bus system of the archipelago. Otherwise a bus trip costs 2 € (in summer) for everywhere on the island.



  1. I'm all about small capitals so I have a feeling I would enjoy Valleta. Also, those balconies!

    1. Definitely. Valletta is really worth visiting! Moreover it's quite affordable.


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