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Introducing Malta: My First Impressions and Some Random Facts

Introducing Malta: My first impressions and some random facts

When I told friends of mine I’d be visiting Malta and got asked questions like ‘Malta? Is that a country?’ or ‘Where exactly is Malta?’ I realized how little-known this little island nation actually is. So I decided to share my first impressions, a few fun facts and random trivia about Malta with you before talking about my trip in more detail.

At first sight, Malta seems like a magical fairytale island: tiny villages dotted on hilltops across the countryside, little bays with water in such dark shades of blue that they are almost too perfect, and medieval towns so well preserved that it feels like you’re stepping back in time when you set foot in them.

gozo malta from the seaNowadays, there is another side to Malta too: stretches of the coast that have been built up with modern apartment complexes and hotels, even a party mile that could rival the notorious party towns along the Spanish coast, and industrial areas right next to quaint fishing villages.

st julians bay at nightWhat I loved about Malta was that it can be exactly what you want it to be. Looking for history and culture? You can use Valletta as your base and tour UNESCO World Heritage Sites, ancient temples and medieval forts. You want beaches and relaxation? Stay in Sliema or St Julian’s and enjoy the ocean, take a sailing trip to the Blue Grotto or the Blue Lagoon. You want culinary revelations and shopping? There are loads of great restaurants and shopping facilities to keep you busy for at least a week!

valletta churches malta
Valletta seen from the sea

The country is actually an archipelago, made up of Malta, the main island, and the two smaller islands of Gozo and Comino (plus a few smaller, uninhabited islands). In total, just under 400,000 people live in Malta – nearly 370,000 of those live on the main island, about 30,000 live on Gozo and just a handful live on Comino. This makes Malta one of the smallest countries in the world by population (#174).

marsaxlokk port
The tiny fishing village of Marsaxlokk

Malta is so small that you can walk the island in its entirety (27km long and 14.5km wide). Gozo is about half this size (14km long and 7km wide). It took us less than 40 minutes to cross the island from south to north by car, starting in Marsaxlokk in the south and finishing in Mellieha Bay in the north of the island. By area, Malta is the 207th smallest country in the world!

gozo bayThe archipelago is located in the heart of the Mediterranean, south of Italy, north of Libya and east of Tunisia.

Malta Map EuropeMalta is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage listed sites – an impressive number for such a small country! Three sites are declared UNESCO World Heritage: the historic city of Valletta, the underground temple Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, and the Megalithic Temples of Malta. Six more sites are currently nominated to be World Heritage sites: Mdina, the Grand Harbor, the Victoria Lines and the Great Fault (a line of fortifications flanked by defensive towers), the Catacombs, the Northwestern Coastal Cliffs, and Dwejra (the Azure Window) as well as the Cittadella on Gozo.

gozo cittadellaValletta, the capital, is one of Malta’s UNESCO sites, thanks to its many historic churches, palaces, the unique wooden balconies (painted in bright colors), and the maze of narrow lanes.

malta valletta balconiesMalta is so close to Sicily (Italy) that you can see it on clear days, and you can even take catamaran day trips there – it is 90km (60miles) from Malta, and takes about two hours to get there.

There are no forests, lakes or rivers in Malta. Instead, the islands are made up of rolling hills and terraced fields.

gozo maltaThe Maltese cross was introduced to Malta by the Knights of St. John when they took possession of the islands in 1530, and is depicted on many items around the country including Maltese Euro coins (the Euro was introduced as the official currency here in 2008), and even door knobs!

Maltese Cross
The Maltese Cross – depicted on Euro coins, the interior of St John’s Co-cathedral and a door knocker

Ftira is the Maltese answer to pizza – a flat-bread with a hole in the middle, topped with Mediterranean vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant and olives (and sometimes anchovies).

maltese ftira
Ftira: Maltese flat bread

Malta, predominantly Roman Catholic, has over 360 churches! Considering the small size of the nation – Malta is just about twice as big as Washington D.C. – this is quite a large number.

Churches of MaltaThe Blue Lagoon off the coast of Comino is one of the most breathtaking bays in all of the Mediterranean.

gozo blue lagoon malta
The Blue Lagoon from the ferry

Maltese coffee culture is very similar to Italian coffee culture: there are lots of little coffee bars where people have a small cup of coffee right at the counter, usually espresso. Coffee prices are still very low in most places.

Malta Coffee CultureNot only the coffee culture, but also the architecture feels reminiscent of Italian towns:

Malta townsThe Rotunda Of Mosta is the fourth largest unsupported dome in the world and the third largest in Europe, with an internal diameter of 37.2 meters (122 ft). The church is also known for the ‘Miracle of Mosta’: In 1942, during an afternoon air-raid by the German Luftwaffe, a 200 kg bomb pierced the dome and landed in a congregation of 300 people who were waiting for mass. The bomb did NOT detonate – a miracle!

mosta cathedral
The Rotunda of Mosta: Place of the Mosta Bomb Miracle

Malta is a diver’s paradise and it is named as one of the best diving spots in the world on a regular basis. No wonder with clear water like this:

malta mediterraneanOne of the most famous diving spots is the Blue Hole near Gozo, right by the Azure Window, a spectacular limestone rock formation (and also a popular diving spot).

azure window gozo
The Azure Window, a 328feet / 100 meter high limestone rock formation in Gozo

The islands are a cat lover’s dream! There are plenty of cats everywhere, and all are well taken care of.

Cats of MaltaMalta produces wine and there are several vineyards on Gozo and Malta. The islands take pride in their local wines and having tried several local Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs, I can confirm that Maltese wines are delicious.

maltese winesMalta has been used as a backdrop for quite a few Hollywood Blockbusters (without getting credit for it!), including Troy, Captain Phillips, and World War Z, and the popular TV series Game Of Thrones.

mdina stone lion kings landing
Mdina was used as King’s Landing in the first season of Game Of Thrones

Valletta is one of the smallest capitals in Europe, with a population of just over 6,000! It’s actually one of the smaller cities on the island.

valletta merchant street
Merchant Street, one of Valletta’s main shopping streets

tal-Fenek is the national Maltese dish: rabbit! Rabbit can be found in almost any dish: Pasta in rabbit sauce, rabbit pie, or rabbit meat stew.

gozo rabbit fernek
tal-Fernek: Rabbit, the Maltese national dish. Not suitable for vegetarians like me, but apparently it is very tasty.

In Malta, the boats have eyes. Even though the islands are just as developed as any other European country, the traditional and adorable fishing boats named luzzu can still be found in many of the coastal villages and are still used for fishing on a daily basis. They are painted in flashy colors like yellow, red or blue and all have eyes which are supposed to keep bad luck and the evil of the sea away.

Malta luzzus
Luzzu: Traditional Maltese fishing boats

One of Caravaggio’s masterpieces, the Beheading of St John, can be seen in St John’s Cathedral in Valletta. The church itself is famous for its striking inside and is well worth a visit.

st johns cocathedral valletta inside
St John’s Co-cathedral with frescos by Mattia Preti – it took him years to paint them!

Kannoli (pastries stuffed with sweet ricotta), known as a popular South Italian dessert, are a typical afternoon snack in Malta, too.

malta kannoliAnother local specialty are pastizzi, flaky dough pasties filled with ricotta cheese or peas (similar to a British pie). They are a popular breakfast dish and in addition to bakeries, there are pastizzerias, which focus on these delicious little pasties.

pastizzi maltaMalta is home to an entirely intact medieval walled city: Mdina. The historic capital of the country is on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage list.

mdina wallsThe Maltese love ornate iron door knockers (and so do I!):

Maltese door knockers
Maltese door knockers

English and Maltese are both official languages in Malta. I was surprised that many people aren’t fluent in English, despite it being the official language.

The impressive harbor of Valletta is one of the most significant natural deep-sea harbors in the world.

valletta harbor view

Check out my other posts on medieval Mdina, beautiful Valletta, a road trip across Malta and where to eat in Malta and Gozo!

malta valletta buildingThis post was brought to you as a result of the Blog Island Malta campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with the Malta Tourism Authority and the support of Air Malta. I maintain full editorial control of the content published on Globetrottergirls.com and it is my policy to provide an honest, objective review, reflecting my own experiences and opinion.

