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. Being close to Tunisia, there is a distinct North African influence. The Maltese language is derived from Arabic mixed with Italian. The country is also fiercely proud of the legendary Knights of Malta, who fought off the Turks and launched the Crusades.
Under the scorching sunshine, Malta's palm-tree fringed landscape is dotted with picturesque hilltop towns, peaceful seaports, colorful old fishing villages, and natural attractions. The capital of Valletta is an ideal base to explore the Island of Malta. Tourists will appreciate Valletta's array of hotels, restaurants, historical sites, and cultural events.
Across the harbor, Sliema has less culture but more entertainment options and caters to students on school breaks. The Island of Gozo is the best choice for relaxing beach vacations.
Malta's weather is perfect in spring and autumn. During the hot summer months, villages come to life with religious festivals and outdoor concerts. Plan your visit to these enchanting islands with our list of the top tourist attractions in Malta.
1. Valletta: Malta's Elegant Capital
A strategically important seaport, Valletta is the elegant capital of the Republic of Malta. The entire city 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. The heart of the city is Saint John's Co-Cathedral, a 16th-century church built by the different Orders of the Knights, hailing from various countries such as France, Spain, and Italy. Visitors are surprised by the lavish interior with its opulent gilded decor.
Nearby is the immense Grand Master's Palace, once the residence of the Knights of Malta. This palace boasts splendid paintings, as well as an armory, that tell the story of the knights' military victories.
For tourists who appreciate culture and historic monuments, Valletta is one of the best places to visit on the Maltese Islands. Valletta is Malta's most modernized city and is also the most convenient location for travelers who would like to explore the Island of Malta without a car. The island has an efficient bus system with Valletta as its hub.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Malta: Best Areas & Hotels
2. The Idyllic Island of Gozo
Gozo Island is the most idyllic destination of the Maltese Islands. With its quiet towns and pristine beaches, this little island is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing vacation for several days or even a weeklong stay. Although Gozo is less developed than Malta, the island has plenty of cultural attractions: 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.
Visitors enjoy the island's bucolic landscape, a delightful retreat from the modern world. A patchwork of small farms cover gently rolling hills and valleys. Hillsides lead down to protected beaches and quaint old fishing ports. A favorite beach is at Ramla Bay with a wide, sandy shore and gentle waters that are safe for swimming. There are also traditional villages perched on hilltops and surrounded by valleys.
Grandiose Baroque churches are found in even the tiniest towns. The Island of Gozo is a short ferry ride from Cirkewwa on the Island of Malta.
Accommodation: Where to Stay on the Island of Gozo
3. The Medieval Hilltop Town of Mdina, Island of Malta
Mdina offers an escape to a fairy-tale city. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this enchanting 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 streets and beautiful, old sandstone buildings.
The most important monument in Mdina 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 historic palaces. The Palazzo Vilhena (Saint Publius Square) is a stately 18th-century Magisterial Palace that now houses Malta's superb Natural History Museum with geological exhibits such as fossils, birds' eggs, and bird nests.
The Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum (Villegaignon Street) offers the chance to see an authentic medieval palace, decorated in the original style. The Palazzo Falson also displays exquisite art, antiques, and Oriental carpets, as well as a collection of ancient coins.
- Read More:
- Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Mdina
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 modern than Mdina, but there are noteworthy historical attractions. One of the hidden gems is the Casa Bernard, a grand 16th-century house that belonged to a noble Maltese family of French origins. Although the Casa Bernard is still a private residence, it is open to the public for guided tours.
The Roman Villa archaeological site boasts some of the finest 1st-century BC Roman mosaics in the world. A key landmark tied to Malta's Christian heritage, the 17th-century Church of Saint Paul, stands above the Grotto of Saint Paul, where it is said that the saint found refuge during his stay in Malta.
Next to the church, the Wignacourt Museum displays an extensive collection of Punic-Roman artifacts. The 16th-century Saint Dominic's Convent is an important pilgrimage destination because it contains a marble statue of the Virgin Mary that is considered miraculous.
5. Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Island of Malta: A Neolithic Cult Site
At this UNESCO-listed archaeological site, visitors can delve into the beguiling world of the prehistoric era. Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is an underground Neolithic cult site, a complex of catacombs where prehistoric man performed religious burial rituals and consulted oracles. Carved from limestone using rock tools, the interconnected superimposed chambers include passages and stairways on three levels. The lowest level is the chamber known as the "Holy of Holies," which is over 10 meters below the entrance to the first level at the top.
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. It is also fascinating the way structural elements of Hal Saflieni Hypogeum mirror the architecture of contemporaneous (prehistoric-era) megalithic sites such as the Tarxien Temples. The most intriguing aspect of Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is the glimpse of insight into the Neolithic mindset and culture, which remain 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 UNESCO-listed 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 3,600 BC and 2,500 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. The decorative South Temple contains the largest collection of art, including reliefs that depict goats, pigs, bulls, and a ram. There is also a unique statue depicting a fertility goddess with robust legs, small dainty feet, and a pleated skirt.
The East Temple is made of sturdy slab walls with recognizable oracle holes. The Central Temple features a six-apse architectural plan and has an arched roof that reveals technically advanced construction techniques.
Tip for Tourists: The Tarxien Temples archaeological site is within easy walking distance of Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. Both sites could easily be visited on the same day.
