Pictures of the floating world

Ultimate guide to Malta – p.2

Second part of the ultimate list of things to do in Malta!

By Anna Purpurpurpur

Malta has slowly become my third home after London and Pescara, and I must say without bragging that I’ve visited quite a few spots there. Here, I prepared a few blogs about the landmarks and venues you can visit in Malta: some of them are full of attractions, such as cities, and others are just a single attraction; however, all of them are worth a visit! Please scroll down to read part 2 of my guide.

11. Malta National Aquarium

If you’re on a family trip to Malta, a visit to the Malta National Aquarium is a must. Malta National AquariumNational Aquarium opened in 2013 in Qawra near St. Paul’s BayBay, and it occupies a building that resembles a starfish (or a Sakura blossom if you ask me).

It’s divided into a few zones: Malta’s western shoreline and submarine, Valletta Harbour, Tropical Oceans, Roman Times (back to the times when St Paul’s ship crashed nearby), Gozo and Comino, Reptiles and Amphibian area. In total, there are about 175 species of fish, reptiles, etc! There are tanks, with La Nave Bistro being our all-time favourite!

12. Popeye village

Popeye Village is a filming set turned an entertainment centre on the seashore of a bay near Mellieha in Malta. It was presented as the Sweethaven for the Popeye the Movie, an American musical film with Robin Williams as Popeye (forever remembered for Dead Poets Society, 1989 and Good Will Hunting, 1997) and Shelley Duvall (known best for The Shining, 1980) as Olive, directed by Robert Altman.

Now you can enjoy many extra attractions there too: a mini golf course, an obstacle course (George loved it!), a few cafes, a seaside area with sunbeds, a treasure hunt and a cinema. Also, during our visit, we received coupons to get free popcorn and a free postcard! If you love the character of Popeye, you can also visit the Popeye Comic Museum, with about a hundred original comics dating back to 1936. See more here.

13. The Red Tower and Mellieħa

St Agatha Tower, built around 1647 – 1649, is one of many observational towers on Maltese islands built by the knights to protect the island from invasions.

However this tower is special because of its colour – no surprise it became widely known as The Red Tower! You can enter and climb it to observe Gozo, Comino and Mellieha Bay; there’s also a small exposition inside.

Mellieħa is a large village with a sand beach, diving sites, many restaurants and cafes, and many choose to spend their vacation here. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieħa is believed to have been constructed around the site where Saint Like has depicted a fresco with the Virgin Mary. 

14. Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum

Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an absolutely unique Maltese neolithic site located in Paola city, the central part of the island. Hypogeum is an ancient underground site discovered accidentally only in 1902 that was used as a burial (the remains of about 7 thousand people were found there) and a sacred location that was in use as early as 4000 BC and till around 2500 BC.

Important: the number of visitors is limited to only 10 people per group, and you can only visit the site at particular hours. I highly recommend you book the tickets in advance – there are only 20 last-minute tickets available per day (sold only from Fort St Elmo and Gozo Museum of Archaeology). You can come before a tour and hope that not everyone who booked in advance will show up, but be ready to miss out. Photography is prohibited as well. All those measures are in place to keep it safe and untouched and to minimise the disturbance of the fragile microclimate of Hypogeum (below is the official photo of the location not taken by me).

Just imagine visiting those caves with the red circular ochre drawings on the walls and multilevel chambers that once contained skulls, bones and some objects, such as the famous Sleeping Lady statue now on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Valletta. During the tour, you’ll walk different points of the route underground with an audio guide and accompanied by a guide visiting quite a few locations such as the Holy of Holies, the Decorated Room, the Oracle room with a vocalisation cave.

By the way, there was some talk that the skulls were shaped abnormally and potentially belonged to extraterrestrial creatures – obviously, that’s not true; the skulls are within the normal range of a human skeleton.

15. Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk (you pronounce it as Marsaschlock) is a fishing village and an ancient port where you can see lots of traditional Maltese boats (especially the Luzu ones) together. You might spot an Osiris or Horus eye on them – those signs are put there for protection from evil spirits, and the tradition can be traced back to the Phoenicians.

The sea promenade is lined up with cafes and restaurants (the obvious choice of food would be some seafood). Other attractions there are The Church of Our Lady of Pompeii and the Hunter’s Tower, now turned into a restaurant.

On Sundays, there is a large fish market taking place there, and on other days, there are still some stalls selling some tourist stuff. You can also take a boat ride from here to St Paul’s pool, Blue Grotto etc. In the background, you can notice a container Freeport and a power station, which diminishes authenticity a bit.

Marsaxlokk is one of the most promoted places for tourists in Malta, and although I cannot deny its beauty, I’d not put it on my must-visit list if you’re short on time. However, if you stay in Malta for a long time, it’s definitely worth a visit.

