10 Things To Do And See While Sightseeing In Malta
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Malta has to be the most unique location on CityXplora so far. As our name suggests we're all about great sightseeing experiences in urban centres around the world, but pint-sized Malta is a nation in its own right! It's home to the only bus tour we know of that covers an entire country, from the ancient fishing village of Marsaxlokk in the south to Buġibba resort in the north. Knowing that both Malta and its tour service are hugely popular with Mediterranean tourists we've decided to whip up a little summer sightseeing inspiration.
As well as our own ideas on great things to see and do we spoke to a few professional travel bloggers to learn about their favourite experiences in the heartland of the Knights Hospitaller. If you've never been to Malta before then we hope this list will help in planning a first-time trip that you'll never forget.
1) City Sightseeing Malta (Various Stops)
We're not just inserting Malta's hop-on hop-off bus tour at the top of the list because we offer tickets on this site, it genuinely is one of the best regarded City Sightseeing tours we know of. Don't just take our word for it, hear what award-winning travel blogger and media personality/producer Amy West (@amywesttravel) had to say:
"I loved cruising the main island in the double decker buses. Great way to see/learn the history!".
This summer City Sightseeing Malta will be operating two routes running from tourist town of Bugibba (blue route) and central Valletta (red route). Both intersect along Valletta's sparkling waterfront and offer visitors a chance to see Malta's incredible historical landscape from two unique perspectives. For example, during the second half of the blue route tour you'll travel into the heart of the nation's countryside. Here lies iconic landmarks such as the San Anton Gardens (location of the presidential palace), the neighbouring cities of Mdina & Rabat, and Ta' Qali Crafts Village.
The red route, while a fair bit shorter than the blue route, ferries passengers to some of the most magical locations on the Maltese mainland (if you can call it that?) After leaving Valletta's Waterfront Terminus you'll be taken to the Tarxien Temples, an archaeological complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to around 3150 BC. Its ancient megalithic carvings, sprawling architecture and miraculously preserved entrance ways collectively represent that which we love most about Malta here at CityXplora- its primeval mystique! Who were the people that built the temple complexes? Why did they build them? Hop off the bus tour and find out.
Other red route highlights include the fortified town of Birgu (also called Vittoriosa), Marsaxlokk fishing village, the famous Blue Grotto sea cave, and the prehistoric temple complexes of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. More on a few of these later, but until then, back to Mdina & Rabat.
2) Fontanella Tea Garden (Bastion Street, Mdina, Malta)
The Fontanella is a strikingly beautiful establishment perched atop Mdina's 17th century fortifications. After ordering one of their delicious cake portions pull up a seat along the edge of the bastions and you'll be able to gaze out for miles across Malta's breathtaking countryside. This 'Al Fresco' option captures the definitive essence of the venue- Romanesque splendour, radiant Mediterranean sunshine and mouthwatering home-made sweets.
The person who recommended the Fontanella Tea Garden to us was professional travel blogger and PR Director Becki Enright (@BordersofAdv). Her choice of cake was a rich chocolate slice, ours would probably be the orange and almond, or maybe the gooey banoffee.
Note that Becki offered her recommendation alongside an on-foot exploration of Mdina's enchanting medieval cityscape. Depending on how peckish you're feeling after stepping off the tour bus you might want to start off at the tea garden or finish up there after some sightseeing. Whatever you choose to do we'd highly recommend that you also seek out the National Museum of Natural History, the Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum, and the Mdina Dungeons. Remember to keep plenty of space on the camera memory card for Mdina Cathedral's captivating interior and the eclectic architecture of neighbouring Rabat.
3) Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum (Villegaignon Street, Mdina MDN 1191, Malta)
We'd like to specifically point out the Palazzo Falson, as it was recommended to us by Nick & Nienke (@thetraveltester), a Dutch couple currently living in London who regularly travel the world and blog about their experiences. Within Twitter's 140 character limit they said of the museum: "I really loved visiting the Palazzo Falson in Mdina. A great little museum to get a look into Malta's Noble Past".
Situated within a medieval palace constructed by Mdina's former Sicilian nobility the Falson is treasure trove of artistic and historical objects. These were collected by the building's late owner, Capt Olof Frederick Gollcher OBE. Following the captain's death his assets passed onto the O. F. Gollcher OBE Art and Archaeological Foundation. A management deal later struck between the Maltese Heritage Foundation and the Art & Archaeological Foundation allowed the late captain's fabulous collection to go on display to the public.
