Allen John Lira
Malta and the 17 Historic Things You Can Do
Malta is a remarkably historical European country right in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a minute archipelago chiefly composed of #Malta mainland, #Gozo island and the uninhabited #Comino island. The strategic geographical features and location of this small nation made it a hot target throughout history for colonization by Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Sicilians, Swabians, Aragonese, Romans, French, and British rulers. Numerous historic sites include underground burials, baroque churches, mysterious natural hideouts, megalithic temples, old watchtowers and fortresses that date back to as ancient as 4,000 BC. Not much known to many, it lies close to Sicily, Italy which itself has much bigger land size in comparison.
With sunshine showing up almost all year-round, Malta is a best-value holiday destination for travellers who would want to visit a well-preserved historical city conveniently close to enjoyable beaches with a lively nightlife, colourful festivals, and a wide array of sumptuous food.
HERE ARE 17 BEST ADVENTURE AND HISTORICAL THINGS TO DO WHEN EXPLORING THE MALTESE ISLANDS:
Swim in Blue Lagoon, Comino
Tourists flock to the island for the famed turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon sheltered safely between two islands in West Comino. The small bay has a shallow crystal-clear water, and it is even possible for you to swim or snorkel to the closest islet. A day trip to the island, usually promoted by tour operators together with Gozo island, is a hugely popular attraction for Malta visitors. Regardless of what season of the year you get there, I’d say that you shall never leave Malta without taking a trip to this island! Comino charms include a rocky landscape ideal for tourist walks, St. Mary’s watchtower, and few of the most dramatic vertical cliffs I’ve seen my whole life. To get there: a 20-minute ferry ride can be taken from the mainland via Cirkewwa port where you are berthed straight into the Blue Lagoon premises. Pre-booked boat excursion, sun block, umbrella, and a large bottle of water are a definite must-have for this barren island on summer season. Choose to go very early morning on a weekday to avoid busy crowd.
Click here to see more gorgeous photos of Comino island!
Take a cliff selfie in Popeye Village
In 1980, Walt Disney released a live-action film of the spinach-loving sailor “Popeye” starring Robin Williams. Producers created a bespoke village to accommodate the needs of the film. This bay section has been repurposed as a theme park since. Specially crowded during hot season, this is still open any other day of the year but I don’t recommend paying the entrance fee to get inside on low seasons. There is a viewing deck along the main road and it should suffice the visit.
Stopover at Marsaxklokk Village
As a small peaceful fishing village, you will see brightly-coloured Maltese fishing boats called “Luzzu” designed with Osiris’ eyes on the front bow as a way of looking back to their Phoenician predecessors that first landed in Malta in this exact area in 800 BC and believed as protection of the boats out in the sea. Enjoy a variety of fresh seafood dishes from the restaurants and shop goods from local marketers stacked along the harbour. My personal favourite is Frutti de Mare. Across Malta, you will find strong Italian influences in the cuisine. Predominant mix of Arab and Italian traditions remain to this day although the country has a long history of countless foreign domination.
Organize Game of Thrones tours in Valletta, Mdina and Gozo
Valletta serves as the new capital, cultural and touristic centre since it was transferred from Mdina by the Knights of Malta. Mdina, also a well-preserved postcard-perfect fortified city, lies inland compared to the seaside cities I mention in this blog. The beautiful Cathedral of Mdina was built on the site of the house of Malta’s first Bishop. You can see everything in the old capital in less than a day, hence you’d also want to tour Rabat or Ta’Qali in the vicinity which Game of Thrones also used as locations for the series.
See full Game of Thrones Malta Guide on a separate blog by clicking here. Also, see the hilarious photo re-enactment I did for the trip!
Take a dip in Golden Bay, Mellieha Bay, Rambla Bay, St. George’s Beach
Malta is blessed with sunshine all-year round and becomes very hot and dry during summer. What makes it enticing for travellers is the balance of Mediterranean climate and aquamarine waters. There are enough beach choices for everyone when visiting Malta, whether you’d like it secluded or packed with active tourists. Wherever you are in the island, there should always be a lovely bay close to you to enjoy gaining your suntan while devouring your beach barbeque. Few of the most popular amongst others are Golden Bay in the northwest, Mellieha Bay in the north (largest sandy beach), red sands of Ramla Bay in Gozo, and the St. George’s party beach in Paceville area. The more populated beaches offer fun water activities such as snorkelling, kitesurfing, jetski hire, banana boat ride, canoeing, parasailing, etc.
