2019 Brought with it an influx of excitement amongst South African’s who have become fascinated with Malta. And although it is a relatively small and unknown island archipelago just off the coast of Italy and North Africa, their love for it runs deep. And for good reason.
Once you discover it, there is no doubt in our minds that your love will run just as deep. Discover the island for yourself and you’ll soon fall in love with all the wonderful things to do in Malta.
A glorious variety is packed into its 316 square kilometres. Not only will the deep blue seas, dizzying limestone cliffs and red-gold beaches excite you, but you will also be intrigued by the islands’ rocky landscapes that are steeped in a 7,000-year-old history of remarkable intensity.
The archipelago is made of three main islands, namely, Malta, Gozo and Camino, along with many smaller uninhabited islands.
Collectively, they have the epitome of all Mediterranean climates. It experiences 12 hours a day of sunshine in summer. Winters are mild with temperatures rarely dropping below 10 degrees Celcius. And just like the weather, the Maltese are warm and welcoming, most of whom speak English.
Ancient tales are harboured in the islands’ rocky stretches of land. In fact, its capital city of Valletta is home to three UNESCO world heritage sites. Namely, the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni and the Megalithic Temples of Malta.
Moreso, you can find mammoth churches towering over the islands’ quiet villages, including prehistoric temples, fossil-studded cliffs and an abundance of hidden coves.
Even Malta’s fishing boats resonate with the past, their prows painted with eyes, just like the boats of their Phoenician predecessors.
So why exactly is the world’s 10th smallest country appealing to so many South Africans?
In this post, we explore all of the island archipelago’s offerings, feature some of its biggest attractions, and highlight some of the top things to do in Malta.
Base yourself in Sliema, Malta’s resort town situated on a peninsula on the eastern side of the island. This makes for an ideal spot when setting out to explore all that this island nation has to offer.
Whilst it has a bustling, vibrant city feel, Sliema still possesses its century-old fishing village charm. A walk through the town’s wonderful 3-kilometre long seaside promenade reveals this. Since it surrounds the entire peninsula, you will be able to experience the unobstructed beautiful views over the Mediterranean, especially at sunset, when tourists and locals flock to admire the deep blue sky turn to shades of orange and pink.
If you are feeling up to taking a welcomed break from the sweltering heat, take a dip in the ocean by climbing down the steps from the promenade. You’ll find ancient Victorian bathing pools that have been carved out of limestone and naturally filled with water.
Take to the back streets of Sliema to experience the history that defines this urban landscape. Colourful Art-Deco and Art-Nouveau balconies provide watchful eyes over the little shops, cafes and boutiques that rest below.
Meander through its side alleys to get insights into why this island has been famed as Europe’s most Catholic country. You will be amazed at the high density of churches that can be found per square kilometre. A few churches to keep your eyes peeled for is the 1850 baroque-inspired Stella Maris Church, the neo-gothic Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, and the oldest religious building – the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.
If you love the likes of Sliema, then you will just love Malta’s capital city – Valletta. The whole city has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1980s and is one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. Not only is it steeped in history, but it is also a cultural masterpiece. In fact, it has also been awarded the title as the European City of Culture in 2018.
It’s been said that the city was built by gentlemen for gentlemen. And whilst we are not too sure the significance this bears, we do know that this city is Europe’s first city constructed on an entirely new piece of land. It is a fortified walled city, that was first established in the 15th century, constructed completely by hand.
It rests on the Mount Sceberras peninsula with its bastions, forts and cathedral overlooking the two harbours of Marsamxett and Grand Harbour. These form part of the largest natural harbours in all of the Mediterranean.
Inside, you will find an abundance of museums, palaces, colourful balconied windows, votive statues and grand churches that line the timeless grind of its narrow streets. You will love these buildings as they are emblematic of a Baroque architectural style.
A few not-to-miss sights include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Upper Barrakka Gardens, the Lower Barrakka Gardens and Fort St. Elmo. Also check out the Saluting Battery and National War Museum.
The Three Cities
If you have found your way up to the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta, then you’re likely to have looked out across at the Three Cities and their fortresses.
The name given refers to the neighbourhoods of Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. Just like Valetta, these cities are important historical areas that have moulded Malta into the island that is known today. The fortified city of Birgu dates back to Medieval times, long before the founding of Valletta. Senglea and Cospicua were built at the same time as the capital.
Each offers its own unique charm, and interesting tales harbour in their well-preserved streets and fortified walls.
Comino Island and the Blue Lagoon
You cannot visit Malta and not head to the uninhabited, nearby Comino Island. It is home to Malta’s most talked about gem – the Blue Lagoon. This picturesque sheltered cove features a natural sea pool with transparent turquoise waters and a white-sand seabed.
