Malta: A Beautiful, Crazy, Formidable, Vibrant Island

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Amazing Valletta

I was so nervous about visiting Malta.

While some of my friends had been to Malta and loved it, others had been and told me privately that they found it, well…a bit dull.

What if I felt that way, too?! 

As usual, I was worrying far too much about nothing. Malta is the least dull place on the planet.

Malta sneaked into my heart, and I fell quickly, deeply, insanely in love with it.

Valletta Skyline

Yet most North Americans have no idea what Malta even is.

Whenever I mention Malta to a North American who isn’t involved in the travel industry, nine times out of ten, I get the response, “Where is that?”

So, before we begin, here’s a primer for those less familiar with Malta:

Where is Malta?

Just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean.

Are they their own country?

Yes. They used to be under British rule, but they have been independent since 1964. They also drive on the left.

What language do they speak?

Everyone speaks English; locals also speak Maltese, which sounds like a cross between Arabic and Italian.

What is the currency?

The euro. Malta is the smallest country in the European Union.

How do you get there?

You can take the 90-minute ferry from Catania, Sicily, but it’s faster and cheaper to fly. Air Malta and several budget airlines fly to Malta from all over Europe. You’ll find the most flights from the UK and Italy.

The highlights?

Valletta Architecture


Oh my God. If you love architecture, Malta will make you lose your mind. Parts of Malta look like they could be in the Middle East or North Africa. Parts look like Europe or even South America. Parts of Malta are crumbling; parts are beautifully restored.

The architecture here is an absolute feast for the eyes. And just LOOK at those BALCONIES! I haven’t seen balconies like those anywhere else in the world.

Azure Window, Gozo

Incredible Natural Beauty

Malta is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The Azure Window in Gozo, pictured above, is probably the most famous spot — but the Maltese Archipelago is filled with everything from rolling fields to white cliffs to desert landscapes and endless vineyards. There’s beauty in every direction.

Retro Valletta

Retro Charm

Parts of Valletta, and other cities on the island, looked like they haven’t changed since the 1950s. One of those places is Strait Street in Valletta, which used to be the hottest destination in town for drinking, carousing, and picking up Maltese women.

Ting Tong Bar is a great place to experience the Malta of yesteryear — sip a retro cocktail and laugh at the pictures on the walls of drunken soldiers from World War II.

Carrozin in Mdina

Ancient Cities

When driving across the island, Mdina appears — a gleaming city perched on a hill. An ancient fortified white city, a silent city, a settlement even older than Valletta.

Malta is a photography gold mine — but Mdina especially is. This city is incredibly beautiful and it’s the most pristine place on the island.

Gozo Cave


I didn’t think there would be a lot of adventure activities here — but there are plenty! Hiking, ATV riding, snorkeling.

Most famous, however, is diving. Malta, and Gozo in particular, is home to some of the very best diving in Europe. A friend of a friend is an accomplished diver and he has found some crazy artifacts in shipwrecks from World War II.

St. John's Co-Cathedral

Insane Churches

Maltese churches, known for their incredibly ornate decor, make St. Peter’s Basilica look a bit drab and bare. Malta is home to 365 churches — each of them so decorated that there isn’t a inch of bare space to spare! Even tiny villages are dwarfed by giant, sprawling churches covered in gold.

Most famous is St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta. This is where the Pope serves Mass when he comes to Malta. Gold on top of gold, endless sculptures, Caravaggio’s most famous painting, and everything is on top of ornately carved marble headstones for the knights.



Malta is such a small island that you can even see water from the center of the island! I saw so many incredible views, but my favorite was the view from the Upper Barakka Gardens in Valletta, overlooking the Grand Harbor and the Three Cities.

Tarxien Temples


Maltese history is INSANE. Really. From the grotesque psychological warfare of Jean de Valette to the exile of Caravaggio to the fact that there are temples in Malta older than the Pyramids, Maltese history is incredible, tantalizing, and will never leave you bored.

