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Mdina, Malta (Shutterstock)

For a country of Malta’s stature (eight times smaller than Luxembourg), it has a truly outsized past. From the Romans to the Ottomans, practically every empire in history has wanted a piece of its shores, and what they left behind amounts to a living museum that scatters three islands (Malta, Gozo, Comino) of dramatically different character.

Malta’s 7,000 years of human occupation have yielded megalithic temples, Roman villas, medieval catacombs and crusader-built citadels where Renaissance masterpieces still light up the walls. Stories lurk around every corner, not least in tales of the bloody seige that led to the creation of fortified capital Valletta, or in the war rooms, forts and bomb shelters that scatter the islands, built to withstand the 3,000-plus bombs that fell during the Second World War. The past is rarely quiet here, not even in the ‘Silent City’ of Mdina.

Beyond the heritage sites, Michelin-starred restaurants and museums of Valletta lies a land of slow pleasures. In the far west of the mainland and on rural Gozo, the clifftops and countryside offer a serene retreat where you can still see locals working the salt pans just they have done for centuries, or you can visit farms where Gozo’s distinctive and creamy gbejna cheeselets are made. And off the coast, year-round kayaking tours and dive trips explore warm waters riddled with wrecks and twinkling sea caves. Out on the water and beneath the warming rays of the sun, it’s easy to understand just why Malta was fought over for so many centuries.

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Juliet Rix finds that Gozo makes a great short break as she explores the coast, coves and castles of Malta’s very chilled little sister
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Latest Malta articles

Maltese and English are the official national languages; Italian is also widely spoken
International dialling code
Not required by UK nationals for stays of up to 90 days within a 180-day period
Time zone
UTC+1 (UTC+2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October)
Plug type
Type G
Euro EUR

When to go to Malta

Year-round. Summer is hot and dry; spring and autumn are warm and sunny. Winter in particular is mild, cheaper for travellers and shorn of the crowds that can cluster capital Valletta. During this time, all the main sites remain open and the waters are still pretty warm for diving.

International airports

Malta International Airport (MLA) lies in the south of the mainland, around 9km from Valletta. Bus X4 from the airport can drop you off in Floriana, just outside the entrance to Valletta.

Getting around in Malta

In the absence of any rail services, the Maltese bus network is excellent, though morning and evening rush hours are best avoided. Download the Tallinja app to plot out routes using public transport; bus tickets can be bought onboard.

Alternatively, Uber and Bolt are commonly used to get around the islands; and given Malta’s diminutive size, fares rarely top €30, though it’s more convenient to rent your own car. In a country that has almost as many registered vehicles as people, it can be pretty busy around Valletta and on Route 1; driving is far more laidback in the west of the mainland and on Gozo.

The ferry from Cirkewwa, at the northern tip of mainland Malta, transports foot passengers and cars to neighbouring Gozo; foot passengers can catch the fast ferry to Gozo from Lascaris Wharf, just outside Valletta, where you’ll also find a ferry service across the Grand Harbour to the Three Cities.

Health & safety

There is little to worry about on the islands. Malta is exceptionally safe; no specific vaccinations are mandated unless you’ve arrived from a yellow fever-infected destination. It can get very hot in summer (30ºC+), though, so take precautions in the sun and always carry water with you.

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