Often viewed simply as a rock in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is easily overlooked as a travel destination. Having a reputation as a package holidaymaker’s paradise, somewhere middle-aged Brits can enjoy a bit of sunshine without forsaking the comforts of home, Malta is not known for its appeal to the more adventurous traveler.
But beneath the veneer of gentility, there is another side to Malta. One that blends history and culture with a modern Mediterranean lifestyle. True, unless you’re staying in the hotel complex that is known as the town of St Julian’s, Malta’s nightlife is on the sedate side, but unless your idea of a good time is downing vodka shots all night, there are lots to discover in Malta.
Few tourists stay in Malta’s capital, Valletta, instead most join the locals by taking one of the regular ferries from Sliema to the city. The trip is short and well worth it for the views it provides of Valletta.
Once you disembark from the ferry it is just a short walk into the city center, where you will be engulfed by narrow medieval streets. Most of Valletta was built within 15 years when the locals decided they needed a fortress city to protect their island and started construction in 1566.
Even today, most of Valletta is made up of these traditional buildings and it is great to just wander through its old cobbled streets and find a back-street cafe to stop for a drink and something to eat. Alternatively, Valletta has many sights worth seeing including a cathedral that features original artwork by Caravaggio, a palace, harbors, churches, and museums.
People have been living in Malta since prehistory and many of its archaeological sites make Rome’s historic buildings look modern. For history-buffs booking a place on one of the tours to the Hypogeum is a must. This is an underground network of halls, chambers, passages, and even a temple, which were carved out of rock and dates back to 3,600 BC.
Above ground, head up to Mdina, which is one of Europe’s greatest examples of an ancient walled city. Once home to Malta’s noble elite and even now many of the town’s residents are descendent from these families. During the day Mdina’s architecture, history, and palaces attract hordes of tourists but at night it still relies on lamp light and becomes ‘the silent city’.
Head to the Sliema harbor in the morning and you will be spoilt for choice for the number of boat trips on offer, most of which offer the chance to see one of Malta’s main attractions – the Blue Grotto. The Blue Grotto is a series of natural caves and caverns that can only be reached by small boats, but its main appeal is the fact that its water ranges from phosphorescent colors to deep dark shades of blue.
Alternatively, avoid the tourist crowds by renting a boat and exploring the island’s many bays and beaches by yourself. It will also give the opportunity to visit the famous Blue Lagoon on the neighboring Comino island.
Its mild climate makes Malta a prime spot for outdoor enthusiasts. Not surprising being an island, water sports are a major activity in Malta.
Its clear, clean and calm waters make it a prime spot for divers and Malta, along with its sister islands, offers numerous diving opportunities, there are also many diving schools located on all three islands. It is not just the warm Mediterranean Sea temperature that draws divers to this area, as many come to explore the island’s reefs, caves, and wrecks.
If you prefer to stay above water, then how about sailing? This is a popular pastime with tourists and locals alike and sailboats are a regular feature on Malta’s horizon. If you prefer something more active then there is water skiing, wakeboarding and paragliding to choose from.
For those who would rather stay on dry land, the island’s many cliffs offer great climbing and abseiling spots, while there is also the opportunity to try caving. Away from the towns, Malta’s terrain and wildlife also make it a great place for hiking and cycling.