Parts of Malta look straight out of ancient times — which is why Game of Thrones, Gladiator, and Troy were all filmed here.

Hobz biz Zeijt

Delicious Food

Malta is very Mediterranean — so expect lots of fish, olives, garlic, capers and tomatoes. Some of the dishes are Italian-influenced; others are uniquely their own. Thankfully, the English influence on the cuisine is scant at best.

Pictured above is hobz biz-zeijt — the Maltese variation of bruschetta, topped with tomatoes, capers, olives, onions, and tuna.

Marsalforn Beach


A lot of people come to Malta and complain that there aren’t any real beaches. While the popular Sliema waterfront is rocky, there are actually sandy beaches on the north of the island, and they are wonderful places to spend a day.

READ MORE: How to Protect Your Belongings on the Beach

Mellieha is a nice, albeit crowded, beach spot on Malta — but the best beaches of all are in Gozo, the little island to the north. You’ll find pretty coves like the one above in the area around Marsalforn.

St. George Festa in Qormi


Malta is the most Catholic country I’ve ever visited. And when it’s time to celebrate their saints, do they EVER pull out all the stops!

The Maltese dress in their finest outfits and head into the town square as men haul a giant wooden saint through the streets and kids squeal through flying confetti. Fireworks boom until midnight and then pick up again at 8:00 AM.

It was an unbelievable, quintessentially Maltese experience and I can’t wait to share more of my festa experience in Qormi with you.


Traditional Life

Malta is a place where you can still catch glimpses of life as it was lived decades ago, if not centuries. One nice place to do that is Marsaxlokk, a fishing village in the south. Fishermen still take out their brightly colored boats each day.

Shadows in Mdina


As far as your money goes, Malta is one of the best buys in Western Europe. I’d put prices on par with Portugal: meals for under €10 ($13), guesthouses for €60 ($79) per night. Plus cheap local wine and lots of pastizzi (ricotta-filled pastries) and pizza (pit-sa, not peet-za, square pieces of pizza) for less than a euro each!

While you won’t find Thailand prices here — or even Eastern Europe prices — it’s hard to think of a destination as beautiful, interesting, and culture-filled as Malta with a similar price point.

Driving in Gozo

Not quite perfect. But almost.

Well, nowhere is perfect. I should point out that the driving here is HORRENDOUS. Do not consider driving here unless you are an expert at driving stick on the left. Riding a bike or even a motorbike is a suicidal idea. This is one of the many reasons I always recommend having travel insurance. I used World Nomads on this trip.

Finding a good hotel can be a challenge, too. There aren’t many quality hotels, and a friend is convinced that some of them make up their own star ratings. Read a lot of reviews before you book, and consider renting an apartment instead. If you do decide to stay in a hotel, you can compare them here.

That said, those are small caveats, because Malta has a way of casting a spell on you. I know I felt it. Every time I passed a town home for sale, I dreamed of buying one and fixing it up and painting the balcony a cool color and turning it into a guesthouse…

Malta is a special place, and one that deserves more attention from North Americans. Come here and feel the magic for yourself.

143 thoughts on “Malta: A Beautiful, Crazy, Formidable, Vibrant Island”

  1. Brilliant article! I’ve just booked flights to Malta for the end of August for a family holiday, it’s our first time visiting the country. At first, I must say I was a bit clueless as to where it was or anything to do with the country, in fact. But after a lot of reading and especially this article, I am so excited to be going. There’s just one problem, we can’t decide where to stay. We’re looking at Mellieha or Silemma. If you or anyone else has any advice that would be great. We mostly want a nice beach but a good enough location to explore the history and culture of the country. Thanks!

    1. Its Sliema not Silemma. (and in reality the full name is “Tas-Sliema”. The name has been shortened to make it easier for the British (when we were under British rule).

    1. For us Maltese living in Malta, half an hour away is a very long distance indeed! 45mins away would mean travelling at the most busy time of day from one extreme of the island to the opposite extreme.

