Just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean sits an island unlike anywhere else in the world. The language is English, the culture feels Italian, and the architecture looks like the Middle East.
I’d like to introduce you to Malta. It’s a fascinating country that will dive deep into your heart and remain there.
Here are a few places in Malta that will take your breath away:
Malta’s capital is one of the smallest capitals in Europe, not to mention one of the world’s first planned cities and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dotted with brightly colored “gossip boxes” balconies and views over the Grand Harbour that will make you gasp, Valletta is also home to St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the most over-the-top, visually spectacular church in a nation of over-the-top, visually spectacular churches. It’s also home to the one and only painting Caravaggio ever signed, The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.
Must-Do: Visit Strait Street for evening cocktails. For decades, this was the seedy center of Valletta nightlife, where sailors from all over the world came the drink and carouse. The Ting Tong Bar has retro cocktails and photos of partying sailors during World War II.
You’ll first spot Mdina on your drive across the island, raised up on a platform. It’s the oldest continuously inhabited city on the island, and today is one of the most beautiful places in Malta: a pristine masterpiece of cream-colored buildings, Norse architecture, and hidden alleyways.
Mdina is the kind of city where it’s best to get lost in the alleys and let the history fold around you. Traditionally called the “silent city,” you won’t find many cars or any loud music in Mdina, and this adds to its peaceful ambiance.
Must-Do: Take in views of the coastline just as the knights did while tucking into one of the sensational cakes at Fontanella Tea Garden, home to the most delicious desserts on the island.
Craving some fresh Maltese seafood? Marsaxlokk (marsa-SHLOCK) is the place to visit. A tiny fishing village in the south of the island, Marsaxlokk is one of the best places in Malta to see life as it was lived centuries ago.
The small harbor is filled with colorful traditional Maltese fishing boats striped in yellow, red and blue. Surrounding the harbor are crumbling buildings and open-air restaurants. Many of the fishermen here offer evening boat tours, taking in Marsaxlokk from all angles.
Best activity: Visit just in time for sunset and take pictures of the colorful boats as the sky turns pink before settling into a dinner featuring fish caught that morning.
The best way to get off the beaten path in Malta is to, well, leave the island of Malta. The island of Gozo is just northwest of Malta and is home to some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the Maltese archipelago.
Despite its similarities to Malta, Gozo is far more rural and almost feels like a different country. Here you’ll drive across endless green fields on your way to the best beaches in the country, passing cities like Victoria (Rabat), home to a Citadel and ancient prison still covered in prisoner graffiti from centuries ago.
Must-Do: Visit the iconic Azure Window – and bring your bathing suit. The waters here are glassy, teal, and calm, and the view can’t be matched anywhere else in the world. If you’re into diving, this is one of the best places to do so in Europe, if not the world.
Would you like to visit Malta?