1. Ride a Dghajsa through the Grand Harbour
I’ll start with my single most favorite of these many great things to do in Malta. Dghajsa are the traditional Maltese water taxis that transport passenger back and forth across Malta’s incredibly scenic Grand Harbour. It’s the fastest and most convenient way to connect between the capital city Valetta and a historic area known as The Three Cities.
It’s a much more intimate transportation experience than the larger ferries that also operate through the harbor. They seat no more than six riders at a time, and often we were the only two passengers. The view from these small boats is one of the best in all of Malta. Take the time to talk to the drivers. Many are third generation, operating boats that have been passed down from their grandfathers.
2. Explore the three cities
The Three Cities was my favorite district in Malta. Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua are three small fortified cities that date to the 16th century. They are situated around a scenic marina – an offshoot of Malta’s Grand Harbour.
Each is small and easy to explore, featuring scenic streets & back alleys, historic forts & museums, and some pretty great dining locations.
3. Dine at waters edge
My favorite dining location in The Three Cities was along the Senglea waterfront. Here you can choose from several restaurants with tables situated right along the marina’s edge. Watch the boats come and go, while taking in the views across to both Vittoriosa and Valletta.
4. Hang out in a traditional Maltese balcony
While walking down any street in Malta, you can’t help but notice the high density of brightly colored Maltese balconies jutting out from every surface. These covered balconies provide shade in the summer and protection from cooler temps in the winter, while the surrounding windows still provide that outdoor feeling you expect from a balcony.
If you are like me, and prefer to stay in vacation rentals, try to rent one with a traditional balcony. We did, and it was our favorite place to hang out each morning.
5. Visit Fort St Angelo
This massive fort sits at the edge of Vittoriosa, perfectly positioned to help guard the Grand Harbour. It was built by Malta’s founding Knights of St John in the 16th century to help defend against the Ottomans. And, it was still used by the British during World War II.
Today, Fort St Angelo is a tourist attraction and certainly one of the great things to do in Malta. It’s a huge complex of buildings, but my favorite part of visiting the fort was all the great 360 degree views across the Harbour and The Three Cities.
6. Learn about the Roman Inquisition
Another great stop while exploring The Three Cities is The Inquisitor’s Palace. This was my favorite museum in Malta. It was in this building, located in the heart of Vittoriosa, where the Knights of St John under the direction of the Pope, administered the Roman Inquisition from 1561-1798, routing out all the local heretics.
Various displays through the building explain the typical “crimes”, the typical punishments, and the process of the Inquisition. While learning about this ugly history, you also visit the building’s various rooms including the tribunal (where the trials occurred), the torture chamber, and the jail cells.
7. Wander Europe’s smallest capital city
Valetta is Europe’s smallest capital city measuring only 0.6 square kilometers – roughly 1 kilometer one way and 0.6 kilometer the other. You can wander the entire city in just a matter of hours. Though with 320 different monuments, plenty of shopping opportunities, and great restaurants you will certainly want to spend a few days truly exploring this city.
8. Be blown away by St John’s Co-Cathedral
One of Valletta’s top monuments is St John’s Co-Cathedral. Based on the number of people inside during our visit, it’s probably the most popular of these 22 great things to do in Malta.
While the outside of this 16th century cathedral is fairly austere compared to many of Europe’s great Catholic cathedrals, the inside is highly decorated in a stunning over-the-top Baroque style. Color and decoration is everywhere – every wall, the ceiling, the floor. In fact, the floor is covered with the uniquely marble-decorated tombs of 400 Knights of St John. It can all be a bit visually overwhelming, but the Co-Cathedral is an absolute must-visit.
9. Witness the Noon-Day Gun
While exploring Valletta, be sure to time your day so that you can watch the noon-day cannon announce the time. This happens at the Saluting Battery in the Upper Baraka Garden.
This centuries-old ceremonial cannon firing actually happens twice daily – at noon and at 1600. Plus, the view over to the Three Cities from the Upper Baraka Garden is one of the best in Valletta.
10. Dine on City Stairs
Valletta is built on a hill that rises up from a harbor on both sides. Consequently, there are lots of outdoor stairways throughout the city. As with most Mediterranean countries, outdoor dining in Malta is a way of life. And stairway-side restaurants situate their outdoor tables along the various levels outside their doors.
It’s a great place to pull up a chair, have a great meal, look up and down at your co-diners, and watch the world climb by.
11. Try rabbit stew
And speaking of food, no trip to Malta would be complete without eating its national dish. You’d think that seafood would dominate the menu on a Mediterranean island nation. But not so in Malta. Rabbit is the favorite protein. And while rabbit is served many ways in Malta, rabbit stew is considered by many to be the national dish. And yes, rabbit does taste like chicken.
