17 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Malta
Surrounded by the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea south of Sicily, the Maltese Islands (Malta, Gozo, and Comino) have a fascinating heritage. The islands boast an ancient history with ruins of the oldest buildings in existence. Being close to Tunisia, there is a distinct North African influence. The Maltese language is derived from Arabic mixed with Italian. Under the scorching sunshine, Malta's palm-tree fringed landscape is dotted with picturesque hilltop towns, peaceful seaports, and old fishing villages. The country is fiercely proud of the legendary Knights of Malta, who fought off the Turks and launched the Crusades.
Valletta, the capital, is an ideal base to explore the Island of Malta without a car. The island has an efficient bus system with Valletta as its hub. Tourists will appreciate Valletta's charming hotels, restaurants, historical sites, and cultural events. Across the harbor, Sliema has less culture but more lively entertainment options and attracts many students on school breaks. Gozo is the best choice for beachside relaxation, snorkeling, scuba diving, and nature hikes. Malta's weather is perfect in spring and autumn. During the hot summer months, villages come to life with religious festivals and outdoor concerts.
1 Valletta: Malta's Elegant Capital
A strategically important seaport, this fortified city is the elegant capital of the Republic of Malta. The entire city of Valletta is testimony to the grandeur of the Knights of Malta, the European noblemen who were granted the Maltese Islands by the King of Spain in 1530. The knights created a capital worthy of their aristocratic stature, on par with other great European capitals. Valletta's regular grid plan and orderly public squares reveal the knights' logical 16th-century urban planning. Tourists can easily navigate this small city that is bounded by two harbors, the Grand Harbor and Marsamxett Harbor.
Begin a tour of Valletta at Saint John's Co-Cathedral. This 16th-century church was built by the different Orders of the Knights, hailing from various countries such as France, Spain, and Italy. Visitors are surprised by the awe-inspiring interior with its opulent gilded decor. Next, visit the immense Grand Master's Palace, once the residence of the Knights of Malta. This palace boasts splendid paintings that tell the story of the knights' military victories. Inside the Grand Master's Palace, the Grand Armory displays the armor that protected the knights in battle. Be sure to see the Upper Barracca Gardens, with its Romanesque-style arches and gorgeous views of the Valletta harbor. If time permits, the Museum of Archaeology is well worth a visit to see artifacts from Malta's most ancient sites dating back 5,000 years.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Malta
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2 The Idyllic Island of Gozo
Gozo Island is the most idyllic destination of the Maltese Islands. With its quaint pastoral landscape, quiet towns, and pristine beaches, this little island is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing vacation while still discovering cultural attractions. There are enough sights to keep visitors occupied for several days or even a weeklong stay. Although Gozo is less developed than Malta, the island has a fortified medieval city, Victoria; a bustling seaside resort, Marsalforn; and the most important archaeological site of the Maltese Islands, Ggantija Temples dating back to around 3500 BC. Gozo is also famous for the Azure Window, a striking coastal formation that stuns visitors with its beauty.
Most of the island is gently rolling hills covered with a patchwork of small farms, and the hillsides lead down to protected beaches and old fishing villages. A favorite beach is at Ramla Bay. This beach has wide, sandy shores and gentle waters that are safe for swimming. There are also ancient villages perched on hilltops and grandiose Baroque churches in even the tiniest towns. The Island of Gozo is accessible by ferry from Cirkewwa on the Island of Malta.
3 The Medieval Hilltop Town of Mdina, Island of Malta
Mdina offers an escape to an enchanting fairy-tale city. This captivating medieval hilltop town is steeped in history. Tourists must pass through the dramatic Main Gate to enter the city, giving the impression of walking back in time. Within the city's immense, ancient ramparts is a delightful world of car-free pedestrian streets and beautiful old sandstone buildings. The most important site is the Cathedral of Saint Paul, a glorious Baroque building designed by the Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa. The lavishly decorated sanctuary features a magnificent dome, marble columns, gilded details, and gorgeous ceiling paintings. The cathedral possesses a precious 12th-century icon of the Madonna and renowned works of art by celebrated Maltese painter Mattia Preti.
