The tiny dots of land that make up Malta can be easily overlooked. This small Mediterranean archipelago between Sicily and Northern Africa is steeped in fascinating history and full of natural sights. More than just sand, sun and sea it’s capital city Valletta is a cosmopolitan centre lined with old narrow streets and baroque architecture.
This year, the city gears itself up as the European Capital of Culture – with a multitude of shows and art events planned. There has never been a better time to visit Malta and experience it’s unique culture and stunning landscapes. We spent a month in Malta, mostly on the smaller island of Gozo (featured in our next post). Our friends Adam & Voja from Serbia joined us on Malta island for our final week.
WHAT TO SEE
There are plenty of historic sights to visit in Malta, from the old town of Mdina to the ancient Megalithic Temples which dates back to 3600 BC. Malta has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites which includes the city of Valletta.
Mdina was one our top highlights and for Game of Thrones fans, some of the first series’ scenes were filmed here.
Beneath the grounds of Rabat, lies a complex network of Roman catacombs. These burial grounds were used up until the 4th century AD and served the old Roman capital Melite (now modern day Mdina). There are two sites adjacent to each other; St. Paul’s and St.Agatha’s. We visited St.Paul’s Catacombs with a newly built visitor centre. The site is covered with multiple entrances to each catacomb and each is marked with signs to show the religion and the era it was used.
Malta is predominantly a Catholic nation and has numerous churches spread across the island, many are ornately designed and built with local limestone (which almost gleam in the sunlight). In Valletta there are two great cathedrals; St. John’s Co-Cathedral and St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral – both are great examples of Baroque architecture and contain period art.
Malta has some stunning coastlines, with bays and dramatic limestone cliffs. Although it misses the pale sanded beaches of some other Mediterranean islands, the golden sanded beaches here are pleasant and a nice escape from the busy towns. Our favourite beach was the Golden Bay in Mellieħa, it’s a great spot to admire the sunset and the surrounding cliffs are great for short hikes.
We spent our final days in Malta exploring Valletta with our friends. At the time of our visit in September last year, we noticed a fair bit of construction mostly due to the preparations for the European Capital of Culture. A grand public square was being built to compliment its impressive, modern city gate designed by architect, Renzo Piano. Walking the backstreets of Valletta, getting lost and finding little cafe’s was another highlight of our trip.
To get that iconic view of Valletta as featured in Lonely Planet’s Malta book cover, go to Sliema. Here you will find the modern high street stores (with some noticeable British brands) and a pleasant promenade walk with great views of Valletta’s city walls in the distance.
The nearby Three Cities of Malta; Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea and Cospicua are also worth a trip and ideal if you want to escape the crowds of nearby Valletta. These fortified coastal towns hold an historical importance during the wars and an interesting place to experience local life. Due to our short stay on Malta island, we ran out of time and missed the Three Cities but was recommended by our friends who went.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT
We stayed in the popular resort of Bugibba (along St.Paul’s Bay), There are a few budget accommodations available through Airbnb (click here for £25/$35 off your first Airbnb) and on Booking.com. Bugibba is a touristy coastal centre and has many resturants, bars and cafes (many are inexpensive). It’s an hour’s drive to Valletta and to the airport, connected by regular public buses – it’s a good base to check out the main sights of the island.
As we self-catered we did not really sample the local resturants. Whilst in the company of friends we did try some of the bars in Bugibba, favourites include Diana’s Pub and The Baron Bar, where you can buy a beer for a couple of euros. In Valletta you will find numerous places to eat and drink, we can recommend The Submarine (€3 freshly made sandwiches) and nice street side cafe, Piadina Caffe for great coffee and cakes.
- Public buses are cheap and easy to use, an adult single ticket costs €1.50-2 (depending on the seasons) and last for two hours to help you complete your journey if have to change buses. On arrival at Malta Airport, you can purchase a tourist bus pass at the information counter which will give you unlimited rides up to a week or less. For more info, timetables and route maps go to www.publictransport.com.mt
- Time your days out with care, avoid evening rush hour if possible (from 3pm-8pm). The roads near Valletta become quite congested and the buses are packed full by visitors and locals trying to get home (buses that are full will not pick up new passengers!)
- The tourist centres like the resorts along St.Paul’s Bay can get very busy, to escape the crowds look at accommodation options in the less developed South or East of Malta island.
- Visit www.valletta2018.org for more information on the European Capital of Culture 2018 events in Valletta.
Gallery Preview below, to see more photo highlights of our trip in Malta click here: