Of all the cruises I have taken, three ports stand out as the most stunning (especially if you sail into them at sunrise or sunset): Istanbul, with its mosques and soaring minarets; Kotor, Montenegro, a medieval village on a pristine bay — and my favorite of all, Malta.
Malta’s port, Valetta, is a city of forts, turrets, palaces, cathedrals, and ancient walls dating from the 1500s, when the Knights of St. John (of Crusader fame) moved here from the island of Rhodes.
As our guest contributor Harley Burke points out, Malta has myriad attractions meriting a stay well beyond the standard cruise ship stopover. And don’t miss the smaller, more rural island of Gozo, reachable by ferry and home to some fascinating prehistoric sites (along with beaches and hiking trails).
By Harley Burke
Malta has so many places to see and so much to do that it can seem overwhelming to put together an itinerary.
That’s why we’ve compiled the short list below, which will help you plan your trip, discover things you didn’t even know existed, and give you a few tips on how to make your Malta holiday fun and enjoyable.
A trip to Valletta provides an opportunity to explore the Grandmaster’s Palace, which is now home to the National Museum of Fine Arts of Malta. The palace was built in 1574 as a residence for the Order of St John and later became its administrative center. Recently restored, it’s now open for public viewing.
You can also visit St John’s Co-Cathedral, one of the most important religious sites in Malta.
The Roman Catholic cathedral itself was built in 1611 on land donated by St John Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, who also commissioned Caravaggio’s famous painting “The Beheading of St John,” which is on display along with other artworks at Auberge de Castille. And don’t miss St Paul’s Cathedral, which houses some fine works by Mattia Preti.
Mdina is the old capital of Malta and one of the finest examples of a mediaeval walled city in Europe. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mdina is quite small, so it won’t take long to explore everything there is to see — though you could also easily spend a day or two here poking into all its nooks and crannies. It’s known as “the Silent City” because of its lack of cars, and its narrow streets make you feel like you’re taking a step back in time.
Take an easy stroll to admire its historic buildings and then stop at one of the local restaurants that serve delicious Maltese cuisine, or do a bit of souvenir shopping.
If you’re looking to start your Malta holiday off with some culture, the Ġgantija Temples in Gozo are a good option.
Located in Xaghra, these temples are some of the largest and most impressive structures built by prehistoric peoples in Europe. Constructed between 3600-2500 BC, they represent one of the earliest manifestations of human civilization in Malta.
The largest temple has three chambers and the megalithic stone tower at its entrance may have been used as an astronomical calendar or observatory.
The Ġgantija Temples are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which includes other important prehistoric sites like the Mnajdra Temple Complex and Tarxien Temples Complex (both also located on Gozo). Comfortable walking shoes are essential for navigating the uneven ground along the paths leading up to each structure.
Harley Burke is a freelance writer and blog contributor who loves adventures and travelling. He has been exploring different countries for over a decade and particularly enjoys hiking and surfing.