 

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86 Comments

    1. Thanks, Amanda 🙂 I loved these boats, too – the little fishing village of Marsaxlokk was probably my favorite place on the island!

      1. Not to mention that is a whole festival dedicated to the best strawberries made in all possible ways 🙂 Heaven paved with strawberries!

  1. Hi, very interesting blog but may I pls point out two mistakes: Firstly, the Maltese Cross and the George Cross are not the same. The George Cross was the one awarded to the Maltese after WWII and is still represented on our flag. The Maltese Cross is the eight pointed cross associated with the Knights of St. John. Secondly, the official language in Malta is Maltese and not English, even though many are fluent in English. Thanks and looking forward to more posts.

    1. Actually Audrey both Maltese and English are official languages in Malta, with Maltese being the national language.

    2. Hi Audrey,
      Both Maltese and English are our official languages 🙂 Only some older people are not very fluent in both (although most of them understand English, but not speak/ write in it).
      Well done on the post, I really liked it!!!!

  2. I am glad to see such a post highlighting so many lovely sites in my country Malta. Just a small correction though, Maltese is the official national language of Malta. English is the second official language.

  3. Lovely impressions and quite an illustrious profile of that wee island! That mouth-watering Ftira seems to chase me (my tummy is trembling right now) and considering the coffee prices me and my journal probably would be constantly “overdosed”… 😀
    Incredibly diverse portrait of Malta, thanks for sharing Dani!

    1. Oliver- thank you! I am still thinking about ftira!! I’ll definitely try to make it at home, but not sure how tasty it’ll turn out when you don’t have a wood-fired oven. If it’s good, I’ll forward you the recipe though 😀

  4. I honestly had no idea Malta was such a beautiful place! Some of the foods and pastries sound quite intriguing too! I’ve been seeing a few blog posts about Malta that have given me a totally different perspective on it – might have to start seriously looking at going!

    1. Hi Shikha, I had no idea Malta was that beautiful either! I hope my upcoming posts on Malta will inspire you to visit 🙂

  5. great promo for malta its the jewel of Europe as far as im concerned but sorry to hear u had trouble with people speaking English.. I have never had that experience with people from old to young most can and do ….and the cross u pictured is the most deserved honour ever earned by a nation for their bravery during WW2 from the uk and I think most of Europe would have agreed ….but hey big thumbs up for loving and promoting this beautiful island

    1. Hi Rob, thanks for your comment! I didn’t have trouble understanding people, I was just surprised that almost nobody spoke English without an accent 🙂 That was just a random observation though, nothing I’d complain about!

  6. Dany you captured perfectly the essence of this most magnificent of nations, I was rather reluctant to visit with my family many years ago, but even before I had gotten off the plane, I was enamoured by the islands, having seen from the window the walls of Mdina. I couldn’t wait to get up there and view the whole island, which you can. Amazing island, amazing food, the rabbit stew is unbelievable, above all though are the people of Malta, nothing is too much, they make the island what it is, they are without doubt the most genuine, friendly and amazing people I’ve ever encountered anywhere on this planet. Great travelogue can’t wait for more.
    Thanks Dany great writing x

    1. Thanks, Stephen! I can totally understand that you were enamored by Malta just having seen the walls of Mdina!! Look out for my next post on Malta tomorrow – lots of photos of this magical walled city!!

  7. Dear Dani and Jess,

    Just loved your introduction to Malta, I am Australian but I was born in Malta, and have been back for 2 visits and will be going again this year, Malta is a beautiful island and everything you said and shown us is just wonderful, it may be small but has so much to give to the tourist industry, full of history and the fact the people are so friendly and helpful is another special part of it.
    Keep up the good work I am a proud Maltese person at heart and would love to see more. Thank you

    1. Hi Mary, thanks for stopping by 🙂 You are right – a small place but so much to offer! I will definitely post more on Malta in the next few weeks – hope you’ll enjoy my articles! Have a lovely time in Malta on your next visit 🙂

  8. My first visit 25 years ago,stayed with me.I now try to go twice a year.It really is a beautiful,historical island.Over the years,i have met,and made,a lot of Maltese friends.Beautiful island,friendly people,and fantastic food and wine.See you soon Malta,i love you.
    .

