Malta – A Tiny Group of Islands Packed with Great Activities
When the Order of the Knights of St. John were defeated at Rhodes by the Turks, Suleyman the Magnificient allowed them to withdraw. They fled across the Mediteranean in their wooden ships, wandering for seven years until coming to rest on Malta. Here they constructed a new fortress city to house their order.
One of the smaller countries we’ve been to, Malta, is made up of three main islands. Valletta, the capital city, is on the main island called Malta. Here you can find so much to do in such a small space. We love it so much we’ve been there a couple of times, and here are our top ten things to do.
No. 1 – Valletta
The city of Valleta is an amazing example of a city built as a fortification. It was designed to withstand siege and attack from from land and sea. It stands today as a testament to the military might and engineering genius that built and defended it. You can wander the quiet back streets looking for the shields emblazoned on the houses of the various tongues (knight groups from the same country or speaking the same language), or walk the walls and battlements and imagine the onslaught of the attacking armies during the great siege of 1565.
Since the islands were founded by the Knights of St. John, it has been invaded, laid siege to, and drooled over by many countries. Why? Location, location, location. It is in a strategic waterway, in the middle of two huge continents which makes it desirable both militarily and economically.
No. 2 – Saluting Battery
At noon each day, at the saluting battery, the cannons are fired with full military pomp. It is one of the most popular activities in Malta, and one that has a long history. The cannons are fired for many other occasions, but at noon the purpose has been for the ships off shore to set their clocks. The view over the Grand Harbor is one of the best in all of the city as well.
No. 3 – Military Parade
If you are lucky enough, or plan wisely, you’ll be on Malta for a military parade or tattoo. The Maltese are very proud of their nation and the place they’ve held in history and this really shows during one of these spectacles. The music echoes through the stone cobbled streets of Valletta keeping time for the marching troops.
No. 4 – Religious Sites
Occupied and run by the Knights of Malta, the country has a rich Catholic history which continues to this day. Even before then, though, when the apostle Paul was being taken to trial, his boat shipwrecked and he spent a winter in Malta. There are many sites on the island, especially around Rabat, to visit. Valletta’s cathedral, the co-Cathedral of St. John pictured above, is another highlight. Commissioned in 1572 by the Knights Hospitaller, the church has weathered invasion after invasion, and thus had to become a co-cathedral when Napoleon Bonaparte conquered the city in 1798. Don’t miss the fresco-covered nave.
No. 5 – The National Archaeological Museum
The National Archaeological Museum of Malta hosts artifacts that date back to 5200 BC. Before heading out to the various temples that dot the islands, a trip to the museum puts all the human history in perspective.
No. 6 – The Megalithic Temples of Malta
The temples of Malta still remain a mystery. Who were these ancient builders? What was the purpose for these temples? How do you get tickets for the subterranean site, Hypogeum? Visit these sites and make up your own stories or follow along with a guide and listen to the current theory du jour. Regardless, you’ll be amazed at the size of the rocks that were used to build these temples, as well as the fact that they have stood for thousands of years.
No. 7 – Marsaxlokk
The coastal town of Marsaxlokk is the fishing village you really want to visit. A walk along the harbor to watch fishermen puttering on and around their colorful boats, unloading the day’s catch, or heading out to challenge the sea for its bounty is an almost magical experience taking you back to a time when the painted eye would protect you. Be sure and stop for a delicious seafood lunch at one of the harbor hot spots.
No. 8 – The Weird Statue and Taking the Bus
Taking the bus around Malta is easy and cheap. The buses run long into the night, and the main terminal is close to the Valletta city center. You will know that you are there, because of the very strange fountain that adorns the middle of the roundabout. Taking a bus allows you to see all the other wonderful sites around the islands, so hop on one and see where it takes you.
No. 9 – The Natural Beauty of the Islands
Surrounded by water, how could Malta be anything other than stunning? With views such as the one above at the Blue Grotto, or a little further afield the Inland Sea or the Azure Window exploring the island by car, bicycle or bus is a must. Of course, boating and swimming as well as sunbathing lures visitors from all over.
No. 10 – Cheese Pies
We discovered the perfect Maltese cheese pies on our very first trip to the islands, and now we can’t go a day without trying a different type. Filled with a local ricotta as well as a host of other fresh ingredients from peas to tuna, you can’t go wrong stopping by a stand such as this one and loading up. The pies are by far the cheapest and most delicious food on the islands.
Malta, close to the bottom of Sicily, is a rather easy flight from anywhere in Europe. There are a number of inexpensive airlines that now service the islands and you will find many people flocking to the beaches as late as October and as early as March. With a year-round Mediterranean climate, it’s a great getaway.
There are many all-inclusive resorts on the islands that will take you in, pamper you, transport you to some fabulous beaches, and feed you. However, we recommend the smaller, family-owned hotels that dot the islands. Our favorite was the Port View Guesthouse in Marsaxlokk.
Don’t just hang out on the beaches, go find the amazing history while wandering the streets of Valletta or busing to any of the nearby sites. Nothing is more than an hour away, and ferries to Gozo are plentiful and free.
If you are looking for a place to go for Carnival, Valletta has a great celebration and parade!
Have you been to Malta? What were your impressions? What would you include in your top ten?