“Being in the heart of the Mediterranean, we have had practically all the civilisations of the region come through here,” explains Dominic Micallef, a member of the Malta Tourism Authority for over 30 years.

“Mainly because of our strategic position and our fine, deep harbours. They all left their mark and this is why such a small state has such a rich history. It is completely disproportionate to the size of our island,” he adds.

After exploring the island, which measures just 27km (17 miles) long and 14.5km (9 miles) wide, for the first time, the word that comes to mind to best describe Malta is “history”.

On first impressions, the sunshine and golden landscape would be a reminder of the island nation’s proximity to the north African coast. As we spend more time exploring, similarities to another island in Europe become apparent – Ireland.

Take a break for a coffee at Caffe Cordina outside the National Library.

The dry-stone walls create two- to three-acre fields. Wheat is ripening and winter barley has been harvested, with stubble left in some lower ground. Oats, onions, scallions, fennel and potatoes are laid out in drills both in the countryside and urban areas.

Malta certainly has more to explore – it is a destination that offers quality food, excursions and is a haven for history enthusiasts.

What to see

Begin your exploration around the capital city, Valletta. Let St John’s co-cathedral be your starting point and listen as the audio guide explains how the grand masters have influenced the opulence of this place of worship. Take in The Beheading of St John the Baptist by Caravaggio and observe the symbolism this masterpiece brings to Maltese history.

On the island of Malta, you are never too far away from history or agriculture.

Wander down Republic Street to Casa Rocca Piccolo and enquire if the Marquis is home – he might just bring you on a tour of his home. This aristocratic palazzo will give you an insight into the interior architecture of Maltese homes. The balcony windows – attributed to Turkish influence – once allowed the women of the house to observe the antics of street life below, without having to venture outside the home.

The tapestries, dating back to he 1500s are on display in the co-Cathedral until 24 June. / Caitríona Bolger

Closer to the waterfront, the Mediterranean Conference Centre is worth a visit. Construction began in the 1500s when The Order of St John established a hospital with the best facilities to assist the sick. It is said that in World War One, Malta became known as the ‘Nurse of the Mediterranean,’ when wounded troops would be transported to British military hospitals around the islands. In the 1970s, this building was converted into a world-class theatre and conference centre. With the old infirmary measuring over 150m long, standing on the polished floor gives the visitor an indication of the scale of patients that were tended to here.

Segway Malta

On the south coast, Dingli Cliffs are the islands highest point (230m). Segway Malta will bring you on a tour of this rural area, ensuring you are well-trained on the workings of a Segway before departing. Prices start from €45 for a 1.5 hour tour (segwaymalta.com).

Rolling Geeks

“A rolling geek is an electric buggy that talks,” says the poster outside the Rolling Geeks pickup point. Chris, originally from Belgium, brought the concept of a self-driving buggy to the narrow streets of Malta’s Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua).

The rolling geeks are a must-do in Malta.

“It is fun, it is ideal for people who can’t walk too far, wheelchair users can take part, it is a fantastic way to see the most historical part of Malta in an efficient way,” he explains. After partaking, I highly recommend these tours. Prices start from €75 per buggy (which fits two adults and two children). rolling-geeks.com

A Taste of Malta

“Due to the size of our country, Malta does not produce enough [food] to export. So, when you are here, enjoy the olives, enjoy the wine, enjoy the local cheese,” says Carl, chef and proprietor of @cooking_out_of_the_box, as he stands in an olive grove, tending a wood-fired brick oven.

Certain ingredients appear on menus regularly – fennel, tuna, tomatoes, potatoes, horse meat, sheep’s milk cheese and rabbit. The mention of rabbit to a Maltese person seems to bring about the same reaction as the thoughts of Christmas dinner to an Irish person.

It is possible to walk from St Julian's to Valletta.

Then, there are places that you might go to for the history – such as the city of Mdina – but stay for the food. For example, outside the fortified walls, on the piazza [town square], there is the unassuming Crystal Palace café. The best way of identifying it is to look for the locals sitting down, watching the world go by. This 24-hour joint is known for the best pastizzi on the island. Like a Cornish pasty, but with oily, crispy filo pastry, they come stuffed with ricotta or peas. One is satisfactory and at 60c each, it is understandable if one does a double take at the price.

For fresh, colourful north African influenced menu, The medina will provide a shady refuge for a great lunch. / Caitríona Bolger

Inside the fortified walls of Mdina, there are quality restaurants, trattorias, tea rooms and ice-cream shops, all discretely trading behind the golden limestone walls.

