The Maltese Islands are an extremely history-rich destination making them an essential part of any holiday that has culture in mind, as well as compulsory knowledge in any history lesson. Malta has much to offer to the discerning traveller, such as the legacy of the knights, Megalithic Temples known to be the oldest freestanding buildings in the entire world, it’s pristine blue seas, and so much more. There are a multitude of Medieval Churches, Chapels, Cathedrals, Palazzos, Museums and similar to visit, many of which within walking distance from one another. Some highlights of a trip to Malta should include
No trip to Malta would be complete without a visit to its capital city Valletta, a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its wealth of cultural and historical features. This walled city is home to a vast array of museums, historic sites, landmarks and places of interest, as well as having some of the best shops on the Islands. From the Barrakka Gardens, located atop the defensive bastions built by the Knights of Malta, one can enjoy breathtaking views of the Grand Harbour, quite often described as the most alluring natural harbour in the world, and the fortified three cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. St John’s Co-Cathedral, paved with over 350 marble tomb slabs, many of past Knights and Grandmasters, is filled with priceless treasures including the acclaimed “Beheading of St John the Baptist” by the renowned Baroque artist Caravaggio who also lived for a time in Malta. Another place to visit in Valletta is the Cathedral Museum, which houses some stunning Flemish tapestries. Other places of interest in the capital include buildings of historical importance such as the Grand Master’s Palace and the Palace Armoury, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of arms and armour, much of it dating back to the 14th century. The Valletta Market, known as the “Monti” in Maltese, is definitely worth a visit on Sundays; here, one can stroll around the hustle and bustle of buyers and sellers, haggling and looking for the best bargains on offer. Other interesting sites worth visiting include the Lascaris War Rooms, the Church of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck, Casa Rocca Piccola and Our Lady of Victories Church, one of the first buildings erected in Valletta to commemorate victory in the Great Siege.
Mdina, Malta’s old capital city, was founded around 800 BC by Phoenician settlers. It was the capital city of Malta right through the Middle Ages and up until the arrival of the Knights of Malta in the early 1500s. Mdina is a walled town situated on a hill in the centre of the Maltese mainland, with an almost 360 degree-panoramic view of the whole island. Known as the “Silent City”, both by locals and many visitors, the town is still confined within its fortified walls, and has a population of around four hundred fulltime residents. The only way to enjoy Mdina is walking around its cobbled alleys and enjoying the stunning view from its fortified ramparts. Audio visual shows, such as the Mdina Experience, and the Mdina Dungeons, help give an insight of what life was like through the ages. Mdina is also home to a number of palaces, a cathedral, restaurants and many other places of interest, all of which are definitely worth a visit.
The fortified cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, known as the “Three Cities” and regarded as the cradle of Maltese history, were built by the Knights of Malta. The city of Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu) became the administrative hub of Malta, taking over from Mdina, in the 1530s. When Malta’s sister island of Gozo was attacked in 1551, Senglea was built on the peninsula known as L’Isola to strengthen the fortifications and to this day, Senglea is referred to as “L-Isla” by many. Vittoriosa has kept its charm due to its narrow winding streets, mysterious alleyways and quaint little piazzas shaded by historic palaces and churches. It is also home to the Malta Maritime Museum and the once dreaded Inquisitor’s Palace. Also of interest, is the nearby ex-Royal Naval Hospital at Bighi (RNH Bighi), once a major naval hospital serving the eastern Mediterranean in the 19th and 20th centuries. All these interesting places, many within easy walking distance from each other, make the Three Cities worth a visit when in Malta.
Wild and windswept Dingli Cliffs, situated in the southwest of the island, commands breathtaking views of the wide-open sea, the small tended fields far below, and the tiny island of Filfla, sometimes shrouded in mist. If you feel up to it, there are some beautiful trails to hike along, and the views are particularly beautiful at sunset during the summer months.
It is hard to believe that Marsaxlokk, one of Malta’s prettiest fishing villages, was once the site of landings by hostile forces during the Ottoman attack of 1551. Today, it is much more tranquil with traditional Maltese fishing boats painted in bright colours filling the picturesque little harbour. Fishermen sell their super fresh catches along the shore and the many small family run restaurants serve a multitude of delicious seafood specialties. Hawkers at the daily open-air market sell a huge variety of knitwear, food, fish and almost anything you can imagine at very good prices. Marsaxlokk is a little village with a big heart.
Malta is home to a host of Megalithic Temples, amongst which is the ĦalSaflieni Hypogeum, an underground prehistoric burial site consisting of halls, chambers and passages hewn out of the living rock. The rock-cut chambers are of diverse shapes and sizes and the complex is on three levels – the upper level (3600-3300 BC), the middle level (3300-3000 BC) and the lower level (3150-2500 BC) with the deepest room in the lower level at 10.6 metres below the surface of the road above. The Hypogeum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and to ensure its conservation, the site’s microclimate is strictly regulated: temperature, relative humidity and carbon dioxide levels are constantly monitored to ensure the Hypogeum’s survival for future generations. Other temples worth visiting are the ĦagarQim and Mnajdra Temples, situated in the south of Malta overlooking the island of Filfla and the open sea. The site dates from the Ġgantija period (approx. 3600 – 3200BC), and the surrounding landscape is typical Maltese garigue, quite spectacular in its starkness and isolation. The outer walls consist of large megaliths, the largest of which is 5.2m in height and estimated to weigh 20 tonnes.
While in Malta it would be sad not to have experienced an exciting harbour cruise around the natural ports of Marsamxetto and the Grand Harbour, the deep-water creeks of which make it one of the most beautiful natural harbours in Europe (if not in the world). The stunning views you take in as you cruise in the shadow of the imposing bastions and fortifications built by the Knights of Malta will stay with you forever, and is an opportunity not to be missed.
Diving in Malta’s crystal-clear waters offers a whole new dimension to those who want to discover the islands from below. There are also many caves and wrecks to explore and the coral and abundant marine life will amaze you. And if you are new to this exciting sport, there are many certified diving schools to choose from.
Suffice to say in Malta we take our food seriously, very seriously! There are a large number of unique and varied dishes to choose from and some ingredients you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Surrounded by crystal-clear blue seas, our fresh delicious seafood is a source of pride to us.