Malta, Gozo and Comino are the three main islands that make up the Malta archipelago situated in the Mediterranean Sea. These stunning islands make for a fantastic travel destination, especially in the summer months when the sun shines endlessly and the water sparkles with radiance.
While many travelers head to the Greek Islands or Spain for their European summer getaway, Malta offers many of the same attractions (like beautiful beaches) but with an added flair around its history, culture and food. The diversity of attractions here is outstanding and visitors will never have a dull day – whether you vacation for a week or hangout for the entire summer.
We have put together the ultimate Malta travel guide covering everything you need to know about holidaying in this paradise. Read on to learn about the geography of the islands, the fascinating history and culture, best things to do, which tours to book, what the food is like, where to stay and more. By the end of the article, we hope you will be booking your trip.
A Geographical Gem of the Mediterranean
Malta’s main advantage is its Mediterranean location: less than 100km south of Sicily and less than 400km north of Africa. Technically there are five islands that make up the archipelago but only three are inhabited. Comino is home to just a handful of residents, so in reality there are only two inhabited islands. In total, there are half a million people living in Malta.
The geography of the islands is characterized by rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, rocky coves, limestone cliffs and flat land. There are no mountains, lakes or rivers in Malta – however Gozo is more green and hilly. Life under the water is just as impressive as the landscapes above, with hidden sea caves and shipwrecks to discover for all the snorkelers and divers out there.
Valletta is the capital city, founded over four centuries ago, on a craggy peninsula between two natural harbors. Boats come and go and life in this small capital city is very charming. The important historical sites of Valletta earned the city a listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Center in 1980.
Crossroads Between Europe and Africa
Traveling to Malta transports you to the crossroads of continents, where Europe and Africa meet. The culture is a melting-pot of different influences such as Italian, English and North African. This unique blend can be seen in everything from the language and customs, to the food and architecture.
Like all of Europe, Malta’s history dates back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations like the Romans and Byzantines all left their mark. Christianity was brought to Malta in 60 A.D. by St. Paul after he got shipwrecked there on his way to Rome. Then the Arabs conquered the islands in the year 870 A.D. and transformed many aspects of the Maltese language.
More recently, Malta became part of Sicily and then was ruled by various knights. Fast forward to the late 18th century and Napoleon tried to take over but failed dramatically a few years later when he was stopped by the English. The British Empire ruled up until 1964 when Malta finally, after a long and colorful history, won its independence and became a republic.
Top 10 Things To Do in Malta
- Get Lost in the Alleys of Valletta: Europe’s smallest capital, Valletta, makes it the perfect place to follow your nose and go exploring without a map. Head down the narrow streets and alleys, stop at picturesque churches, pop inside the museums and walk around the fortifications.
- Wander around Mdina (the Silent City): Perched on one of the highest hills of Malta is a city with these incredible fortified walls and amazing ancient buildings that have been extremely well preserved. As you wander around the gorgeous Silent City, the sense of history is palpable.
- Take a Day Trip out to Gozo: Malta’s sister island is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean. The towns of Gozo are also wonderful. It’s easy to spend a day here exploring Cittadella, beach hopping, snorkeling and watching the sunset at the Sanap Cliffs.
- Charter a Boat for the Blue Lagoon: Paradise is waiting for you at the famous Blue Lagoon of Comino with its pristine white sand and turquoise waters. The lagoon is nestled in a small channel between Comino and Cominotto, and is definitely best experienced on a private charter.
- Go Beach Hopping around Malta: The sandy beaches and perfectly clean waters surrounding the Maltese archipelago make for the ultimate beach hopping experience. Some of the island’s best beaches include: Ghajn Tuffieha, St. Peter’s Pool, Golden Bay and Mellieha Bay, among others.
- Learn the History of Three Cities: Vittoriosa, Invicta and Cospicua make up “Three Cities”. Located right across the way from Valletta’s Grand Harbor, these small towns collectively boast some of the most fascinating history of Malta. This is a wonderful place to dive into Maltese culture.
- Swim at the Blue Grotto Sea Caves: The Blue Grotto is situated on the southeastern coast of Malta and makes for a fun afternoon adventure. On sunny days the reflection from the sun lights up the caves in these fluorescent blue colors – a magical setting for underwater photos.
- Explore the Island by Foot: Going for long walks and hikes in Malta is a great way to get in touch with nature while doing some exercise at the same time. There are many craggy shorelines, limestone cliffs and secret caves to locate within a 316 km² area (total size of the islands).
- Visit the Popeye Village Film Set: One of the more touristy attractions of Malta but it’s still a guilty pleasure. The village was initially built for the 1980 film Popeye starring Robin Williams. Once the film was finished the filmmakers and local authorities decided to keep everything intact.
- See the Churches and Catacombs of Rabat: Another incredible little fortified city that you should check out on your trip to Malta is Rabat. You can easily visit Rabat and Mdina on the same excursion as they are located close together. The highlight is St. Paul’s Church and Grotto.