Want to see original pieces of Persian armour, 18th century Maltese silverware, or amazing pieces of European Renaissance art? Save some time for the Palazzo Falson.
4) Catacombs of St. Paul (Bajjada Triq Sant Agata, Ir-Rabat RBT 2013, Malta)
Back to Becki on this one, as her 2nd suggestion carries on nicely from her previous one. Rabat is home to Catacombs of St Paul, an eerie yet alluring subterranean complex of tunnels and tombs dating back to the fourth and ninth centuries AD. Now managed by Heritage Malta this paleochristian burial site is fully accessible to the public, offering cultural insights into the nation's late Roman and early Christian eras. During a visit you'll also learn about the architectural methods used to create the labyrinth of hypogea.
5) Malta Maritime Museum (Xatt Il - Forn, Birgu Vittoriosa CSP 08, Malta)
I mentioned earlier that the City Sightseeing Malta buses visit the harbourside city of Birgu, well it's here that you'll find the Malta Maritime Museum. It's a place that recounts the historical and mythological aspects of Malta's illustrious seafaring legacy, from prehistory to modern times. Amongst the museum's collection are 60+ full-scale traditional Maltese sailing vessels, the world's largest Roman anchor, and a working 1950s marine steam engine. Check out the link above for opening hours and pricing.
6) The Malta Experience (Saint Elmo Bastions, Mediterranean Street, Valletta VLT06, Malta)
Especially if you've never been to Malta before we'd recommend complimenting the City Sightseeing Malta tour with a visit to The Malta Experience. This immersive audio-visual show surmises the dramatic tale of the nation's 7000 year history. You'll witness the arrival of Malta’s stone-age settlers, its Roman era, conquest by Muslims and the Spanish crown, French occupation, British colonisation, independence and everything in-between. Across the duration of the show you'll be whisked from one amazing landmark to another, a journey that will set the scene for your own explorations.
7) Mdina Glass (Crafts Village, Ta' Qali)
You haven't experienced Malta until you've witnessed its master glass blowers working their ancient craft in the Ta' Qali Crafts Village. Mdina Glass has been in operation since 1968 and while this family-run business may now be an international enterprise it still has it's headquarters here. Take some time to browse thousands of interesting handmade souvenirs and check in on the artisans as they heat, roll, blow, cut and fuse their way through psychedelic treasures.
8) Rotunda of Mosta (Rotunda Square, Mosta, Malta)
Be sure to hop-off at stop 30 on the City Sightseeing Malta blue route, here you'll find the officially termed 'Church of the Assumption of Our Lady'. Constructed during the early to mid 19th century the building's architect modelled it after the Pantheon in Rome, including a dome that is to this day one of the largest in the world. At 122 feet in diameter the supporting rotunda walls need to be a staggering 30 feet thick! This robustness is probably one of the reasons why a 50 kg Luftwaffe bomb simply bounced off during a World War 2 raid. A replica of another bomb which managed to pierce the dome but did not explode is still on view inside the church, as is the crater left by the original impact.
9) Malta National Aquarium (St Paul's Bay, Malta)
Malta has plenty of institutions dedicated to its cultural heritage, but the National Aquarium is perhaps the best way to discover the island's natural diversity. It has 26 tanks each representing a unique marine habitat, and while most aquariums have one walk-through tunnel this place has one tailored towards adults and another specially designed for children. In addition to all this the museum features replicas of Malta's abundant fortifications, a submarine, a WWII bomber and more. If you start to feel hungry whilst exploring the aquarium then consider grabbing a bite to eat in one of its two restaurants. Both eateries offer spectacular views out across St Paul's Bay.
10) Gaia Peace Grove (Mellieha, Malta)
Our last recommendation comes from travel writer and photographer Zoë Dawes via Twitter (@quirkytraveller). Her suggestion doesn't lie along any of the bus tour routes, but by virtue of its scenic beauty and significance was one we couldn't leave out. The Gaia Peace Grove is located atop the sea cliffs of Għajn Tuffieħa, a bay area along Malta's north-west coast. With staggering views of the Mediterranean Sea and various popular beaches it's a popular spot for sunbathing tourists.
The 'peace grove' in question is an olive grove that was planted next to an ancient watch tower in honour of famous figures who've worked to make the world a better place. Amongst the gently rustling rows you'll encounter various information boards commemorating the likes of Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, JFK, John Lennon and Dian Fossey.