Things to do in Malta

Historic sites, gorgeous seascapes and delicious food. Find out what a holiday to Malta has in store for you.

By Lorna Cowan

Published 6 May 2024

Malta is just a three-hour flight from London, and when you arrive on the island, it feels like a home from home.

The Mediterranean archipelago was part of the British Empire for over 150 years, so you drive on the left, English is the joint official language, and as you wander around the streets, you’ll stumble upon names such as Windsor Terrace and Prince of Wales Road. There are even red telephone boxes and pillar boxes.

However, even with the British influence, Malta retains a distinctive ambiance of its own, which is a joy to discover as you spend time on these sun-kissed shores.

Valletta, Malta’s compact capital, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site planned and built in 1566 by the Knights of St John. Any visitor today can’t help but be impressed by the city’s wealth of fine buildings, many of them churches.

St John’s Co-Cathedral was the place where the Knights gathered for communal worship and its interior is an outstanding example of baroque art and architecture. A huge painting of John the Baptist signed by Italian painter Caravaggio is an additional treasure – there are no others in the world that bear his signature.

The imposing Fort St Elmo, situated at the entrance to the city’s two harbours, is impressive too, and not only because it survived a Turkish invasion during the Great Siege of 1565 and the bombs of World War II. It took the Knights around six months to build the fort back in 1552 and today it contains the National War Museum. The George Cross medal – awarded to the island of Malta for its people’s heroism and devotion during the war – takes pride of place.

Visit Malta and you’ll be able to travel even further back in time, as the island is home to the oldest free-standing megalithic temples in the world, built before Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza. The temple of Hagar Qim is an awe-inspiring architectural masterpiece, given the limited building resources back in 3600 BC.

Equally fascinating are St Paul’s Catacombs, an extensive complex of underground Roman tombs that were possibly in use up to the eighth century AD.

Whether you want to dine in an award-winning restaurant serving contemporary Mediterranean cuisine, or a rustic cafe selling traditional delicacies, all palates (and budgets) are catered for in Malta.

One popular Sunday morning trip is to the delightful fishing village of Marsaxlokk. As well as stopping to watch the brightly painted boats bobbing in the harbour, visit the open-air fish market – you’ll be amazed at the variety of the local fishermen’s catch. Bass, swordfish and red mullet are all found in the waters surrounding the island, and octopus and squid are often used to make rich stews and pasta sauces.

What you’ll find on a typical Maltese menu will depend on the time of year you’re visiting – seasonal ingredients dictate the dishes on offer. However, kapunata, the Maltese version of ratatouille, is a staple meal, as is fenkata, a hearty rabbit stew.

Fancy a snack? Hobz biz-zejt may tempt you if you like bread dipped in olive oil, rubbed with tomatoes, and filled with a mix of tuna, onion and garlic. Or try a pastizzi, a savoury flaky pastry parcel filled with ricotta or mushy peas. Wash it all down with some Kinnie, Malta's tangy orange-flavoured soft drink.

For those with a sweet tooth, you won’t be left hungry. Ricotta, this time sweetened, appears in deep-fried pastry tubes known as kannoli. And treacle or honey rings is a gooey treat filled with a mixture of marmalade, sugar, lemon and oranges, as well as mixed spices.

For many visitors to Malta, a holiday will involve not much more than lying on a sun lounger and perhaps taking a cool dip in the sea now and again. If this is the case, fortunately you’ve got plenty of choice in terms of where you lay your beach towel. The long stretch of Blue Flag golden sand at Mellieha Bay is a favourite with families, and Paradise Bay on the north coast lives up to its name.

The clear Mediterranean Sea is also ideal for scuba diving, and suitable for beginners. Those keen to dive deep will be rewarded with an interesting array of reefs, caves and wrecks – there’s even an 18-metre Madonna statue in the water at Cirkewwa. Many of the ships were scuttled deliberately to provide artificial reefs and are now home to a wide range of fish, eels and other sealife. If you’re simply snorkelling, you may be greeted by a bright orange - and curious - Mediterranean parrotfish.

Prefer to stay on terra firma? Malta is also a walker’s paradise. Historic sights and natural attractions can be explored on foot as you trek over cliffs and through valleys and villages. Walkers are also treated to spectacular countryside views and seascapes. Be sure to pack a camera in your rucksack.

If time allows, why not make a trip to the neighbouring islands of Comino and Gozo? The ferry crossing from mainland Malta takes 25 minutes. A highlight of any visit to Comino is the Blue Lagoon, a picturesque bay with clear azure water, and the perfect safe spot to swim or snorkel. Santa Maria Bay is equally stunning, and perhaps more tranquil. The island is car-free and, apart from one hotel, is virtually uninhabited.

Magical Gozo has a similar laidback feel, life goes at a slower pace here. But there’s still plenty to see and do. A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Ġgantija temples is a must, and the citadel in Rabat can’t fail to impress. The 360-degree panorama of Gozo from the fortified ramparts is a scene of breathtaking beauty too.

Valletta is no stranger to hosting cultural events. Every year in January, the two-week Valletta International Baroque Festival takes place, a unique event that celebrates Valletta's baroque heritage and features performances from the best musical soloists and ensembles, both local and international, in dramatic historical venues.

Other annual events are the Notte Bianca in October, a jovial nocturnal celebration, and Ghanafest, a music festival taking place every June in the Argotti Gardens in Floriana. The name derives from the word ghana, traditional Maltese folk music.

Even if you don’t plan a holiday in Malta specifically to see an event, chances are you will witness a religious festival or celebration. Every village has a festa, a feast day (or three) when locals honour their parish patron saint. Buildings are decorated with garlands of flowers, statues of the patron saint are carried on a procession through the streets, and much merriment is had by all.

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