Malta is an idyllic archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean. Aside from the obvious appeal of glorious golden beaches and a brilliant turquoise coastline, this island country is bursting with history and Maltese culture – dating back to 4,000 BC, to be exact.
Take your time discovering Malta’s fascinating thousand-year-old fortresses, megalithic temples, and Neolithic burial chambers. Sunbathe on beautiful beaches, indulge in Maltese cuisine, and work it off by hiking the fossil-infused limestone cliffs or scuba diving through extraordinary underwater caves. And the best part? With warm summers and mild winters, it’s the perfect holiday destination all year round.
St. Paul’s Bay is the largest village in the Northern Region of Malta, encompassing the villages of Bugibba, Wardija, Qawra, Xemxija, Bidnija, and Mistra. Named after a shipwrecked saint who introduced Christianity to the Maltese, St. Paul’s Bay is crammed with history.
Dating back to 4,000 BC, St. Paul’s Bay is Malta’s most populated town – but not just with people; it’s scattered with megalithic temples, ancient cart ruts, Roman ruins, 17th-century forts, and Punic tombs. Many fortresses were built during the rule of the Order of Saint John, including Wignacourt Tower, Malta’s oldest watchtower, and Arrias Battery, it’s only surviving battery.
St. Paul’s Bay also served as a landing place during the 1798 French invasion and as a rest camp during World War II. After the Maltese uprising, it became Malta’s main harbor. Today, St Paul’s Bay offers a peaceful place to soak up Maltese village life. While St Paul’s Bay isn’t the top choice for beach bums – the rocky coastline only has a small beach – it offers plenty to make up for it. Don’t miss the Simar Nature Reserve and the July village feast!
The resort town of Sliema – meaning ‘peace’ – is located on the northeastern coast. Once a small fishing village and a summer resort for wealthy Valletta residents, this town is a hub for shopping, socializing and nightlife.
Sliema’s main attraction is ‘the Sliema Front,’ which stretches from Ta’ Xbiex and Gżira in the south to St. Julian’s in the north. This roughly 10 km promenade connects the three towns and is always abuzz with joggers, picnickers, and BBQ lovers. There are no sandy beaches, but you can swim in Roman baths along the coastline here.
There’s plenty of history to be found in Sliema. Most famously, Fort Tigne marks the spot of one of the most remarkable battles of the Great Siege of 1565. The leader of the Turkish troops was killed and Tigne, one of the oldest polygonal forts in the world, was built to defend the harbor from further attacks. Other historical sites include the Baroque-inspired Stella Maris Church (1850s) and Fort Manoel (1725), constructed by the Knights of St John.
St Julian’s – also known as San Giljan – is located north of Valletta. Named after a patron saint known as ‘Julian the Hospitaller’ and ‘Julian the Poor,’ it was once a mere fishing village. Today, it’s a popular spot for nightlife and tourism, with plenty of luxurious hotels and restaurants along the waterfront.
There’s so much to do in and around St Julian’s. Take a stroll along the promenade, admire Portomaso Tower, or hit the nightclubs of Paceville. This entertainment hub packs a punch with bowling, cinemas, and late-night bars.
Self-guided tours are easy here. Head to the Balluta area to visit the neo-gothic church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and admire the nearby Art Deco buildings. Opt for a romantic cruise out into the bay or go swimming at St George’s Bay.
Continue, and you’ll reach Spinola Bay with its famous palace and Love Monument, where you can add your padlock for luck in love. Discover a life built into old barracks buildings in Pembroke and some incredible street art in White Rocks.
An authentic Maltese fishing village, Marsaxlokk is much more relaxed. Aside from its photogenic harbor lined with colorful fishing boats, it’s most famous for its daily open-air fish market and several military outposts from World War II.
Since the Phoenicians landed here in the 9th-century BC, Marsaxlokk has been a popular landing spot. The Romans and Arabs both anchored in the bay during their reign, as did the Ottoman fleet during the Siege of 1565. A few historical points of interest include the Marsaxlokk church (1897) dedicated to the Madonna of Pompeii, Fort St. Lucian (1610), built by order of Saint John, and the thousand-year-old Fort Tas-Silġ.
This quiet village is a great spot to grab lunch, especially on Sundays when the fish market sells directly to the public on the quay. Enjoy a stroll through Xrobb l-Għaġin Nature Park that encompasses over 155,000 square meters of nature and coastline, or head to one of the four surrounding beaches.
If it’s a suntan you’re after, Golden Bay is your best bet. Located along the northwestern coastline, it’s known for its natural dunes and glorious golden sand with a reddish tinge. Easily reached by car or public transport, this Blue Flag beach is a hive of activity for sunbathing, swimming, watersports, and beach BBQs in the summer months.