    1. Tommy – 25 years ago, wow! The islands must have change a lot in that time! I can understand that you keep going back – I already know that this wasn’t my last visit 🙂

  9. It looks like such a beautiful place. I love that most of the buildings are all a sandy colour. Its a beautiful contrast with the blue water and sky and makes for some great photos.

    1. Jen – the sandy color is something I’ll always connect with Malta from now on. I loved the sandy colored villages on top of lush green hills, with the blue ocean as a backdrop. Gorgeous!!

  10. My birth parents were Maltese but I was brought up with adoptive perents I found my blood family and they were so loving to me and also my brother in laws family they treated me as a member of their family ,I’m going bk for 3wks in May to stay with my brother in laws brother and wife who I might add have paid my air fare .the reason for my telling this is to tell u how hospitable the Maltese people are my daughters and I saw the tourist side on our last 2 visits this time I’m seeing the real Maltese side

    1. Christine – amazing! I actually noticed how hospitable Maltese people were, there were several situations when people went above and beyond to make sure I got to experience Malta’s best side, get to taste the most delicious food, and everyone’s so proud of their islands! Enjoy your return visit 🙂

  11. I love Malta have been a few times ,still not enough ,would love to live there its beautiful, both in looks and its people .

    1. Kathryn – I can totally understand why you’d love to live there! One of the most charming places I have visited so far – I also love how well-connected it is to the rest of Europe.. so easy to get there!

  12. Dear all, all the posts above are very interesting but anyone who visits Malta is impressed by something which cannot be described by photos or by words. Our hospitality is by far what brings people to Malta, we transmit positive and welcoming energy and go out of our way to make anyone feel at home. This is the most powerful element which attracts tourist again and again to Malta. So please make it a point when you visit Malta to interact with Maltese People (not just the foreign persons working in most of the tourist resorts). There exist various lodging possibilities from Deluxe 5 star hotels, to small family run guest houses, to self catering apartments and Farmhouses all with amenities and commodities to make the best of your stay. Well anyone interested to come over we are here to make your stay a very pleasant one. If you want to discover more please visit http://www.themulberriesmalta.com and click on the “what to do” tab.

    1. Aaron, thanks so much for your comment. I agree – the hospitality I experienced in Malta can’t be shown in photos 🙂 Every single interaction I had with a Maltese person was lovely. I’d love to stay in a family-run agriturismo next time I visit 🙂

  13. We are also going back to Malta in June this year, my husband is born in Australia, but just loves visiting Malta, it is great that it is a English speaking country, makes it so much easier for people that don’t understand Maltese, I have been catching up on my second language, and did remember quite a few words when I met my relatives back in Malta.
    And the people are so friendly, our cousins even met us at the airport on our first visit, and we hadn’t even met them, they have all had us over for a meal and drinks and great conversations, it was great, looking forward to seeing them once again.
    So please come and visit Malta especially if it is your first visit you will be pleasantly supprised.

  14. This is really helpful for all tourists like me who are looking for places to visit. This article is so informative and I think it contains all questions I have in my mind. By the way you describe this place it sounds so interesting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the place!

  15. Amazing article! And I am really proud of calling myself Maltese. However, here are even more suggestions:

    Culture and Events.
    Especially in summer. In summer, every city and village celebrate their patron’s feast with fireworks (ground and air), decorations, banda (traditional Maltese brass bands), marc (mass chanting towards the patron) and of course the statue of the patron. (For the best fireworks one should visit southern villages like Mqabba, Zurrieq, Haz-Zebbug and Qormi)
    Other events include carnival in February which is quite traditional and different than other carnivals.
    Also, an increasingly common occurrence is that every village is now having a non-religious feast. Some popular examples include: Medieval Mdina, Birgu by Candlelight, Notte Bianca in Valletta, and Strawberry Feast in Mgarr.
    Three major (and really worth going to) winefestivals happen in around September-October (2 in Valletta and one in Qormi)
    29th June – Imnarja – celebrated at Buskett with Maltese food and Ghana (traditional Maltese music)
    Fireworks Festival – Malta is quite well known for its fireworks. The International Air Fireworks Festival is usually organized in late April – May. In this festival Maltese firework societies compete amongst themselves, as well international ones for first place. This is a free and quite eyecandy event.
    Ground Fireworks Festival – Happens in late April-May. Ground fireworks is quite unique to Maltese culture.
    Good Friday – Religious processions which are organized in a handful (around 10) towns around Malta and Gozo.

