Pictures of the floating world

Ultimate guide to Malta – p.1

First 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; without bragging, 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 1 of my guide.

1. Valletta

Valletta, the capital city of Malta, is probably the first on your list – and this is for a reason. This tiny historical gem surrounded by sea on three sides is a great place to start your journey throughout Malta.

See the Baracca Gardens, main shopping streets, Grandmaster Palace (currently under reconstruction), Lascaris Rooms, MUZA and the National archaeological museum, Casa Rocca Piccola, the traditional still inhabited aristocratic manor, the St Johns Cathedral, National War Museum and Fort St Elmo and many other things there (see my guide to Valletta here).

Also, Valletta is full of different events: you’ll see it decorated for religious feasts, festivals and other special events. Check those before your visit: for instance, you can attend the Guardia military parade at Fort St Elmo, represented by a few dozen performers!

The historical ceremony of Grand Bailiff of the Order of the Knights of St John is re-enacted on a few occasions throughout a year and includes such characters as Alof de Wignacourt, the Grandmaster of the order, and Caravaggio, who was commissioned to create the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, still on display at Co-Cathedral of St. John, Valletta.

2. Mdina and…

Mdina is a unique Maltese city included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. It was founded by Phoenicians, then occupied by Romans, Arabs, and Sicilians and then, in the 16th century, was taken over by the Knights of Malta.

It still remains one of the most incredible attractions of Malta, known under the names of the Silent City, Città Vecchia, and Città Notabile. There are quite a few things to see there: the ancient gates of Mdina, the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Paul designed by Lorenzo Gafà and erected in 1696 – 1705, the Cathedral Museum, and The Fontanella Tea Gardens.

Pop into one of the ancient palazzos, explore the Natural History Museum, and, of course, examine the Game of Thrones shooting sites!

3. …Rabat

Mdina is adjacent (literally a few minutes walk) from Rabat, so it’s worth exploring them both together.

Rabat is famous for its catacombs of St Paul and St Agatha – and has a beautiful cathedral, too! And walking around this city was such bliss – don’t forget to sit in one of cafes to have some coffee with Maltese sweets!

4. San Anton Gardens

This area was a private property of French Knight Antoine de Paule, who later in his life, in 1623, became the Grand Master of the Maltese Order of the Knights of St John. Under British rule, this palace and the garden were the official residence of the British governors, and parts of the park were open to the general public starting from 1882.

Since 1974, when Malta became a republic, it has served as the president’s official residence. You cannot enter the palace, though, for obvious reasons; the palace is closed to the public. However, you can imagine how it looks if you’ve seen the Game of Thrones: it was used as a setting for Red Keep scenes!

If you’re travelling with kids, there is the President’s Kitchen Garden and the Ecopark, with a nice playground, cafe and mini zoo right behind the presidential palace. 

5. St Paul’s Bay

St. Paul’s Bay is considered one of the best spots to live for expats, and now it’s a pretty area with a seaside promenade, cafes, restaurants and hotels. It is believed that the ship that carried Saint Paul to Rome two thousand years ago got into a terrible storm near Malta, and Saint Paul safely reached the island around this area, hence the name!

Of course, then he made a few miracles, helping the population of the island before setting off. There are a few locations linked to St Paul’s stay in Malta, such as St Paul’s church at St Paul’s Bay, St. Paul’s Grotto in Rabat and Mdina Cathedral.

6. Palace Parisio

I’ve been to Malta a dozen times, and only recently, we visited a Maltese hidden gem – Palazzo Parisio. It was discovered by my husband accidentally when he studied the map of Malta. I never saw it in any Maltese guides or recommendations, and I’m happy to share it with you!

In 1733, António Manoel de Vilhena, Grand Master of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, built a hunting lounge here and later, it became a residence of the Parisio family. In 1898, it was acquired by Marquis Scicluna. Today’s look at the building was finalised at the beginning of the 20th century.

The palace is still a private property of the Scicluna family: it’s been renovated, and now the visitors are welcomed at the palace and its gardens (you can buy tickets at the entrance). There are quite a few rooms to see there: the ballroom, the great staircase, the billiard room, the music room, sala Lombarda and others.

The gardens look absolutely idyllic with a small greenhouse, citrus trees, a fountain and gorgeous blooming plants.

And the restaurant Luna is definitely a must as well: we went there for a few times both for brunch and lunch, and the experience was really good (but make sure you are not in a hurry as the service is very relaxed).

7. Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim 

If you visit the southern side of Malta, make sure you explore Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim, a megalithic temple complex with the second probably used as an astronomical observation station. Those two complexes are located only about 500 metres away from each other, so you can visit them together.

The oldest parts of those temples date back to 3600 BC–c.3200 BC and are among the most ancient sites of religious worship we know today. Just think of this: the oldest parts of Mnajdra are 5 centuries older than the oldest part of Stonehenge! And, of course, the megalithic temples of Malta are inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites because of their immense significance.

You can also download a free guide: there are two versions, for adults and for children. The scenery around the site is incredible as the temples are located on a cliff opening up to the sea. Since 2008, the sites have been protected by shelters. 

8. Ta’Qali craft village

Ta’Qali craft village, located not far from Mdina (see below), is another touristy yet pretty educational activity you can do in Malta. That’s a small newly built village with shops and factory outlets. The items you can expect to purchase here include gems, jewellery, and handmade wood items.

Ceramic sold there is very typical to Malta and the south of Italy (do you also feel the Sicilian vibes?), featuring fruits, fish, flowers, typical prints on vases, tableware, number plates and even furniture. We ordered a million lemon things for our Italian flat that were delivered within a few weeks (all unbroken, to my big surprise).

You can also see artisans at work and even visit a workshop there! Mdina Glass store and workshop is another popular site: similar to Murano workshops at Phoenician Glassblowers or Mdina Glass, you can see artisans blowing glass and making wonders with it. 

9. Ta’Qali Malta National Park

During WWII, the Ta’Qali National Park area was used as an airstrip for the Royal Air Force defending Malta.

And now it’s a pretty garden, albeit with some deserted areas where you can stroll along the shadow valleys, relax by the fountain or have a picnic. The Ta’Qali craft village, the museum, and the petting zoo are all very close. 

10. Blue Grotto 

Blue Grotto is one of the most famous natural wonders of Malta, outlined probably only by Dwejra in Gozo (before it collapsed). This is a system of six caves, and the name comes from the water colour you can see on a bright, sunny day. Initially, we wanted to ride a boat there, which is one of the most popular activities for tourists, but as there were no boats in service that day, we opted to see it from the viewing point above the grotto.

And look at this scenery; it was definitely worth it! The views from the Blue Wall and grotto observational spot were absolutely breathtaking, and the grotto is so much bigger than I’d imagined! The small rocky island you see in the distance is Filfla island, whose name is probably derived from the Arabic word for peppercorn.

You might also like my other Maltese guides:

I hope you liked my new blog,
Anna xxx

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