The Maltese archipelago is located a few hours of navigation or flight from many major European ports and airports. Specifically, getting to La Valletta from Naples takes just over an hour. My sister was there many years ago for a vacation, and came back telling me about this beautiful island… invaded by hordes of youngsters, especially in the Summer, because many of them come here to attend English courses. If I have to be completely honest, I felt pretty discouraged: even if it was a fantastic place, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea that I’d find myself in some kind of Summer campus. Invited this year at the Isle of MTV, I have had to change my mind and I decided to write this article to tell you all the things to do in Malta and the islands of the Maltese archipelago.
Things to do in Malta: Valletta
Valletta is the capital of Malta and one of the three UNESCO World Heritage sites on the island, along with the Hal Saflieni hypogeum and the megalithic temples. Founded by the Knights of St. John in 1566, it is a late-Renaissance city located within walls strong enough to withstand any external threat. If it is possible to assert without doubt that the Maltese archipelago has been shaped by the Christian religion, this is even more evident in Valletta. In this city suspended between tradition and modernity, in fact, there are at least twenty Churches, all open and active. Religion is an integral part of Maltese life. You’ll find out if, like us, you’ll stop in these islands during a “festi”, religious celebrations that involve the whole city (not just Valletta, but also the smallest villages!) and that are especially felt by every Maltese. At festivals, every alley and street is embellished with colorful lights and drapes, because it has to be colorful both day and night. The sacred statues are brought to the procession, followed by the locals and often by crowds of curious tourists.
If you like art and history you are definitely in the right place. Valletta hosts two paintings by Caravaggio in the Conclave Cathedral of St. John, the home of the Knights of Malta. It is also possible to visit the Palace of the Grand Master, the current house of the Parliament, the Museum of Fine Arts and the National War Museum, with exhibitions and exhibitions related to the military history of the Country. There are many things to do in Malta, but I really loved to wander at sunset in the Lower Gardens of Barraka, to enjoy spectacular views of the Grand Harbor, embellished by warm colors that made it even more beautiful. Siblings of the Upper Barraque Gardens, the Lower Gardens surprised me with a neo-classical temple inside, dedicated to Alessandro Ball, Captain of the British fleet, really loved by the locals. These gardens full of flowers and trees are also perfect to enjoy some peace with a cool drink on the hot Summer days, mark them up on the map!
Overlooking the Lower Barraka Gardens, you will find the Siege Bell, a memorial that honors the over 7,000 Maltese victims of World War II. This imposing bronze bell overlooking the harbor, right next to the lighthouse, was inaugurated on May 29, 1992, the fiftieth anniversary of the conferment to Malta of the George Cross by Queen Elizabeth and Malta’s President Censu Tabone. It sounds in honor of the fallen every day at noon. It is possible to climb the staircase that leads to the small circular temple, to enjoy unprecedented views of the Grand Harbor of Valletta and Fort Saint Elmo, and take photos of the great bronze sculpture that symbolizes the burial in the sea of The Unknown Soldier. Make sure you add it to your list of things to see in Malta!
In the evening Valletta can be quite crowded, but especially in Summer it comes to life with live concerts, free Jazz sessions in small pubs like The Bridge Bar, or cultural events. We especially liked a delicious pub called StrEat Whiskey & Bistro, located in a narrow Valletta street full of tables. Going inside what looks like a stone-walled cellar, you will be greeted by friendly staff and a delicious scent of food. The walls are decorated with really beautiful modern paintings, which make the atmosphere almost surreal and very elegant, but prices are still low. A blackboard illustrates the dishes of the day and those of the month: the servings are particularly large!
Things to do in Malta: Mdina
Just 13 km away from Valletta, easily reachable by bus, you will find Mdina, the City of Silence, perched on the top of a hill. If the main gate of the city looks familiar… then you’re you a fan of Game of Thrones just like us: here they filmed many key scenes from the first series of the show! Mdina is the ancient capital of Malta, whose narrow streets and monuments will tell you stories and curiosities. A real open-air museum in which you get easily lost (and you won’t be too sad about it), far from the crowds of Valletta.
If you have brought a drone to shoot from above, don’t use it in Mdina! Because of some accidents in the past, which have damaged some monuments, it is absolutely forbidden to use these devices! Be respectful!