16. Marsaskala

Marsaskala, or Marsascala, is another seaside area close to Marsaxlokk you might want to see. It would make a perfect half-day break from Valletta, for instance!

It has just recently developed from a small fishing village, but still it’s much quieter and less touristy, yet still also has a long history dating back to prehistoric times and later was an important entry spot to the island: for instance, it was used by Romans and attacked by Ottomans in 1614.

We had the loveliest walk along the promenade there, overlooking the harbour with boats. Also, spot the Church of St Anne, built in 1953 and a few ancient towers such as the 16th century St. Thomas Tower and the Mamo Tower (the 17th-century Żonqor Tower was demolished, and there are a few now privately owned towers there).

17. St Julian’s

Everyone knows St Julian’s as a clubbing spot in Malta: if you’re into nightlife parties, that’s a place for you indeed (and head to the Paceville area without a second thought). However, over the years we found that this is a perfect place for a stay for us. Take a walk along the seashore of Spinola towards Balluta Bay and Sliema, see the Portomaso panorama, visit a shopping centre Bay views, enjoy numerous restaurants – think Georgian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Italian, Maltese cuisines, and climb up high to the Be. Hotel pool terrace for the views over St George Bay.

It’s also a convenient spot for travelling by car: from one side, you’ll find St Paul’s Bay and National Aquarium, and from another, there is Valletta and Sliema. There are a few other historical landmarks, too: Spinola palace and church built in 1688, Dragonara palace, a summer residence of the Scicluna family (now known as Dragonara casino), and an Art Deco complex of buildings called Balluta Buildings dating to 1928.

Our hotel choice number one is Westin Dragonara, a great hotel overlooking the sea, with a few outside pools and a great territory. The only thing I’m not fond of there is their inner pool and beauty club, which feel a bit outdated, but fingers crossed that a renovation is coming in the future. (For a spa experience, head to the Myoka spa chain – for instance, at Hilton Malta, not far away from Westin or Marriott Balluta Bay). 

18. Golden sands

 Golden Sands is a gorgeous sandy beach a bit far away from the majority of other Maltese landmarks. With the dramatic cliffs in the background, it’s a great swimming site with some restaurants. We stayed there in the Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa Golden Sands, sitting high on the hill above Golden Sands Bay.

Although the hotel itself needs a modern twist and feels a bit outdated, it has a couple great restaurants, Myoka spa facility and an absolutely fantastic pool area overlooking the peaceful landscape around. I’d return there only for this view again without a second thought.

19. Three cities

If you’ve seen the panorama opening up from the Upper Barrakka Garden, you already know what three cities look like! Those are literally three small cities – Vittoriosa (also known as Birgu), Senglea and Cospicua – adjacent to each other so organically that eventually are regarded as one entity.

And actually, Vittoriosa is older than Valletta: that’s where the Maltese order power started from! The easiest way to get there is to take a light down to the foot of Valletta hill from Barrakka Gardens and then proceed with a boat or ferry ride (it usually takes only about 10 minutes) to Vittoriosa Yacht Marina, probably the prettiest to see from the water.

There you can visit quite a few landmarks: the 13th century Fort St. Angelo (the favourite of mine!), the Inquisitor’s palace, Malta at war and The Maritime Museum. A beautiful church by the shore is the Collegiate Church of Saint Lawrence, which celebrates its anniversary in 2023. You can explore two other cities on foot as well – take advantage of Senglea Basilica (wear comfortable shoes to conquer the steps!), and St Michael Bastion.

By the way, if you’re a cinema goer and, for instance, love the Game of Thrones, you might recognise the Ricasoli Fort as the Kings landing – usually you can admire it from the Valletta side. And the views over the Three cities overall look very cinematic as well!

20. Rotunda of Mosta 

Mosta is a small city in the centre of the island not far away from Mdina, and the landmark it’s famous for is Mosta Rotunda, or The Sanctuary Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady, dating back to the 19th century. It was built in neoclassical style on the site of an older church and might remind you of the Pantheon in Rome.

Not only is its dome absolutely breathtaking – it’s the third largest unsupported dome in the world that is visible from a very far away – there is a moving story behind it. During WWII, Malta was bombed quite heavily, and on 9 April 1942, a bomb was dropped right on the Mosta Rotunda while a few hundred people were inside waiting for the mass. It came through the roof, fell to the floor and miraculously didn’t explode. In the small museum, you can still see the detailed chronology of that event and the damaged spot on the floor of the church.

You can also climb to the roof of the cathedral – this is a common activity to do in Malta, by the way – and observe the panorama and the dome itself. 

You might also like my other Maltese guides:

Hope you liked my blog!
Yours,
Anna xxx

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