You’re forgiven if you don’t know where Malta is, or much—if anything—about it.

That’s about to change, though, and we’re pretty confident that Malta is about to win you over.

Let’s start with the basics. Malta is an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea; it’s situated about 60 miles south of Sicily, Italy, and about 160 miles north of Libya. The nation is made up of three islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino. Malta is the largest island of the three. With a population of just under 450,000 and covering just over 122 square miles, Malta is one of the smallest and most densely-populated countries in the world. Its capital, Valletta, is only half a square mile, making it the smallest capital city in the European Union.

For such a tiny country, Malta boasts a large number of draws, including beaches with sparkling turquoise water, a unique mix of cultures, important historical monuments, and famously friendly locals. It’s no surprise that National Geographic named the island nation one of its Best Trips of 2017.

Have we piqued your interest yet? Here are eight reasons you should add Malta to your bucket list.

Jaw-dropping beaches

Jaw-dropping beachesPhoto Courtesy of pl.wikipedia.org

Malta is known for having the cleanest and clearest waters in the Mediterranean. The islands offer both sand and stone beaches, and many have gorgeous rocky backdrops. The best beaches include the stunning Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino; Golden Bay, located on Malta’s northwestern coast; Ghajn Tuffieha, a quieter option than nearby Golden Bay; Wied-il-Ghasri, which is excellent for snorkeling; and Fomm ir-Rih, the most remote beach on Malta.

Thanks to Malta’s crystal clear waters and numerous underwater caves and tunnels, there are also fantastic diving opportunities around the islands. In fact, many consider Malta the best diving spot in Europe.

An enchanting blend of cultures

An enchanting blend of culturesPhoto Courtesy of pixabay.com

Malta has been colonized many times, and as a result it has a unique mix of cultures. First came the Phoenicians, from 800–600 B.C., then the Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, and several of the great European powers. In 1282, the islands came under the Aragonese (now Spanish) control. This was followed by the Knights of St. John in 1530; they ruled until Napoleon took over in 1798. Then, starting in 1800, there was a long period of British control. Malta did not gain its independence until 1964.

Needless to say, this created a fascinating mix of traditions that is reflected in its people, customs, religion, architecture, food, political and educational systems, and more. Malta’s cultural offerings are also gaining increased international recognition: Valletta was also named one of the European Commission’s two Capitals of Culture for 2018.

Heavenly food

Heavenly foodPhoto Courtesy of pixabay.com

Maltese food is a blend of Sicilian and Middle Eastern food, with local elements such as rabbit and honey mixed in. It has also been influenced by Spanish, Maghrebin, and Provençal cuisines.

Traditional dishes include lampuki pie (fish pie), stuffat tal-fenek (rabbit stew), bragioli (beef olives), kapunata, (similar to ratatouille), and soppa tal-armla, or widow’s soup, which includes a small portion of gbejniet (sheep or goat’s cheese). Popular snacks include hobz biz-zejt (bread dipped in olive oil, rubbed with ripe tomatoes and filled with a blend of tuna, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and capers) and pastizzi (a flaky pastry filled with ricotta or mushed peas). Maltese cuisine also features some delicious desserts such as kannoli (similar to the Italian cannoli) and helwa tat-tork, a sweet and sugary mixture of whole and crushed almonds.

Vibrant history

Heavenly foodPhoto Courtesy of pixabay.com
A street in Malta’s capital, Valletta

Malta has an incredibly rich history and much of this history is still on view today. Indeed, strolling through Valletta and many of Malta’s villages can make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.

The capital, Valletta, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was described by UNESCO as “one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.” The hilltop towns of Mdina and Victoria, both former fortresses, have a number of historical sites, as well.

Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua, known as The Three Cities, are considered the cradle of Maltese history. Their harbor inlets have been in use since the Phoenicians ruled the islands. And, as the first home of the Knights of St. John, the palaces, churches, forts and bastions of the Three Cities are much older than those in Valletta.

Although Malta is tiny, it’s home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, the capital of Valletta, and seven Megalithic Temples, which are among the oldest free-standing structures in the world.

Welcoming people

Welcoming peoplePhoto Courtesy of pixabay.com

Maltese people are known for their warmth, friendliness, and hospitality. If you ask for directions, you may just get a personal escort to your destination. Not only are the Maltese friendly, they’re also quite giving: a 2010 Charities Aid Foundation study found that 83% of Maltese people contributed to charity, earning them the label of the most generous people in the world.

Prevalence of English

Prevalence of EnglishPhoto Courtesy of pixabay.com

English is the second official language of Malta after Maltese, and as such, English is widely spoken there. Travelers should have little problem communicating with locals, making getting around much easier.

Game of Thrones wonderland

Game of Thrones wonderlandPhoto Courtesy of pixabay.com
The old gate of Mdina doubled as King’s Landing in Season 1, Episode 3 (“Lord Snow”)

As if Malta couldn’t get any better, several Game of Thrones scenes have been filmed here.

Some of Valletta’s winding cobblestone streets were used at the setting for King’s Landing. The 17th-century Fort Ricasoli (which was also used in Gladiator) doubled as the Red Keep. Manikata, a hamlet on the island of Malta, was the setting for Lhazareen, where Khal Drogo gets poisoned. There were also many scenes filmed in Mdina, including the fight scene with Ned Stark and Jamie Lannister outside Littlefinger’s brothel.

Gozo’s Azure Window, or Tieqa tad-Dwejra as it’s known in Malta, was a 28-meter-tall natural arch made of limestone. This stunning landmark was famous in Malta and used for was the backdrop for Daenerys and Drogo’s wedding scene. Sadly, in early March 2017, the arch (and the stacks on either side) collapsed in heavy storms.

Range of accommodation

Range of accommodationPhoto Courtesy of palazzovioletta.com-malta.com
The Palazzo Violetta in Sliema, Malta has rooms under $100/night

From luxurious 5-star hotels to trendy B&Bs to a plethora of Airbnb options, Malta offers a variety of accommodation options to fit every budget.

If you’re headed to Xaghra, Gozo, check out Ellie Boo Bed & Breakfast. If you’ll be spending a couple days in Valletta, look into Lloyd House. And if you want to splurge a bit, Casa Ellul in Valletta is a fantastic option.

Bought your tickets yet?

These are just eight of the many reasons you seriously consider traveling to Malta. And if you go, do it soon; it’s only a matter of time before the secret gets out!

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