Hear mass in one of over 365 churches
Roman Catholicism is the most widely practiced religion by more than 90% of the population in Malta since St. Paul’s arrival in 60 AD. Maltese people are among the world’s oldest Christians. Hence, numerous church domes and chapels spawn across the Maltese skyline imposing over the picturesque honey-coloured buildings. Having over 365 churches in this island country means that almost always there is a festa celebrated for the parish saints. You get to visit one church for everyday of the year, so to say! Most notable ones are the Our Lady of Graces in Zabbar, Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in St. Julian’s, Church of St. Joseph in Msida, Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady in Mosta, and St. Publius Church in Floriana.
Explore historic Gozo Island
This attractive Malta’s sister island is charmed with myth being believed as the iconic home of Calypso the nymph as depicted in Homer’s Odyssey. In the story, Odysseus has been enchantedly held captive for seven years by Calypso’s seduction in the island of Ogygia (suspected as Gozo) until the Gods of Olympus intervened for his eventual release. While in the island, you can actually visit the legendary cave of Calypso next to Ramala Bay. It offers a pretty panoramic view of the coast apart from its mythical significance.
Click here to see photos of my visit to Ios island in Greece - where Homer died and was buried.
Another popular mystery surrounding the island is the possibility of it being the fabled sunken city of Atlantis. Now, tell me it isn’t super interesting to be able to visit!
Few more fascinating spots to discover are the capital citadel of Rabat, archeological Ggantija temples, Dwerja Bay where Azure window used to stand, Xewkija Rotunda, Ta’Cenc cliffs, Our Lady of Ta’ Pinu Church, Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes, and Church of St. John the Baptist.
Hear the waves crashing on St. Peter’s pool
The coastlines of Malta nestle some of the steepest and most captivating cliffs, natural pools, caves, and bays. Close to Marsaxklokk harbour, there is a tranquil natural rocky pool cut out from the sea – the St. Peter’s pool. Its waves can get rough when the strong winds push it back to shore and you literally hear the banging when it makes contact that it’s almost tactile.
Get on a Boat Cruise Party
Booze, baes, bikinis! What else can get more enticing than that?! You’ll see a lot of boat/island hopping tours, others including parties, are rampantly advertised in the streets of #Sliema. Compare party cruise packages online by yourself and don’t just rely on suggestions by your receptionist as sometimes they’d refer you only to companies where they gain commission. You are given options to depart from different ports in Malta mainland depending on where you stay for accommodation. Best ones I suggest you avail are either the ones that spend most time in Blue Lagoon (sunset is better), provide lunch, bring you with free transport to club zones for after-parties, include open bar or have inflatables. Most popular companies: Supreme, Luzzu, and Captain Morgan.
Join the Malta Carnival craze
First started by Maltese knights in 1535, even the #carnival in this country unbelievably date back to really old times. Colourful neon floats, loud street parties, grotesque masks and extravagant festival costumes take over the streets of major cities in Malta during the last week of February or first week of March. Main events are hosted in Valletta’s freedom square. To be honest, I didn’t know nor intend to be there on the carnival week but by some luck I got to experience how a Mediterranean carnival was like. Check out amazing photos of this carnival. You’ll see how beautifully colourful and intricate it is. The amount of effort in preparation is obvious. Definitely, one of the best I’ve seen.
Party in Paceville
Malta is very well known for clubbing and nightlife especially to its young visitors and I have noticed, more especially to visitors coming from north Europe. The most famous nightlife district where late-night clubs, discos, casinos and bars are largely found is #Paceville in St. Julian’s. Top clubs: Havana 808, Footloose, Nordic, and Native.
In general, Malta isn’t only frequented for its lively nightlife or historical value but also for its good level of English literacy. Foreign people come to study English and Paceville has a high concentration of English schools. So most of the loyal club-goers are English students spending few months in Malta. This also contributes to the growth of hostels and party-hostels alike. School, history and party in one small island – I don’t know what else to pitch about it.