Best Tours to Book in Malta
Malta’s Hidden Gems Tour
While the experiences mentioned above give you a taste of Malta’s main highlights, sometimes the best travel moments come from unexpected hidden gems. This is where My Dream Malta comes into play with their incredible Hidden Gems Tour – a full day tour that will take you off the beaten path to some secret destinations that only locals know about.
Walking Tours in Valletta and/or Mdina
Both of these cities are beautiful in their own right and there is no better way to explore them than on a walking tour. Having a tour guide lead you down hidden alleyways to the palaces, monuments and cathedrals of historical significance will mean you get a richer experience than if you just ventured out on your own. Many tales will be told of these incredible places.
Gozo in a Day Tour
If you are short on time but want to tick Gozo off your bucket list, the Gozo in a Day Tour by My Dream Malta is the best experience bar none. All of the highlights will be covered plus a few hidden gems. What’s better – the tour will be done in a jeep which provides the ultimate in comfort and maneuverability. Citadels, temples and bays are just the beginning.
Beach Hopping, Snorkeling and Sunset Tour
Despite its small size, Malta has a lot to offer when it comes to beaches and snorkeling spots. Sometimes the best way to explore a long list of beaches is to jump on a beach hopping tour and get a taste of them all. Several rocky, sandy beaches will be on the itinerary for this tour including Ghajn Tuffieha, St. Peter’s Pool, Paradise Bay, Anchor Bay and Ghar Lapsi.
Tastes & Sites Tour of Malta
Foodies will fall in love with the Tastes & Sites Tour as it mixes walking, history and Malta’s cuisine. Indulge in local specialties at each unique stop – Rabat, Mdina and Mosta – and sip on wine along the journey as you ponder the history lessons you have just learned. One thing is for certain on this tour: your personal tour guide will ensure that you don’t go hungry.
The Mdina & Rabat Ghost Tour
Ghost stories abound in Mdina. There are a few hidden and mysterious places in these cities that you will love to learn about. Some spots are so secretive that you will need a torch to discover them. Included in the tour is a selection of Maltese delicacies. The Mdina and Rabat Ghost Tour is an ideal option for travelers who want to visit these places in one go.
Why Book with My Dream Malta?
My Dream Malta (website here) is a 5-star rated company (both on Google and Tripadvisor) that offers a variety of tours around the Maltese islands. By booking one of their pre-planned or tailor-made tours, you can tap into their extensive local knowledge and travel deeper into the culture of Malta. This is a great way to “live like a local” rather than being a standard tourist.
Their guides have years of experience traveling around Malta – which means they know the islands like the back of their hands. If you book your entire stay with My Dream Malta, you can experience everything the islands have to offer. Alternatively, for €20 you can get an itinerary planned and have constant contact with a guide (no matter how big your group is).
What is Maltese Cuisine Like?
The food in Malta is a mix of different flavors. Due to its proximity to Sicily, Italian influences are prominent and can be tasted in the various styles of pasta, risotto and antipasto. Arabic/North African influences are also represented in the breads and dips. The most popular dishes have fresh fish or seafood – which is no surprise as Malta is located in the Mediterranean.
For example, Aljotta is a must-try. This is a simple Mediterranean fish soup but it’s very tasty. Ingredients include fish, rice, onions, garlic, olive oil, mint, tomatoes, lemons and herbs. It’s a healthy, hearty meal full of protein. Beyond fish, another popular meat is rabbit (the national meat of Malta). It usually comes served in fried garlic and red wine, or with pasta.
Bragioli is another highlight of the culinary scene: slices of beef wrapped around minced beef, mixed with various herbs. No matter what type of food you prefer – be it meat based or plant based – Malta will delight you with its cuisine. The locals here love food and they take their time to enjoy it. The same goes for wine, paired perfectly with local cheeses or antipasto.
Best Areas to Stay in Malta
Travelers are spoilt for choice for places to stay but since the island is small it doesn’t matter much. Once you set up base somewhere it’s easy to get around, especially if you hire a car or book the pick-up and drop-off tours mentioned in this guide. Valletta is the obvious choice for those interested in sightseeing. There are plenty of hotels but not many budget ones.
Sliema is a good option for luxury travelers who don’t mind splashing out on accommodation. The shopping in Sliema is great and so is the fine-dining. The seaside town of St. Julian’s will also cater for high-end budgets. St Julian’s has two picturesque bays which are bustling with fishermen. The town offers some decent bars too, for those seeking a vibrant nightlife.
The most unique places to stay are Gozo or Three Cities. Gozo is a relaxed place where you can easily lose track of time. Accommodation on the sister island is centered around guest houses or farm houses, which makes for a different experience. Three Cities is quiet as well – you might be lucky to find one bar and a handful of restaurants, but it’s charming nonetheless.
Final Tips for Visiting Malta
- Malta International Airport is where you fly into. There are many major European cities with direct flights to Malta such as Paris and Rome.
- Travel to Malta from June to August for the best summer weather. The temperatures are lovely during this time of year: 25-30 degrees Celsius.
- Malta is part of the Schengen Zone so Europeans will have no visa issues traveling here. Americans, Canadians and Australians/New Zealanders can travel visa-free in the Schengen Zone for up to 90 days at a time.
- Euro is the currency of Malta and there are ATMs at the larger towns.