Upper Barracca Garden, Valletta
– Admittedly not exactly a horticultural tour de force, but this garden’s top draw is the fantastic views over the Grand Harbour and the city’s bastion. The garden is a favourite stop for locals and tourists alike; and quite a crowd-puller at midday - when the Noon Day Gun is fired from the Saluting Battery.
St. John’s, Valletta
– The apex of the Knights’ artistic achievement during their 268 year stay on the island. Words simply don’t start to describe the opulence of this monument: the painted vault, the floor of inlaid marble, and the richly carved monuments in every nook of the church – it all amounts to a delicious if overwhelming attack on the senses. As if all this wasn’t enough, two Caravaggios are thrown in for good measure, including his largest signed canvas – the only one the master bothered to sign.
– Arguably the world’s oldest free standing monuments, these are the remarkable remains of a unique culture which peaked between 3600 BC and 2500 BC. The prime temple sites are deservedly on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. If you have time for only one site, go for The Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Archaeological Park or Ggantija on Gozo.
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Paola
– The temple builders’ idea of an underground cemetery was to recreate the architectural forms of a typical temple by carving them underground. An array of decorated chambers set on three levels and an amazing achievement unbelievably crafted by the most rudimentary of hand tools.
Museum of Archaeology, Valletta
– An essential stop for any real understanding and appreciation of Malta’s highly evolved prehistoric civilization. The museum contains the best finds from the major sites: statuary, decorated temple blocks, altars, pottery and tools, and of course plenty of detailed information as guidance.
– Malta’s ancient capital lost its importance when the seafaring Knights gave it the cold shoulder in favour of a port town. It never quite lost its ambience, its silence and its rich medieval atmosphere and is today considered one of the best preserved walled cities of Europe.
– Malta’s largest fishing community centred on an authentic fishermen’s quayside which doubles as the venue for a busy Sunday market. The locals’ boats are painted in dazzling primary colours and most carry the Eye of Osiris on their bow – traditionally a talisman to ward off the evil eye. The Maltese are conventionally Catholic but a bit of superstition never hurt anyone…
– A highly interesting and popular geological area at the island’s western end. The site contains a shallow ‘inland sea’ created by the collapse of underground sea caves, while the imposing Fungus Rock guards the entrance to the horseshoe shaped Dwejra Bay. The area is also renowned for its rich flora, and is the only known wild habitat of the Maltese Everlasting.
– An ancient coastal town within the Grand Harbour. The Knights made Birgu their first home in Malta and a few of their original Auberges are still in place. Massive Fort St. Angelo guards its seaward approaches. A lovely warren of ancient streets gives the town a unique atmosphere, while its parish church is the proud owner of Mattia Preti’s largest canvas.
The Citadel, Victoria
– Gozo’s ancient redoubt is set on a hilltop overlooking the town of Victoria. Apart from the Cathedral and a few museums close to its gate, the citadel remains very much a place of empty alleyways and ruined and deserted houses giving it its air of purposeful abandonment.
– Clearly the Maltese think big is best. In Mosta the parishioners created the third largest dome in Europe and the ninth largest in the world. Interestingly the dome was constructed entirely without scaffolding around an older church– allowing the town’s people to use the older building while the massive dome was encircling it. The older church was only pulled down on completion of the Rotunda. A Luftwaffe bomb which pierced the dome but failed to explode during a wartime church service adds flavour to the Dome’s lore.
– The National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta Pinu, to give it its full name, is a church constructed in the early twentieth century in a Romanesque style. Set in open countryside, it is one of Gozo’s major landmarks. A vast collection of ex-voto offerings by pilgrims for graces received is perhaps the most poignant expression of the simple faith that led to the building of this beautiful monument.
– Gozo’s westernmost village has a true end-of-the-line feel about it. A church with a pretty concave façade, some lovely alleys and a clutch of fine ancient stone balconies make for a lovely urban core while the western outskirts lead to some of the remotest countryside on Gozo.
Cliffs of Gozo
– Gozo’s southern coast consists of an almost unbroken line of Cliffs stretching from Mgarr ix-Xini to Xlendi and the cliffside path is an easy one to navigate too. A must if you have the time for it on a clear winter day.
– A huge swathe of countryside in the northwest of the island was designated as Malta’s first national park in 2007. The area includes 6 kilometres of protected coastline and a good representation of Malta’s natural habitats including garigue, steppe, clay slopes and maquis. For the adventurous there is lovely boulder scree to explore beneath the seaward cliffs.
San Blas Bay, Gozo
– Often touted as one of the world’s loveliest beaches – and with good reason too. It’s a small sandy beach set in a lovely location at the mouth of a steep valley and is blissfully uncrowded most of the times. There’s a good reason for this of course – the steep walk from the bay to the road disheartens everyone but the most determined of paradise seekers…
– The small island in the channel between Malta and Gozo is the real getaway place with a permanent population of just three people. There’s a hotel which opens in the summer months but in winter it is a wild, rugged place with no shops but regular crossings – a perfect escape for any soul searcher.
Blue Grotto, Wied iz-Zurrieq
– This was once a tiny fishing community but now seems to make its money from ferrying visitors to the famed sea cave. Notwithstanding the myriad souvenir shops, the place has an infectious holiday air about it and the setting at the bottom of steep cliffs is no less than spectacular.
National Aquarium, Bugibba
– Malta’s latest tourist attraction opened its doors in 2013. The Aquarium is home to around a hundred species of fish including sharks, rays, sea horses and eels spread over 26 tanks and an obligatory walk-through tunnel. A family friendly place with two restaurants and bouncy castles for the kids.
Popeye Village, Mellieha
– A good example of turning failure to success. The 1980’s musical Popeye starring the late Robin Williams flopped badly in cinemas everywhere. The original set of Popeye’s village of Sweethaven at Anchor Bay has survived and is surprisingly one of Malta’s most visited attractions. Tacky for some, but admittedly the sight of a quaint English fishing village set against a Maltese landscape is endearing. Great fun for the kids. Adults without children may find the (free and full) view of the village from the opposite side of the bay sufficient.