Located just south of Sicily, deep into the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is a tiny country (5th smallest in Europe) and an astonishingly magical place that belonged to Great Britain not so long ago. Who knew, right? In fact, this small nation has been invaded by the Romans, Brits, French and Arabs, and you’ll see hints of that in the language, architecture and complexity of the culture. Needless to say, the country is gorgeous and you’ll quickly understand why so many empires have wanted to claim Malta for themselves.
There are amazing beaches, stunning lagoons, endless historical sites to visit, a delicious, and unique cuisine and popping nightlife - all without the price tag of the Mediterranean’s most popular destinations. And here, I’m referring to Ibizabiza, Mallorca and the Canaries as well as the Dalmatian Islands in Croatia and the Greek Islands of Mykonos and Santorini. These are all fun and beautiful but they’ll cost you a pretty penny. Malta is way more affordable and has just as much to offer at a fraction of the cost.
So let’s take a look at all the must-see spots in Malta, shall we?
Day or night, you’ll never run out of things to do in Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Upper Barrakka Gardens are impressive, with leafy trees, massive archways, panoramic views and ancient ruins. You can spend a whole morning strolling around and taking in marvelous vistas of the Grand Harbour. Then head on down to the Lower Gardens for views of the Three Cities. There’s also the Grand Master’s Palace
which functions as a type of museum that showcases artifacts and artworks from bygone eras as well as St. John’s Cathedral, which is astounding and might just be one of the finest Baroque architectural structures you’ll ever see. There are numerous museums, with the National Museum boasting the famous Venus of Malta statue, and endless restaurants and cafes along the way so that you’ll never run out of steam.
As night falls, head over to Strait Street, once known as the red-light district, which has been transformed into a bustling area full of pubs, wine bars and live music venues. A popular spot is a cellar bar called Beer Cave, where you can find every and any local and international beers you can imagine. For a more upscale experience, head to the rooftop bar at the Phoenicia Hotel, which offers stunning views of the city at golden hour.
St Julian is considered the party capital of Malta but first, we’ll look at what you can do there by day. Boat tours are especially popular, however, if you’re not up for being on the water, there’s an endless promenade along the coastline. There’s also a gorgeous sandy beach called Balluta Bay so you can hang out on land and still enjoy a refreshing swim. It’s turquoise-coloured and calm, with many cafes dotted all around so you can dine with a view (grab some halloumi, you won’t regret it). There’s great shipping at the Shopping Complex and you have to see the Spinola Palace, a baroque mansion that has gorgeous gardens. Oh and don’t forget to try your luck at the Dragonara Casino, which happens to be situated within a beautiful palace!
Paceville in St Julian’s is the nightlife capital of Malta and where the fun is at. There are bars, clubs, restaurants with live music, top 40 music, R & B, old euro hits and everything in between. The streets are crawling with people looking for a good time and the atmosphere is positively jovial. There are pubs like Ryan’s Pub where you could party until dawn or the famous Club Havana, with its outdoor terrace and varied music selection. The only thing I suggest is getting a nap in before you head out because the Maltese are known to stay out until the sun comes up and then some.
Sliema, on the other hand, which is just a hop and skip away from St Julian’s, also offers great choices for nightlife but it’s an upscale scene where you’ll find a whole lot more cocktail lounges and wine bars than pubs or clubs. Head over to Tower Road and the Strand, where you’ll come across gems like the Exiles Bar, a nifty spot by the sea. They generally have live music playing every evening and a lovely, sophisticated atmosphere with gorgeous views of the Mediterranean.
By day, Sliema is a great place to shop for designer brands at the Point Shopping Mall, bike ride or walk on the stunning and seemingly endless promenade, see the traditional wooden, colorful balconies decorating the homes of Malta’s elite, visit the oldest polygonal fort in the world, hang out in the Indepence Gardens or spend a day at the beach (Fond Ghadir is one of our faves).
Speaking of favorite beaches, the Blue Lagoon in Comino (a tiny island situated between Gozo and Malta), has, unequivocally, the world’s prettiest natural pool. The depth of the turquoise colors is spectacular, the sand is so unbelievably white that you might get blinded and you can travel far and wide but you still won’t find sea water that’s clearer in any part of the world. The waves are gentle and inviting - you're going to want to spend the day here. By the way, the water in the Blue Lagoon is heated (naturally, of course) to around 37-40 degrees Celsius (98-104 F) so it’s hawt.
While you’re here, make sure to visit the Santa Marija Tower, a historic tower that dates back to the 17th century and offers breathtaking views of the island. This is also a popular spot to dive in the mysterious Santa Maria Caves, which is full of tunnels, and you guessed it, caves!
Malta’s Sister Island: Gozo
Gozo is Go-rgeous, famous for its Neolithic Ġgantija Temple ruins, rural hiking paths through verdant valleys and rolling hills, endless sandy beaches and incredible scuba-diving sites.
From the Grand Harbour in Valletta, you can travel to Gozo in less than 45 minutes. From the bustling big city to suddenly being immersed in nature and rural life, ancient traditions and incredible cultural experiences - it’s wonderfully convenient! I would recommend heading to the 400-plus year-old vast and sprawling Citadel in the capital city of Victoria. Wander inside its imposing walls, check out the huge, baroque Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, visit the Archaeological Museum, (storing treasures that are thousands of years old), and enjoy tasty treats in an outdoor cafe, situated in the winding alleyways of the Citadel.
There isn’t a more Instagram-worthy photo that you can take than in Wied-il Mielah Sea Arch and that’ll give you the perfect excuse to hop on a boat and explore. Totally worthwhile, and you can couple it up with a snorkeling or scuba-diving expedition as the clear, turquoise waters surrounding the Island create perfect conditions for either. Speaking of which, there are a number of gorgeous beaches you can spend the day on if you want to frolic in the sun. One of the best is Ramla Bay, with its expansive coastline, but there are others, such as the Mgarr Ix-Xini where the movie By the Sea was filmed.
Mdina and the Three Cities
In Mdina, also known as the "Silent City," (once the capital, but when it was relocated, people moved out and the city became akin to ghosttown, especially in comparison to how bustling it was), you’ll step back in time as you make your way through the winding medieval streets. A must-see attraction is the Mdina Cathedral, a masterpiece of Baroque architecture with a rich history dating back to the 12th century. Another must-see here are St Paul’s Catacombs, a cemetery with an extensive system of underground galleries and tombs dating from the third to the eighth centuries CE. It’s an immersive, bone-chilling experience that will give you the chance to see how Christians, Jews and nonbelievers were buried during different eras. A lovely activity to do, especially after spending a couple of hours in the sinister underground world, is to catch panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from the city walls. We recommend you try the Fontanella Tea Garden, which is a cafe that serves delicious baked goods and other treats by day. By night, the Fontanella Wine Bar offers stunning views of the island and a range of cocktails and wines (plus amazing charcuterie boards).
The Three Cities are a trio of fortified cities located across the Grand Harbour from Valletta. n Explore the winding streets and historic landmarks of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua, including the imposing Fort St. Angelo and the magnificent St. Lawrence Church. The Three Cities also offer a range of dining and nightlife options, with a variety of bars and restaurants offering stunning views of the harbor.
Must must must visit. The deep blue waters of the Mediterranean are beckoning to you from the depths of cavernous rock and imposing stone arches. Just go and thank us later!
In short, choose Malta and feel the awe. Every corner you’ll turn reveals monuments and sites that have been preserved with care and love over the centuries. There are so many sites to visit in this amazing country, so much nature to enjoy and yes, the nightlife is just as great as in the other Mediterranean hotspots.