Encompassing just 316 sq km (122 sq mi), Malta may be the world’s tenth-smallest country, but it still manages to pack in many diverse things to see and do.
These recommendations – combining world-famous attractions with a few under-the-radar surprises – to experience the best of this compact island nation at the heart of the Mediterranean.
Experience the roar of Valletta's famous cannons
Walking around Valletta, you'll probably hear an almighty bang at noon and 4pm. Make your way to the Saluting Battery to see what all the fuss is about, and combine the pomp of Valletta's ceremonial cannons – traditionally used to fire salutes to visiting naval vessels – and brilliant views across Grand Harbour to Fort St Angelo and the Three Cities.
Explore Malta's Three Cities in an electric buggy
Traveling in an eco-friendly electric buggy from Rolling Geeks, embark on a self-drive discovery of the piazzas, avenues, and sleepy backstreets of the historic Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua. Pre-programmed directions are handled by the buggies' onboard GPS, so it's impossible to get lost on a leisurely journey taking in museums, churches, and gardens.
Be challenged by contemporary art in Valletta
Inspired by Valletta's 2018 stint as a European Capital of Culture, several of the city's heritage mansions now showcase contemporary art. Galleries worth visiting for thought-provoking installations and sculptures include Valletta Contemporary and Blitz. Scheduled to open in 2023, Malta International Contemporary Art Space (MICAS) will encompass around 7000 sq m (75347 sq ft) of galleries and exhibitions in a restored fort in the historic Floriana precinct.
Learn about "Fortress Malta" at the Lascaris War Rooms
Concealed 40m (131ft) below Valletta's Upper Baraka Gardens, the Lascaris War Rooms housed the Allies’ top-secret command HQ during WWII and were a vital part of the island's defense during the 18-month Siege of Malta from 1940 to 1942. Fascinating guided tours explore map rooms and communications centers restored to how they were during the war.
Hike the clifftop trails of southern Gozo
Tackle the Xlendi Walk, meandering for 12km (7.5 miles) from Mġarr Harbour to the rocky bays around Xlendi. En route, there's the improbably narrow cove at Mġarr ix-Xini, coastal watchtowers built by the Knights of St John in the 17th century, and a vertiginous stairway leading to the compact Carolina Cave. Buses from both Mġarr and Xlendi link to Victoria, Gozo's historic capital.
Discover family-friendly science at Esplora
Focus on both education and entertainment with a visit to Esplora, which opened in 2016 as one of Europe's best interactive science centers. More than 200 interactive exhibits explore cosmology, plate tectonics, and Malta's natural history. The playground, well-kept gardens and an expansive rooftop terrace all offer brilliant views of Valletta and the Three Cities’ Fort St Angelo.
Swoon at classic cars
If you're renting a car, a compact Japanese or Korean option is probably best for negotiating Malta's winding and often narrow roads, but that won't stop you from being envious of the stellar array of automotive excellence at the Malta Classic Car Collection. Look for the blue vintage Bugatti sports car out front and you'll know you're in the right place.
Relax in Mdina's il-Foss
First created as part of the walled city's defensive bastion, a 21st-century makeover has transformed Mdina's historic il-Foss (ditch gardens) into a very pleasant place for a picnic and leisurely stroll. Overgrown tangles of ivy have been replaced by olive trees and a citrus grove, and the space is also used for occasional festivals and concerts.
Ease into the weekend with alfresco jazz
Make a beeline for Valletta's Bridge Bar, especially on a Friday night, when music fans spill out onto the city's honey-colored stairs and enjoy live jazz. Colorful cushions make it a comfortable impromptu concert, and the relaxed tunes usually kick off around 8:30pm and run through until midnight.
Kayak around Gozo's coastline
Idiosyncratic wind- and sea-eroded coastal formations and hidden sea caves make Gozo an excellent destination for sea kayaking. Gozo Adventures run half- and full-day kayaking trips, kicking off at Hondoq Bay on the island's south coast before crossing the Gozo Channel to Comino. Other kayaking destinations include Gozo's sheltered Inland Sea.
Harness Maltese ingredients at a cookery school
Focusing on how its place in the Mediterranean Sea has impacted Malta's culinary diversity, the Mediterranean Culinary Academy's menu of cookery classes includes experiences crafting ravjul (Maltese ravioli) and teaming Maltese wines with artisan produce including cheese, honey, and preserves. Local and sustainable ingredients are regularly used.
Dive into the amazing Blue Hole
Unfortunately, Gozo's famed Azure Window sea arch crumbled into the sea during a big storm in March 2017, but the surrounding Dwejra Bay coastline is still wildly spectacular. Boat trips exploring the nearby Inland Sea also take in views of the arch underwater in gin-clear Mediterranean waters, while it's also possible to dive in the nearby Blue Hole, a 25m (82ft) deep underwater limestone chimney.
Travel 500,000 years back in time at Għar Dalam Cave and Museum
Translating to "Cave of Darkness," Għar Dalam is a 145m-long (475ft) cavern carved into Lower Coralline Limestone, the oldest exposed rock in the Maltese islands. Ancient fossils, some up to 500,000 years old, have been discovered in the cave, representing the bones and teeth of dwarf elephants, hippopotamuses, and prehistoric micro-mammals.
Experience living history at Gozo's ancient salt pans
Negotiate quiet coastal roads and unsealed tracks on Gozo's northern coast to the often-windswept site of the Marsalforn salt pans. Cut into the coastal limestone by hand, the salt pans date from Roman times, and are still used to harvest salt between May and September. Rent a mountain bike in nearby Marsalforn, and make the 2km (1.25 miles) journey west to the salt pans.
Meet the locals at Malta National Aquarium
Five different aquatic zones – each representing different aspects of the waters surrounding Malta – make up the country's national aquarium. Specialist exhibitions focus on Valletta's Grand Harbour and Gozo's coastline, and more than 250 species are displayed in 50 tanks. A highlight is a 12m (40ft) walk-through underwater tunnel.
Climb high for Gozo's best views
Gozo's rocky and serrated coastline is one of Europe's best places for climbing. Many of the island's 300-plus sport climbs are focused on the southern coast, especially around the Munxar-Xlendi Valley, and further east at spectacular Mġarr ix-Xini. It's a good place to learn to climb, especially with Gozo Adventures who can also arrange bouldering and abseiling trips.
Make a difference with BirdLife Malta
Check BirdLife Malta's website for opportunities to join one of the organization's regular events promoting the protection of local and migratory avian species. Events could include after-dark experiences learning about the impact of light pollution on Gozo's nesting seabirds, or eco-walks around northern Malta's Park tal-Majjistral.
Tour Gozo on a Segway or e-bike
Hook up with Gozo Segway Tours – either on a Segway or an e-bike – to explore Malta's smaller and less-populous island. Options include an overland journey from the Marsalforn salt pans to the rocky and narrow coastal bay of Wied l-Ghasri, and then on to the immense Basilica of Ta' Pinu near the village Għarb.
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