Aerial view of Mdina at sunrise.

The Medina restaurant provides a shady respite from exploring and a menu that is influenced by nearby north Africa.

“Maltese people come to the Fontanella Tearooms on a Sunday for chocolate cake, the big terrace and great views,” whispered [our guide] Dominic as we wondered if we could make room for another sweet treat, while studying the menu.

If you take a boat trip from Gozo to Malta, stop by the Blue Lagoon /Caitríona Bolger.

Between Mdina and the citified district, Terroir – owned and run by two brothers-in-law in the village of H’ Attard – is a fine-dining treat that will give you a true taste of the island. Upon returning home from working with Gordon Ramsey in London, a family field became their kitchen garden and the plates presented are works of art. A five-course tasting menu is €65 per person.

Try a Kinnie Spritz when in Malta for a refreshing local cooling drink. /Caitríona Bolger

For the city experience, Risette on Old Theatre Street in Valletta combines fresh cooking with elegant interiors. Chef Steve Scicluna combines his Maltese heritage with his experience in Dublin’s Chapter One to wow diners with a menu that speaks simply but delivers outstandingly.

Balluta Bay from the Malta Marriott. / Caitríona Bolger


Smaller neighbouring island Gozo is definitely doable in one day.

In fact, you can see more than just Gozo – travel back to Malta by smaller boat to experience the Blue Lagoon and the caves that provide some of the best diving in Europe.

For our trip to Gozo, we were in the capable hands of Yippee Malta.

Don Berto on the waterfront has a shaded terrace to sit out and watch the comings and goings on the harbour. / Caitríona Bolger

They collect you from your accommodation, book the ferry to Gozo and collect you on arrival. You bypass the other visitors as they queue for a sightseeing coach and start your visit without delay. A full-day pass starts at €75 per person (yippeemalta.com).

Outside the ferry terminal, there will be quad bikes or tuk-tuks waiting for you to explore the island. Either way, you will get to visit places no 52-seater coach can get to.

Don't miss the salt pans on the Gozo coast, meet the family farming salt and taste the island./ Caitríona Bolger

A special experience when visiting Gozo is to book a picnic with Ana. Meeting you at a local beauty spot (and with a picnic spread that is sure to impress), Ana provides a home-cooked lunch along with local drinks and wine. Ana, originally from Ukraine, has lived on the island for over 10 years, knows the hidden gems and works with clients to prepare dishes that they like. Because of its uniqueness, this was the highlight of my Maltese experience. Prices from €120 per couple (@gozopicnic).

Book a Gozo tuk-tuk and travel on roads no bus or car can access. / Caitríona Bolger

We made our way to the capital of Gozo, Rabat, and explored the ancient fortified city in the centre of the island. We also visited the Ggantija Temples. A UNESCO World Heritage site, these are considered to be the oldest free-standing temples in the world – older than Newgrange and Stonehenge. Audrey Marie, our Gozitan guide, brought to life the history of these temples and how they were discovered by farmers cultivating fields.

Explore the Three Cities historical streets. / Caitríona Bolger

A gift from the islands

Hand-knitted lambswool jumpers – Outside the Temples on Gozo is a shop with wool, cotton and crochet jumpers, cardigans and dresses. An experienced knitter was impressed with the quality of the stitching and confirmed these are definitely hand-knitted and the wool was of immaculate quality.

Pottery and tiles – in Mdina, browse the tiles, prints and hand painted pottery bowls in the gift shops next to the observation deck for viewing the expanse of the Maltese countryside.

Golden dry stonewalls

Travelling from the airport towards the city, the golden dry-stone walls came into focus and remained a talking point for the duration of our stay.

Dominic Micallef, tour guide with Visit Malta, explains: “Our globeringine limestone is very porous. In Malta, there are five layers of stone, they are all sedimentary. They were all formed under the sea.

“This [the stone we see around the island] is the most important layer of stone, which we have been using since prehistoric times. When it is cut, it is very white and as it sits in the sun it turns this ochre colour. The stone changes, one has to protect it; it is a very soft type of stone. It can be easily chiseled and carved.”


  • Caitríona Bolger was a guest of Visit Malta and stayed at Malta Marriott, St Julian’s.
  • Currently, Ryanair flies two times a week from Shannon and four times a week from Dublin.
  • Irish tour operators running packages to Malta include Sunway Holidays (sunway.ie), Cassidy Travel (cassidytravel.ie) and Budget Travel (budgettravel.ie)
  • Further information www.visitmalta.com
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