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Gozo Citadella, Malta
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The 14 best things to do in Malta

From diving shipwrecks to hiking around ancient castles, these are the things you absolutely have to do in Malta, Gozo and Comino

Ally Wybrew
Written by
Ally Wybrew

History is huge in Malta. Truly, it’s everywhere. The isle of Malta – plus its smaller neighbours, Gozo and Comino – had already played host to all manner of peoples for 7,000 years by the time the Knights of St John arrived on these tiny mid-Mediterranean specks of land in 1530. But while the past certainly defines these sun-drenched isles, the Maltese islands aren’t all about the old school. Ancient walled cities, Punic temples and Phoenician catacombs are just the start – Malta’s attractions also include world-class dive sites, dramatic cliff-edged coastlines, some of Europe’s sunniest weather and ocean views that just won’t quit. Here’s where to start…

RECOMMENDED: The best hotels in Malta

The best things to do in Malta

Bask in the Blue Lagoon
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1. Bask in the Blue Lagoon

We’re willing to bet you haven’t seen a truly turquoise ocean until you’ve been to Comino’s Blue Lagoon. A shallow, sandy-bottomed stretch of heaven between Comino and the even smaller island of Cominotto, this idyllic spot is the perfect place to soak up the best of the Mediterranean's warm waters and even-warmer rays. Fair warning: it gets very busy, so go early (boats from Gozo or Malta begin around 8am), relax for a few hours, then take a walk around the barely-inhabited Comino and enjoy the island’s eerie abandoned village, hospital and fortifications before heading back to the mainland.

Wander ancient city streets in Valletta
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2. Wander ancient city streets in Valletta

The jewel in Malta’s crown, the walled city of Valletta is a Unesco World Heritage Site packed with so many monuments and sites (over 320, in fact) that it requires multiple visits to truly appreciate. Tick off the big-hitters of St John’s Co-Cathedral (home to Caravaggio’s ‘Beheading of John the Baptist’), the Grandmaster’s Palace and the picturesque Upper Barrakka Gardens, then go subterranean with Underground Valletta for an eye-opening tour of the city’s old waterways and reservoirs.

Dive deep into wrecks
Photograph: MNTHDP

3. Dive deep into wrecks

Malta’s underwater attractions are as prolific as its land-based ones. Divers should don their fins and head down to MV Karwela, a 38-metre deep tourist ferry with a stunning swim-through staircase, or check out the P31 minesweeper off the coast of Comino or Um El Faroud, a 115m long oil tanker bursting with marine life. Not qualified but still curious? Take a Discover Scuba Diving course at any of the dozens of certified dive schools on the islands to get a taste of Malta’s vibrant subaquatic world.

Cruise the coastline in a luzzu
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4. Cruise the coastline in a luzzu

Much of Malta’s beauty is hidden from landlubbers’ eyes. Get out into the open ocean and appreciate some of the islands’ biggest assets by chartering a brightly coloured luzzu (a classic Maltese fishing boat) and exploring the coastline’s hidden gems, from the Ghar Lapsi caves and stunning Blue Grotto in Malta, to fungus rock and the magical arched Inland Sea on Gozo. Luzzus, catamarans and yachts are available for hire from almost every port, though it’s best to book ahead in the high season as they’re in high demand.

Travel back in time in megalithic temples
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5. Travel back in time in megalithic temples

When it comes to historic relics, Malta’s plethora of options can seem overwhelming – but the islands’ 5,500-year-old megalithic temples are a great place to start. Older than the pyramids, Gozo’s Ġgantija and Malta’s Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra are Unesco-certified ancient houses of worship, and true archaeological and architectural wonders. Made using gigantic limestone blocks, some of which are over five metres in length, these ancient ruins have fascinated historians for centuries.

Eat local specialities and Michelin-star dishes
Photograph: de Mondion

6. Eat local specialities and Michelin-star dishes

Thanks to Malta’s unique geography and labyrinthine history, its cuisine is a cornucopia of Arabic, Mediterranean, French and British flavours. Gourmands will love discovering everything from flaky pastizz (traditional pastries usually filled with cheese, curried peas or rabbit) to warming aljotta (fish soup), as well as touring the islands’ five Michelin-starred restaurants: three are in Valletta (ION The Harbour Valletta, Under Grain and Noni), one is in Mdina (de Mondion) and the last is in Balzan (Bahia).

Get swept up in a festa!
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7. Get swept up in a festa!

