Last Updated on January 13, 2021 by Nina Ahmedow
Malta is a country I had planned on visiting for a few years now and am so glad I finally got to see. I had ten days to explore one of the smallest countries in Europe by size which still wasn’t enough, to be honest.
You should know that Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. In fact, aside from city-states like Monaco, Singapore, and Vatican City, Malta comes second only to Bahrain in terms of population density.
I fell so in love with Malta that I posted a ton of photos on Facebook and Instagram, but I haven’t shared more about why I loved the country so much. So here’s a post with my six reasons to fall in love with Malta (and one thing you will dislike).
Malta is a major Mediterranean port and gets a lot of teenagers flying in for summer breaks involving lots of alcohol.
But it’s entirely possible to avoid all that rowdiness and have a calm and fascinating time in this wonderful country. Especially, since Maltese people are the friendliest people I have ever met.
There are so many reasons you should travel to Malta, but here are my top six reasons to fall in love with Malta.
The Maltese Language
Malta is located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, not far from Sicily and Tunisia, and it combines a lot of Italian and North African characteristics. My main interest in the country has been the Maltese language which is the only Semitic language written in Latin script. As someone who studied standard Arabic, I found it incredibly intriguing to see the written language and try to figure out the meaning without having learned a single word of Maltese. For example, “triq” is the Maltese word for “street” (“tariq” in Arabic means “road”).
The pronunciation was a lot more difficult to figure out because it’s similar to the Tunisian dialect, and I never studied any of the Arabic dialects. What makes the language yet more interesting, is the fact that over the decades, the amount of Italian vocabulary has increased. If you’re interested in languages, you’ll definitely fall in love with Malta.
The village festivals are very unique to the country. In the summer, in particular, every week there is a village festival somewhere in Malta for which the streets and buildings are beautifully decorated, food and drink stalls set up for the evenings, and beautiful fireworks displayed at night. The first day, we were still quite confused by the loud noise, but the locals told us that those were the festival fireworks. These village “festas” are an integral part of the Maltese summer. These summer vibes could make anyone fall in love with Malta. So try to visit the country at least once during the summer.
The gorgeous, colorful balconies are typical of Malta and define the urban (mainly baroque) architecture. I think the balconies are the main thing that can make you fall in love with Malta at first sight. While there are regular, open balconies, the closed-off wooden ones set Malta’s architecture apart. These balconies take inspiration from Moroccan and Spanish architecture.
They come in bright colors which usually match the main door’s color, with green being one of the most prominent colors. These fascinating and picturesque balconies make walking through the narrow streets of the Three Cities or Valletta an absolute joy. There is so much beauty to observe by looking at the details of these balconies and the stone decorations that support them.
The traditional Maltese door knockers are another charming detail of Maltese houses. They often come in the shape of fish, and you can even buy them as souvenirs. If you have your own house, these are certainly some of the loveliest souvenirs you can find in Malta.
Malta’s architecture is also defined by its many churches. People say that Malta has as many churches as the year has days. We were obviously not able to see all of these churches, but some of them really stood out with their exquisite exteriors and the extensively decorated interiors.
The Rotunda of Mosta whose neoclassical style was inspired by Rome’s Pantheon carries a very special meaning. In World War II, it was hit by a German bomb which, thankfully, did not explode. You can still see the spot in the ceiling that the bomb pierced through. The Rotunda’s dome is one of the largest in the world, and visiting this church is sure to leave an impression on you.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta is another stunning Maltese church with absolutely magnificent mosaics on the floor. It is world-renowned for having one of the most marvelous baroque interiors.
The most splendid Maltese church that I saw was the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Valletta. The first time we visited it was almost empty and we got a good look at the lovely decoration. The second time we went was actually the church’s festival. So we observed the rituals for a while, which even included a little orchestra and choir. The basilica is really captivating and an absolute must if you go to Malta.
Mdina, the former capital of Malta, boasts another one of these enchanting Maltese churches – St. Paul’s Cathedral. The apostle Paul plays an important role in Maltese identity, as people believe that his ship wrecked on the island. There is a smaller church in Valletta named for this incident, but St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina is larger and really impressive.
One day, we also saw the Franciscan church in Valletta but didn’t get a good look around as they were in the middle of a service.
The Mediterranean Sea
Because Malta is such a small island, you are always close to the sea. We once took a dgħajsa (water taxi) from the Three Cities to Valletta. But, as much as I love the water, I do get scared on boats. So while the view was delightful, I didn’t feel any desire to make the trip again.
Another time we took the ferry which is actually cheaper and includes the ticket to the elevator to the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta. Whether you’re on a boat or taking a walk, though, the waterfront atmosphere is wonderful. And the Maltese people enjoy spending time here as much as travelers might, so there are benches all over to simply enjoy the view or watch the locals as they eat, laugh, and chat with each other. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Malta for these beautiful views?
