Whether you want to flop and drop on a Blue Flag beach, explore world-class dive sites, dine at Michelin-star restaurants or go back through time at a myriad of historical monuments, visit Malta – a must for your next European sojourn.
Best of all, getting around is easy; uncover insider tips on a guided tour, hop on the bus for a local experience or self-drive to the islands' farthest reaches. With major airlines, including Emirates, flying from Dubai directly into Malta International Airport, it couldn’t be easier to start or finish a European holiday on the island’s sandy shores. Centrally located in the middle of the Mediterranean, it’s also well connected to other European hotspots – the nation’s airline, Air Malta, flies direct to London, Rome, Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, Madrid and Zurich. Self-driving around Europe? Catch the 90-minute ferry to Sicily from Valletta, Malta’s capital.
With so much to see, do, eat and explore, there’s no better time to visit Malta. Find out where to start with our must-visit guide.
1. Discover: Historical sites that span millennia
Influenced by 7,000 years of history, Malta is the dream destination for history buffs. Overflowing with awe-inspiring sites, including Ġgantija Temples, the oldest free-standing temples in the world, this magical archipelago has hosted the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Spanish, the Knights of St. John, the French and most recently, the British Empire – all of which have influenced the islands’ architecture and culture today. Malta boasts three UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, including the glorious Cultural Capital City of Valletta, the jaw-dropping Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, and seven magnificent Megalithic Temples.
While waltzing down the streets of Malta’s capital, Valletta, don’t pass up on a chance to visit St John’s Co-Cathedral. It’s home to one of Caravaggio’s masterpieces – The Beheading of St John – painted by the famous Italian artist in approximately 1608 whilst he was living in Malta.
Outside of Valletta, walk in the same footsteps as Norman, Sicilian and Spanish nobility in Mdina, Malta’s ancient former capital city. With 4,000 years of history within its walls, it’s home to beautifully preserved examples of baroque and mediaeval architecture, as well as spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes from its hilltop position.
Take the short ferry from Malta’s north to Gozo to discover the Citadel, the ancient walled city that’s visible from every part of the island. Learn about the centuries of history down its cobblestoned lanes, dotted with well-preserved holy shrines, Norman-style windows and arches and the remnants of the Coat of Arms. Delve even deeper at any number of fascinating museums, including the state-of-the-art Cathedral Museum and Gran Castello Historic House (formerly known as the Folklore Museum).
2. Relax: Acclaimed beaches await
Golden sandy beaches, rocky shores and secluded coves – all lapped by crystal-clear waters – the Maltese Islands have a swimming spot for everyone. Combined with 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, this archipelago is an idyllic beach destination. Look out for the Blue Flag Beaches, revered for their pristine shores, and the iconic Blue Lagoon, a glistening swim spot that should be on everyone’s Malta bucket-list.
Splash around with little ones in the shallows of Mellieħa Bay, lined with restaurants and facilities for easy family days out, or experience something truly unique at Gozo’s Ramla l-Ħamra, an unspoilt paradise with iconic red sands. With just a few snack bars on its fringes, it’s an undisturbed corner of the island, perfect for peaceful afternoons by the sea.
3. Celebrate: Dance, eat and drink the night away
From wine bars tucked in Mdina’s fortified walls to St Julian’s string of pubs and clubs, Malta’s energy continues long into the night. After sunset, crack open a couple of Kinnies (popular Maltese soft drink) and watch the yachts bob in Valletta’s Grand Harbour, dine alfresco on a cobblestone street, or dance the early hours of the morning away with a few bottles of Cisk (Maltese lager) in hand – Paceville’s nightclubs are open until 4am.
Should you be staying in the hedonistic hotspot of St Julian’s, make your way to Spinola Bay to mingle with the locals at Kazin tal-Banda’ Pub and Bar over an ice-cold beer. Later in the evening, head back to the centre of St Julian’s to hop from bar to club and back again – most are within close proximity of each other.
