48 Hours in Malta
The jewel of the Mediterranean, Malta combines a fascinating history, stunning landscapes, magnificent architecture and mouthwatering food. 300 days of sunshine, an alluring rugged landscape and fascinating cultural heritage, Malta is waiting to be explored.
And with winter temperatures of up to 17 degrees, you can stroll comfortably through the golden – huge capital, Valletta, centuries of history in the nearby towns and villages, savour the islands unique cuisine, and enjoy cocktails with unparalleled views of the Mediterranean.
Day one - Morning
Start by exploring Malta’s capital Valletta, a stunning city of honey-coloured sandstone and baroque architecture, and a UNESCO world Heritage site. It is less crowded in the cooler months, but still mild and sunny – ideal winter – getaway weather.
Head to the colonnaded Upper Barrakka Garden, built in 1661, for a panoramic vista of the grand harbour and beyond.
Wander down into the historic heart of the city, past the ruins of the Royal Opera house, which is now an open-air theatre, and a marvel at the colossal new parliament building design by shard architect Renzo piano.
Refuel with a cup of kafe msajjar, a traditional coffee made with spices, then stroll down Valletta’s stately thoroughfare, Republic Street, which will be decorated with elaborate Christmas lights from November to February.
Pop in to the 16th century Grandmasters Palace, built for the Knights of St. John, which is filled with tapestries, artefacts and suits of armour. The changing of the Guards ceremony is held outside, in St George’s Square, every last Friday of the month, at 10.30am.
Meander down Old Bakery Street, a photogenic road flanked with tall, golden townhouses, and have lunch at a cosy cafe.
The Maltese love their food, and the national cuisine is full of flavour. Malta’s quintessential snack is pastizzi - hot savoury pasteurises filled with ricotta or mushy peas. Or, if the sightseeing has worked up a bigger appetite, sample the national dish of rabbit stew.
Head into the 17th-century St John's Co-Cathedral, home to two Caravaggio paintings: St Jerome and The Beheading of St John - the largest painting produced by the artist, and the only one he signed.
Stop by the National Museum of archaeology in Oberg the province, which holds some of the world's oldest sculptures, including the Venus of Malta, a prehistoric figurine of the fertility goddess. For a glimpse of how the other half once lived (and some still do), Head to Casa Rocca Piccola, an opulent 16th century palazzo occupied by the blue blooded de Piro family. Tours are even sometimes led by the marquis or marquesa.
Visit between February 21 and 25, and you’ll see the streets come alive during the annual Malta Carnival. Join the thousands watching parades of colourful floats, bands and dancers in their themed costumes. Try the carnival treat, prinjolata, a fruity, pine-nut sponge cake topped with whipped cream.
See a classical-music recital or play at the iconic Teatru Manoel, built in 1732. A popular Christmas tradition is the annual pantomime - The little Mermaid runs from December 22 until January 5, and is the perfect mix of slapstick and satire.
Then hop into a taxi to finish the day in St Julian’s, a lively coastal town close to Valletta. Relax over cocktails in one of the bustling waterside restaurants overlooking Spinola Bay, and dine on locally caught fresh fish, followed by delicious fig ice cream.
If you’re not ready for the day to end, head to nearby Paceville, Malta’s party and nightlife capital, where clubs and bars stay open until the early hours.
Day two - Morning
Hop into a rental car for a stunning scenic tour of Malta’s natural beauty spots, pictures towns and ancient ruins, starting at Birgu.
One of the Three Cities – a trio of 16th century fortified towns across the grand harbour from Valletta - Birgu is a beautiful waterside location for your morning coffee. The step back in time with a visit to hypogeum, a staggering underground prehistoric temple, in nearby Paola, which dates back to 4000 BC.
Tours run until 3pm, so book in advance. For more Neolithic temples, a half-hour drive will take you to Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, built in 3200BC.
Malta's countryside becomes lush and green from mid-November until spring, so it's back in the car for a scenic drive up the southwest coast to the village of Dingli.
Enjoy some hearty traditional fare at one of Dingli's restaurants, such as a Maltese platter - a traditional selection of bread, cheese, olives, sausages, tomatoes and pâté - or a hearty bowl of pasta.
After lunch, walk for half an hour from the village up to the Dingli Cliffs, which soar 830ft above sea level and offer the finest coastal views over the Mediterranean.
Once you've hiked back down, head towards the Ta'Qali crafts village outside the medieval hilltop city of Mdina, where Maltese hand-made lace, hand-woven fabrics, blown glass and silver filigree are on display.
Mdina is the former capital of the island, and has narrow, shaded streets, perfect for exploring on foot. The city offers a wealth of baroque architecture including the Cathedral of St Paul, the Chapel of St Agatha, and the Vilhena Palace.
But you'll also feel transported to another time as you pass hidden doorways that open into Norman and baroque residences (just 250 people live within the city walls).
Don't miss the chance to amble through Mdina by night, Lamp-lit, the 'silent city' - so named because cars and horses are banned, and signs urge visitors to keep the noise down - is incredibly atmospheric after dark.
In this historic setting, eat as the Maltese always have, with one of the island's famed pies, such as tuna and spinach, while dessert delicacies include kannoli (a tube of pastry filled with sweetened ricotta).
Maltese wines can hold their own with their international neighbours. Savour a vintage made from one of the indigenous grapes, Gellewza (red) and Ghirghentina (white) - there's no better way to toast the island's warm people, stunning setting and riveting past.