To get a sense of Mdina's former glory, tourists should visit the grandiose historic palaces. The Palazzo Santa Sofia (Villegaignon Street near Bastion Square) is Mdina's best preserved medieval building. The Palazzo Vilhena (Saint Publius Square) is a gorgeous monument that houses Malta's superb Natural History Museum with an outstanding collection of geological exhibits as well as fossil, insect, and animal displays. A must-see sight, the Palazzo Falson (Villegaignon Street) is a 13th-century palace that belonged to a Maltese noble family. Now a museum, the Palazzo Falson is exquisitely decorated in the original style and has an excellent art and antiquities collection.
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4 Historical Attractions in Rabat, Island of Malta
Just outside the Mdina ramparts is the neighboring town of Rabat. Tourists can see both cities in the same day; Mdina and Rabat are sometimes considered to be one unified urban area. In Maltese, the word "Rabat" means "suburb." Rabat is less touristy and more of a real working city than Mdina but still has historical attractions. One of the hidden gems is the Casa Bernard, a grand 16th-century palazzo that belonged to a noble Maltese family of French origins.
For those interested in the classical period, the Roman Villa is definitely worth visiting. This archaeological site, also called Domus Romana, features astounding 1st-century BC Roman mosaics. These mosaics are some of the oldest examples in the western Mediterranean and reveal incredible craftsmanship by highly skilled artists. Another must-see sight is the Parish Church of Saint Paul, a 17th-century Baroque church, which was built on the site of the grotto where it is believed that Saint Paul found shelter after his shipwreck off the coast of Malta in 60 AD. Right next to the parish church, the Wignacourt Museum displays an extensive collection of Punic-Roman artifacts.
5 Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Island of Malta: A Neolithic Cult Site
At Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, visitors can delve into the beguiling world of the prehistoric era (circa 4000-2500 BC). This UNESCO-listed archaeological site is an underground Neolithic cult site that was discovered in 1902. Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is a complex of catacombs that were carved out of rock with stone tools. The interconnected chambers include passages and stairways on three levels. In this underground labyrinth, prehistoric man performed religious burial rituals and consulted oracles. At the deepest of the three levels is the chamber known as the "Holy of Holies." The site is remarkable for how old it is (dating back to 4000 BC in some parts) and for the amazing state of preservation, complete with beautiful carvings and paintings in red ochre. With its roofed chambers, the construction of Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is thought to mirror the architecture of ancient buildings of that era. The most intriguing aspect of the site is that it represents an ancient cultural tradition that no longer exists, which remains a mystery to archaeologists and scholars.
The site is open to the public for reserved guided tours. For reasons of conservation, Hal Saflieni Hypogeum has a limit of 10 visitors every hour. Tickets must be reserved well in advance for a specific day and time. Some of the artifacts found in Hal Saflieni Hypogeum are now displayed at the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta, including unique clay sculptures, stone figures of birds, and the The Sleeping Lady, a rare prehistoric object that depicts a woman lying on a couch.
Address: Burial Street, Paola, Island of Malta
6 Prehistoric Tarxien Temples, Island of Malta
The Tarxien Temples is the largest and best-preserved prehistoric cult site in Malta, consisting of four megalithic structures. Excavated in 1914, the site covers an area of 5,400 square meters and displays the artistic achievements of Malta's mysterious prehistoric culture during the "Temple Period" (Late Neolithic Period) between 3600 BC and 2500 BC. Stone reliefs and sculptures that were found here are represented on the site by excellent reproductions; the originals are displayed in the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta.
The stone walls of the four adjoining temples are decorated with surprisingly intricate spiral patterns and animal figures of types found on other Maltese cult sites. The most decorative of the buildings, the South Temple, contained the largest collection of art, especially spiral designs and reliefs depicting animals such as goats, pigs, bulls, and a ram. In the South Temple, archaeologists were astonished to find the remains of a unique statue depicting a fertility goddess with robust legs, small dainty feet, and a pleated skirt. The East Temple is made of sturdy well-cut slab walls with recognizable oracle holes. The Central Temple was constructed on a six-apse plan and reveals technically advanced arched roofing. The Tarxien Temples archaeological site is within easy walking distance of Hal Saflieni Hypogeum (plan to visit on the same day).
