Malta Highlights

When I was planning my trip to Munich, Germany, I wanted to add a second destination to optimize my trans-Atlantic voyage. Malta met my list of criteria and I was thrilled to visit this small country in the Mediterranean Sea:

  • A new-to-me country
  • Direct, two-hour flight from Munich
  • Rich in history and culture, with a few UNESCO World Heritage sites
  • English and Maltese are the official languages
  • Part of the European Union, use same currency as Germany (i.e. the euro)
  • Mediterranean climate and cuisine
  • Land and sea scenery and island lifestyle
  • A less expensive European destination

Malta is steeped in prehistoric ruins, tales of the Knights of St. John, and about 7,000 years of history. I spent six days exploring Valletta, the two harbours, the fortified Mdina, Gozo, Comino, and the Blue Lagoon. Gozo and Comino are two smaller islands that can be reached by ferry or cruise boat from Malta. Let the sightseeing fun begin!

VALLETTA

Valletta is Malta’s capital city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. To appreciate Valletta’s skyline and enjoy Malta from the water, I take the public ferry from Sliema to Valletta. Return tickets cost 2.8 euros. The comfortable ferry ride lasts about fifteen minutes. Service is frequent year-round. The city views from Marsamxett Harbour, including the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral spire, are priceless.

From the ferry terminal, I follow the signs to walk to Valletta’s city centre. I think the best way to explore Valletta is on foot, however, parts of Valletta are uphill or involve long stairs. There are tourist electric trains and horse carriages waiting outside the ferry terminal for people who prefer to take them.

Valletta Stairs

Valletta’s centre is easy to navigate with several main streets designated for pedestrians only. It is a lovely place to wander and be allured by the surrounding architectural beauty.

Clockwise Left to Right: St. John’s Co-Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Valletta’s Bay Windows and Expressive Lion Faces.
Clockwise Left to Right: Entrance to the Grandmaster’s Palace (constructed in 1574), its gardens, Manoel Theatre (1732-present), and Auberge de Castille (1744-present).

For scenic views, I visit the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens and Hastings Garden. I think the two Barrakka Gardens are better lookout points than the Hastings Garden.

The Upper Barrakka Garden offers fantastic panoramic view of Valletta’s Grand Harbour and Fort St. Angelo. The system of bastioned fortifications was built by the Order of St. John between the 16th and 18th centuries, with further alterations made by the British in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Knights’ fortifications around the harbours of Malta are nominated for UNESCO designation.

Grand Harbour

The Lower Barrakka Garden greets its visitors with a beautiful temple, fountains, greenery, and benches. Walk through the garden to the open colonnade for a commanding view of the harbour and the Siege of Malta Memorial with the Recumbent bronze statue below.

Lower Bakkarra Garden

THE TWO HARBOURS

The two main harbours surround Valletta are the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour. I take a pleasant 90-minute cruise, departing from Sliema and cruising inside the ten creeks named Sliema, Lazzaretto, Msida, Pieta, Menoa, Marsa, French, Cospicua, Kalkara, and Rinella. Ticket price is 15 euros, or less if combined with other cruises.

The English commentary explains all the historical points of interest of the two harbours. Plus, the cruise boat gets me up close to see the Yacht Marina, the battlements and fortifications surrounding Valletta and Floriana, the Grand Harbour, the inner basin, the Malta Ship Building Yard, the Dockyard area, and the three cities (Senglea, Cospicua, and Vittoriosa).

THE MDINA

The 4000-year-old walls of the former capital, Mdina, stand on a mountaintop at the heart of the main island, Malta. Mdina’s imposing architecture is entirely preserved, and the city is a UNESCO-designated Urban Conservation Area today.

From Valletta or Sliema, a public bus ride costs 2 euros and takes about an hour to reach the Mdina. Entry to the Mdina is free of charge. The fortified Mdina, nicknamed the “Silent City”, is lined with stately palazzi, bastions, and a cathedral. Some 240 people still live here.

The Mdina is a pedestrian-friendly and nice place to wander, with small alleys fan out from its centre. Some of Malta’s best restaurants are tucked away inside Mdina’s ancient walls. Bastion Square provides panoramic views of Mostar and its huge dome, and Valletta with St. Paul’s iconic spire.

Clockwise Left to Right: Mdina’s Main Gate, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Views from Bastion Square.

GOZO

There are many boat cruises from Sliema to Gozo every day in the summer. The ride takes about two hours with two brief passenger pick-up or drop off stops in St. Paul’s Bay and Comino. The boat cruise arrival in Gozo’s Mgarr Harbour is timed with optional sightseeing tours of this beautiful island.

I visit the Inland Sea Cave, Fungus Rock, Gozo’s Citadel, Ta’pinu Basilica, Gozo’s market, and Mgarr Harbour. The boat ride into the Cave costs 4 euros. The water in and around the Cave is incredibly clear and its colour changes from deep sapphire blue to aquamarine to light green. The rock formations also show layers of amethyst, green, and yellow sand stone colours.

COMINO and THE BLUE LAGOON

Comino is a much smaller island than Gozo. It’s known for the Blue Lagoon and caves. You may have heard of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Well, there is a Blue Lagoon in Malta, too.

There are boat cruises from Sliema or from St. Paul’s Bay to Comino. The ride takes about an hour or half an hour respectively. The Blue Lagoon entry is busy, however, if you walk further out, there are lots of secluded spots to enjoy the sun, sand, and swim.

FOOD

There is no shortage of good food to try in Malta. The local Maltese specialty is fenek (rabbit slow-cooked in garlic and wine) although seafood is popular. Of all the good meals I had in Malta, one of them stood out. It was the dinner at Gululu in Balluta Bay with Margie who is from the Netherlands. We met, we clicked, and went for dinner on her last day in Malta. We both ordered the Maltese-style chicken pizza. I enjoyed our hearty conversation, delicious food, and the lovely view of Balluta Bay that evening.

SHOPPING

Best buys are traditional crafts including hand-blown glass and lace, ceramics, silver and gold jewelry, metalwork, pottery, and tiles. I bought a pretty silver flower-shaped pin as a birthday gift for my cousin’s wife. I forgot to take a photo of it before the saleslady wrapped it up with a bow.

Aside from the usual souvenir items, what I find interesting is the variety of door knockers or door adornment in Malta. Here’s a sample:

Overall, I had a wonderful time exploring Malta. There are still many places to visit on this small island. I’d love to return in the future.

Thank you for reading my post. I hope you enjoy it and would love to hear your comments.

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