It’s amazing how much Malta has managed to stay under the radar. Despite being only a 3-hour flight from London and containing some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean, many Brits still have to ask themselves ‘where is Malta, exactly’?
The small island, just south of Italy and east of Tunisia, is actually one of the best value tourist destinations for holidaymakers. With budget airlines now flying from the UK to its capital, Valletta, Malta has helped make the classic Mediterranean holiday affordable for families again.
After you touch down in historic Valletta, be sure to check out these top 5 attractions:
1. Merchant Street Market (may move to Ordinance Street in 2013)
During your visit to the capital, walk through the bustling Merchant Street Market for a real taste of local Valletta life. Vendors sell everything from fresh produce to hand-knitted wool jumpers. It’s the ideal place to pick up a souvenir of your trip. Or, if you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, grab some ingredients from the covered market for your evening meal: from fresh fruit and vegetables to local meat, cheeses and seafood, there is a veritable feast available.
Note that, on Sunday mornings, the Merchant Street Market moves to St. James ditch, located right outside the city walls.
2. Upper Barracca Gardens
These gorgeous public gardens offer an incredible panoramic view of Valletta’s historic Grand Harbour. The park is situated on top of the city’s famous fortifications and is one of the highest viewpoints in all of Valletta.
Before you set off for a stroll through these lush gardens, be sure to remember you camera – the park is one of the best ‘photo ops’ in all of Malta.
3. Fort St. Elmo
Fort St. Elmo is one of the key tourist attractions in Valletta since it gives a great insight into the history of the island as a military stronghold. First established by the Knights of St. John in the mid sixteenth century, ownership (or capture) of the fort has been central to controlling Malta.
Although no longer a military building, the fort is home to the Maltese War Museum, and holds the original George Cross, awarded to the island by King George VI for bravery in the Second World War. As well as the history of the fort, you can also enjoy the beautiful sweeping sea views, and for those with active imaginations, what it would have been like as a fleet of Turkish warships sailed into view.
4. Grandmaster’s Palace
Another of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, the Grandmaster’s Palace is one of the most important structures in Valletta. Once home to the nephew of Valletta’s founder, Jean de la Vallette, the building went on to serve as the official Grandmaster residence, and then the Governor’s residence during British rule. It now contains the Office of Malta’s president and is home to Malta’s House of Representatives.
5. St. John’s Co-Cathedral
This gorgeous 16th-century church was built by the Knights of Malta to serve as the conventional church of the Order of the Knights of St. John. The knights were established as a fighting force to defend the Eastern Mediterranean against attacks from the Ottoman Empire. Malta served as a key base for the Christians, along with Cyprus and parts of modern day Croatia, and was the frontline in the battle between Eastern and Western powers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The cathedral itself seems to step straight from the pages of a Dan Brown novel. Its hushed cloisters and dramatic baroque architecture are both imposing and intriguing. Even if churches aren’t really your thing, you won’t regret a trip to St. Johns.