Address: Neolithic Temples Street, Tarxien, Island of Malta
7 Blue Lagoon, Island of Comino: Nature's Perfect Swimming Pool
An amazing nature site, the Blue Lagoon is a mesmerizing scene of crystal-clear turquoise waters. It has a South Pacific quality with the waters lapping over a white-sand seabed. This expansive lagoon gives the impression of being a giant swimming pool because its waters are so calm, and the shallow end is safe enough for children. Wonderful for swimming or lounging on inflatable cabanas, the core of the lagoon is roped off to boats. The lagoon has a small beach with umbrellas and chairs for rent. During high season, this beach is often full by 10:30am so it is best to arrive early. The other option is sunbathing on the scorching hot rocky hillside. At least, tourists can count on refreshment stands set up around the lagoon.
Swimmers will enjoy the perfectly temperate, clean waters of the lagoon, which is equivalent in length to several Olympic-size swimming pools. Good swimmers can cross to the cove and tiny beach on the other side. The lagoon is less crowded after 4pm, however the returning ferries stop running around 6pm. Tourists can stay at the Comino Hotel (the only hotel on the island) to appreciate the Blue Lagoon when it's not overcrowded and enjoy a peaceful vacation focused on outdoor activity. The island of Comino draws many snorkelers, scuba divers, and windsurfers. To arrive at the Blue Lagoon, take one of the ferries from Mgarr on the island of Gozo.
8 The Blue Grotto, Island of Malta
The Blue Grotto is approached by a winding road on a cliff high above the Mediterranean Sea. The spectacular coastal scenery provides an exciting introduction to the nature site. The Blue Grotto is in Wied iz Zurrieq where the Grand Marshall Copier and a cavalry squadron shadowed the Turkish Armada on the eve of the Great Siege of 1565. According to mythology, the Blue Grotto was home to the sirens (sea nymphs) who captivated sailors with their charms. Today, the seaside scenery and limestone caves here are a picture of pure serenity. The water shines a brilliant blue in the sun.
Tourists can take a guided boat tour in one of the brightly painted traditional fishing boats called luzzus. Boats leave around every 20 or 30 minutes, when the sea is calm. The 25-minute joyride speeds through the sea past six caves including the Blue Grotto, a 30 meter high cave with a deep pool of water. Try to visit early in the day, ideally before 2pm, when the sunlight best illuminates the water.
The village of Wied iz-Zurrieq has many souvenir stores, ice cream shops, and cafés as well as cliffside restaurants with wonderful views. Tourists will enjoy a meal at one of the restaurant terraces overlooking the serene blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Blue Grotto is also a popular destination among scuba divers because of its bountiful marine life.
9 Breathtaking Views at Dingli Cliffs, Island of Malta
Those who appreciate inspiring coastal scenery should take a short drive or bus ride from the Blue Grotto in Wied iz-Zurrieq to the Dingli Cliffs. The appeal (and the drawback) of this location is its remoteness. The sheer 250-meter Dingli Cliffs drop off dramatically into the Mediterranean Sea, and the sloping hillsides are fertile land used by small farms. The highlight of Dingli Cliffs is the viewpoint that offers breathtaking seaside panoramas. Besides a short walking trail, there is nothing at Dingli Cliffs except a tiny hilltop chapel (closed to the public) that is devoted to Saint Mary Magdalene. Keep in mind that there are no restrooms or cafés. Sometimes tourists will find a pop-up souvenir and refreshment stand. Dingli Cliffs does not have a visible bus stop (ask the bus driver where to get out) and buses run infrequently, but the spectacular photo-ops make it worth the trek.
10 Editor's Pick Golden Bay Beach, Island of Malta
With its sandy shores protected by a mountainous coastline and sloping cliffs, Golden Bay in Northwest Malta is one of the island's prettiest beaches. Golden Bay Beach is easily accessible by car or bus; the bus stop is only a five-minute walk away from the beach. Unlike other beaches in Malta, Golden Bay Beach is far away from street traffic, which makes it a relaxing seaside escape. The beach has an extremely wide shoreline with soft golden sands. The waters are clean and gentle enough for swimming, with an extensive area roped off for safety. Many visitors spend the day here sunbathing while listening to the soothing sound of waves lapping against the shore. Lounge chairs and beach umbrellas are available for rent, and the site has well-maintained facilities including public toilets and changing rooms. For the perfect beachside relaxation experience, there are cafés and restaurants with terraces and gorgeous sea views.
