Ten things not to miss in Malta

22:02, May 14 2014
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Fishing boats and the Gozo ferry in the Mgarr harbour basin on Gozo Island, Malta.
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A general view in the valley of the Mgarr harbour.
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The St Agatha's Tower, a fortress built during the reign of the knights in 1649 and due to its colour also called Red Tower, is seen in Mellieha.
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The town scenery Popeye Village, built by director Robert Altman for the movie 'Popeye - The sailor' in 1979, is seen in Mellieha, Malta.
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The town scenery Popeye Village, built by director Robert Altman for the movie 'Popeye - The sailor' in 1979, is seen in Mellieha, Malta.
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A huge cliff at Anchor Bay in Malta.
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The coastal strip of Ghadira Bay.

This Mediterranean gem is home to sparkling seas, ancient temples and friendly locals.

Here are 10 things to do in Malta           

1. Visit Valletta

Built by the Knights of St John in the 16th and 17th centuries, Malta's pint-sized capital is one of Europe's loveliest. The fortified city has hundreds of monuments, all within easy walking distance.

The Upper Barrakka Gardens has spectacular views over the Grand Harbour, while the relatively plain exterior of St John's Co-Cathedral belies its ornate interior.

Stop by the historic City Gate, currently being restored as part of a Renzo Piano-designed project, and don't miss the legendary Caffe Cordina, the city's top people-watching spot since 1837.               


2. Go to Gozo

A pleasant 25-minute ferry ride from Malta, the sister island of Gozo is a haven for divers, snorkellers and swimmers. It's around a third the size of the main island, so your best bet is to hire a car for the day.

Top spots to explore include the striking rock formations and turquoise bays around Dwejra on the west coast and the russet sands of Ramla Bay on the opposite side. The nearby village of Marsalforn is perfect for an alfresco lunch.        

3. Check out Comino

Situated between Malta and Gozo, car-free Comino is the smallest of the three Maltese Islands. Once a haven for pirates, the tiny island is now regularly invaded by boatloads of tourists who descend upon the Blue Lagoon.

The spectacular cove is justifiably famous and great for snorkelling and sunbathing. The easiest way to get there is with a sightseeing tour from Malta. Try Charlie's Discovery Speedboat tours, which depart regularly from Golden Bay.

 4. Explore ancient temples

Between them, Malta and Gozo are home to seven megalithic temples thought to be the oldest freestanding monuments in the world. Archaeology fans will enjoy visiting all six sites, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1980.

If you're pressed for time, the two Ggantija Temples on Gozo, which date back to around 3600 BC, are the most impressive. Be sure to stop by the small, but informative, National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta, too.         

5. Feast on fresh lampuki

On Sundays, those in the know head to old fishing village of Marsaxlokk on Malta's southeast coast for the weekly fish market. The best place to sample the island's renowned lampuki (mahi-mahi) is Rising Sun, a family-run restaurant overlooking the harbour with the freshest catch at excellent prices.

And just try to leave without first snapping a photo of the colourful luzzu fishing boats moored in the bay, many painted with the 'Eye of Osiris' to ward off evil.

6. Wander in silence

If you stop by the medieval walled city of Mdina during the day, you'll probably be surprised to learn it's known as the Silent City. To avoid the hordes of noisy daytrippers, head to the citadel around dusk, which is also the time when the narrow streets are at their most atmospheric.

Home to elegant baroque buildings, a 17th-century cathedral and a nunnery whose members still live in strict seclusion, the city also offers unrivalled views from its thick perimeter walls.

7. Hit the beaches

Malta's best beaches can be found in the northwest of the island. Picturesque Golden Bay is one of the most popular, with umbrellas and sunloungers for hire, and a busy cafe called Munchies serving excellent pizza and salads.

Just to the south of here is Ghajn Tuffieha, a quieter beach that is reached by a long flight of stairs from the top of the headland. All of the island's beaches are easily accessible by the regular, inexpensive bus service, or hire car.              

8. Promenade along the Med

Join the locals in an evening stroll along the seaside promenade from the upmarket suburb of Sliema to buzzing St Julian's, the centre of the island's nightlife.

Stop for dinner along the way at Piccolo Padre, a popular trattoria with a fantastic terrace overlooking Balluta Bay (you'll need to book ahead for an outdoor table).

If you're keen to kick on, Paceville (pronounced patchy-ville) in the heart of St Julian's is packed with pubs and clubs.

9. Join a festa

Village festas are a big part of Maltese life and you're bound to bump into at least one if you visit during summer.

Organised by each village to honour their patron saint, the streets are decorated with bunting and a statue of the saint is paraded through town, accompanied by brass bands and lots of fireworks.

The lively Feast of St. Julian's, held each August, is one to watch out for.          

10. Snack on pastizzi

Finally, you can't leave Malta with trying the ubiquitous street snack, pastizzi. Available from hole-in-the-wall pastizzerija joints, these small parcels of flaky pastry are filled with either ricotta cheese or mushy peas.

Wash them down with a can of Kinnie, an orange and herb soft drink, and you'll be mistaken for a local.    

GETTING THERE: Emirates flies to Malta via Dubai.

STAYING THERE: The four-star Victoria Hotel in Sliema has rooms from about $200 per night, including breakfast.

The writer travelled at her own expense.