12 Experiences You’ll Love in Malta
You can gaze upon ancient ruins and craggy landscapes, dive deep into a turquoise grotto or explore catacombs, drink local wine and eat rabbit stew. Or you can pretend to be the Khaleesi from Game of Thrones: There’s no shortage of exotic experiences in Malta.
Located on the outskirts of Mdina in Rabat, these sites pay homage to the great Apostle Paul himself who along with 274 others were shipwrecked just off Malta around 60AD on their way to Rome. Legend has it that the survivors took refuge in a grotto, above which a church and monument were later built in his honor. The Catacombs, which represent the earliest evidence of Christianity in Malta, are a labyrinthian set of underground cemeteries that feel like something straight out of Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom. Covering an area of over 21,000 square feet, they twist and turn with dozens and dozens of hypogea (chambers) once used for burials. It’s a great place to wander on a hot day as it’s cool down there (and only €5 to visit!)
These smaller sea caverns located on the southwestern coast of the main island are a hidden gem. While they’re certainly not private, they don’t get nearly as many crowds as the Blue Lagoon or the Azure Window. What’s more, they’re about 10 minutes from the airport, making this a perfect first—or last—swim before landing or take-off. Just like at the Azure Window, weather-depending you can also hire small boats to take you out through the caves into the inlet. The best time of day to go is from early morning until about 1p.m. when the sunlight creates a phosphorescent-like glow deep into the sea, making it easy for those who aren’t diving to peek down below. Nearby, there are a few food trucks and casual eateries where you can sate your thirst or hunger after a dip and still enjoy the view.
The northern coast of Gozo provides a fascinating introduction to one of the most important traditions on the island: sea-salt production. This three-kilometer stretch of 350-year-old rock-cut salt pans is a tourist attraction in its own right, but the salt pans remain a vital source of income for Gozitans. In the summer, locals scrape up the salt crystals and store them in nearby caves. Several local businesses package the salt in gift jars available to purchase from the island’s souvenir stores.
292 Triq Sant' Orsla, Il-Belt Valletta, Malta
Head to the Upper Barrakka Gardens for sweeping panoramic views of the Grand Harbour. From this vantage point you can also spot the old towns of Senglea and Vittoriosa, and the shipyards below. You’ll encounter the Saluting Battery, where daily cannon salutes are performed at noon, as well as beautiful fountains, plenty of manicured green space for a picnic, and benches to rest your feet over coffee from the resident cafe. An elevator connects the gardens to the Valetta waterfront, should you want to get closer to the action. Note: Free Wi-Fi can be found here.
Triq San Gwann, Il-Belt Valletta, Malta
There are no words that can prepare you for the baroque interior of the St John’s Co Cathedral in Malta. And that’s a good thing, because the instant reaction as you step through the first set of doors is worth the admission price alone. I’m not going to spoil the surprise, and the picture above gives only a tiny hint of the decor you’ll discover within; it’s one of the most expensively, expansively decorated 17th century interiors in Europe, and if your eyes don’t pop at the sight then you must be a Russian oligarch. Also within is Caravaggio’s masterpiece, the Beheading of John the Baptist, as well as the interred bones and gloriously glorifying tombstones of the Knights of Malta. But don’t read too much about it before you go. Just enjoy a historical experience in full technicolour.
Any local will tell you the place to be on a Friday night from May through October is sitting on the stadium stone steps of this jazz bar off St. Ursula Street in Valletta. Cushions are put out early and remain late for music lovers who come to hear live jazz while sipping on a beverage under the moon or candlelight.