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Malta experiences around 300 days of sunshine every year, so it’s the perfect place for a restorative city break. Its beautiful cities are packed full of medieval buildings and fantastic restaurants, and their modest dimensions make them ideal for leisurely exploration on foot.
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Malta’s fascinating cities
Malta’s capital is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has some 320 historic monuments for travellers to discover. At just 80 hectares, it’s an easy city to explore on foot, yet has plenty of fascinating attractions to track down, from the 450-year-old St John’s Co-Cathedral to the beautiful Upper Barrakka Gardens, which offer fantastic views of the Grand Harbour.
The original capital of Malta still has its impressive medieval walls, and its origins can be traced back around 4,000 years. The city is dotted with impressive palaces, like the medieval Palazzo Falson, and is home to the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral, said to be built on the site of a Roman villa that St Paul stayed in.
Victoria is the capital of Malta’s neighbouring island, Gozo. It’s crowned by the Cittadella, a fortified citadel that dates back to the medieval era, although the site has been inhabited since as far back as the Bronze Age. The city is home to numerous theatres and museums, like the Heart of Gozo, which traces the island’s history from prehistoric times up to the twentieth century.
The Three Cities
Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua form The Three Cities, right next door to the capital Valletta. These fortified cities form a warren of narrow streets that are ripe for exploration, and they’re packed full of restaurants, bars and boutique hotels to discover. The cities themselves date back to the sixteenth century, when they were built by the Knights of St John.
Malta is one of the most LGBT+ friendly destinations in Europe – it’s ranked number one by ILGA-Europe for its equality laws and policies. In late summer every year, Malta Pride Week sees a cavalcade of parties and events across the island. With events on offer including boat parties, a football tournament, a fashion show, cabaret and the Pride Concert, as well as the all-important Pride March. Looking further ahead, Malta will be hosting EuroPride 2023
Five must-visit restaurants
As its name suggests, Panorama provides a stunning view of Valletta’s Grand Harbour. You can enjoy an aperitif from the extensive whisky and gin collection while soaking in the sights from the comfort of an armchair in the lounge area; then head to the restaurant itself for a Mediterranean fine-dining experience prepared by Sicilian head chef Massimo Marino.
Noni is wonderfully atmospheric thanks to its stone vaults, cast-iron doors and unassuming exterior, with a repurposed sign that reminds you this storied site was once a bakery. Chef Jonathan ‘Noni’ Brincat learned his trade in London’s luxury restaurants before returning to Malta, and his wonderful menu features Maltese and Mediterranean flavours, with a touch of French cuisine. The restaurant was recently awarded a Michelin Star.
Grotto Tavern, Mdina
It’s not often you come across a restaurant nestled inside a 2,000-year-old cave. Beyond the regular dining rooms of the Grotto, right at the bottom of the premises, is an atmospheric, candle-lit cavern where you can enjoy a memorable meal based on modern Mediterranean cuisine.
Patrick’s Lounge and Steakhouse, Victoria
Patrick’s is famed for its fantastic wine selection, with a cellar containing over 1,500 bottles, and its wine list has won well over a dozen awards since the restaurant opened in 2003. Patrick’s is famed for its excellent chargrilled steaks, but the a la carte menu also covers a wide range of dishes, from quail to fresh fish.
Nenu The Artisan Baker, Valletta
This family-owned venture consists of an old, lovingly restored bakery along with a restaurant and bar. The aim is to showcase the art of bread-making, and the owners pride themselves on their traditional Maltese recipes, like the ftira, a leavened Maltese bread that’s often eaten with fillings such as tuna, tomatoes, capers and olives.
Five must see attractions
St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta
This magnificent baroque cathedral was built for the Knights of St John and finished in 1578. The inside is a riot of gold, with seemingly every surface covered in some kind of ornamentation, but the cathedral’s greatest treasure is no doubt its enormous painting of John the Baptist by Caravaggio. And if you’re wondering about the strange title, it was named a ‘co-cathedral’ in 1816 by papal decree to give it equal status to St Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina.
Palazzo Falson, Mdina
Mdina is home to numerous grand buildings and historical monuments, of which this medieval palace is just one. Thought to have been constructed for the Maltese nobility in 1495, Palazzo Falson is one of the oldest buildings in Mdina, and was home to the artist and philanthropist Olof Frederick Gollcher in the twentieth century, who restored the building. It’s now home to Gollcher’s art collection, which visitors can experience through a self-guided audio tour.
Birgu, The Three Cities
Also known as Vittoriosa, Birgu is a wonderful place to go for a wander. Even though it’s barely a kilometre long, Birgu’s narrow streets are home to all sorts of sights, from the impressive Fort St Angelo – headquarters of the Knights of St John – to the Inquisitor’s Palace with its rich and sometimes sinister history. And there are many more churches, historical buildings and museums to be discovered along its beautiful, twisting streets.
The Cittadella, sometimes called Il-Kastell, looms above the city of Victoria on Gozo island. This impressive walled fortress dates from around the fifteenth century, but the site has been built on since Roman times, and is likely to have been inhabited long before that. Inside you’ll find the Cathedral of the Assumption along with several museums to explore, but the headline attraction is probably the amazing view it provides across the island and the sea beyond.