  2. Beautiful photos! It’s actually a shame I haven’t been there. The food looks delicious, now I’m hungry!! I like the pic of you both together, your outfits are matching well with the blue sky and the sea. Gorgeous. Malta… Added to my bucket list… Thanks Kate!

  3. For Americans it’s already difficult to considering going to Sicily let alone an island off the coast of Italy, but this truly has the best of seeing a unique and beautiful country loaded with history, great food and culture.

  4. You now know thus a great deal in relation to that matter, developed my family professionally consider it originating from a wide range of different angles. Their just like women and men are not interested except for it really is one thing to use Gal crazy! Your items excellent. On a regular basis take care of it down!

  5. Hi

    I am Maltese and I am very glad that you fell in love with my country and I really liked reading your review about Malta, It is true that many N. Americans doesn’t know where Malta is ,in fact one day I was playing a game of chess on -line and my opponent was from the USA and when I told him that I am from Malta he said oh so you are from the states too 🙂 later I found out that there is a town in the US call Malta here is the link

  6. Kate, what a lovely blog! I am maltese and have just come across this blog. I have been traveling for just over 10 years, ( my job involves travelling). I found it funny, so funny when you mentioned that north americans do not know where it is and WHAT it is lol. I have been struggling in airports and , mostly, trying to book a flight with two particular airlines in the US. I have also spoken to two companies about inserting MALTA in the ‘billing’ information when ordering something online, or booking flights. To my surprise, they DID fix this error. I was glad:) Keep up your good work and I will check out your other blogs. Cheers – Stella

  7. I first started visiting Malta 4years ago and fell in love with it…I only stay in one place now which I have got to know the locals and they me…sliema!which to me being fully wheelchair bound of many years due to a motor accident …I find everything is absolutely A++++++++++ to my all my needs as access wise….wheelchair exercise and entertainment…I can push my manual wheelchair for mile after mile around the coastlines on the paving surfaces that are there…they are so level…in any weather season…the sun…fresh sea air and gentle breeze makes it all seem so worthy to a good work out…followed then by some good local cuisine…from the appetite I have worked up over a few hours…that’s why I love Malta and it’s people…the culture and architecture that goes with it all…as I am a keen photographer of many years…with video footage and pictures I have taken from all over Europe…Canada and USA during my many years of travel experience…I would also love to hear from others who have also experienced their love of travel…or to just chat in General…I look forward to hearing back from anyone and everyone…my email address is: [email protected] I await to hear from you soon 🙂 Paul from swansea. South Wales. United kingdom

  8. Hi everyone. I am Maltese(actually Gozitan; from Gozo the little sister island of Malta). All of you who come to Malta should defo head to Gozo. You’ll love Gozo even more, mark my words!! [email protected] if you need any type of info on Gozo.

  9. I have been visiting Malta every summer for the last 7 years. My girlfriend’s parents are gozitan, and we absolutely love it. It’s paradise. As for driving, I have no issues. Switching driving sides is not a big deal, but driving stick means it takes me a couple of days to get used to the hills. however, driving in New York has me thoroughly prepared to drive in Gozo.

  10. Great post. Number of churches in Malta, though, if you ask about it from locals, is 359. And from my perspective, the best reason to go there are the people, locals and foreigners, great bars. Food-wise, unless you know where you’re going, not so many great food places.

  11. Wow I’ve been living in Malta for nearly 2 years now and my knowledge of the Maltese history is far less than yours. You have created a fantastic article. I have one question tho, whats the name of those ruins under your History section? Never seen them before. Thank you. Much love xx

  12. Malta Update: Sadly the Azure Window collapsed yesterday. I got to see it 2 weeks ago and upon returning to NY, I even hung a picture that I took of it in my living room. Little did I know that it would be gone so quickly after. But there’s a lot more to Malta than that.
    Since the blog was posted, Malta has gotten even more vibrant. The night life in particular is greatly expanded and Malta is hosting an ever larger number of world class music festivals of all genres.
    The hotel situation must have improved since the writing of the blog, because we had no problem finding great amenities at reasonable prices. We stayed at the Radisson Blu in St. Julians for $110 per night in a room with a sea view. I can attest, it’s a real 5 star. St. Julians has some great restaurants and bars and of course there are the casinos. Hugo’s Boutique Hotel is right in the center of the club district in St. Julians and is an awesome and well priced space ($70 per night for a huge room with a lot of technology) if you don’t mind that there are a bunch of strip clubs surrounding the property (and you thought Malta was tan and boring). There’s also a gay bar in the vicinity, so LGBTQ is welcome!