Address: Neolithic Temples Street, Tarxien, Island of Malta
7. Blue Lagoon, Island of Comino: Nature's Perfect Swimming Pool
With an almost tropical quality, the Blue Lagoon is a mesmerizing scene of crystal-clear turquoise waters lapping over a white-sand seabed. This expansive lagoon gives the impression of being a giant swimming pool because the water is temperate, there are no waves, and the shallow end is safe enough for children.
Wonderful for swimming, splashing around, or floating on inflatable tubes, the core of the lagoon is roped off to boats. The lagoon 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 has a small beach with umbrellas and chairs for rent. The other option is sunbathing on the scorching hot rocky hillside. At least, tourists can count on refreshment stands set up around the lagoon.
From May through October, travelers can stay at the Comino Hotel (the only hotel on the island) to appreciate the Blue Lagoon without the other tourists and enjoy a peaceful vacation. Things to do on Comino Island include nature walks, hiking, and water sports such as snorkeling and scuba diving.
Tips for Tourists: During high season, this beach is often crowded by 10:30am, so it is best to arrive early. The lagoon is less crowded after 4pm, however the returning ferries stop running around 6pm. The ferry ride from Mgarr on the island of Gozo take about 15 minutes to arrive at the Blue Lagoon on the Island of Comino. From the Island of Malta (departing from the port of Marfa or Cirkewwa), the ferry ride to the Blue Lagoon takes about 30 minutes.
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 breathtaking seaside scenery and limestone caves here are a picture of pure serenity. The water shines a brilliant blue in the sun. According to mythology, the Blue Grotto was home to the sirens (sea nymphs), who captivated sailors with their charms.
Tourists can take a guided boat tour in one of the brightly painted Maltese fishing boats called luzzus. Boats leave frequently year-round, when the sea is calm. The 20-minute joyride speeds through the sea past six caves, including the Blue Grotto, a 30-meter-high cave with a deep pool of water. The best time to visit is early in the day, ideally before 2pm, when the sunlight best illuminates the water.
The village of Wied iz-Zurrieq (just one kilometer away from the Blue Grotto) has many souvenir stores, ice-cream shops, and cafés, as well as cliffside restaurants with marvelous 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 scuba diving destination because of its bountiful marine life.
9. Breathtaking Views at Dingli Cliffs, Island of Malta
Those who appreciate awe-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 plunge 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 stunning seaside panoramas.
Besides a short walking trail, there is nothing at Dingli Cliffs except a tiny hilltop chapel (closed to the public), which is devoted to Saint Mary Magdalene.
Tips for Tourists: 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 sensational photo-ops make it worth the trek.
10. Editor's Pick Golden Bay Beach, Island of Malta
With its sheltered sandy shores tucked away behind 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 perfect get-away-from-it-all seaside escape.
The beach has an extremely wide shoreline with soft golden sands. The clean, calm waters are safe for swimming. 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. There are also cafés and restaurants with terraces overlooking the shore and the gently crashing waves.
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 orange sand beach, which 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), which intrigue scholars and visitors alike.
12. The Seaside Charm of Mellieha, Island of Malta
In the scenic countryside of Northwest Malta, Mellieha is a family-friendly seaside destination. The beach is next to a busy road, which detracts from the natural beauty. However, the Mellieha Beach 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. The calm waters with no undercurrents are safe for children to wade or swim.
The picturesque village of Mellieha stands on a craggy hilltop overlooking the pastoral landscape of rocky outcrops, vine-covered hills, and small farms. In a beacon-like position at the highest point in the village, the Parish Church of Our Lady of Victory (Parish Square) is a lovely 19th-century Baroque building. The church contains the Shipwreck of Saint Paul painting by renowned artist Giuseppe Cali and a statue of The Virgin Mary that is venerated during the annual Mellieha Village Festa. This lively festival features marching bands and fireworks.
Opposite the steps that lead down from the Parish 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 builders of these remarkable prehistoric temples 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 temple was built as an individual place of worship.
The largest megalith of this 5,000-year-old site 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.
Artifacts found on the site, including the Fat deities, believed to be symbols of fertility, and the nude Venus of Malta, are on display at the National Museum of Archeological in Valletta.
Address: Triq Hagar 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 Hagar 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), which 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 fertile Girgenti Valley, which begins near the Dingli Cliffs. 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 annual festival.
The Siggiewi Festa (Feast Days), 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. Every night, the church takes its 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 lively event pays tribute to the culture and lifestyle of Malta with folklore dance performances, traditional music, and delicious Maltese cuisine. The Limestone Heritage Park and Gardens is also a popular venue for outdoor weddings.
16. The Country Village of Zebbug, Island of Malta
This 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. The main square is graced by the twin-towered Baroque Parish Church of Saint Philip with an ornately decorated interior. The initial design was created by Cassars, the architect of Saint-John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta.
Zebbug celebrates its annual religious festival, the Festa of Saint Philip, at the Parish Church 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 are greeted by Popeye the sailor and then can take a tour of the village to find the post office, bakery, firehouse, and other buildings. Popeye Village also has a beach, sun bathing decks, and souvenir shop.
Address: Popeye Village, Anchor Bay, Triq Tal-Prajjet, Mellieha, Malta
Official site: http://www.popeyemalta.com/