Tourism to small countries in Europe usually revolves around quick visits to the nation’s capital. However, given how small Malta’s capital city of Valletta is, the overwhelming majority of things to see and do there can be found elsewhere in the country.
Malta consists of three islands. The largest island is also called Malta, and is where most of the country’s administration, commerce, and tourism take place. The second-largest island to the north is Gozo. This island is more rural and laid back, although it does still have a decent amount of tourism. Malta’s third island, Comino, has no permanent residents, no cars, and only one hotel to host the few visitors who want to come enjoy its remote tranquility.
Unlike the rocky and sandstone-coloured larger island of Malta, Gozo is greener and more rugged. The oldest of Megalithic Stone Temples of Malta, a UNESCO world heritage site, can be found in the centre of the island of Gozo. These two Temples of Ggantija are far older the pyramids of Egypt and are the second-oldest religious structures still standing worldwide.
According to the Malta Tourism Authority’s Visit Malta and Go Gozo campaigns, the island is “developed just enough to guarantee a sustainable economic activity,” when gives it a more natural and authentic character compared with most other Mediterranean islands that have been built up and over-commercialized to take advantage of modern mass tourism.
Of the country’s total population of nearly 500,000 people only about 30,000 live on the island of Gozo. However, large churches, beautiful villages, and a decent number of small hotels and resorts dot the island and welcome visitors year-round.
Malta’s larger island, which is also called Malta, is not only home to the country’s other 470,000 inhabitants and host to its small capital city of Valletta, but it also has the country’s only airport in the south-central part of the island. There are also five more UNESCO-designated Megalithic Stone Temples located on this island at Hagar Qin, Mnajdra, Tarxien, Ta’Hagrat, and Skorba.
Because the capital city of Valletta is so small, there are several areas adjacent to the capital that form prominent parts of the larger Valletta “metro” area, if one can even refer to such a tiny metropolis as such. Outside of the city gates of Valletta are the Triton Fountain, the Valletta Waterfront, and a number of nice parks, churches, malls, and upscale hotels. Everything outside of the city gates but sharing the same peninsula with Valletta proper is walkable to the capital.
A little further away and occupying the peninsulas opposite that on which Valletta sits are several other historic and modern neighbourhoods, including Forts Ricosoli and St. Angelo to the south and Forts Manoel and Tigne, and The Point shopping and residential complexes to the north.
To the west of this coastal capital area and toward the north-central part of the island is Mdina. This well-preserved walled city served as Malta’s capital until Medieval times when Valletta was founded. Today, a mix of beautiful palaces, churches, quaint shops, and restaurants attract more than 750,000 visitors a year.
Heading directly north from Mdina towards the coast takes you to the city of Bugibba, where the Malta National Aquarium can be found. On the opposite end of the island in the south is another of the country’s most famous attractions – the Blue Grotto. This is a series of natural caves and white arched rock formations on the coast that create stunning visuals in contrast the cobalt blue water that flows into them forming a natural grotto.
In addition to these areas, monuments, attractions, and cities, Malta has a lot more to offer visitors all within compact territory of one of Europe’s smallest, but most fascinating and historic nations. Despite its size, Malta has an enormous amount to see and do when visiting.
Don’t make the mistake I did on my first visit and only give it a day or two and think there isn’t much more than the capital to experience. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by what the entire country has to offer.