    The driving: wow, she nailed it. Imagine the worst drivers of Greece and Italy, driving on the left side of the road. If you’re up for the challenge, go for it!

    The people: Some of the nicest anywhere in the world!

    The cabs: A bit pricey (I think that all cabs are a bit pricey), BUT you can ask up front what the cost is. They don’t use meters and I think there is some price regulation, although I did find some variation from cab to cab. One of the best deals I found was a driver in Gozo, who for 60 Euro gave us a tour of the entire island and was a personal chauffer for over 6 hours. He even waited for me while I went off with a real estate agent to look at properties (yes! thinking of buying an apartment there).

    Familiarity: English spoken by everyone and you’ll feel right at home as a European, Brit (never know whether to mention Brits separately from the Continentals – I know you’re Europeans, but you’re different and like it that way) Aussie, New Zealander or American (can’t speak personally for the rest of the world’s comfort levels, but there were many Asian tourists).

    My favorite: Driving north up the eastern coast. To your right, breathtaking Med views, bluest water you can imagine. To your left, lush greenery and rolling hills – it’s like Greek coastline on the right and Irish countryside on the left.

    Oh and an offseason flight from NY was $550 roundtrip in Feb 2017. Perspective, it cost me $670 for a roundtrip to Cleveland a couple of months ago. Love you OH, but you’re no Malta ; )

  13. Thank you so much for this wonderful article, Kate. I am planning to spend a year teaching in Malta with my wife, and this article is bringing water to my mouth. I have read it several times and even sent it to my parents to show them where we’re heading. After reading this, I went on to read every other article you have written about Malta and some other countries. You’ve had a beautiful life, and this blog is a joy to navigate. I was heart-broken to read your recent post on dating and find out you’re no longer with Mario. We never can tell where the ups and downs of our life will take us, but for the positive and the adventurous there is always something exciting around the next corner.

    1. I appreciate your concern, but trust me — leaving Mario was the best decision that I ever made. Save your heartbreak for the women he’ll be involved with in the future, because they’re in for a lot of distress.

      1. Good for you! My reaction is partly because of the nature of blogging. One minute I’m reading this article and, not knowing you guys, everything seems great. It’s an old article but it felt current when I was reading it – very in-the-moment. Then a few quicks later, I get your story in fast-forward. It’s like a suckerpunch. As a blogger you’re very brave to put it all out there – even saying you’re in a relationship is a risk, because you never know what will happen in the future. As for Mario, I’m elated you got out of there. I have three sisters, and I’ve had to watch on a few occasions as they were drawn into relationships with toxic guys. There is nothing more tragic.

        By the way, I wonder if you have any posts that you wrote a long time ago and have since changed your mind on. Our memories morph things and are often different to the way we experience at the time… Would you ever consider rethinking your original posts? Might make for an interesting article!

        1. Off the top of my head, there are several posts that I wouldn’t have written today. There are posts from my first trip to Thailand where I use the word “tranny” throughout (today I don’t use that derogatory term; I would say ladyboy instead).

          That said, though, I don’t think I would go back and change posts unless something were seriously wrong.

  14. I have been to Malta five times and I still cannot tell if I like the place or not. Yes, it is dull. Yet, it can be really exciting when exploring the many sights and with the sea so close by it is always possible to just sit down and relax with a great view. Well, Malta offers possibilities, it’s up to the visitor to make them exciting 🙂

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