Malta combines beach and history in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. It receives five times more tourists, mostly British, than its population of 438,000 people. However, it remains a holiday destination largely ignored by many Europeans and Americans.
The Maltese islands are certainly unique. There’s no match for Malta’s clean and transparent Mediterranean waters combined with its numerous cultural attractions.
Where is Malta?
Malta is a country in the Mediterranean Sea, formed by the Maltese islands. It is located in southern Europe, some 80km (50mi) south of Sicily (Italy) and 284km (176mi) northeast of Tunisia. With only 316 km², it’s actually one of Europe’s smallest countries. The archipelago is composed of Malta, Gozo and Comino Islands, as well as other uninhabited islands.
Malta has an ancient history full of important events. The archipelago was ruled over by Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, French and British, and all left their mark on the Maltese islands.
From the Neolithic period, there are several temples dating from 3600 to 3200 BC. These huge megalithic structures are about one thousand years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and Stonehenge in southern England.
The Phoenicians, who settled in Malta around 750 BC, remained for about 600 years. They were followed by the Carthaginians and the Romans who settled around 218 BC. With the division and fall of the Roman empire, the Byzantines took control until the Arabs conquered the archipelago in 870 AD, leaving their mark on the Maltese culture and language.
Malta became an extension of Sicily between 1090 and 1530. It was ruled over by the Normans and Aragonese. Spain granted Malta to the Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, now known as Order of Malta. The Knights defended the islands from the Ottoman Turks, namely by building the fort of Valletta, until Napoleon took over in 1798.
Soon after, in 1800 the British took possession of the islands, and in 1814 Malta became a British colony. The year of 1964 marked Malta’s independence. Malta became a republic in 1974, and joined the European Union in 2004.
What to See and Do in Malta
One of the advantages of being one of Europe’s smallest countries (despite one with the highest population density) is that you won’t waste time getting around. In Malta, you’ll find that distances are short and no other place in Europe offers such a concentration of historic sites, megalithic temples, beaches, tourist resorts, bars and restaurants.
The capital city of Valletta is a great starting point to explore Malta. It has a concentration of over 300 monuments in a small area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A 20-minute drive from Valletta, Mdina’s narrow medieval streets, impressive palaces and numerous restaurants create a unique ambiance. Also, don’t miss the adjacent Rabat, home to a number of archaeological and historic sites.
Gozo, about 30 minutes by ferry from Malta, is a more rural island. It is believed to be the legendary island of Homer’s Odyssey. With a landscape dotted with Baroque churches and farms, Gozo has a magnificent coastline and offers amazing diving sites.
Best Time to Visit Malta
Malta can be visited at any time of year. April to June have mild temperatures and little rainfall. As a result, these months offer great conditions for sightseeing, unlike July and August which can be too hot and crowded.
How to Get to Malta
Air Malta has regular connections to many European, North African and Middle Eastern cities.
Getting Around Malta
Exploring the Maltese islands is very easy. Buses cover most of the tourist areas of Malta and Gozo Islands, and are an efficient and inexpensive way of travel. To plan your trips, check out the Malta public transport map.
Renting a car is also a good option for those who want to explore more than the obvious attractions. Road signs are in English, and driving is on the left, British style.