Officially listed as being 122 square miles (316 km2) in size, Malta ranks as the 10th smallest independent country on Earth. Actually it is an island nation that lies in the Mediterranean Sea, thus placing between the continents of Europe and Africa. However, Malta is closer to the former, being situated just 50 miles (80 km) south of Italy and is in fact classified as an European country.
Due to its global positioning, Malta has played a prominent role in European/African/Middle Eastern history, in other words world history, dating way back to the days of old. The presence of some of its inhabitants from the B.C. era has been well-preserved at some of the sites mentioned on this list. In other words, many of the tourist attractions found within the country come from those times.
This is indeed a relatively-small island we’re talking about. High on its list of tourism draws are a number of beaches and other scenic localities where the land meets the water. And this is a nation that does in fact take tourism seriously. The tourism industry currently accounts for nearly 15% of Malta’s GDP on average.
Leading up to the coronavirus pandemic, the number of tourists visiting Malta was steadily on the rise, peaking at 3,500,000 in 2019. That may not be a lot of people in the grand scheme of world tourism, especially as far as Western Europe – the region that this country is more or less situated in – is concerned. So in a way it’s as if Malta is a hidden gem, just being a relative stone’s throw away from the major tourist hubs of Italy, Greece and Spain yet with significantly less visitors than those countries. So visiting this locality amidst a European tour can serve as sort of a vacation within a vacation.
And without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the sites you would want to hit up while in Malta.
Malta is a nation most notably comprised of three islands, with the second largest (after Malta itself) being Gozo. Besides its picturesque landscape, which includes for example a unique coastal rock formation known as the Azure Window, the island is also home to a couple of nation’s prominent beaches, such as Ramla Bay and San Blas. Furthermore, the nearby small yet colorful city of Marsalforn is where you will find some of the best beach resorts in the country.
The island’s own respective capital city, Rabat (aka Victoria) is also poppin’ by Maltese standards. And other diverse attractions found on Gozo Island include the likes of the megalithic temple of Ġgantija. In fact if you’re into research and things of that nature, Rabat should prove especially appealing as it also houses the Gozo Museum of Archaeology and Malta’s Natural Science Museum, as well as the country’s own Folklore Museum.
The Blue Lagoon (Comino)
If you are coming to Malta to get your swimming on, then one place you have to visit with no exception is a coastline/beach known as the Blue Lagoon. This one is located on Comino, which is the smallest of the country’s three major islands. And what makes the lagoon ideal for swimmers is this particular section of the sea being a lot like a pool itself, complete with temperate, still and beautiful waters that don’t run too deep. As such, it has also been recognized as a nice place to go diving, including in the caves in the area.
The caveat, in a manner of speaking, is that there doesn’t appear to be any hotels located on the entire island. There is reportedly at least one which, if still active, is apparently a very small-scale facility. However there are regular transits to the Blue Lagoon by ferry, as well as cruise ship which traverse the coast.
But the absence of hotels and what have you is part of what makes Comino so cool, i.e. the island only being accessible by water, and there being no cars thereupon. In fact despite being made up of nearly 1.5 square miles of land, officially there are only three residents on this landmass.
Comino is a tourism hotspot, so during certain times of the day you’ll find a lot of people there, particularly at the Blue Lagoon. But it is also a nice place to visit if you want to get away from outside world, so to speak.
Back on the Maltese mainland lays a major village known as Mellieha, which holds the distinction of containing the nation’s largest beach, which is also called Mellieha. This coast likewise possesses that beautiful blue seawater that Malta is known for.
The tourism advantage of Mellieha, a village of 11,000 residents, is it being considered a large tourist resort. And if beach resorts are in fact your thing, perhaps the most notable in the entire country would be Golden Bay Beach, which is also found in Mellieha. Part of what makes Golden Bay Beach unique is it being nestled inside sort of a mountain range, making it reclusive as far as habitable coastlines go. And the area at large is replete with hospitality venues, including the 5-star Golden Bay Beach Hotel.
Besides the beach, where diving is also encouraged (complete with a couple of notable boat wrecks to explore), other sites in Mellieha to check out include Saint Agatha’s Tower, another of Malta’s 17th century structures, as well as Selmun Palace, which dates back to the same period.
Ħaġar Qim (And Other Megalithic Temples Of Malta)
Usually when it comes to thinking of historical locations of the ancient Mediterranean world, our minds jump to countries like Greece or Egypt. Meanwhile, there are extant sites in Malta which well predate major archeological tourist attractions like the Acropolis or Great Pyramid of Giza.