12. Discover the Maltese Platter
The “national appetizer” of Malta is the Maltese Platter. We found this on almost every menu in one form or another. It usually includes a selection of sausage, bread or crackers, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, olives, and a dip called Bigilla – made of broad beans, olive oil, and garlic. Beautiful to look at, delicious to eat.
13. Enjoy great Italian food
Great Italian food is easy to find in Malta. Malta was once ruled by Sicily – only 70 miles to the north. And so unsurprisingly, the pizza, pasta, and risotto in Malta is outstanding.
In fact, one of our favorite dining things to do in Malta was eat Italian food – because it was just so good.
14. Walk the Sliema promenade
Sliema is one of Malta’s more modern and upscale neighborhoods, and one of the most popular places for tourists to stay in Malta. Like The Three Cities on the opposite side of Valletta, it’s connected to the capital by short ferry ride.
Walking along Sliema’s 1.2 mile seaside promenade, with its unobstructed view of the Mediterranean, and its unusual limestone beaches, is one of the great things to do in this part of Malta.
15. Wander a Silent City
Mdina is the original capital city of Malta, dating back to Norman times in the Middle Ages. It’s situated in the center of Malta’s main island, high up on a hill, with views out across the entire island. Mdina an exceptionally well-preserved walled medieval city. It’s known as the Silent City because no cars are allowed inside. It’s also commonly used as a movie setting.
Ridley Scott’s Napoleon had filmed there on the day before our visit. And Game of Thrones fans will also recognize its entry gates. Guided tours of Mdina are one of the most popular things to do in Malta outside of Valetta.
The clopping of the horse's feet echo through the Silent City in Malta
No cars, but horse-drawn carriages are allowed. The clopping of the horse’s feet echo through the Silent City
16. Descend into Roman Tombs
Not far from Mdina, in the adjacent town of Rabat, you’ll find St Paul’s Catacombs – a huge underground Roman cemetery. These catacombs were used for burials from the years 300-800 AD when Malta was ruled by Rome. This massive city of the dead was gradually carved out of the area’s underground limestone, and housed up to 1000 bodies at one point.
The catacombs were looted centuries ago and all their contents removed, but it’s still fascinating to walk through this underground maze, while learning about ancient burial practices.
17. Go to Gozo
Gozo is Malta’s other inhabited island. It’s more rural and agricultural than the main island, and Gozitans very much have their own identity. No trip to Malta would be complete without spending time on Gozo – whether on a day trip or for a more extended period.
Taking a day trip to Gozo is easy. Take the 45 minute “fast ferry” from Valletta and then taking a hop-on hop-off bus to all of Gozo’s main sites. Or hire your own form of transportation (we did it with a RAZR 4×4). While on Gozo explore ancient temples, hilltop forts, huge churches, small fishing villages, and a stunning coastline.
18. See the world’s second oldest manmade structure
In my opinion, the single most important and necessary site to visit on Gozo is the Ggantija temples. This monolithic temple complex is the second oldest manmade structure on earth! It dates to 3600 BC.
The builders didn’t leave behind any written record, so little is known about their culture. But somehow they figured out a way to create impressive places of worship out of huge monolithic slabs of stone.
19. Check out other Megalithic Temples
Ggantija isn’t the only monolithic temple site in Malta. The islands boast seven sites in total – and they are collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Perhaps the easiest of these sites to visit is the Tarxien Temple complex located just a few miles south of The Three Cities on the main island. Here you’ll find a cluster of three well-preserved temples dating to 3150 BC.
20. Go off the beaten path in Marsaskala
Marsaskala is a former fishing village on the southern end of Malta’s main island. It’s not on the usual tourist trail, and that’s a huge part of Marsaskala’s charm. More locals, more authentic, and it’s beautiful too.
The town is situated around a small scenic harbor with a still-active fishing community. We stayed in Marsaskala for 1 week and loved it!
21. Sunbathe on Stone
When you think of things to do on a Mediterranean island like Malta, beach activities probably come to mind. And while Malta does have a few sandy beaches and seaside resorts, geographically amazing limestone “beaches” are far more common. And just like their sandy counterparts, you can similarly sun bathe and access the sea from several popular limestone beaches around the island. Plus, no sand to clean off when you are done!
22. Walk through Salt Pans
And in many spots along this limestone coast, salt pans were carved centuries ago to collect sea salt. With the exception of a single salt farm on Gozo, these are no longer in use. But it’s fun to walk through their geometric designs, and they sure are photogenic.