11 Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gnejna Bay Beaches, Island of Malta
For travelers exploring the area by car, it's worth driving two kilometers from Golden Bay to the unspoiled beach at Ghajn Tuffieha Bay. Surrounded by cliffs and sloping hillsides, the beach is accessed by climbing down 200 steps. Ghajn Tuffieha Bay Beach feels secluded in nature, except for the umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent, public restrooms, and a snack bar. Considered one of Malta's top beaches, Ghajn Tuffieha is favored by locals who appreciate the quiet, peaceful environment. The waters are safe for swimming except when the red flag is up (indicating strong currents).
Continuing seven more kilometers from Ghajn Tuffieha Bay is Gnejna Bay, a small protected bay surrounded by steep limestone cliffs. Hike down a flight of steep steps to the gorgeous beach of orange sand. This beach is popular with swimmers and snorkelers. Water ski and canoe rentals are also available as well as public restrooms and food stands.
Between Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and Gnejna Bay is the rural village of Mgarr in a pastoral landscape of vine-covered hills and small farms. Outdoorsy types will enjoy the scenic hiking trails from Mgarr into the countryside and along the coast to Gnejna Bay. Nearby are ruins of Roman baths and ancient cart ruts (grooves in the limestone plateau) that intrigue scholars and visitors alike.
12 The Seaside Charm of Mellieha, Island of Malta
In the scenic countryside of Northwest Malta, Mellieha is the island's most popular seaside destination among Maltese families. The beach is next to a busy road, which detracts from the natural beauty. However, many visitors favor Mellieha because it has the largest stretch of sandy shore on the Maltese Islands with a one-and-a-half kilometer shoreline of fine white sand. Mellieha Bay has very gentle shelving, which makes it shallow enough to stand even quite far away from the shore. Families with young kids appreciate this beach because of its calm waters with no undercurrents, making it safe for children to wade or swim. Kids will also love the Popeye Village in Mellieha.
Known as a "European destination of excellence," the picturesque village of Mellieha stands on a craggy hilltop overlooking the pastoral landscape of rocky outcrops, vine-covered hills, and small farms. The village was established in 1436 although much of the town is more contemporary with many modern hotels. The Parish Church of Our Lady of Victory (Parish Square) is a lovely 19th-century Baroque building with a beacon-like position at the highest point in the village. The church possesses the icon of "Our Lady of Victories" that is paraded around town every year on August 30 for the Mellieha Village Festa. This lively festival features traditional marching bands and fireworks. The church also boasts works by Maltese painters such as the Shipwreck of Saint Paul painting by renowned artist Giuseppe Cali. Opposite the steps that lead down from the square is a mystical cave-shrine dedicated to the Madonna. An underground spring running through the cave is said to have miraculous healing powers. Mellieha also has wonderful bird sanctuaries in the Ghadira Nature Reserve.
13 Hagar Qim Temples, Island of Malta: A Prehistoric Megalithic Site
Another UNESCO-listed megalithic site, the prehistoric Hagar Qim Temples are on Malta's south coast in a commanding position on a rocky plateau overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the Island of Filfla. Dating between 3600 BC to 3200 BC, the ancient site was buried under mounds of earth until its discovery in 1839. The facade, made up of two upright stones supporting one stone lintel, has a striking entrance.
The prehistoric builders of Hagar Qim did not use a symmetrical layout of the three chambers. Instead, the chambers and apses connect with one another but not in a uniform plan. Each chamber was built almost as an individual place of worship. Artifacts found on the site including the tall headless Fat deities, believed to be symbols of fertility, and the nude Venus of Malta are on display at the Archeological Museum in Valletta. It's remarkable to note that the largest megalith is more than seven meters long and weighs approximately 20 tons. The little boulders, the size of bowling balls, strewn about the site were used like castors to move the massive megaliths into place.
Address: Triq Ħagar Qim, Qrendi QRD 2501
14 Mnajdra Temples of the Maltese Bronze Age, Island of Malta
Sharing the UNESCO listing of the Hagar Qim site, the Mnajdra Temples are found 500 meters away from the Ħagar Qim Temples. This archaeological site is in an isolated and rugged stretch of Malta's southern coast overlooking the sea. The site includes three buildings facing a common oval forecourt and may have been part of a larger complex. The oldest structure, the South Temple, dates to around 3600 to 3200 BC. The other two temples were built between 3150 BC and 2200 BC These three structures represent a significant stage in prehistoric human development known as the Ggantija Phase (circa 3000 BC to 2200 BC), which was an important period of the Maltese Bronze Age.