Things to do in Malta: Gozo
Maltese are extremely friendly people, always smiling and particularly proud of the beauties of their own territory. In Gozo, above all, people are always ready to tell you anecdotes, let you taste some typical dishe or take a picture for you when they think you need help. Unfortunately me and the selfie stick don’t particularly like each other, maybe I’m getting old… so when I can, I prefer to ask someone to take a picture of us: in Gozo it was the locals who just offered to take a picture!
You can pay ferry to Gozo only on the return trip. Once you tet to Cirkewwa Harbor or Sa Maison Harbor, you just have to go to the embarkation without worrying about the ticket. In about half an hour you will arrive in Mgarr, on the island of Gozo. Before returning to Malta you will pay a tourist ticket for € 4.65.
If the crowd isn’t too much, I suggest you to stay at the top of the ferry: you will see the beautiful island approaching slowly: it’s much smaller than Malta. A legend narrates that the temptress nymph Calipso lured Ulysses to this green and unspoiled island, holding him prisoner for seven years. That’s why often Gozo is called “the island of Calipso“.
Things to do in Malta: The Citadel
Having departed early in the morning from Malta, we were lucky enough to find Gozo almost empty. Maybe everyone was already off to the beach, who knows!
We took advantage of the strange quiet to head straight to the Citadel overlooking Rabat, also called “Kastell“. Before you take the free lift that will take you to the cathedral, stop to watch the short 3d movie that tells the story of the Citadel through the eyes of a soldier who really lived there. He didn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself to try to save his fellow citizens during one of the sieges of the Turks in 1551 … only after killing his family to avoid that they had to live as slaves. When the Citadel was assaulted, in fact, the whole population, except for some elderly and disabled, was chained and reduced to slavery. Today it is still possible, if you visit with an expert guide (ours was Joseph Micallef, born and raised in Gozo) to visit the streets of the Citadel in the places described by the short video. I thought it was a 3d like the ones we are used to, here, so with glasses and “special effects“, in stead the staff lead us into a small square-sized stone room. The experience is immersive, even without wearing special glasses. Images are projected on all four walls, and the dolby surround gives the impression of being next to the soldier, running around the alleyways of the Citadel. The film lasts about fifteen minutes and is free. It is definitely a good idea to add it to our list of things to do in Malta.
The lift leaves you in front of the doors of the ancient Citadel. Within walking distance of the wonderful Cathedral, which rises where once there was the temple of the Goddess Juno. Outside there are two bronze cannons dating back to the 17th century and a large staircase that often offers some shade to thirsty tourists: Gozo, like Malta, can be particularly hot in Summer!
Walking along the city walls, amongst the wonderful streets that give the impression of being in an Arab country, you can easily reach the staircase leading to fortified ramparts. From here you will have a breathtaking 360° view of the hills and valleys of Gozo, down to the sea. In the Summer, as the heat can be extreme and it doesn’t rain much, the landscape will be quite desolate, but still the view is still remarkable.
Near the Citadel you will also find many museums, including an ancient prison and a World War II refuge.
Things to do in Malta: Ramla Bay
One of the most famous areas of Gozo is the wonderful Ramla Bay. Characterized by the soft sand of a beautiful color between red and golden, it is located at the bottom of a valley in the North of the island of Gozo. You can get here by bus from Nadur, and it can be quite crowded, but in this case, I must say I found it much less chaotic than Waikiki Beach, for example!
Guests have access to bathrooms and showers. Before entering the beach you will also find some small kiosks that sell drinks and snacks, if you decide to stay longer. Just as for the area in front of the Blue Hole, I was particularly surprised by the fact that water, soft drinks and slushes have “regular” prices. Unlike many other places where the shop keepers exploit on tourism, especially in high season, here you can still pay € 2 for a slush and € 1.50 for a bottle of fresh water or a drink. Chapeau!
From the area around the bay the views are magnificent: on the West side of the beach you can take pictures of the wonderful Calipso cave. There is a sand path surrounded by hills that will take you there. According to the legend I mentioned before, it’s here that the nymph kept Ulysses prisoner!
Things to do in Malta: Blue Hole and Azure Window
In this list of things to see in Malta you can’t skip the Blue Hole. It is a natural rock formation, excavated over the centuries by the wind and the waves. From above you will only see what looks like a magnificent natural pool with rocks that protect people from the strong currents of this area. Diving enthusiasts come here because the beauty of the Blue Hole manifests itself in all its magnificence only from 8-9 meters underwater. In fact, this site includes a huge stone arch with a flat top, covered with coral and fishes. Experts will also be able to explore a large cave at the bottom of the Blue Hole, to the left of the entry point, or go down to about 16 feet deep.