There is no doubt in our minds that you will just love swimming here, despite the fact that it doesn’t have an actual beach. Position yourself on flattened areas of rock and take in these Insta-worthy views of the Mediterranean before plunging into its refreshing waters.
The island is tiny, and somewhat uninhabited, except for its four residents – a policeman, a priest and a hotel that reside here.
The island is completely car-free, so the best way to explore it is by hiking its serene rugged terrain, thick with wild herbs and flowers.
The fortified city of Mdina, perched atop a hill, was once the former capital city of Malta. It dates back to 4,000 years and has a beautiful blend of honey-coloured buildings, a mix of Medieval and Baroque architectural styles.
It made the UNESCO tentative list for being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities. Today, only 250 people live within its city walls.
During the day, it is a treasure trove of museums, trendy cafes and churches. However, it is at night, that its true charm emerges. It’s been nicknamed the “Silent City”. Its mysterious streets, when dimly lit and empty, speaks volumes for all those that once resided here. One such person believed to have once lived here is St. Paul the Apostle. A large cathedral standing in the main square of the town gives tribute to him.
Very few cars are allowed to enter the city walls, and all those visiting here have strict noise regulations made evident by the number of signs all around. Silence is urged and promoted all over the city.
If you’re a Popeye fan, this is hands down a bucket-list thing to do in Malta. The little members of your family will just love Popeye the Sailor Man’s Village. It’s here that they will cross paths with the famously muscled, one-eyed spinach loving sailor and all of his friends.
Despite the original Popeye being filmed in the 1980s, his authentic wooden village, once serving as the film set, is still standing. Some 40 years later, it rests in Anchor Bay and has dubbed the name “Sweet Haven”. Today, it has been converted into an open-air museum for all the young at heart.
When you enter you will be greeted by Popeye, Olive Oyl, Wimpy and Captain Bluto, who will be your hosts, entertaining you throughout your visit. The most exciting part? You can take part in your own unique filming experience and watch it later on the big screen.
Once done, set off to explore each of the 19 rustic and ramshackle wooden buildings. Some of these have been equipped with various items related to the film, including props used in the film’s production. A lovely memorial is erected here to honour the late Robin Williams.
For a different view of the village, head to the small harbour to enjoy a 15-minute boat trip (weather permitting), that is included in your ticket price.
If you love fishing villages, then you will love Marsaxlokk. It is famous for its multitude of colourful fishing boats that line the harbour. These boats, called “luzzus” are believed to date back to the Phoenician times.
They are brightly painted in shades of yellow, blue, red and green, and each is painted with a pair of eyes – an ancient tradition believed to protect the owner from evil spirits.
If you find yourself visiting on a Sunday, head to the open-air market. You can marvel at the proud fishermen selling their fish of the day. Although a relatively small fishing town, all the fish sold throughout the island comes from here.
You can also appreciate the secluded and untainted swimming zones, specifically Peters Pool. Don’t let the mission getting there put you off, it’s well worth the effort. There is no public transportation heading in this direction. Instead, you can reach it on foot, taking a scenic stroll. The natural lido makes for a great swimming spot with flatbed rocks ideal for sunbathing,
Once you are done exploring the town’s beautiful offerings, head back to the waterfront to indulge in fine Maltese food at any of the restaurants that line it.
Each of the three islands that make up the Maltese archipelago (Malta, Gozo and Camino) invites you to discover an incredible underworld. Marine life flourishes here. A vibrant display of brightly coloured fish fills these clear warm waters. Visibility is excellent down to around 30 metres. Hailed as one of the best things to do in Malta, it comes as no surprise as to why Malta has been famed as one of the best dive sites in Europe.
The natural harbours, bays, sheltered creeks and labyrinthine caves give way to incredible reefs and wartime shipwrecks just waiting to be explored. And if you are a first-time diver, this is the perfect place to learn, since the chances of encountering dangerous fish here are very low.
Best Time to Visit
Malta is a true epitome of all Mediterranean climates, boasting 300 days of sunshine each year.
With average annual temperatures of around 23° Celcius during the day, and 16° Celcius at night, Malta is the perfect place to visit just about any time of the year. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are mild, with occasional short, cold spells and low rainfall.
Summer draws the most amount of tourists, possibly because the temperatures peak at around 30° Celcius.
If you prefer a less humid experience, head to Malta during spring (April, May and June). Not only is it less crowded, but some of the islands’ best cultural events take place during this time. The Medieval Mdina Festival and Valletta’s International Fireworks Festival are a few events you can expect. Others include the Isle of MTV and the fresh Strawberry Festival called Festa Frawli.
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Have you visited Malta before? Let us know what were some of your favourite things to do in Malta.
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