The most intriguing feature of Mnajdra Temples is the Solstices and Equinoxes doorway seen in the South Temple. Enter the South Temple through a monumental facade. On the left-hand side of the two apses is a decorated porthole doorway (a square-shaped opening) that leads into a small chamber. This doorway and the decorated blocks mark the position of the Equinoxes, the rising sun on the first day of spring and autumn, and the Solstices, the first day of summer and winter.
Address: Triq Hagar Qim, Qrendi QRD 2502
15 Siggiewi, Island of Malta: A Traditional Maltese Village
This traditional Maltese village is in southwestern Malta between Rabat and Marsaxlokk in the Girgenti Valley, which begins near the Dingli Cliffs. The fruits of this fertile valley allowed the sleepy village of Siggiewi to flourish. At the center of the village, the Church of Saint Nicholas impresses visitors with its Baroque facade created by Lorenzo Gafa in 1693. The church is usually closed except during the Siggiewi Festa (Feast Days). The Festa honoring Saint Nicholas is held at the end of June from Thursday through Sunday. During these several days of celebration, the church is illuminated with multicolored lights and there are fireworks and parades. The church takes its precious relics on a procession through the village led by a brass band. Another highlight is the food; the festival includes kiosks selling authentic Maltese treats such as pastry stuffed with dates, and nougat made with almonds or peanuts.
From May through October, Siggiewi hosts the Maltese Folklore Nights at the Limestone Heritage Park and Gardens. This colorful event pays tribute to the cultural heritage of Malta with folklore dance performances, lively music, and delicious Maltese cuisine. Visitors may book ahead to reserve a place. The Limestone Heritage Park and Gardens is also a popular venue for outdoor weddings.
Outside of Siggiewi are several interesting sights including the Inquisitor's Summer Palace about four kilometers away. Standing on a ledge overlooking a verdant valley, this palace was built for Inquisitor Visconti as his summer residence. Another nearby attraction is the Parish Church of Saint Leonard (Pjazza San Leonardu) in Hal Kirkop, a small village about six kilometers away from Siggiewi. Built in 1500, the church was renovated between 1706 and 1779 in Baroque style-with two bell towers and a cupola. The church was consecrated in 1782 and dedicated to Saint Leonard de Noblat. Take a look inside to see the collection of 17th-century and 18th-century art works as well as more contemporary paintings by Guze Briffa. For a memorable experience, visit during the Feast of Saint Leonard, the religious festival held on August 24th every year.
16 The Country Village of Zebbug, Island of Malta
This wealthy country village has a history dating back to 1436. The Grand Master de Rohan elevated Zebbug to a city, renaming it Citta Rohan, and built the triumphal arch at the entrance of the town. Along the historic streets off Saint-Anthony Street and Hospital Square are many lovely old houses, some dating back to the 16th century. The main square is graced by the Parish Church of Saint Philip, founded in 1599. The initial design was created by Cassars, the architect of Saint-John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta. This church, especially the facade, is even more ornate than Saint-John's Co-Cathedral. The exterior features two towers and twin domes on either side, and the interior is lavishly decorated. Zebbug celebrates its annual religious festival, the Festa of Saint Philip, at the Parish Church on the second Sunday in June.
17 Family Fun Times at Popeye Village, Island of Malta
For families traveling with kids, the Popeye Village in Mellieha offers an entertaining place to spend the day. This charming tourist attraction was originally a film set for the 1980s movie Popeye starring Robin Williams and has become one of the top tourist attractions of Malta. The film set is a quaint seaside village made of 20 wooden structures. Visitors can meet Popeye the sailor in his cabin and take a tour of the village to find the post office, bakery, firehouse, and other buildings. In the Main Square, a Welcome Show explains more about the site. Popeye Village has other attractions including a beach, sun bathing decks, and souvenir shop. Kids love the boat rides and trampolines. There is even Santa's toy town where Santa's elves prepare toys for Christmas.
Address: Popeye Village, Anchor Bay, Mellieha, Malta