Note that most beaches in Malta are not suitable for a beach vacation unless you stay in a resort that caters to this specifically. There are some decent beaches around Mellieha in the north, and, especially, on the island of Gozo (Ghawdex). Ramla Bay in Gozo is truly sensational with its reddish sand and wasn’t even very busy when we went. The problem is that it will take you a while to get there if you’re not staying on Gozo itself and don’t have a scooter, but more on public transport in Malta later on.
The Most Gorgeous Sunset in Malta
For the most spectacular sunset, you must go to the Dingli Cliffs on the west coast of the main island. Despite the fact that the sunsets here are utterly gorgeous, it’s not actually busy with tourists.
Fall in Love with Malta’s Cities and Villages
The Three Cities (Bormla, Birgu, Senglea)
We rented a lovely house in the Three Cities through Airbnb. As Malta is very densely populated, it’s difficult for foreigners to understand where a city begins and where it ends. Several times, as we took the bus to different locations, we felt like a large portion of the island is one big city, when, actually, we had passed through several towns already.
The Three Cities are an example of different municipalities that are connected to each other as if they were one big city. Birgu, Bormla, and Senglea are within the same fortifications. They are so close to each other that you can easily take a walk along the waterfronts of Birgu and Senglea within half an hour. It’s also possible to walk to nearby Kalkara which we did when Kalkara had its village festival.
I already mentioned St. Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina, but the city itself is quite glorious. It is heavily influenced by Arab city planning and features the narrow alleys you can also see in the south of Spain or North Africa. Even though it was very warm when we were there, the way the city was built provides enough air circulation to allow for a cooling effect.
The city is fortified in its entirety, and from the fortifications, you have a striking view over most of the island. When we entered the gates, a tourist bus had arrived as well so for a while it was completely filled with tourists. But after the bus left again we had time to enjoy the Silent City and take pictures that were not ruined by masses of tourists.
I hadn’t yet watched Game of Thrones when I visited Malta. But fans of the show will know that a lot of scenes were shot in Mdina. So if you want to see the real-life King’s Landing you’ll fall in love with Malta.
Valletta, is quite different from Mdina. It seems less closed-off despite the fact that you can also find fortifications here. However, in contrast to Mdina, it lies right at the sea and features more Italian and French influences. Despite its small size, it is very interesting and has a lot to offer. In fact, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so you will never run out of things to see and do. Make sure to visit the many churches, as well as the Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens. Simply walking through the city, is absolute bliss because Valletta showcases many of the cute Maltese balconies I wrote of earlier.
The city is strongly influenced by the Knights Hospitaller. If you go see the Malta Experience movie next to Fort St. Elmo you can get a ticket that includes a visit to the infirmary. This hospital was the most modern in all of Europe at the time it was founded by the Order of St. John.
The old fishing village of Marsaxlokk is famous for its little harbor. Here, you can see some of the traditional Maltese boats decorated with the eye of Osiris. These are the luzzi, the traditional fishing boats, not to be confused with the dgħajjes, the water taxis.
A trip to Malta wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Popeye Village, the set of the 1980 movie with Robin Williams. It’s now a small theme park with a restaurant and even an area for swimming. But, for the most part, it looks the way it did for the movie. If you go after 5 pm you’ll even get a discount, and the two hours you will have until they close are absolutely sufficient for the small park.
A Word on Public Transport in Malta
I had read and heard conflicting information about the buses in Malta. Some said they are excellent and even the best way to get around the country. Others said that they are completely unreliable. Here’s what I can say on the matter after ten days in Malta.
An Extensive Bus Network = Many Stops = Long Trips
There is public transport to everywhere you might want to go, and you will not have to walk far to/from the bus stop either. This is a huge advantage, especially for the local population. No matter where you live there’s a bus stop within a few minutes’ walking distance. However, this means that every line has tons of stops and never takes the direct route to a destination. Several bus trips had us wondering why we were seemingly going in circles, only to realize that this was to cover as much of the area as possible.
Changing Buses in Valletta
The next issue is that most of the time you will need to change buses in Valletta. Unless you’re staying in Valletta, this means that you will lose time going to Valletta only to go back in the direction you came from on a different bus.
Unreliable Bus Schedules
Finally, the buses are often not on time. We waited for more than 20 minutes on more than one occasion. Once we even waited for a bus for 30 minutes, only for it to arrive and the driver simply leaving without saying anything.
Rent a Scooter
Considering all this, I would highly recommend arranging your own means of transportation if possible. Keep in mind though that as densely populated as Malta is it has a lot of cars. So your best option, if you want to be fast and flexible, would be to rent a scooter.
Have you ever been to Malta? Why did you fall in love with Malta? And if you haven’t been yet are you planning to go?