“Wheels, Hooves, Boats & Feet – 7 Great Ways to Explore Malta“
Steeped in history and veiled in honey-coloured limestone, Malta has many hidden places to discover.
From horseback rides and self-drive buggies to tuk tuks and romantic gondolas, there are myriad ways to duck into the nooks and crannies of Malta’s hidden villages, ancient cities, protected landscapes, and picturesque harbours.
1. Walking Tours of Valletta
Whether it’s self-lead or you hire a guide, a walking tour of Malta’s capital city, the smallest in the EU, is the best way to learn about Valletta’s rich history.
Head to the Upper Barrakka Gardens for views out to the three cities and the film studios busy preparing for the next Gladiator film.
Wooden galleried windows adorn houses along windy streets and cafes spill out onto narrow lanes. Menus offer traditional Maltese dishes, seasoned with a mix of Sicilian and Middle Eastern flavours. Enjoy pastries, pasta and rabbit dishes, served in quaint restaurants that overflow onto public squares. Hint: these are great spots for people watching.
In the heart of Valletta is the austere and imposing St John’s Co-Cathedral. This Baroque building is ornamented with canvases, carvings and ornate flooring. Each step is on inlaid marble and at times, you are stepping on the tombs of the Knights and Officers of the Order of St John.
Arches lead to sacred spaces while stoic pillars represent the strength of this revered place, physically and spiritually. Domed ceilings look down onto an elaborate feast of colour in golds, reds, purples and blues. In fact, you could be mistaken in thinking that this is an art museum with Caravaggio’s commissioned painting, The Beheading of St John the Baptist, displayed as the altar piece.
Walking tours are a great way to discover the streets of Malta
2. Horse and Carriage Rides Around Mdina
Nicknamed the “Silent City”, and once Malta’s capital, the medieval city of Mdina is a must. A horse and carriage tour around the shady, quiet streets take you back in time to see the fortified walls, medieval and baroque architecture. Mdina was home to Malta’s noble families, some of whom were (and are) descendants of the Norman, Sicilian and Spanish overlords who made Mdina their home from the 12th century onwards.
Rabat is the adjoining town and a place that bursts with life should you be fortunate to visit during one of Malta’s numerous religious festas to witness the bunting, celebratory music and family gatherings, and processions through its age-old streets.
3. Gondola to the Three Cities
Take the gondola from Valletta, but without the serenade. These private taxis are a memorable way to travel to the Three Cities —Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua—from Valletta. Missed the boat? No worries. There are regular ferries to usher you back and forth.
There are also 30-minute Grand Harbour tours.
Valletta’s Grand Harbour is worth a visit
4. Self-Guided Buggies in the Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua
Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua are known as the Three Cities of Malta, located across the Grand Harbour from Valletta.
Each is steeped in history, and a superb way to discover them is via the quirky electric-powered dinky buggies that talk to you while driving. Since many passageways are too narrow for today’s cars, this is the perfect family adventure too.
Cars come with a pre-programmed GPS and are also your tour guide for 2.5 hours. An onboard “voice’ points out sights and details the key facts about these cities, as well as the tiny villages in between.
You’ll zip past residential windows draped in lace curtains and hanging baskets, richly-decorated churches, an old-fashioned ironmonger, and Malta Film Studios.
Watch out for the speed bumps!
Self-guided buggies bump along the narrow passageways
5. Horseback Riding in the North
What better way is there to view the open landscape of Malta than on horseback?
Here you breathe in the fresh unpolluted air, listen to the silence of the open arid landscape while the hooves step through the protected wild flora and fauna.
Golden Bay in the north is the quieter side, perfect for taking in a peaceful ride through the Majjistral Nature & History Park. There are one-hour guided rides, especially colourful during sunset.
You are sure to spot walkers, cyclists and those testing their Segway skills.
6. Tuk-tuks in Gozo
Worth visiting are the Ġgantija Temples, the earliest of the Megalithic Temples of Malta and even older than the pyramids of Egypt. Dramatic Dwejra on the West Coast is known for its “inland sea” and where the rock arch, known as the Azure Window, once stood. The Citadel of Gozo is a visible landmark from all over the island and sits on promontory overlooking the town of Victoria.
Whilst Malta is the largest of the Maltese archipelago, Gozo is the second largest inhabited island with around a population of more than 36,000. It is quieter and more rural, with low dry-stone walls dividing open landscape.
Getting there is easy with a regular 20-minute ferry service from Valletta.
Tuk-tuks of Gozo
7. Boat Trip to the Blue Grotto
A popular activity is a boat ride from the tiny harbour of Wied iż-Żurrieq to the Blue Grotto, part of a complex of sea caves in southern Malta.
Although the water can be choppy, buoyant and bouncy, the short trip is worth it to appreciate and witness the bright blue shades of the water competing with the froth of the waves against the caves, A chain of six caves and a 30-metre arch created over centuries provide the backdrop where the sky catches the sandy white seabed to create the cobalt colour.
In contrast, the caves reflect the phosphorescent colours of the submerged flora and the deep dark shade of blue of the sea making this one of Mother Nature’s best magic tricks.
St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta
BeSeeingYou In: Malta
Good to know: In Malta, people drive on the left side of the road—a leftover from former British rule
WOW! Factor: Despite its small size, Malta is home to 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites
Tip: If you can’t make it to Malta, put your feet up and enjoy shows and movies such as Game of Thrones, Troy, Midnight Express and Jurassic Park, with scenes filmed in locations around Malta and Gozo
Author bio: Jane Wilson