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Introducing Malta: My First Impressions and Some Random Facts

Introducing Malta: My First Impressions and Some Random Facts

Last Updated on April 6, 2021

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?’ It made me realize how little-known this little island nation actually is. So I decided to share my first impressions, a few fun Malta facts and random trivia about Malta with you before talking about my trip in more detail.

At first sight, Malta seems like a magical fairy tale 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 factsMalta 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.

Malta factsValletta, 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.

Malta FactsThe 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 Culture

Not only the coffee culture, but also the architecture feels reminiscent of Italian towns:

Malta facts

The 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 factsOne 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.

Malta factsMalta 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.

Malta facts

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.

This might be my favorite of all the Malta facts: 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 walls

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

malta valletta building Do you have any fun Malta facts to add? Share them in the comments below!

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Best in Malta

Saturday 14th of May 2022

Great photos! We hope see you Malta again :) There are many new things appearing here www.BestinMalta.today

Polaroid of the week: Picturesque Erfurt, Germany - GlobetrotterGirls

Saturday 20th of February 2021

[…] is why I never considered actually living here. After a month in Berlin and my quick getaway in Malta, I came here to visit family and friends before leaving Germany again, but hadn’t even gotten […]

www.IndulgenceDivine.com

Friday 10th of November 2017

If you found the Maltese strawberries tasty, you might want to try Maltese oranges (in season between October and April) - the juiciest I've ever tasted, tomatoes (all year round), Olives (Sep to Nov), bambinella (June to August), farkizzan (July to August), prickly pears (July to October). The Farmer's Market in Birgu on Saturday mornings (get there early for the best choice) is a good place to get them. You'll also find mobile vegetable sellers in small towns. The village of Mgarr holds a strawberry festival in April.

Glen

Thursday 10th of December 2015

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.

Dani

Saturday 26th of December 2015

Thanks, Glen! You live in a beautiful place! :)

Emma

Tuesday 6th of October 2015

Great article.. May I only point out that is the Mediterranean sea not the ocean ?