I’d heard lots of things about Malta, not all of which were positive, before we decided to make it our winter escape in February 2016. Some family friends had raved about it, making the beautiful Mediterranean island their yearly holiday destination of choice. Others had a far less pleasant things to say about Europe’s 5th smallest country, describing it as overcrowded, over-urbanized and rather dull. Never willing to let someone else decided my mind for me, I convinced MP it would make a decent week away and booked a February trip to escape the chilly UK weather.
Return flights set us back about £55 each, but it was the cost of the accommodation that blew me away. Due to it being off-season, we managed to set ourselves up in a 4 star hotel for £11 a night. Unbelievable. Initially we had only planned to stay in our Sliema hotel for 3 nights, before travelling around for the following 4. However, once we realized just how quick and easy it is to navigate the island, we extended our stay in the 4 star bargain for all 7 nights. It helped that there was an incredible couple of restaurants in the immediate vicinity to the hotel – including the best desert pizza I’ve ever had. Anyway, moving on…
I’m going to give you a quick rundown of my top 5 places to see in Malta. While I might elaborate on a couple of these places in future posts, for now I’ll keep these pretty brief.
You Bloody Tourist’s Top 5 Places in Malta!
1. Valletta – Malta’s historic capital
Malta’s beautiful capital is not only a World Heritage Site, but is basically a massive open-air museum. Full of museums, monuments and Baroque architecture, it is one of Malta’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s main features include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, imposing bastions and beautiful gardens. You can easily spend a couple of days walking around, drinking wine and even head down to the Grand Harbour to catch a boat to the Three Cities: Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea.
2. Marsaxlokk – Beautiful boats abound
This beautiful traditional fishing village is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time. Walking along the front of the harbour lets you admire and photograph all the traditional fishing boats which fill the water. Because of the villages fishing tradition this is also an excellent place to grab some dinner.
3. Malta’s temples – Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, Tarxien & Ġgantija!
There are several prehistorical temples in Malta, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They were built between 3600 BC and 700 BC and are dotted across both the island’s of Malta and Gozo. They were once claimed to the be the oldest free-standing structures on Earth and while that isn’t true, these are still impressive places to visit. Throughout our time on Malta we visited the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, the Tarxien temples & the Ġgantija temples.
Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni: An underground complex dating back to over 3000 BC. While it started as a sanctuary, it became a necropolis which contained the remains of over 7,000 individuals. It is the only known prehistoric underground temple in the world. It was discovered in 1902 when workers were cutting cisterns for new houses built above it. Only 80 people are allowed in per day, so make sure you book tickets ahead of time to visit.
Tarxien: A weird place to visit – especially since it is surrounded on all sides by modern buildings. It’s still well worth a visit though. It consists of three separate temples, dating back between 3600 and 2500 BC. My favourite feature of this site is the intricate stonework, often depicting domestic animals and designs carved into the rock.
Ġgantija: This megalithic temple is located on the island of Gozo. It is the earliest of the temples in Malta, older than the pyramids of Egypt and the second oldest man-made religious structure in the world. Fascinatingly, according to folklore, a giantess who ate nothing but broad beans and honey bore a child from a man of the common people. She then went on to build these temples with the child hanging over her shoulder, as a ceremonial site for fertility rituals.
4. The Coastline – Blue Grotto (Il-Hnejja).
Okay. I have a confession. We didn’t actually take the boat into Malta’s famous grotto because the sea was far too rough and the boats weren’t running. But, while I’d definitely make the effort to return to Il-Hnejja if I returned to Malta, I was not at all dissapointed by the beautiful coastline, stunning sunset and ferocious waves that greeted us on the south-east coastline. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
5. Gozo – Explore the Isle of Calypso.
Gozo is the perfect way to spend a day (or longer if you’ve got the time). It’s only a short ferry ride across from Malta and while even smaller than the island of Malta itself, it definitely packs a punch with the amount there is to see and do on the island. I’m not usually a fan of hop-on hop-off bus tours, but this is a fantastic way to see the Island and the only real way to do it short of hiring a cab or bringing your own car. A very sleepy little Island in winter, there is too much to say and too many pictures to show you for this post – I’ll get around to writing something on Gozo soon. For now, here’s one of the islands highlights; the beautiful Azure Window.
Before I came to Malta, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know much about the country, apart from a couple of historical tidbits and that it was considered a top summer holiday destination. While I knew that the beaches would be off limits during the winter months, I was unaware of how much else the country had to offer to visitors. What I found was an incredibly pleasant surprise.
Malta, while very small, is an island of infinite variety, fascinating history, beautiful landscapes and delicious cuisine. While you’ve got the bustle and interesting architecture of Valletta on one hand, you’ve got the tiny fishing villages, rugged coastline and secluded coves on the other. I haven’t even mentioned the medieval ex-capital city of Mdina (“The Silent City”) in this blog, yet some people argue that’s Malta’s best destination. How about all the beaches that have consistently ranked as some of Europe’s best? Or the smaller, yet supposedly tranquil car-free island of Comino? What I’m trying to say is – Malta has it all.