Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean, between Sicily and the Northern African coastline. Malta has seen its fair share of rulers throughout history, being ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Aghlabids, Arabs, Kingdom of Sicily, Swabians, Argonese, Spanish and the Order of St. John, just to name a few.
After being a British Protectorate for over a hundred years, Malta became an independent republic in 1974. Jon and I had a week booked on the island, where we could both explore and relax (the latter had Jon more excited:P).
We stayed in an area called Saint Julian’s, in the Le Méridien St. Julians Hotel & Spa. It was in a great location that had many restaurants, options for public transportation to see the country, and beautiful coastline.
Valletta is the capital city of Malta.
It is home to roughly 6,000 people and is fortified with defensive walls, due to the history of the islands being constantly invaded. To get there, we took a ferry from Silema (which has a larger population then the capital at around 20,000 inhabitants), and is a resort town on the other side of the bay, where you can get some great photos of the capital fortress.
An adult return ticket will cost you around €2.80, kids at €0.90 (2019) and only takes around ten minutes. We sat top side, as I wanted to enjoy the fresh sea breeze, look out at the surrounding bay, and take some photos.
Once you reach Valletta you have to walk up a steep incline into the city. During World War II there was a siege of Malta. 6.7 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the Valletta area by the axis powers, completely destroying large sections of the city.
Malta was awarded the George Cross for their stand against the axis powers siege for two years. As a consequence of rebuilding, a lot of the buildings are white, which is really bright in summer (Bring sunnies).
Valletta city gate has large protective structures for the city’s defence. Outside the gate is Triton fountain, which has bronze statues within it and white sculptures surrounding it.
Walking through the city we came by St. John’s Co-cathedral, which was constructed in 1578 and has a marble styling along with the usual paintings and sculptures.
There is so much on offer to see in this city, with small historical churches scattered throughout:
Greek Catholic Church Our Lady of Damascus
St Nicholas Church
Chapel of Bones
St Magdalenes Church
Chapel of Saint Anne
Church of St Anne
This is why the city is a UNESCO world heritage site. The main church that dominates the Valletta skyline is Madonna tap-Karmnu – Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Sadly, we couldn’t go in at the time. There are many places to eat across the city, with outdoor spaces for you to enjoy the sunshine and people watch. Maltese food is quite rustic and seasonal, and there are many seafood options on offer as well.
Other important places to visit in Valletta are the Lower and Upper Barrakka gardens. These beautiful gardens are lovely to walk through, with great views of the Grand Harbour and the breakwater.
In the afternoon they fire cannons and these gardens are a great spot to watch it. They are filled with locals and tourists alike, and are a great place to grab a seat and eat.
Nearby is the Siege Bell War memorial, which pays tribute to those lost in World War II.
Mdina is a small city in central Malta that used to be the capital during the medieval period. To get there you can catch the number 52 bus from outside Valletta, which costs around €2.00 in Summer and €1.50 in Winter (One way). This city is still within the old walls and has a population of only 300. The gate outside the city has a small bridge you can cross into the city. The design of the main gate is Baroque, and was designed in 1724.
The city was designed to allow people to go around its streets via horse and cart. Try not to get run over! The streets are narrow, and it really does have a medieval vibe.
Your first stop upon entering the city is the Vilhena Palace, which was built in 1728 and converted into the National Museum of Natural History in 1973.
As you snake your way through the small streets further into the small city, you will pass a handful of churches/monasteries and some fascinating and well kept architecture.
You eventually make your way to St Paul’s Cathedral. This cathedral has been around since the 12th century, however the original was damaged in an earthquake in 1693. It was then dismantled and rebuilt in the Baroque style. It really is an impressive structure, and for a fee you can wander around inside. I thought viewing it from the outside was more than enough.
Some of the other churches you can visit within Mdina are;
· St. Roque’s Chapel
· St Nicholas Chapel
· St Peters Church and Monetary
· Visitation Chapel
· St Peter in Chains
One of my favourite spots within Mdina was Bastion Square. The square is relatively empty, apart from the roaming tourists, but at the end of the square you can go up on a walkable ledge that looks out over the valley below Mdina.
You have views of all the green fields and small towns between Mdina and the Northern coastline.
Gozo is the second largest island in the Maltese archipelago and is known for its beaches, historical hiking treks, and scuba diving sites. We took the 222 bus from Saint Julians to Cirkewwa ferry port, which took roughly an hour as it goes around the entire northern coastline.
The ferry takes approximately 25 minutes and you can take your car across if you are renting one. It costs €4.65 each way, but this varies between seasons and is more with a vehicle. Once you arrive at the ferry terminal in Gozo you will be swamped by small tour operators and taxi drivers offering their services.
There is a bus network across the island, so we took one of those out to Azure Window on the west coast of the island. Azure Window (Dwejra Window) was a naturally formed limestone archway.
Unfortunately, back in 2017 a storm caused the arch to collapse into the sea (No more picture-perfect shots ☹). Due to this event, tourism has dropped to this portion of the island, but it still has something to offer. We decided to go climbing around the rocks and enjoy the views.
There is a church to see, Kappella Sant’ Anna, which would take you five minutes to see properly (if that). We missed the bus to our next stop, so we decided to have a small lunch in the Inland Sea Dive site. You can take boat rides out to sea and through the cave system to the inland sea dive site.
Our next in the largest town on the island, Victoria. We went by St George’s Basilica, which was built in the Baroque style and has some lovely coat of arms in front of it. The Basilica is said to be dated from the year 920.
Next stop was Gozo Cathedral, which was erected in the 18th century in place of an ancient Roman temple to Juno.
This cathedral is a great spot for some candid shots! In this area you can visit the old Prison, Gozo Museum of Archaeology and the cittadella walk, which has some lovely views of the area.
Next we ended up in a small town of Xaghra. We took a bit of a detour from the bus stop trying to reach Santa Verna. There wasn’t much to look at, but we did get some great views of the Gozo countryside and vineyards!
Ninu’s Cave is also something to see in the town of Xaghra, however not something we did this time around. Ta’Kola Windmill dates to the 1700’s and shows you how grain was made in the past, along with the living quarters for those that ran the mill.
We then decided to venture for 3km to make our way to Ramla Bay. This was an opportunity for us to lie on the beach and relax after our long day of walking.
One key thing everyone needs to know when heading back to the main island of Malta in the evening – hundreds of people will be doing the same and the queues to catch the bus will be very long, especially in peak season. Taxis go up in price as they know there is a demand, so be patient or head back at a time that is slightly later or earlier.
My time in Malta didn’t allow me to see everything on the to-do list (I’ll just have to go back in the future), but here are some of the major sights I would also recommend adding to your Malta itinerary:
St Paul’s Catacombs
Megalithic Temples – UNESCO Heritage Site
Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum – UNESCO Heritage Site
I know I’ll be heading back for a visit and I hope this has inspired you to venture out to Malta as well.