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Know Before You Go: Malta

Ancient history and island adventure merge seamlessly in Malta. Here are the details you need to plan a trip to this Mediterranean destination.

Watch the skyline of Valletta, Malta's capital city, move from day to night in this time-lapse video.
Video by Geoff Tompkinson, Getty Images

Steeped in history and set in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta’s three inhabited islands offer visitors the perfect mix of relaxation, discovery, and adventure. The entire country spans only 196 square miles, making it an easy destination to explore, and, despite being a popular spot for European travelers, Malta still feels like an undiscovered gem.

PLAN

Any time of year will be beautiful in Malta, and although locals prefer to hop in the sea only during the summer, most visitors will find it warm enough to enjoy year round.

In October, the island hosts The Malta Classic, previously known as the Malta Gran Prix. The event draws classic car owners and enthusiasts from around the globe and includes a scenic drive into historic Mdina, a race through the island’s winding streets, and a series of social events with fellow car-lovers.

In June, Malta hosts the Isle of MTV, an annual music festival organized by MTV Europe. Tickets aren’t required, so all are welcome to dance the night away with some of the world’s most popular musical acts during this four-day celebration.

PACK

The island is bathed in sunshine nearly every day, so don’t forget a swimsuit, plenty of sunscreen, and protective hat. You’ll be happy to have a good pair of walking shoes for treks through the UNESCO World Heritage sites, hikes up to cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean, and walks through Malta’s historic neighborhoods.

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Waves rush under the Azure Window on the island of Gozo. While visitors were once permitted to walk across the archway, the area is now off-limits to ensure safety and support preservation efforts.


SLEEP

On the island of Gozo, the Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz—a bright resort dotted with tall palm trees and glistening pools—makes an excellent home base for exploring Dwejra Bay, the Azure Window, and the island’s two UNESCO-protected Ġgantija temples.

On the main island, the Corinthia Palace Hotel and Spa sits just across from the flourishing San Anton Gardens and the president’s residence. With a spa, outdoor and indoor pools, and multiple restaurants, the historic hotel has grown quite a bit since its establishment decades ago by a local family. The hotel is centrally located, so visitors can easily venture to the walled town of Mdina, the bustling cafes in Valletta, and the three ancient cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua.

EAT

With an eye toward modernization, Maltese restauranteurs have been fostering a growing farm-to-table culture. It’s hard to go a day on the island without dipping a bit of locally baked bread into a dish of recently pressed olive oil. To experience these fresh eats for yourself, stop by Dar il-Bniet, a family-run farm, shop, and café on the southwest side of the island, or request a tour of the San Niklaw Winery, a vineyard and olive grove on a small family-owned estate.

The island’s food scene in general is representative of its geography. Just south of Italy, a short trip from Greece, and not far from the Middle East, Malta is home to cuisine that mixes and matches dishes from the three regions. Restaurants often serve seafood, pasta, olives, and soft cheese. The island is expanding its palate, but traditional meals with rabbit and lamb still find a spot on most menus.

EXPLORE

Soar over Malta's Golden Bay and Riviera Bay through this drone footage of the coastal countryside.
Video by Edward Mallia, Getty Images

Malta is packed with historical sites, from the UNESCO-protected ancient temples to the three ancient cities on the harbor. Archeology buffs will enjoy wandering through the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, an ancient underground cemetery thought to have been used between 4,000 and 2,500 B.C.

If history isn’t your thing, you can snorkel at one of the many spots along the coast, enjoy an evening out in revitalized Valletta, or take a boat out to the Blue Lagoon on the Camino—Malta’s smallest inhabited island.

For movie and television buffs, Malta offers the chance to walk in the footsteps of Hollywood stars. Immerse yourself in Game of Thrones lore while visiting Mdina, Rabat, and Attard. Imagine the adventures of Assassin’s Creed characters while looking up at the historic buildings in Valletta. Explore Popeye Village on a hot afternoon—originally built to film the 1980s musical starring Robin Williams and now a resort with a swimming cove, refurbished sets, and a small winery.

BUY

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A visitor strolls along the narrow, stone streets of Vittoriosa, one of Malta's ancient harbor cities.


If you can manage to bring home the olive oil that sits on every Maltese dinner table, it makes for an excellent reminder of your time on the island. If not, there are plenty of local crafts that are perfect keepsakes. On Gozo, look for the island’s traditional lace. Similar to its Venetian counterpart, the Gozitan designs are complex and delicate. If you’re lucky, you might stumble upon members of Gozo’s Lace Co-op threading the intricate creations by hand. While on Malta, be sure to stop by Mdina Glass, where you can watch craftsman create vases, bowls, and frames in the country’s first glass factory.


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