It may be a small archipelago, but Malta has what bucket lists are made of.
From the beauty of its deep blue waters, natural swimming pools and fossil-studied cliffs, to the architecture that spans prehistoric temples and baroque palaces, its fortressed towns – often the sites of historic battles – have seen their fair share of drama. Now it’s your time to see it for yourself.
Here are some of our picks of the spots you need to visit while you’re there.
With a name like that, it’s hardly necessary to describe this nook on Comino, a small island of the Maltese archipelago, but we’ll just confirm that the waters are indeed blue (well, turquoise, if you’re going to argue about it) and the sands are as luxuriously white as your imagination will allow. Little surprise that Lonely Planet called it Malta’s best swimming spot. Stay in one of the two hotels, or rock up for a daytrip by boat.
The 1980 musical flick Popeye did for Malta’s Anchor Bay what Mamma Mia! did for the little Greek island of Skopelos – namely, turned it into a zinging tourist destination. Popeye Village (known in the movie as Sweethaven) has gone one further by converting the purpose-built set into a kid-centred fun park where you can retrace the steps of one of Hollywood’s most rambunctious romances, that of Popeye (Robin Williams) and Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall). You can also catch a live show or animation, take a boat trip, and visit the cinema and comic museum. BYO spinach.
If Popeye Village is too “toot toot”, try Mdina in the northern region of Malta – it’s also known as the Silent City. The medieval and baroque architecture is so spectacular that the location scouts for Game of Thrones zeroed in on the fortified city for some scenes set in King’s Landing and Pentos. The apostle St Paul is thought to have lived in a grotto here in 60AD, and these days the palaces are home to some of Malta’s noble families. Mdina
The stunning capital of Malta is hemmed in first by its 16th-century walls, and then by the Mediterranean Sea itself. It seems that every turn reveals palatial buildings, but there are some obvious sights to go and see. The Grandmaster’s Palace dates back to 1571 and was the residence of the Grand Masters of the Knights of St John – hence the collection of more than 5000 suits of armour. We’d also venture you haven’t truly been to a theatre until you’ve been to the 18th-century Manoel Theatre, with its blue trompe-l’oeil ceiling and baroque auditorium. It’s home to the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and also its own museum.
Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra temples
These megalithic temples on the southern coast of Malta date back to between 3600 and 3200BC and 3600 and 3000BC respectively, making them among the most ancient religious sites on Earth. The temple complex of Ħaġar Qim (which translates as “worshipping stones”) may have been used for fertility rights and by oracles. Five hundred metres away is the complex of Mnajdra, also built from limestone. Its south temple is aligned with the four seasons (in true 1980s adventure movie style), so if you visit at sunrise on the first day of each season, a ray of sunlight beams through the doorway and onto a stone slab inside. A clifftop walk among the wildflowers is also a must.
To experience a traditional Maltese fishing village, head to the picturesque port of Marsaxlokk on the south-east coast of the island. The harbour is filled with brightly coloured bobbing fishing boats, and there are plenty of swimming nooks. Obviously the seafront is lined with restaurants selling some of the finest fresh seafood you’re ever likely to eat, but you might also visit on a Sunday to soak up the bustling vibes of the fish market and try cooking your own feast.
Explore the medieval backstreets of this ancient fortified town, also known as Birgu, which is one of Malta’s Three Cities (a trio of historic towns in the country’s north, the other two being Senglea and Cospicua). Use Victory Square as your starting point to explore alleys of quaint restaurants and well-tended old houses with balconies. Vittoriosa bore witness to battles between the Knights Hospitaller and the Ottoman Empire during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, as well as an invasion by Napoleon in 1798. It’s definitely worth trying to schedule your visit for a holy day, such as when the Easter processions take place and statues of the risen Christ are carried through the streets. Vittoriosa
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Qatar Airways. With daily connections out of Australia, you can take a one-stop flight to Malta with Qatar Airways. Book here.