Contemplate in the Blue Grotto, Qrendi
Blue Grotto is a stunning giant arch formation with equally striking blue waters in the background. No filters needed! Some tourists spend time in the viewpoint where you can get the nicest view, while some spend about 8 euros to get on a boat (option available during spring/summer) and enter the arch and its inner caves. It is also an excellent diving and snorkelling site. The more popular comparison is Capri’s Grotta Azzura (Blue Grotto).
Wander around Valletta and the Three Cities
The historic medieval fortified towns of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Copiscua are collectively more known as the Three Cities while Valletta, the capital and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a magnificent city fortress born from the Knights of the Order of St. John. Real “Grand Masters” of the past have walked the narrow cobbled alleys of this small Baroque-styled city.
In Valletta, getting lost in the maze of coloured doors while finding your way to the Upper and Lower Barraka Gardens is the best way to see the city. As much as it’s considered an open air museum, the combination of these four cities also seems like a perfect location for any bigtime Hollywood movie – a free travel back in time. Regular buses and scenic water taxis can get you to these cities. While the country is greatly touristy, one thing very noticeable for me is the number of Filipino bus drivers and Filipinos in general residing in this country. I am left to wonder with how they ended up here while most Filipinos back in the Pacific archipelago would actually not even heard of Malta. Another note worth taking, Lira has been Malta’s currency before they acquired EU membership. Ehem.
If time is a challenge in visiting all Three Cities, I would recommend you to focus more in exploring Vittoriosa (old name: Birgu) as it has the most history and sights to see, being used as the capital by the Knights when they landed in 1530. To fully appreciate the significance of the forts and bastions, read through a bit of The Great Siege of Malta to assimilate the rich story behind these old stronghold towns. Use this chance to flex some history-buff muscles to your friends when retelling it to them.
Enjoy sunset in the Grand Harbour
Cruise ships and expensive yachts anchored beside massive old-age fortifications in the deep, natural harbour of Valletta waterfront would make quite a view for photos. And the golden sunset is just the icing on the cake. The Grand Harbour in Malta is one of the most gorgeous in the world. Have a late afternoon walk with your camera. No itinerary. Just spontaneous walks into the narrow streets. The tranquil feeling is incredible as the sea breeze blows past your face while you gaze on the cinematic views of Fort Ricasoli, Fort St. Angelo and the Three Cities. The harbour is now more quiet since the departure of the British military in the area. Malta gained independence from Britain and its vast military presence in 1964.
Visit St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat
Paul the Apostle has brought Christianity to the Maltese islands in around 60 AD when he got shipwrecked by a strong storm. Supposedly Rome-bound for a trial as a political rebel, instead he has God-willingly converted new followers of Christianity after they offered him refuge in a cave now called St. Paul’s Grotto.
Pay homage to the ancient Megalithic Temples
The Megalithic Temples of Malta are amazingly well-preserved with high level of authenticity considering they have been pre-historically made around 4,000 and 3,000 BC. These are the oldest free-standing stone-buildings in the world known to man, even pre-dating England’s Stonehenge and Egypt’s pyramids. Seven megalithic temples can be found in Malta and Gozo: (1) Hagar Qin, (2) Mnajdra, (3) Tarxien, (4-5) two adjacent Ggantija temples (Gozo) – Copper Age temples, (6) Ta’Hagrat and (7) Skorba.
I would also recommend to visit Haf Saflieni Hypogeum (prebooking for entry needed) – a beautifully restored subterranean necropolis dating around 3,600-3,000 BC – and learn more about these rocks in the National Archeology Museum in Valletta.
Count the Red British Telephone Boxes you see
Malta was under the Great British Empire for 150 years and is still part of British Commonwealth member countries. Most obvious evidences are the iconic British red telephone booths scattered around the city. Every major Maltese town has at least one! If you happen to visit Bermuda and Gibraltar which are also ex-British territories, I have heard that you’d see them there too.
When is the best time to visit: Spring/Summer or Malta carnival season
Where to stay: St. Jilian’s (close to Paceville party zone) or Sliema (halfway between St. Jilian’s and Valleta the capital). I don’t recommend people to stay within Valletta as there isn’t ample accommodation choices and places to eat especially after sundown. ➳
#VisitMalta #VisitMdina #VisitRabat #VisitMellieha #VisitGozo #VisitComino #VisitVittoriosa #VisitBirgu #VisitSenglea #VisitCospicua #VisitValletta