For something a little more sophisticated, look to the historic five-star Phoenicia Hotel, home to the wonderful Club Bar. This timeless, 70-year-old watering hole recently received a facelift thanks to one of Malta’s finest designers, Luke Azzopardi, combining its colonial past with contemporary elegance to create a setting worthy of the cocktails that come from behind the bar. Find a spot on the terrace overlooking Valletta’s harbour to sip on concoctions like Tempest Storm (Campari, Cocchi Vermouth, soda, rosemary syrup and orange) and How High is the Moon? (Ketel One or Tanqueray, Cocchi Bianco, rose water, egg white, lemon peel and maraschino cherry).
If your version of a good night out means a delicious meal and a couple of casual drinks, head to Valletta’s popular Strait Street, a narrow pedestrianised street lined with trendy restaurants, bars and clubs.
4. Indulge: Savour traditional recipes and local produce
A marriage of recipes cultivated over the ages, traditional Maltese cuisine is both rustic and seasonal, offering an eclectic dining experience like nowhere else in Europe. Look out for lampuki pie (fish pie), rabbit stew, Bragioli (beef olives), kapunata, (Maltese version of ratatouille), and widow's soup, which includes a small round of gbejniet (sheep or goat's cheese). Venture to the Sunday morning Marsaxlokk fish market (seafood is in abundance here) or treat your sweet tooth to a kannolli (a tube of crispy, fried pastry filled with ricotta). Fancy washing it down with a tipple? Keep an eye out for Maltese vintages. The wine here holds its own, winning several accolades in France, Italy and further afield.
For a sophisticated take on traditional flavours, indulge at one of the five Michelin-starred restaurants in Malta. Sample balanced Maltese and Mediterranean flavours at Noni, or soak up sensational views as you make your way through the tasting menu at ION Harbour by Alex Dilling, both in Valletta.
Of course, no visit to the capital is complete without a stop at the iconic Caffe Cordina, an 1837, old-style café overlooking Valletta’s main square. Come for the coffee and stay to admire the fine art that adorns the walls, or stop by later in the day for a bite to eat, with delicious dishes to try across breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In historic Birgu, Malta’s maritime city, the beautiful Café Riche is a garden oasis at the very entrance to the town. With ample outdoor seating, it’s a fantastic spot to indulge in their signature all-day breakfast, best enjoyed with a brew from their extensive selection of teas.
5. Adventure: Discover world-class dive sites, windsurfing and walking trails
Rock climbing, kayaking, windsurfing and more – there is plenty of action-packed fun to be had in Malta. See the island’s coast from a different angle with a kayaking adventure that could see you paddle by Gozo’s gentle South Coast, explore the rocks of Gozo’s North, or admire the strange geology of Dwejra. The climate, terrain and scenery are especially ideal for walking or cycling and provide the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with Malta’s striking landscape and timeless Mediterranean life. For a truly local look, opt for a guided tuk-tuk tour that will reveal Gozo’s secret landmarks, discovering more about the island’s history and pristine coastline (not accessible by public transport or traditional hop on/off tours). Should you be visiting in the cooler Autumn and Winter months, explore the countryside via bicycle for an up-close-and-personal experience of the island.
The action isn’t just on land – underwater, an incredible array of marine marvels await. Consistently voted one of the best diving destinations in the world, Malta is a mecca for divers eager to explore the crystal-clear waters and impressive shipwrecks, all with amazing below-the-surface visibility. Advanced divers shouldn’t miss the Um El Faroud diving site, in Wied iż-Żurrieq, an artificial site made from a tanker that exploded in Malta’s docks in 1995.
6. Explore: Glide across to Gozo
Hop across Malta’sazure waters on a 20-minute ferry and discover an island as paradisiacal as it is historical; Gozo is the most idyllic destination of the Maltese Islands. With its quiet towns and pristine beaches, this little island is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing vacation for several days or even a week-long stay. Victoria, the quaint capital, is scattered with lovely old houses and interesting monuments, and hosts a number of cultural attractions throughout the year, including stagings of operas at the two Opera Houses.
If you’re seeking peace and solitude, the surrounding villages and hamlets will transport you back in time, offering a tranquil escape from big city life. The quaint square in the village of Qala offers a nice choice of restaurants, where you can try delicacies such as the Gozitan ftira, a flatbread pizza base filled with local ingredients and lined with sliced potatoes. On the other side of the island, Dwejra remains a must-see, with its impressive inland sea and sensational snorkelling opportunities. Short on time? Book a day trip with an expert guide.