Places of interest
Valletta is Malta’s lilliputian capital, built by the Knights of St John on a peninsula that’s only 1km by 600m. Its founder decreed that it should be ‘a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen’, and it retains its 16th-century elegance. It may be small, but it’s packed full of sights; when Unesco named Valletta a World Heritage site, it described it as ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world’.
Malta’s cool crowd flocks here to eat, drink, shop and party, and if you’re looking for a base that mingles cosmopolitan sparkle with quiet backstreets, this is the perfect choice. Connected by a lovely seafront promenade, with shimmering Mediterranean views, this collection of districts merge into one another, and are packed with shops, restaurants and bars.
The mysterious golden-stone Arabic walled city of Mdina crowns a hilltop, and is a world apart from modern Malta. Its hidden lanes offer exquisite architectural detail and respite from the day-tripping crowds, who largely stick to the main street. Today, with its massive walls and peaceful, shady streets, it is often referred to as the Silent City, a nickname that becomes appropriate after dark.
This huge natural arch is in the sea cliffs 400m to the east of the seaside hamlet of Wied iż-Żurrieq. Thirty-minute boat trips also take in seven caves, including the Honeymoon Cave, Reflection Cave and Cat’s Cave. The best viewing time is before mid-morning when the sun is shining into the grotto.
The ancient fishing village of Marsaxlokk (marsa-shlock; from marsa sirocco, meaning ‘southeasterly harbour’) at the head of Marsaxlokk Bay resolutely remains a slice of real Maltese life, despite the encroachment of industry and the descent of hundreds of tourists every Sunday for its weekly fish and souvenir market.
For such a small island, Gozo offers a wide variety of experiences and attractions. Lovers of the traveling history should not miss the megalithic temples in Ġgantija, and the recently restored Il-Kastell fortress that rises over the compact capital of Gozo, Victoria, is one of the most beautiful places in Malta. While Malta can sometimes feel busy and crowded, Gozo offers the perfect opportunity to breathe and relax.
Comino (Kemmuna in Malti) is a small, barren chunk of limestone wedged smack-bang between Malta and Gozo. It was once reportedly the hideout of pirates and smugglers, and its remoteness saw it used as a place of isolation for cholera and plague victims in the early 19th century.