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Why This European Island Should Be on Your Must-Visit List

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Dec 18, 2019

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Discover the rich cultural mixture that makes Malta such a hot spot.

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One sweeping view from the heart of Valletta, Malta’s vibrant capital city, encompasses sparkling Mediterranean waters, Baroque cathedrals, and Renzo Piano’s imposing new Valletta City Gate.

Because of its strategic location between Sicily and North Africa, Malta and its sister islands have been at the crossroads of world history for 7,000 years. From the walled cities of Valletta and Mdina to underwater shipwrecks and prehistoric temples, this sun-drenched archipelago bears the marks of numerous cultures: Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Spanish, French, and British, to name just a few. It’s made for an incredibly diverse array of cultural experiences, culinary offerings, and festivals.

In addition, Malta’s easy to get around, hotels are more affordable than in most European destinations, it’s very safe, and there’s no real language barrier (English is an official language, second only to Maltese, a Latinized variety of Arabic). Need more convincing? Here are 10 reasons to visit the Maltese Islands now.

1. Wander the Impressive Fortress City

Famous for its walls, fortifications, and cathedrals, the fortress city of Valletta was built in the 16th century by the Knights of St. John on the arid rock of Mount Sceberras peninsula. Today, Malta’s capital is the commercial and cultural heart of the islands. Walking is the best way to get around this bustling city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and 2018’s European Capital of Culture. Narrow streets lead to grand palazzos, elaborate churches, chic bars, and modern landmarks like architect Renzo Piano’s monolithic city gate, which was inaugurated in 2015.

2. Stay for Less

Luxury accommodations in Malta are less expensive than similar hotels on mainland Europe, so you can stay longer. With 13 five-star hotels and a growing number of luxury boutique properties, it’s easy to find a place that suits your needs—whether you want to be at the gates of Valletta and within walking distance of Caravaggio’s paintings, or overlooking the entrance to St. Georges Bay and close to the beach.

3. Savor Eclectic Flavors

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Malta’s diverse restaurant scene reflects the culinary influences of the many civilizations that occupied the Maltese islands over the centuries, with eateries featuring delicious Mediterranean cooking, as well as rustic, traditional Maltese dishes like rabbit stew, lampuki pie (fish pie), or kapunata (a Maltese version of ratatouille). Pair your meal with excellent Maltese vintages from a variety of local and international grape varieties. Many Maltese wineries offer guided tours and tastings as well.

4. Make a Pilgrimage to Religious Sites

St. Paul brought the Christian faith to Malta when he shipwrecked here in A.D. 60, en route to Rome, and you can retrace his steps in the shrines, grottos, and catacombs of Rabat and Mdina. Today, the many religious sites—more than 360 churches and chapels, many with iconic red and silver domes—animate the social and cultural life of Malta and Gozo. In Valetto, don’t miss St. John’s Co-Cathedral, home to Caravaggio’s largest painting, “Beheading of St. John the Baptist,” as well as his portrait of St. Jerome. Visitors can also discover a new Jewish Heritage Malta program, exploring a Jewish presence that dates back to Roman times.

5. Explore Malta’s Sister Islands

The relaxed vibe of Malta’s two sister islands, Gozo and Comino, is a welcome change of pace from the busy streets of Valletta. One of the archipelago's best-preserved prehistoric temples, Ġgantija, is located on Gozo, which also boasts a panoramic coastline and a rugged countryside dotted with old stone farmhouses and baroque churches. Meanwhile, the tiny island of Comino beckons swimmers, divers, and yachters with its clear turquoise waters and serene, car-free atmosphere.

6. Try All of the Activities

With year-round sunshine, fresh sea breezes, and a jaw-dropping landscape surrounded by the shimmering Mediterranean, the Maltese Islands are ideally suited for health, wellness, and adventure. Bicycling, hiking, rock climbing, paragliding, golfing, and a wide variety of sports are available. Looking for a moment of Zen? Most of the five-star hotels in Malta offer specialized spa treatments and extensive fitness facilities.

7. Experience a Maltese Festival

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Timing your trip to coincide with a major Maltese event or festival doesn’t take much effort. You can capture the archipelago’s celebratory spirit year-round, thanks to a diverse calendar of events, including the Malta Arts Festival, Carnival, the Valletta Baroque Festival, the Malta Fireworks Festival, and Isle of MTV (a music festival organized by MTV Europe). During “festa season”—a series of extended weekends that runs from the end of May to September—towns and villages throughout Malta celebrate the feast of their respective patron saints with papier maché statues, Maltese delicacies, and fireworks.

8. Follow the Dive Trail

With its calm and clear water and unique reefs, caves, and shipwrecks, the Maltese archipelago is consistently ranked as one of the Mediterranean’s best diving destinations. Diehard divers can experience the best of Malta’s underwater sites by following the Dive Trail, which takes in the Azure Reef, Coral Gardens, and the Blue Hole, where octopuses, lobsters, and parrot fish live amongst the rock formations. Not a diver? Malta’s a great place to learn.

9. Celebrate the Nightlife

With its outgoing locals, constant stream of lively events, and regular lineup of international DJs at its many bars and clubs, Malta is a major Mediterranean nightlife hub. The main clubbing scene is centered in Paceville, on the coast near St. Julians. Classical orchestras, traditional band music (popular during village “festas”), and jazz ensembles are just as popular.

10. Explore Iconic Film and TV Locations

During the first season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” the ancient walled city of Mdina stood in for the fictional city of King’s Landing, home of the Iron Throne. Indeed, you may recognize some of Malta’s many fortresses, castles, and cathedrals from a variety of Hollywood productions, including sword-and-sandal epics like “Gladiator” and “Troy.” Comino’s Blue Lagoon was used in a diving scene for Guy Ritchie’s movie “Swept Away,” starring Madonna, and in a spearfishing scene for the mini-series “Helen of Troy.” You can also explore the movie village constructed for 1980’s “Popeye,” which still stands.

Discover even more reasons to explore the magical island of Malta at VisitMalta.com.

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