On the northern side of the beach, the rocky shoreline offers some excellent snorkeling. Golden Bay is one of the most popular beaches in Malta, for locals and tourists alike, but be aware that it gets hectic during the peak season.
Looking to spend a lazy afternoon or evening at the beach? Pick up BBQ supplies from the nearby shop (they sell disposable grids) or hang out with a drink at one of the restaurants and cafes along the shorefront.
Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are two incredible megalithic temples – both worthy additions to your Malta bucket list. Set about 500 meters apart, they’re some of the most ancient religious sites in the world!
Hagar Qim – which means ‘worshipping stones’ – consists of the main temple made from Globigerina limestone dating back to 3,200 BC, and three additional megalithic structures alongside it that are even older. Historians believe the complex was used as a site for animal sacrifice and fertility rituals.
Mnajdra, on the other hand, was built around the fourth millennium BCE. Made of coralline limestone, it consists of three temples: the upper, middle, and lower. The lower temple is one is the most impressive examples of Maltese megalithic architecture, and believed to have been used for astronomy. Keep an eye out for Mnajdra featured on the one, two, and five-cent Maltese euro coins.
Mellieha is one of Malta’s northernmost villages. Set on a hilltop above Mellieħa Bay, Malta’s largest sandy beach, it offers some astonishing views over gorgeous valleys and quaint villages.
Mellieha is a worthwhile destination to visit if you’re seeking a traditional Maltese village experience close to the beach. Hiring a car is recommended if you’re looking to explore the 19th-century Parish Church of Mellieħa, the 16th-century Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieħa, and the Red Tower, which offers some sensational views. Don’t miss the family-friendly Popeye Village entertainment park and the local village feast held in September!
That’s not all Mellieha has to offer: the Għadira Nature Reserve is also the best place in Malta for bird watching. Stroll the coastal paths of Il-Majjistral Nature and History Park and visit the Mellieħa air-raid shelter – the largest of the 46 shelters built during World War II.
3. Mdina Where to Stay
Mdina is a fortified city in the Northern Region. It was Malta’s capital all through the Middle Ages until the Order of St. John declared Birgu the administrative center. Today, it’s still a walled city, and home to fewer than 300 people (the adjacent town of Rabat houses a further 11,000 outside the city walls).
Established as Maleth in the 8th-century BC by Phoenicians, the city was then renamed Melite by the Romans. When it was occupied by the Byzantines, the city shrunk to its current size yet still maintains plenty of its medieval charm. There are some impressive displays of Baroque and Norman architecture, as well as palaces now serving as private residences.
Today, Mdina is one of Malta’s most popular hotspots, attracting 750,000 tourists every year. Interestingly, the city doesn’t allow any cars other than ambulances or those belonging to residents – one of the reasons for its nickname as the ‘Silent City.’ Take your time exploring the city walls, the Roman Catholic St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the French Baroque Palazzo Vilhena.
Gozo – also known as Għawdex – is the second-largest island of the seven-island archipelago. Dating back to 5,000 BC when Sicilian farmers discovered the island, Gozo is less developed than the south of Malta. Instead, rural Gozo is known for its scenic hills, countryside walks, a February carnival, and excellent beaches – Gozo is one of the top diving destinations in the Med!
The Ggantija temples (meaning ‘belonging to the giants’) were built during the Neolithic period and are believed to be the world’s oldest religious structures. Local folklore says they were created by giants.
Other fascinating natural attractions include the Dwejra Inland Sea, Wied il-Mielah Window and the Azure Window that was filmed in Game of Thrones and has since collapsed. You’ll also find no shortage of cathedrals, churches, and chapels. Don’t miss the Baroque Cittadella Cathedral and the onyx covered Żebbuġ church – the second-oldest consecrated church in Gozo.
Set along the southeastern coastline, the Fortress City, as Valletta is called, has many claims to fame. It’s the southernmost capital of Europe and the smallest capital city in the European Union! A city ‘built by gentlemen for gentlemen,’ Valletta is Malta’s beating administrative and commercial heart.
This Maltese capital city has a distinct Baroque character, influenced by Mannerist, Neo-Classical, and Modern architecture. You’ll find no shortage of historical wonders here, from ancient forts and historical museums to 16th-century mansions and Baroque palaces, gardens and churches. It’s no wonder the city adopted its nickname ‘Superbissima,’ which means ‘most proud.’
While you’re visiting Valletta, we recommend visiting St John’s Co-Cathedral and museum, the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, or taking the ferry to the Three Cities – the trio of the fortified cities of Birgu, Senglea, and Cospicua.