Malta has long been regarded as a “sun and sea” destination and it has plenty of both. The sun shines some 300 days a year and the sea is blue and warm (in summer and autumn) and beautifully clear - perfect for swimming, snorkelling and diving.
When is a beach not a beach?
The shores of the Maltese Islands are not, however, over-endowed with long stretches of yellow sand. There are some lovely sandy bays, but much of the coast is rocky. Many Maltese prefer to swim from the rocks because the water is clearer, there are fewer people and you don’t get sand in your pants. If the kids are expecting to bury Dad, though, you might have a problem.
“Beach” in Malta can mean anything from the traditional sandy variety to a stretch of rock with steps into deep water. So, especially if you are travelling with young children, it is worth checking the reviews here and asking operators and hotels exactly what their ‘private beach’ consists of.
Anywhere goes – well, almost
In summer you will find locals swimming almost anywhere that is safe. Do join them. If nobody is swimming, though, there may be a reason: rip tides (especially after bad weather), wind (particularly dangerous on rocks) or the temporary presence of jellyfish. Bear in mind that, particularly on Gozo where distances are short, if you hop across to the other side of the island there may be perfect calm and pest-free waters.
Whilst the sun and the sea are delightful, it is definitely worth leaving the poolside or the beach for a while to take in some of this tiny nation’s extraordinary 7000-year history. There are a lot more world-class sights here than most people realise: from the oldest sophisticated stone buildings in the world (Malta’s Neolithic temples) to the Knights’ massive fortifications and the wonderfully incongruous British red letter boxes. Not to mention mysterious rock formations and a church for every day of the year (well, almost).
The capital Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as are all the temples and the weird and wonderful underground burial complex, the Hypogeum. Nowhere is very far away from you, wherever you are staying. It takes under an hour by car (a bit more by bus) to go the length of the main island - and a lot less to get across Gozo.
All the government-run sights and museums are covered on one useful website, www.heritagemalta.org. They offer a couple of combination passes for sights in a given area but they only save you a little money and only if you go to every site on the list in the space of one day. Too much pressure for me! You won’t be left any time to just wander, which is in my view key to enjoying Valletta, Mdina and Victoria (Gozo) in particular.
How I’ve picked my things to do:
This is - by its nature - a personal set of 30 recommendations. I have put in the places I would recommend to friends and where I take my family when I am in Malta. There are 10 beaches and 20 sights. I admit I had trouble working out how to rate a great beach against a fascinating 5500-year-old archaeological siten - as it rather depends on the time of year and the mood you are in, doesn’t it? But I think you’ll get the general idea about which places I like best and I hope that the greater information in the reviews themselves will give you what you need to decide where you would most like to visit.
In choosing the sights, I have majored on the historical. Nowhere else has a history quite like Malta’s and it seems to me that when visiting a country it makes sense to prioritise seeing what you cannot see anywhere else!