The smallest country in the EU, Malta is often overlooked for its flashier neighbors, Italy and Greece. But a second glance at the Mediterranean archipelago reveals world-class architecture, Insta-worthy coastal views, and some 300 days of sunshine per year — and travelers are finally taking notice. On a recent trip, JS Contributor Siobhan Reid toured the country to find out what the buzz is about.
Few Americans have discovered Malta's charms, despite the country being a popular warm-weather destination among Northern Europeans. They come for the superb climate, yes, but also the exotic landscapes (think: north Africa meets Italy) and modern-day conveniences (English is one of two official languages). Make the the capital Valletta your home base, and you'll be ideally situated to explore its historic streets and myriad landmarks, as well as the country's two other islands, Gozo and Comino. Getting around is easy and public transportation is good, so you should have no trouble seeing it all within a matter of days.
1 The weather's great
Sunbathing in November? In Malta, you can. The Mediterranean archipelago gets some 300 days of sunshine a year, with hot, humid weather lasting from summer through late fall. It also has the clearest waters in the Mediterranean, making it one of Europe’s premiere swimming, snorkelling and scuba-diving destinations. Comino, the island home to the iconic Blue Lagoon “swimming pool,” has the lion’s share of underwater attractions including caves, colourful corals and sponges and aquatic life like octopus and barracuda fish. Comino
2 - It's full of history
From the Romans to the Moors, the Knights of Saint John, the French and British, Malta has seen a succession of conquerors over its 7,000-year history. Thank its location—directly south of Sicily, east of Tunisia, and north of Libya— for that. Today, its rich history can be gleaned from its ancient streets, which feel like open-air museums with their striking medley of medieval, baroque and postmodern architecture, and in its (distinctively British) customs (think: afternoon tea and driving on the left side of the road). Three historical sites on your Malta road-map: Valletta, the capital of Malta where you’ll find the Church of Assumption and Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, Gozo, to see the megalithic Ġgantija temple and Birgu, the oldest of the settlements on the shore of the Grand Harbour.
3 - The food is to-die-for
Much like its architecture, language, and history, Malta’s cuisine is an exciting mashup of Italian, English and Arabic influences. You could have bangers and mash one meal, linguini pescatori another—it simply comes down to what you’re craving in that moment. A few constants on Maltese menus? Plenty of meats (rabbit and pig especially), cheeses (Malta is famous for its mild sheep's milk variety), and seafood—each served in abundance during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some must-stops on your Malta eatathon: Diar il Bniet, a family-run restaurant with farm-to-table eats; Harbour Club, a popular Valletta hangout with comfort-driven food and classic cocktails; and Ta’ Philip, home to the best suckling pig we’ve ever had.
4 - The coastal views are spectacular
Malta may have the warmest waters in the Mediterranean, but you don’t have to get wet to appreciate the country’s stunning coastline. The archipelago has a number of Insta-worthy lookouts that put the country’s ocean views front and center. For sights without the stomach-churning heights, head to Dingli, where you can walk along the spectacular Dingli Cliffs and look out over the tiny islet of Filfla, and beyond, Tunisia. Not far from Dingli is the (much sheerer) Blue Grotto lookout point, which overlooks the Grotto’s dazzling limestone arch and sea cliffs. Finally, in Gozo, you can marvel at the 348-foot Azure Window, a flat-topped natural rock arch worthy of becoming your next computer screensaver.
5 - It's a film industry hotspot
Gladiator. Troy. The Count of Monte Cristo. The DaVinci Code. World War Z. For such a small country, Malta’s film credits sure are prodigious, which explains why the London Times once dubbed it, “the Mediterranean’s mini-Hollywood.” But it’s not just films that have shot there—The HBO hit show "Game of Thrones" shot much of its first season in the country’s former capital Mdina. To walk in the footsteps of your favourite GOT character, sign up for a cinematic excursion via Malta Film Tours, which shuttles fans to and from 15 locations featured in the show.
6 - The people know how to party
Forget Ibiza. Malta is one of Europe’s hottest nightlife destinations, and if you don’t believe us, Google "Isle of MTV Malta.” In previous years, the open-air MTV shows has attracted the likes of Lady Gaga, Enrique Iglesias and Steve Aoki, drawing tens of thousands of music fans to the country every summer. But the party rages on long after the festival ends, especially in the areas of St. Julian's and Paceville, where you'll find high concentration bars, clubs and karaoke joints.
7 - It's affordable
Sure, it might be a little out-of-the-way for us North Americans, but once you've crossed the pond, Malta makes for a very affordable vacation. The food and wine is inexpensive, the bus system is super accessible, and the ferry is government-run so you need not own a yacht to island-hop.