Malta holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
The national language of Malta is Maltese. Descending from Arabic, over the years it has come to resemble Italian and Sicilian. Until 1964 Malta was classed as British land, and as a result English is an official language, with the government working in a mix of English and Maltese. This also means that around 90 per cent of the population can speak English, and in the travel industries it is a given.
The Maltese lira was replaced by the euro in 2008, and this is the only legal tender accepted on the island. There are one or two foreign banks on the island (such as HSBC) but visitors can also use foreign credit and debit cards at any of the local banks, although some do not accept American Express cards. Money can also be withdrawn at tourist offices and some hotels. Changing currency into euros can be done at either the bank or at the currency convertor machines that can be found in all the major tourist areas. There is a charge for this service though, and the exchange rate is often more favourable at the banks. Travellers’ cheques are very welcome, especially at hotels as most make a profit on transactions.
Visiting Malta is extremely easy where visas are concerned as it is not necessary to obtain one. Visitors from most European countries can stay for up to three months and all that is required is a valid passport.
Malta has a typical Mediterranean climate, with very hot dry summers, and relatively mild winters. In winter, usually during December and January, the average temperature is around 12ºC. However, this reading jumps to an average of 30ºC in July and August, and the occasional warm front blown in from Africa can cause temperatures to soar to 40ºC. Summer in Malta tends to last from June to September, with almost no rainfall. Winter in Malta can be wet, but really only in comparison to the very dry summer. During the winter months Malta still sees an average seven hours of daylight so it’s a good place for a winter break.
Malta only has one airport on the island, Malta International Airport, situated between Luqa and Gudja. Sometimes referred to as Luqa Airport, it’s a few miles southwest of the capital, Valletta. It is possible to fly to Malta from most European airports, and Malta international Airport is of a good standard, with the usual duty free services and restaurants available.
Malta International Airport is the main hub for Air Malta, which has flights from numerous European destinations throughout the week. Ryanair is also a common option for tourists as they also have a base in the airport and regular weekly flights. A number of other services fly direct from London, including Thompson and Thomas Cook. Easyjet flies from London, Manchester and Newcastle, with London often being the cheaper option. To fly from London to Malta non-stop takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The peak travel season is July and August, so booking outside of this time will guarantee a cheaper flight. The weather is still great either side of these months too, so it won’t be a compromise. Direct flights tend to be more expensive than those stopping off in Europe, but obviously cut down on travel time, and direct flights are also far more frequent. Getting away from the airport is relatively easy. It’s best to get a taxi the three miles into the capital of Valletta (there are many available, although they can be a little pricey).
It is possibly to get to Malta via boat. There are weekly catamaran services from Catania, Sicily, which run all year round and take around 90 minutes. It’s also possible to sail from Catanis to Malta via ferry. Although the ferry takes longer than a catamaran (it can take up to 15 hours) it’s a very relaxing way to travel and allows visitors to soak up some Mediterranean sun.
As there is only the one airport, flying around Malta is out. Thankfully, the island is quite small, there are a number of reliable bus companies and the roads, while not perfect, are in reasonably good shape. There is also the option of travelling by sea, which is a great way to see the island in all its glory.
In 2011 the Malta bus network underwent an overhaul and is now a network of sleek, air-conditioned vehicles run by the private company Arriva. All tickets can be purchased at major bus stops or at a number of shops across the island. It is possible to get right across Malta by bus, with very few changes and there are both daily services and overnight buses available.
Malta is made up of two main islands, so if visitors are wishing to explore the whole of Malta, going by boat is the only option. The Gozo Channel Company runs a service from Cirkewwa, on the main island, up to Gozo, on the smaller northern island. Crossings run as late as 22:00; however, during the winter months schedules can change. There are buses running all day from the capital Valletta up to the ferry terminal. The ferry is relatively cheap, and takes around half an hour.
Driving in Malta can be a bit of an experience as roads are not clearly signposted, but it is cheap and for confident drivers is quite a good option as the road network expands across Malta, giving drivers plenty of freedom. Car rental is extremely cheap and shops can be found at the airport, although there are also any number of local agencies to be found in the towns and beach resorts.
The first stop for most tourists in the capital city, Valletta, and it’s not just an access point to other destinations. Valletta is steeped in history; after the Knights of St John were forced to leave Jerusalem they eventually settled in Malta. As a result the city has no end of stunning architecture; in fact, it is often said that Valletta is one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.
Sliema and St Julian’s are often the next stop for tourists. Both of these coastal towns have plenty of nightlife and restaurants, however the previously quiet fishing village of St Julian’s is considered more scenic. It’s also right next door to Paceville, a town renowned for it numerous night clubs, bars and restaurants.
Valletta hasn’t always been the capital of Malta; Mdina once claimed the title. A very small, scenic city it is rumoured to have been built nearly four thousand years ago. Many of the buildings were ruined in a devastating earthquake in the 17th century; however, the walls to the city and a number of historic buildings still stand. Mdina is extremely peaceful, helped in a big way by the fact that vehicles are prohibited here. Thanks to this it has earned the nickname ’the quiet city’. Not very inventive, but accurate none the less.
Rabat, not far from Mdina is a small town with plenty of charm. Here visitors can see the Cathedral of St. Paul, highlighting the Maltese devotion to the saints. There are many churches and cathedrals across the main island, especially in Valletta and Victoria.
