Rocky outcrops strategically located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, the Maltese Islands have long been sought after by empires as a way to solidify control over the vital shipping lanes of the Mediterranean. The crusade-era order Knights Hospitaller made the islands their own personal fortress, repelling invasions by the Ottoman Empire, until eventually Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Empire expelled them. After a while the British took control of the islands and it was left to them to fight the last battle over Malta, which was against the Germans during the Second World War.
Today, however, the only invasions taking place in Malta are the hordes of tourists who come for the historic villages and fortresses set against the backdrop of the sun and the sea. In this article we’ll provide a breakdown of the country’s two main islands, Malta and Gozo, both of which have their own charms and offer visitors contrasting travel experiences.
Most holidays to Malta begin on the island of Malta, as travelers arrive either at the international airport or via ferry from nearby Sicily.
Valletta is a historic port city and the capital of the country. This is where Malta’s history is best displayed, as ancient buildings line its cobbled streets and historical attractions abound. In fact, the city has such a historic and otherworldly feel that it was the set location for “King’s Landing” on HBO’s popular Game of Thrones television show. One attraction is Fort Saint Elmo, which lies at the tip of the city and was once a base of the Knights Hospitaller. Visitors can watch reenactments of the knights’ great battles against the Turks and explore the ruins of the fortifications.
For most travelers, however, Valletta is not much more than a pleasant distraction from days spent lounging on the beaches. Accordingly most visitors will stay in one of Malta’s beachside communities, with the most popular being Sliema and St Julian’s.
These communities offer everything travelers want from a beach holiday: sandy beaches, great nightlife, seaside restaurants, hotels with swimming pools and lots of shops. Though the prices are a little steep and the area is flooded with tourists, the towns still have a good deal of the laid-back charm that makes Malta so special. They’re the kind of places where kids spend their days jumping from the town walls into the small harbors and literally everyone takes the time to appreciate a refreshing drink at sunset.
A short ferry across the channel is the island of Gozo. Smaller and less visited than Malta, visiting Gozo is akin to visiting a simpler time. There are no settlements beyond small villages and everything moves at a snail’s pace. Each village has a cathedral at its center and a town square with cafes and restaurants, but the reason travelers come is for the rugged scenery, small coves and sandy beaches.
On the west coast of Gozo there are huge cliffs and stunning rock outcrops, like the Azure Window, which are perfect for exploration. Small towns like Xlendi, meanwhile, have relaxed vibes and great beaches.
One cool way to experience Gozo is to forego hotels during a visit and instead rent a villa. There are a number of villa rental agencies on the island the rent out historic, stone village houses. Literal mansions, these houses are constructed with elaborate stonework and often have private courtyards with swimming pools. And because there are so many available, they’re not as expensive as one might expect.