Malta is one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, offering an eclectic mix of sun, sand, nightlife, culture, and food, making it a must-see holiday destination.
Malta is an island nation of almost 500,000 inhabitants. Most live in Malta, but around 37,00 live on the smaller sister island of Gozo. Comino is tiny and only has a population of three.
The country is home to the second oldest free-standing buildings in the world, dating back 5,000 years to the time when Malta was a land bridge between mainland Europe and North Africa.
It has been colonized many times over the millennia by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, the Knights of St John, and Britain.
Malta finally gained independence in 1964 and has been a member of the European Union since 2003. The natives are bilingual, and many also speak Italian.
Malta is the most bombed place on earth and withstood severe punishment in World War II at the hands of Nazi Germany. The island held out against starvation and was awarded the George Cross for Gallantry.
Valletta is a World Heritage Listed site. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wander around a city that is a free open-air museum? If so, Valletta is the place for you.
The foundation stone was laid by Grandmaster Jean de Valette in 1566 after the Knights of St John, aided by Spanish troops and Maltese citizens, fended off the Ottomans in the Great Siege of Malta.
Valletta is built on a grid system, which means that you can never get lost. The biggest must-see in Valletta is St John's Co-Cathedral.
Looking at it from the outside, it looks unassuming, as many periods of Baroque-style buildings do. But the opulence of the inside must be seen to be believed.
The marble floor features the tombstones of knights that are buried below in the vaults. The Knights of St John had eight languages or chapters. Each one spoke a different language and came from a different part of Europe.
St John's Co-Cathedral features wight chapels inside its walls, dedicated to the eight languages. The crypt also features some incredible art and sculptures and mausoleums.
You can also see the famous Caravaggio painting, The Beheading of St John, which is on display in the museum.
Valletta is also home to the Natural History Museum, the Grandmaster's Palace, the War Museum, and an endless list of churches and historical buildings. It is also a great place to eat with hundreds of restaurants serving a plethora of cuisines.
The main drag is also good for shopping.
Mdina is also called the silent city. It is Malta's old capital city and is a fortified medieval city with alleyways leading to nowhere to confuse the enemy.
It was first built by the Romans and sprawled out to include a Roman Villa, the remains of which can still be seen today on the city's outskirts.
Also called Citta Notabile, Mdina was scaled back during Arab rule and took its name from the Arabic word medina.
Mdina was also used as the set for King's Landing in the smash-hit series Game of Thrones. It takes the name the Silent City from the fact that no cars are allowed into the city, apart from visitors.
It is home to the official residence of the Archbishop. Mdina is best enjoyed on foot as you explore its winding alleyways and palazzos. When you are done exploring, you should most definitely visit one of the cake shops sitting atop the bastions, offering sweeping views of the island.
3. Megalithic Temples
Pay a visit to the megalithic temples. These incredible structures were built around 5,000 years ago and are incredibly precise pieces of engineering.
On the summer solstice, the sun's rays shine straight onto the main altar at Hagar Qim, which literally means stones of worship. In their heyday, the light would have lit up the whole inside of the temple, creating an incredible spectacle.
Not much is known about the builders of these incredible structures, but their legacy has withstood the test of time.
Take a ferry over to the three cities
Before Valletta was built, the Knights of St John, or Knights Hospitaller, lived in the three cities of Cospicua, Senglea, and Vittoriosa.
The three cities were the main target of the Germans during World War II because the old navy drydocks are there.
The docks have been restored to their former glory, and the old buildings which housed the knights are still standing. You can get there by bus, but a far more interesting way to get there is to take a traditional water taxi over for a small sum.
Vittoriosa is home to some of the largest superyachts in the world, and you can enjoy a stroll on the waterfront and enjoy some lunch at one of the marina restaurants.
You can also visit the Inquisitor's Palace and the Maritime Museum. If you visit in October, you may also go to Vittoriosa for the Birgu by Candlelight event, where the whole city is lit up by candles.
4. Sliema, St.julian's, and Paceville
If you are after the latest in designer clothing and famous brands, then Sliema is the place for you. This once quiet village has a long waterfront and a multitude of shops.