The fishes that are most live along this part of the coral reef are bogues, gourds, bridesmaid fishes, curls or dentates.
Even this area might be familiar to you if you follow The Game of Thrones: well, here there was the magnificent Azure Window background of the wedding between Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen in the first season of the show. This magnificent natural arch, well-known throughout the world, unfortunately collapsed under a violent storm with winds up to 50 knots in March 2017.
To this day everything that you can see here is a magnificent cliff and the base of the arch underwater. Over the years, the latter will also be covered by the coral reef, becoming invisible from above. The collapsed arch, however, has blocked some of the passages used by divers for longer routes.
Although it is possible to venture on the cliffs at the back of the little church in this area, to take scenographic photographs of the Blue Hole and of the Azure Window, it is necessary to respect this still fragile ecosystem. The authorities are still trying to figure out how damaged the cliff is, so it’s not a good idea to cross the security barriers to climb higher: remember that a beautiful Instagram photo isn’t worth your life!
Things to do in Malta: Blue Lagoon and Crystal Lagoon
Among the things to do in Malta you have to find some time for a visit to the Blue Lagoon of the Mediterranean, on the shores of the tiny island of Comino. The name comes from the cumin, a spice that grew on the island. Today, only an elderly couple still live on this island, almost completely wild. There is only one hotel but there are no cars, and if you exclude the high season, it is almost completely deserted.
Rather than sleeping in Comino, or reaching this island it by taking a bus and a ferry, I suggest you to enjoy this magnificent area by boat. For example, the Nautica company rent yachts of various sizes to groups of tourists, departing from the port of Valletta. There are also many galleons who make the same trip, but if you travel with friends, ask for a quote for a private yacht, sharing the expenses with the group. Galleons for organized tours are often very loud and crowded. You would therefore risk not to enjoy the quiet of these coves!
Starting in the morning from Valletta, you can reach the coast of Comino in about one hour and forty minutes of sailing. If you rent a yacht you will also have a small fridge in which you can keep your lunch, a table for eating outdoors, but also kitchen, bathroom, shower and bedrooms. In our case, we brought with us a fresh Caesar salad for lunch and we found out, thanks to our guide, Trudi Grech, that in the Blue Lagoon there are “boating ice-cream vendors“. In fact you will see colorful freighters with large freezers who get close to the other boats and later reach the coast to sell ice cream to the tourists: with that heat it was more than welcome! How come nobody thought of organizing such a thing also in Capri and Ischia?
However, if you rent a yacht, ask the Captain for a stop at the Crystal Lagoon. This little known, less crowded cove near the Blue Lagoon is located just beyond the Tower of Santa Maria. The clear water is quite salty (you can take a shower on your yacht!) But it’s a beautiful, natural swimming pool. Many jump in from the high cliffs, and even here lots of divers get underwater to see the magnificent coral reef. If you go for a swim, however, make sure there are no poisonous jellyfishes: we saw some!
The Blue Lagoon, a few minutes away from its twin, is far more crowded and its the main attraction of Comino. Even in this case, renting a yacht proved to be providential: the white sandy beaches are packed all Summer long, with a remarkably high number of tourists in August. So you have to fight even just to lay down your towel, and even if you make it, it can be pretty unpleasant. From a yacht you can just jump into the turquoise waters, relax and enjoy a good ice cream away from the crowds. Or you might want to use an inflatable boat to get to the coast (be careful not to go beyond the delimitation line beyond which no boat is allowed) and explore the cliffs that offer breathtaking views of the lagoon.
Things to do in Malta: Isle of MTV
In this list of things to do in Malta I wanted to include a small Summer bonus.
Every summer from 2007 at Floriana, near La Valletta, there is a free festival organized by MTV, “Isle of MTV“. The mega concert, aired also on MTV Italia, easily reaches 50,000 viewers. With artists such as Nelly Furtado, Snoop Dogg, David Guietta or Will.i.am it’s one of the most anticipated events of the Summer. This is one of the largest music festivals in Europe and it’s generally held in June or July. The artists begin to alternate on stage from 6 pm, because the concert ends at about midnight. There are no age limits and throughout the day the Malta Transport Organization offers special shuttle buses, of course crowded, but still very useful to be able to participate to this event, as the stops are all located near the entrances.
Safety checks are capillary, so avoid carrying selfie sticks or liquids, as they will be kept at the entrance!
So, did I lure you to book your flight with this lits of things to do in Malta? What are you waiting for?
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