By Briana Seftel
It’s Malta’s time to shine! 50 miles south of Sicily lies the archipelago of Malta, the smallest member of the European Union.
Like the Amalfi Coast or Cote d’Azur but without the crowds, Malta is quickly becoming a destination for travelers looking for an off the beaten path European country. What are you waiting for?
1. Relax on miles of gorgeous beaches and swim in blue lagoons
Malta is made up of five islands in the Mediterranean Sea: Malta, Gozo, Comino, Comminotto, and Filfla (the latter two are uninhabited). Relax on Golden Bay and Mellieha Bay beaches, cruise over to Comino’s breathtaking Blue Lagoon, and swim in periwinkle waters in the famous Blue Grotto in Gozo. Malta’s bathing waters are the cleanest in Europe!
2. Discover historic relics and monuments
With 7,000 years of undisturbed history and three UNESCO sites, Malta is a history buff’s paradise. Head to the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta to see the former residence of the Grand Masters of the Knights of St John. Malta is also home to several prehistoric temples like the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, a 5000-year-old subterranean complex carved from living rock.
Colonized by the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, the French, and the British, Malta is a historical melting pot to shortlist on your list of Mediterranean vacation ideas.
3. Indulge in exceptional food & wine
Maltese cuisine is a Mediterranean smorgasbord of Sicilian and Middle Eastern flavors. Utilizing local ingredients like rabbit and honey, Maltese food is unlike anything you’ve had in Europe. The most popular Maltese snack is pastizz, a lozenge-shaped pastry filled with ricotta or peas.
Maltese wine is equally good, with international grape varieties grown on the islands as well as indigenous varieties like Gellewza and Ghirghentina.
4. Try your luck at a casino
Did you know Malta is the gambling capital of Europe? The country has five casinos located in Marsa, St. Julians, and St. Paul’s Bay. You must be 18 or over to enter a casino in Malta.
5. Hop from one charming village to the next
Leave the bigger cities behind and discover Malta’s small towns and villages. One of the prettiest is Marsaxlokk, a traditional fishing town just southeast of Valletta with a harbor of brightly painted boats. We know time can be short on a European vacation, so we put together short list to help you choose which the most popular places to visit in Malta.
6. Find peace at Malta’s places of worship
They say Malta has a church for every day of the year. While that’s not entirely true (the number is around 359), it’s still a big number for such a small country. St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta is the most famous church in Malta and is home to two stunning Caravaggio paintings. Keep in mind that Malta is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, so both women and men are advised to cover up when entering a church.
7. Dive into Malta’s cultural scene
In 2018, Valletta will be a European Capital of Culture along with Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. Don’t miss the Renzo Piano-designed city gate, the St. James Cavalier cultural center, and the National Museum of Fine Arts. Outside of Valletta, visit the Palazzo Falson (a decorative arts museum) in Mdina, the oldest city in Malta.
8. See where a number of movies and TV were filmed
Because of its perfectly preserved architecture and pristine fortresses, Malta’s capital Valletta has been the backdrop to several high profile films and TV series including “Gladiator,” “Troy,” and King's Landing in “Game of Thrones.”