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The ultimate Malta travel guide

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The ultimate Malta travel guide

Malta’s archipelago sits in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, its nearest neighbours Sicily and Tunisia. Most famous for being hot and sun-drenched for more than 300 days of the year, what these surprisingly small islands lack in size they make up for with natural beauty and a fascinating 8,000 years of history; layers upon layers of influences from invading civilizations gave Malta its unique, sedimentary language and the culture that we know and love today.

Home to Megalithic Temples that are some of the oldest buildings in the world, medieval Arabic fortresses, ornate Baroque cathedrals, British red telephone boxes (Malta was colonised by the Empire from 1800 to 1964) and more beaches than you can shake a stick at. There’s so much to see and do here, no matter the season.

Travel restrictions and entry requirements

There are currently no requirements necessary to enter Malta, which is fully open to both vaccinated and unvaccinated visitors.

Best time to go

Malta is fun and undeniably festive all year round, but you’ll find it particularly jubilant during festa season, which runs in earnest from May to October (see “Best Things To Do”). Easter or Christmas celebrations are also worth aiming for, as the island takes its Roman Catholic traditions very seriously and the displays are suitably ostentatious.

The peak summer months of July and August are very hot ‒ bear in mind that the islands are as far south as Algeria ‒ so aim for the cooler but still beach-friendly temperatures of late May and June, or after the heat quells in September and October. Alternatively, hikers and history lovers will appreciate November to April as the best climate to walk the scenic coastal trails or visit the ancient temples and sites.

Top destinations

Valletta

The nation’s capital is an architectural marvel; a city fully walled by 16th century bastions that line the peninsula, encasing streets that were laid out in a perfect grid. It’s a walkable city with ornate, sandstone churches and marble paved roads that are dotted with unique box balconies you’ll spot jutting out of the majority of residential buildings. The city has seen a lot of rapid development in recent years ‒ boutique hotels are popping up on every corner and since being named European Capital of Culture in 2018 Valletta has become the epicentre of the island’s cultural scene with art exhibitions, film festivals and music events on throughout the year.

Marsaxlokk

Vividly painted cottages welcome home the equally colourful Luzzu fishing boats that fill the petite harbour of this tiny south coast village. Marsaxlokk is a popular spot for foodies, with some of the best dining spots on the island found down here ‒ such as family-run, distinctly elegant fish restaurant Tartarun, known for its octopus. You could stroll around the village’s market and churches to work up an appetite, or make a day of it and jump on a boat trip around the bay and the neighbouring rocky beaches, such as famed St Peter’s Pool, loved for its aquamarine hues and clear lagoon.

Mdina

Inhabited since the Bronze Age, built up by the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC and renamed Medina by the Aghlabid dynasty from Algeria, this hilltop citadel is a magical place. Known as “The Silent City” since it stopped being Malta’s capital (it’s been occupied mainly by monasteries and nunneries for generations) the pretty streets are not as hushed as they once were. In fact, they’re a tour group favourite as a former filming location for Game of Thrones. Wander off the main thoroughfares, down side streets and winding alleys, to see where they lead you. Hopefully to Fontanella, a cafe on the wall that serves infamously decadent chocolate cake.

Sliema & St Julian’s

The twists and turns of Malta’s northern coastline hide coves and promenades that make up the bays of Sliema and St Julian’s. The island’s most glamorous, bougie corner, this is where huge malls and condo blocks nuzzle medieval watchtowers and Sicilian-era palaces along the waterfront. If you’re an architecture fan, don’t miss Balluta Buildings, a 1920s apartment block that’s the most exquisite Art Nouveau structure on the island. Beach clubs are plentiful in the area, and while it’s not sandy, it’s a great place to swim. Nightclubs can be found here, too, only outnumbered by restaurants and cafes. If clubbing isn’t your thing, swing by Hole in the Wall, a snazzy little bar where owner and musician Ian books or plays his own live shows.