    Nature:
    The Gozo Dwejra Window and nearby inlet sea (depicted in one of your pictures)
    The Blue Grotto (Cave near Zurrieq where the water looks crystal blue).
    Dingli Cliffs – west side of the island, overlooking Filfla. Nice area for a jog.
    Buskett – Semi-natural small “forest”. Nice place for relaxation. This was the hunting ground for the St. John’s Cavallier’s Order.
    Blue Grotto – Amazing beach in Comino with crystal clear blue water.
    Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay (Near Mgarr Malta) and Ramla l-Hamra Bay (Gozo) – Another three popular bays. Ramla l-Hamra Bay (Red Sands Bay) is so named because of its almost red sand.

    More history:
    Malta is VERY rich in history:
    Mdina and Valletta are full of historic sites and museums.
    Megalithic temples – The oldest buildings in the WORLD! Most famous are Hagar Qim and Mnajdra (limits of Qrendi), Ggantija (Gozo) and Hal-Tarxien Temples (Tarxien)
    Hypogeum – Unique in the world. An underground prehystoric temple.
    Roman Villa (Limits of Rabat)
    Cottonera/The Three Cities (Birgu, Isla, Bormla). Three fortified cities built in Medieval/Renaissance times. Birgu was a temporary capital city in Malta.
    Citadella (Victoria – Gozo). The Capital of Gozo. Fortified Medieval City
    Enormous numbers of Forts (e.g St Elmo – Valletta, St Angelo – Birgu, Rinella – Kalkara, San Lucjan – B’bugia), Towers (Comino Tower (Chateau D’if Castle from Count of Monte Cristo))

    Relaxation:
    As you said, there are a lot of relatively cheap shops scattered around Malta. Most fashion shops are found in Sliema, Valletta, St. Julians, Birkirkara and Hamrun.
    Lounges and Restaurants – Well priced and the cuisine is amazing. Abundant near Sliema and St. Julians.
    Clubs and Discos – Main clubbing area is Paceville (St. Julians). Very busy on Saturdays and also Friday, however most clubs are still open in the week. The drinks are cheap compared to continental Europe and the vast majority of discoes and clubs are free (2 euros per drink)

    1. Mario, thanks so much for your awesome long comment and all the recommendations!! I was lucky enough to visit most of the places you mention but would love to return for one of the festivals. I will write more about the places I visited in my next articles on Malta. Thanks again for the fantastic recommendations!!

  16. Thank you for representing my country so well, I love seeing how people look at my little home with fresh eyes, rather than how we see things, having always been here.

    I love the fact that you managed to highlight so many key things about our country that makes us unique in our own way… and it helps me appreciate my home more, since there are so many more things that you have not even mentioned 🙂

    May I suggest that the next time you’re over (there will be a next time I hope), you will be accompanied by a local, as there is no better way to discover the hidden gems of this island 🙂

    Thank you again!

    1. Hi Stefan, thanks a lot for your comment! I was actually accompanied by locals on several excursions and think I got a good insight on Maltese culture, but to get a real picture of what life on Malta is like, I think I’d have to stay at least for a month.. which I totally would! I hope I’ll be able to return to Malta soon.

  17. Hi, this is quite funny how I live in Malta and never bought such low-prized coffee :O !!
    Altough by the pictures you have posted I recognized the place and will be going there, so thank you very much 😀

    Ps I would really recommend this if you are ever again in Malta the best pastizzi are found in Rabat, very close to Mdina ! And if you are ever in Mdina again(unless you haven’t went there already) an afternoon lunch at the Fontanella restaurant is just amazing where you dine if you are luck enough with an awesome view.