Malta really is bursting with historic artefacts and ruins. The Hagar Qim Temple is over four thousand years old and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. All of the artefacts originally found here are now on display in the National Museum of Archeology in Valletta, a stunning building with many other displays and exhibitions and definitely worth a peek.
Also not far from here is the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, yet another World Heritage site. This underground structure, sometimes referred to as The Labyrinth, is believed to date back to 2500BC, making it one of the oldest structures in the world. Tours are available around both sites although it is not recommended to take children under the age of six.
For those history boffins, the Lascaris War Rooms in Valletta are a little harder to find, but are a great place to visit. Carved out of solid rock, these caves used to house the Allied Air and Naval Force headquarters during WWII. Inside, visitors can take an audio, self-guided tour through all the different operations rooms.
Just between Lija and Attard is the San Anton Palace. Built as a country retreat for Grand Master Antoine de Paule in the 17th century, it has changed hands a number of times but is now the official residence of the Maltese president. What really sells the palace as an attraction though is the walled gardens surrounding it. Visitors can stroll through citrus and avocado groves, through the bird aviary and past a number of fountains right up to the front of the palace.
Another great place to visit is the Blue Grotto. These seven caves in the south of the island are the perfect backdrop to the famous clear blue waters. It is reasonably easy to access the cave system by renting small boats found in the small pier on the main land.
Malta is a very relaxed, quiet place, so finding nightlife can be difficult. The undisputed number one for bars and clubs is Paceville, a town right next door to St Julian’s. This is where the young Maltese residents come to unwind and let their hair down, particularly at the weekend. The bars and clubs all boast free entry and play primarily Western music, so party goers can move from club to club until they find the best place to dance the night away. There’s a bustling atmosphere in Paceville every night of the week, the drinks are cheap and the nightlife goes on right through till the morning.
For those visitors who want to get serious about their clubbing experience there is Gianpula. Often compared to Ibiza, it is a massive open-air club that plays host to all the big names in the DJ world every summer. There are music festivals and one off events, but Gianpula is also open every Friday and Saturday night. With a swimming pool and seven bars, it is quite the experience.
For those tourists seeking a more traditional musical experience, many bars in the less touristy towns have impromptu live music. Traditional Maltese music tends to be folk guitar based, while a group of men essentially try to argue a point in a singsong voice over the top of it. It sounds odd, but the improvised lyrics and upbeat music aim to create a friendly atmosphere. Seeing a musical debate might sound like an odd way to spend an evening, but it’s a great way to really experience the traditional Maltese nightlife.
For those tourists wanting to take the risk and try to make their million, the Dragonara Casino in St Julian’s is one of the most renowned on the island. As well as trying their hand at gambling, visitors can enjoy the performances and shows that are held regularly.
Maltese cuisine is big on one thing, rabbit, and a very traditional meal on the island is rekaata. Mostly eaten as a celebration, it consists of a first course of spaghetti in rabbit sauce; this is followed up by fried rabbit meat, usually with gravy. There are restaurants across the island that specialise in this dish, so it’s not hard to find for those tourists wanting a real taste of Malta. The traditional pastizzi, a small savoury pastry parcel, can also be found in this style of restaurant.
On the whole Maltese cuisine is heavily influenced by Italy. Although there are restaurants in the more touristy areas that offer traditional British food for visitors (think sausage and mash or meat and two veg) there are also many places offering Italian food such as pizza and pasta.
Obviously since Malta is an island, the fish here is amazing and there is no end of tasty fish restaurants on the island. Lampuki fish, sometimes called dolphin fish, is a specialty, and is often fried and served in a spicy tomato based sauce.
Maltese sausage is served in a variety of ways; the salted pork can be eaten raw or can be roasted. It can often be found on the Maltese platters that are becoming popular with tourists; visitors can try Maltese sausage alongside sun-dried tomato crackers, olives, spiced minced pork or gbejniet, a form of tart made from goats’ milk.
Kinnie, a Maltese soft drink, is available at all restaurants. A fizzy, non-alcoholic drink that tastes a little like a martini, it is made from very bitter oranges.
For the beach loving tourists there is the Golden Bay, a beautiful sandy beach on the northwest of the island. Here visitors can indulge in water sports, have a dip in the crystal clear waters or just chill out on the white sands.
A great place to escape for romance, thanks to the beautiful beaches and stunning architecture, is St Julian’s. This town in the northeast has many high-end resorts that cater for visitors after that little something special. Many of the resorts here are set slightly back from the main part of town, so although they are within walking distance of the action, there’s definitely a sense of seclusion. There are also a lot of spas that offer couples massage services to make the perfect trip even more relaxing.
Almost all of the resorts on the beaches offer snorkelling and other, kid-friendly, activities and are great for families (with the exception of Paceville). However, for those wanting to do something slightly more adventurous there are a number of boat and catamaran operators across the island, and a day trip often includes a buffet along with taking in some sights, and going for a dip far out in the clear blue sea.
Although it is possible to do other activities, such as rock climbing and kayaking (there are tour operators across the island that offer equipment and tours), Malta really comes in to its own when it comes to scuba diving. With such warm temperatures and good visibility, it is possible to dive all year round. A lot of the dives also start closer to the shore, making it considerably cheaper and ideal for beginners. The Inland Sea in Gozo is an amazing dive; there are a few shipwreck sites here and a lot of wildlife such as octopus and moray eels.