As a testament to the historical significance of Malta, there are a handful of megalithic temples (i.e. old temples built with really-big stones) – such as Ġgantija and Ta’ Ħaġrat – which are being maintained by the help of the United Nations and do entertain visitors. But at the top of that list is Hagar Qim, which is found on the island of Malta proper.
To note, this temple is well over 5,000 years old, so the structure itself may not necessarily be pretty, and so it goes with Malta’s other buildings that fall into this category. But the local government, alongside UNESCO, has done a good job of preserving them and making them accessible to tourists. And that includes the erection of the Hagar Qim Park Visitor Center near the aforementioned site.
To some visitors, sites like Hagar Qim may not seem like much on the surface. But if you want to gander at the valuable artifacts that were actually found therein (as well as some of the structure’s original stones), then you would have to visit the National Museum of Archaeology, which is found in Valletta, the capital of the entire nation.
Valletta, Europe’s southernmost capital city, itself looks like a remnant of the old world. Its architecture/aesthetic was founded in what is known as the Baroque era of European art. So for instance what is considered by some to be Malta’s main attraction, St. John’s Co-Cathedral, is located in Valletta. This beautifully-designed building was constructed over 400 years ago and epitomizes what many of us imagine when it comes to the huge, fancy European churches of the medieval era.
The Hypogeum, as it currently exists, is a large underground/cave structure located in the Maltese town of Paolo, which is also situated in Malta’s main island. This is believed to date back a solid 5,000 years and as such serves as a further example of how the Neolithic people on this landmass lived.
It is generally taken that the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, as the site is also called, acted as a necropolis or, more simply put, a large, elaborate cemetery. The Hypogeum – itself being under the auspices of UNESCO – boasts its own on-site museum, though as with Hagar Qim, some of its most-profound findings can rather be found at the capital’s National Museum of Archaeology.
One of the implicit subthemes throughout this article is the understanding that the Maltese, despite being situated in a high-traffic zone historically, are a distinct people. For example, even though they are adept in English (with the country having once been part of the British Empire), the natives of Malta have their own language also (i.e. Maltese).
In terms of getting a better understanding of their traditional culture, one of the areas that is recommended is the city of Siggiewi, which may also be known to some as Ferdinand.
The residents of Siggiewi may not rely on farming as much as they used to, but the ways of the old world are still visibly intact. Besides that the city boasts its own swimming locations, such as Ghar Lapsi. There is also what is known as the Limestone Heritage Park and Gardens, a semi-natural, family-friendly tourist attraction which is likewise a nice place to visit if you’re part of a large party.
And here’s an interesting fact – the patron saint of Siggiewi happens to be good ol’ St. Nicholas, i.e. the same historical figure who inspired the character of Santa Claus. In Malta, he has been afforded his own Church of Saint Nicholas, which was built in the 17th century. And annually (during June) there is a big festival held throughout the city in his honor.
Sweethaven Village, aka Popeye Village, is a part of the aforementioned larger village of Mellieha. Back in 1980, the late Robin Williams starred in a film titled “Popeye” which has gone on to achieve sort of a cult standing.
Moreover, “Popeye” is a popular comic/cartoon character that has been around since the early 20th century.
The residents of Sweethaven have allowed the set of that film to remain, as erected by Paramount and Walt Disney, standing to this day, basically dedicating the entire hood to the franchise.
So this is definitely a place to visit if you’re a fan of the said movie or character. Locals even go as far as dressing up like and put on “Popeye” shows. Additionally, if you’re a film buff or movie scholar in general, visiting this location can prove educational.
And generally it is known to be a very family-friendly place, where visitors can partake of various shows and types of entertainment.
Being its own island nation that is significantly detached from the European mainland may explain why Malta has escaped the type of modernization that has engulfed the rest of Western Europe.
Malta is in fact a high-income country and has developed accordingly. Whereas it does boast similarities to nearby nations, being the only independent island state in this part of the world, it is also quite clear that this country is in a class of its own – the land that time has forgotten, but technology hasn’t.
So this is an extraordinary nation in more ways than one. It is noticeably an island, unlike some others landmasses found in the Mediterranean. Moreover it is one of the southernmost points on the continent, meaning that, as far as Europe goes, it’s about as close to the tropics as you can get. So there is an ample amount of related chillin’ going on in Malta.
But at the same time the Mediterranean Sea needless to say, is one of the most historically-significant area in the world with Malta, unknown to many, actually boasting some of the oldest extant sites in the region. So this is the type of country that would appeal to fun seekers and the educationally-minded alike.
Conclusively, Malta may not be a name you commonly hear when it comes to European tourism. This would in part be due to the fact that the country doesn’t necessarily host a bunch of international flights. But if you’re fond of beaches, archaeology and widespread appreciation for old school European architectural/décor, then this is definitely a place you would want to consider visiting.