    1. Jason – I saw coffee that low-priced in several locations, actually! 🙂 I’ll keep Rabat in mind for the best pastizzi next time I’m in Malta – thanks for the tip! I did manage to have an afternoon lunch at Fontanella though!!

  18. What a nice tour, thanks for showing us the highlights of the main island – I would love to visit many of those sites including the Unesco sites in general…beautiful!

  19. The Blue Lagoon looks like paradise to me, and as a keen scuba diver I can only dream of the rock formations below the surface!

    Thanks for walking us round the island Dany. The colourful fishing boats and delicious food are so appealing! I hope I manage to visit one day.

  20. I’ve always thought Malta sounded an interesting place to visit but never quite made it there. I can see I’ve missed out – it looks amazing. Exactly the type of place I love (although I might give the party mile a miss!)

  21. Absolutely stunning looking place! I cannot wait to see Malta at some point in the future. Love how you featured the door knockers, those types of unique things always catch my eye! Thanks for the beautiful article and the information!

    1. Ryan, thanks so much! I love discovering the little details that make every place unique and special 🙂

  22. This country looks amazing. We were recently offered a job teaching English in Malta and we too had to look up where in the world it was. Unfortunately, we had to decline the job, but looks like an amazing place to travel to 🙂

    Enjoy!

    1. Dariece – I am sure you would’ve loved teaching in Malta! Maybe there’ll be another offer like that one day? Definitely worth a visit though, YES!

  23. I fell in love with Malta on Saturday 14th March 1964, the day my Royal Navy husband and I arrived. He was posted there for almost two years. I have been in love with Malta ever since, even though it has changed dramatically over the decades. The old Malta was the best.

  24. Great introduction to Malta. I’ve been hearing more about it. Your photos are beautiful. Putting together a travel list for Europe and will need to try to fit it in.

  25. Hi Dany, What a superb page – so glad I found this.
    As a family we visited Malta for a week in Oct 2012 and had a wonderful holiday. Our son who is now 6 1/2 has chosen Malta as his school project and I have managed to find some excellent bits of information to help him from your page.
    Thanks again!!

  26. Dear Dany,

    As i told you a few months ago, about going to Malta well the time has come we will be there on Saturday.
    Another thing our grand children have done projects on Malta and as a nanna (nana) i am so proud of them, especially when they ring us up for information, and see how happy they are about it all. It is so rewarding.
    keep up the good work.

  27. Wow this is a stunning write up! I love the pictures of the door knockers and the shots of the medieval laneways and steps. Putting Malta on my list of must-sees!

  28. We have been staying in Gozo for the last week, and we have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, we stayed at the Grand Hotel where service and food was great also. We hired a car and did a lot of sight seeing, beautiful, and breathtaking views, early everywhere we went we did get lost a view times, but many friendly locals put us back on track, did some swimming and caught up with our relatatives, also visited St Anthony’s church in Mgarr, and atended mass, a little quieter than Malta but a must see, beautiful small island.

    1. Definitely worth it! Just read that even Brad & Angelina chose Malta above all other European countries as their honeymoon destination. Yay for Malta! 🙂

  29. Found this blog post while researching Malta. Great information and beautiful photos. I am a teacher in Louisiana. I teach 3rd grade. Each year, our school holds an International Festival. It is always a highly anticipated time of the school year! Each grade level (K-7) chooses a country to study. The classes study the culture; the climate; the geography; etc. tying in all subject areas. The classes study the countries for an entire week and on the last day, we hold a school-wide festival sharing our country with the entire school. This year, we have chosen to study Malta. Sharing a last name with the country has always made me want to visit, but I haven’t had the chance. I was wondering if you knew of any crafts or games that are popular with children in Malta. I am trying to plan some activities for my class. Thank you.

  30. Great post about Malta. I think about studying my masters degree there for a couples of time now and yozur many pictures made rhe decision definitely clearer for me 🙂

  31. Very happy to find this blog, thanks for capturing amazing pictures of Malta. I live in Malta, this is an amazing place. Anyone would love to stay here.

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