Festivals are a key component of Maltese culture: nary a day passes without some kind of street party, live event or raucous celebration. Many festas revolve around the Catholic saints’ days, which are plentiful and spread through the year. Easter is one of the biggest occasions, but in summer, there’s rarely a quiet night, whether it’s the jazz, organ or folk-music festivals, or international kite or wine get-togethers. If less crowded celebrations are more your scene, pick a peak and watch the skyline; Malta loves fireworks and the night skies are almost always lit up in the summer.

Taste lampuki at Marsaxlokk
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8. Taste lampuki at Marsaxlokk

Jam-packed with colourful luzzus, bustling market stalls and trendy cafes, the ancient fishing village of Marsaxlokk is the ideal place to sample some of Malta’s best seafood offerings, including its trademark lampuki. White and meaty, this popular seasonal fish (also called dolphinfish or mahi mahi elsewhere) graces Malta’s oceans between August and December, and can be found in every form imaginable: breaded, in pies, filleted with tomatoes and capers – but however it comes, it never disappoints. Visit on a Sunday to enjoy the village’s famous fish market and be sure to bring a healthy appetite.

Tour an abandoned film set
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9. Tour an abandoned film set

Robert Altman’s 1980 Popeye musical, starring Robin Williams, might have been a critical flop – but it left behind an unexpected legacy behind in Malta. After Paramount built (then abandoned) its real-life ‘Sweethaven’ in Anchor Bay on the north-east coast, the Maltese government swooped in to make the most of it. Now, the surreal (and family-friendly) Popeye Village features an inflatable water course, comic museum, cinema, mini-golf course and floating sun deck, as well as hosting themed celebrations throughout the year. You can even get married there.

Hike the island via the Victoria Lines
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10. Hike the island via the Victoria Lines

Malta’s hiking credentials are often overlooked, but, particularly in spring, the islands offer a luscious landscape of mixed terrain. Start with the Victoria Lines, a series of late nineteenth-century fortifications built by the British as a barrier from forces landing in the north. Twelve kilometres of batteries, forts, stop-walls, howitzer positions and more begin at Fort Madliena tower on the north coast and trail to Fomm ir-Rih Redoubt on the south, skirting the cities of Rabat, Mdina and Mosta – making snack stops a breeze. Signposting on the trail is sporadic, so have GPS to hand.

Explore Gozo’s citadel
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11. Explore Gozo’s citadel

Gozo’s magnificent cittadella is an ancient acropolis-turned-medieval castle. Now its imposing fortifications shelter multiple churches (including the impressive Gozo cathedral), museums, law courts, WW2 bunkers, old grain silos and even a prison. Most of it is free to walk around, but a mere €5 will grant you access to all the best bits. Chances are an art exhibition and musical event will be on when you stop by too. Either way, finish your tour with a stroll along the battlements, which offer some of the best views of Gozo all the way across to Malta.

Get your snorkel on
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12. Get your snorkel on

As well as being Europe’s favourite scuba-diving hotspot, Malta’s plentiful reefs are also welcoming to those who prefer their underwater adventures a little more shallow. Swim in waters that stay well above 20 degrees into the autumn and spot damselfish, bream, trumpet fish, crabs and baby moray eels. (Keen-eyed snorkellers may even spy an octopus or two.) Go early in the morning to avoid crowds, and remember, the rockier the area, the better. Try Fomm ir-Riħ Bay or Imġiebaħ Bay in Malta or Daħlet Qorrot or Xwejni in Gozo.

Go clubbing in Paceville
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13. Go clubbing in Paceville

Whatever your nightlife niche, Malta’s clubbing capital will have something for you. Sky Club is the main event: a huge techno space that squeezes in 34,00 people beneath hi-tech light shows and shiny dancefloors. Neighbouring Havana serves up hip-hop beats, reggae rhythms and ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s tunes in its three themed rooms. Head to Native Bar for inventive cocktails, or simply stroll the buzzy streets and see where the night takes you.

Experience local life in the Three Cities
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14. Experience local life in the Three Cities

Just across the Grand Harbour from Valletta lie the Three Cities: a collection of picturesque neighbourhoods (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua) that first housed the Knights of St John, and date back further than the capital itself. They’re home to many key historic landmarks – tick off the Maritime Museum, Fort St Angelo and the Inquisitor’s Palace – but this is also a great place to experience authentic local life away from the more touristy areas. Think narrow streets crowded with overhanging window boxes and the sounds of Maltese conversation drifting through the air.

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