What to Do in Malta
From prehistoric sites and medieval cathedrals to spectacular beaches and crystal-clear blue water for snorkeling and diving, Malta offers something for everyone. In Valletta you can marvel at its most important landmark, 16th-century St. John’s Cathedral which features the most internationally recognized work by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Beheading of St. John the Baptist and explore its modern side, including the buzzing nightlife with balmy evenings drawing many to enjoy the vibrant bar scene and streetside jazz. The ancient city of Mdina, Malta’s former capital, sits on a hilltop surrounded by well-preserved fortifications and filled with an eclectic mix of medieval and Baroque architecture that line the atmospheric narrow streets.
Located adjacent to Mdina is Rabat with its underground providing a fascinating glimpse at the story of the Apostle Paul. The Catacombs of St. Paul is where he’s believed to have resided after being shipwrecked here in 60 AD, serving as the first evidence of Christianity in Malta. Visitors can also can day trips to Gozo Island, a serene alternative to the main island with ancient sites, a unique orange beach, and outstanding spots for snorkeling and diving. Tiny Comino is popular for its Blue Lagoon with stunningly clear azure waters ideal for swimming.
Best activities to do in Malta
Malta has a huge range of outdoor pursuits, history, culture, and food to enjoy. To help narrow it down we have put together a list of some of our favorites.
Discover St. John's Cathedral
St. John’s Cathedral is Malta’s most important landmark, built in the 16th century and dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It contains nine richly decorated chapels, while every wall and pillar is encrusted with elaborate ornamentation to provide the effect of dusty gold brocade. The breathtaking vaulted ceilings were the work of Mattia Preti, a well-known Italian Baroque artist. It contains a rich array of Baroque art while ethereal icons were inlaid with artistry and painstaking precision into the ornate marble floors with each section featuring a distinct message or theme. The highlight is one of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s most internationally recognized works, The Beheading of St. John the Baptist. It’s Caravaggio’s largest work and the only one bearing his signature. Don’t miss the bell tower with its three clocks, one showing the date, one showing the day of the week, and the other showing the time.
Visit the Ancient Walls of Mdina
The former capital of Malta has had a series of defensive walls surrounding it since antiquity. The majority of the present fortifications date between the 16th and 18th centuries, but there have been fortifications here since around the 8th century BC when they were built by the Phoenicians. The city walls of Mdina that stand today have among the most well-preserved fortifications in the country. Three gates still serve as the only entrances to the old town through the massive walls, all of which are accessed by bridges that cross the ancient moat. Vilhena Gate is the main gate, built in the Baroque style over an old medieval gate. The Gharreqin Gate, also known as the Outer Greek Gate, has a tunnel-like access that leads to the Greeks Gate which has a neoclassical style.
Catacombs & Bomb Shelters in Rabat
Beneath the center of Rabat are the Catacombs of St. Paul which are said to be where the saint himself stayed after being shipwrecked on the island in 60 AD. The hallowed halls serve as the first evidence of Christianity in the country. Opposite is the St. Agatha catacombs containing human skeletons and faded Byzantine frescoes. The warren of tunnels beneath the capital city is liberally punctuated with bunkers that are big enough to hold families of four. They were carved out during the Second World War to provide shelter from German and Italian bombs. Visitors will see bright ceramic tiles covering the floors with small alters that contain personal effects like half-burned candles and bottles providing a poignant reminder of those who were forced to huddle here in the underground.
UNESCO Temples of Hagar-Qim & Mnajdra
The most evocative and well-preserved prehistoric sites in Malta are the megalithic temples of Hagar-Qim & Mnajdra. They’re ranked among the most ancient religious sites on the planet and boast an incredible setting atop dramatic cliffs along the sea. Described by the UNESCO World Heritage Sites committee as “unique architectural masterpieces,” they were built between 3600 and 3200 BC, making them even older than the Pyramids of Giza. They were originally roofed, likely with corbelled stone vaults but the roofs have long since collapsed. To protect the temples from the elements, tent-like canopies were erected over them. They’re filled with significant solar alignments and if you’re here during the summer or winter solstice or the spring and autumn equinoxes, you can experience them here on a guided tour.
Day Trip to Gozo Island
A day trip to the small island of Gozo is considered a must while in Malta, easily reached from the main island of Malta via a scenic 20-minute ferry ride. It’s much more rural, with charming villages, farmhouses, ancient temples, and a magnificent coastline known for its beautiful rock formations that are just offshore. The most iconic of them all was the Azure Window, featured in “Game of Thrones,” but erosion and the elements led to its collapse in 2017. There are hundreds of sea creature fossils that can easily be spotted on the exposed rock in this area while Wied il-Mielah is a great alternative for photo-ops that also resembles a window. Ramla Beach is a top attraction with its unique brilliant orange sands and rich historic treasures with Roman remains lying right beneath.
Sample a Gozitan Cooking Class
There are multiple options for Gozitan cooking classes which make for an ideal souvenir, allowing you to learn new skills so that you can share some of your favorite dishes with friends and family back home. These are typically hands-on experiences where you’ll learn to make and enjoy traditional homemade Maltese recipes in the kitchen of an expert, often following recipes that have been handed down through generations, while getting to know some of the locals at the same time. You might begin by visiting the main square to pick up fresh produce that will be needed to make the meal, perhaps from a butcher, fish hawker, and cheesemonger. After you’ve helped prepare the dishes, you’ll get to enjoy the fruits of your efforts paired with wine and will be given a copy of the recipes to take home.
Cruise the Northern Coast by Private Yacht from Valletta
Soak up the Mediterranean sun from a private yacht while cruising Malta’s northern coast. You’ll depart from Valetta to enjoy many spectacular sites from the perspective of the water, including St. Paul’s Island. Look for the statue of St. Paul believed to be near the spot where the Apostle Paul was shipwrecked in 60 AD and ultimately became the first to introduce Christianity to Malta. You’ll see several famous sights like the 10 caves on the north side of Comino Island, some of which can be entered, with incredible views into the surreal blue. At the stunning Blue Lagoon, enjoy time to swim in the dreamy, transparent turquoise waters that are beautifully contrasted against the rocky cliffs providing plenty of Instagrammable shots too. In the caves of the Crystal Lagoon, you’ll find more strikingly clear blue waters for an enticing dip.
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