Underrated corners

The Three Cities

On the other side of The Grand Harbour to Valletta live the Three Cities. Each has two names, one local and one Italian given by the Knights of St John; Birgu (Vittoriosa), Bormla (Conspicua) and L-Isla (Senglea). Walled with colossal bastion fortifications, the Three Cities are often skipped in favour of capital Valletta; but they offer similar architecture, scenery and good food, with fewer crowds to contend with. The Maritime Museum in Birgu is reopening soon and gives an overview of lesser told nautical stories; meanwhile Hammett’s Maċina Restaurant in Senglea is one to make reservations for ‒ well in advance, as its sharing plates are wildly popular.

Mgarr

This small farming village on the western edge of the main island (not to be confused with Mgarr in Gozo) is packed with excellent restaurants, a stunning, domed church and lesser known Megalithic temples. There’s blissful Gnejna beach nearby, which sits south of popular Golden Bay and Ghajn Tuffieha but sees far smaller crowds. Mgarr is a great place to stay if you plan to hire a car and prefer a quiet spot to base yourself, but either way check out the local food scene at Bohini, Dine West or United Restaurant, to name just a few. Particularly if you’re keen to try the Maltese speciality, fenech – rabbit.

Ghar Lapsi

This tiny fisherman’s bay on the south coast is a favourite with local diving schools, but is otherwise overlooked, with the majority of tourists heading to Zurrieq for the Blue Lagoon nearby. Lounging space is limited but it’s one of the best spots on the island to swim ‒ is home to a 1950s cafe, Lapsi View, that makes great Maltese dishes like ravioli and hobz biz zejt (a tomato and caper sandwich). The Ħaġar Qim temples are also just round the corner, arguably the finest on the island, built in 3,200 BC.

Best things to do

Whether you opt to see just one or spend a week visiting them all, prioritise Malta’s Megalithic era stone temples. For generations these buildings were thought to be the oldest in the world (Turkey’s Göbekli Tepe temple eventually gazumped them). Built between 3,600 BC and 2,500 BC, landmarks such as the sprawling Hagar Qim site, the subterranean Hypogeum, or Tarxien Temples are the best places to start. Pop to Valletta’s National Museum of Archaeology afterwards to check out the mind bogglingly old artefacts found during the excavations.

If you’re on the island between April and October, check to see if there’s a festa happening on the weekend. These feast days celebrate the town’s patron saint ‒ and every town has one ‒ by holding a street party that varies in tone and liveliness depending on the location. Every festa sees a statue of the saint processed through the streets, followed by a marching band and many, many fireworks.

If you have a day or two to spare, take a boat to the smaller sister island of Gozo, northwest of Malta. There’s a fast new ferry from Valletta for foot passengers or a car ferry from Cirkewwa, both of which land in Gozo’s Mgarr harbour. Gozo has its own charm, with unusual swim spots, excellent restaurants and farmhouse accommodation galore, the feeling of remoteness great for a full digital switch-off.

Getting around

If you don’t fancy hiring a car, Malta’s local bus network is a cheap and air-conditioned service, with times listed on Google Maps. There are also very useful and cheap ferry links between Valletta and Sliema, or Valletta and the Three Cities, which are quicker and very scenic.

How to get there

Europe’s budget airlines all fly to Malta a few times a day from major hub airports across the UK. Air Malta and British Airways also serve the island daily. It’s also possible to reach Malta flight-free, either by car or train, as Virtu Ferries run four services a day linking Malta to Sicily in 90 minutes.

Money-saving tip

Off-season accommodation is marginally cheaper, but ultimately Valletta is an expensive place to stay at any time of year. Basing yourself outside of the capital is generally the most cost effective move.

FAQs

What’s the weather like?

Malta is hot and sunny most of the year, and always humid. Storms do come in across the sea, so keep an eye on weather reports for incoming showers and bring a brolly.

What time zone is it in?

GMT+1.

What currency do I need?

Euros.

What languages are spoken?

Maltese (which is a combination of Arabic and Italian) and English.

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