You can find anything you like… shops, clothes, watches, jewelry, fashion accessories, toys, sportswear… you name it, Sliema has it. With boutique shops and shopping centers, you will be hard-pressed not to find what you are looking for.
St Julian's is another great place for eating out. It is quite upmarket, and there are lots of little bars around the seafront, where you can enjoy a cocktail right on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.
If you are brave enough, you can venture into Paceville, which is Malta's nightlife Mecca. You can find any type of pub, club, or bar you like in Paceville, and there are also some eateries.
This quaint fishing village is found in the South of Malta. Sunday is market day, and you should get there early to see some of the freshest fish of all varieties in the Mediterranean being brought ashore.
You can admire the traditional fishing boats called luzzus, which are painted all manner of bright colors.
All of them sport the eye of Osiris to ward off the evil spirits and creatures of the sea. Once you are done meandering through the markets, it will be time for a slap-up seafood lunch.
6. Zurrieq, the Blue Grotto, and Dingli Cliffs
Zurrieq is another fishing village on the West Coast of Malta. It is also where you can find one of the most incredible natural rock formations on the islands. It is a huge arch, forming an almost cathedral-style dome rising out of the sea.
You can see this amazing feature as you drive towards the village. For a modest sum, you can take a boat trip out to the Blue Grotto, and when you get inside, you will find out how it got its name.
The grotto reflects up from the crystal clear seabed, painting the inside of the feature vivid shades of blue and turquoise.
You can stay for some lunch in Zurrieq, or you can drive past the Hagar Qim temples and across the coast where you will come across Dingli cliffs. The cliffs are a spot of remarkable beauty, and a walk along them is both invigorating and inspiring.
7. A Festa
The Maltese are a Catholic people, and if you intend to visit, you should most definitely go to a village feast.
There is one almost every weekend. Saturday night tends to be a more social affair, culminating in a huge firework display to close off the evening. Maltese fireworks are some of the most creative in the world with shapes and stories told in the night skies with color and bangs.
Sunday is when the religious part kicks in. The statue of the village's patron saint is put on display and is then carried shoulder-high into the church to the tolling of bells and massive applause from jubilant villagers.
Once that is all done and dusted, it is time for a huge street party. Be warned; you will be bumped about and soaked with water and paint if you get too close to the action. It's all light-hearted, though!
8. Visit Gozo
Gozo, the sister island, is much quieter than Malta, but it has some incredible charm. Many say that visiting Malta is like turning the clock back in Malta by 50 years. With rolling hills and incredible beaches, it is the ultimate in kickback and relaxation.
It all starts as you board the ferry and take the 20-minute scenic crossing over and leave the hustle and bustle of Malta behind you.
You can visit the capital Victoria, also known as Citadella. The Citadel was the only refuge for people and their livestock when corsairs used to raid the island for slaves and supplies. Gozo is also accepted as the mythical home of the nymph Calypso, who kept Greek hero Odysseus captive.
There are many beautiful sites in Gozo, and you must lock in a visit to Qala, where you can enjoy a refreshing drink with sweeping views of the Blue Lagoon in Gozo and Malta beneath you.
You can also enjoy one of the many agritourism wineries and farms which dot the island. The old fishing village of Xlendi is famous for a spot of seafood lunch, and Marsalforn is another former seaside village that is popular with the Maltese.
You can also swim in the unspoiled valleys of Wied Ghasri and Mgarr ix-Xini. You can also enjoy the secluded bay of San Blas or the large Ramla l-Hamra sandy beach.
9. Visit Comino
Once a hunting lodge for the Knights of St John, Comino is a tiny island between Malta and Gozo. You can take a day trip out there and hang out at the Blue Lagoon with its astoundingly clear water. You can also visit Santa Marija Beach and the old watchtower built by the Knights as part of a chain of defenses against pirates.
Three people live on Comino, but there is also a hotel and bungalow complex on the island. Comino can get crowded, but its rugged beauty makes it an absolute must-see.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then booking an onboard boat party for the day might be the right option.