In the middle of the Mediterranean is an archipelago that’s less than half the size of New York City’s five boroughs. The island nation of Malta covers about 122 square miles, but don’t let its small size fool you — this country packs a tremendous amount of variety into a tiny space. Malta is rich in history and nightlife, making it the ideal getaway for both the history buff and the partygoer. Embrace your inner nerd by day and pop bottles at night by checking out these must-sees, all of which prove that Malta is more than just a sun-and-sand destination.
By Day: Immerse Yourself in History
Begin your trip in Malta’s capital city of Valletta, the smallest national capital in the European Union. Built by the Knights of St. John in the 16th century, the city retains its Baroque elegance despite the damage done during World War II. When UNESCO named Valletta as a World Heritage site, it described it as one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, and Valletta certainly earns that honor. Monuments like the Upper Barrakka Gardens and Grandmaster’s Palace showcase the city’s historic depth, and newer gems like the Renzo Piano–designed Parliament House have breathed fresh life into the peninsula.
The city of Birgu is also known as Città Vittoriosa, an honorific that recognizes its role in the Great Siege of 1565, when the Maltese prevented the Ottoman Empire from invading. The best way to get to know this historically important but largely unvisited city is by car. In fact, the very best way to get around the city is by a talking a self-driving electric car in a unique tour offered through Rolling Geeks. The Rolling Geeks cars have preprogrammed GPS directions, and a recorded voice explains sites as you pass them, giving you the perks of an organized tour with the convenience of doing things on your own schedule. Offering a glimpse into Malta’s maritime fortunes, the Rolling Geeks tour is a refreshingly different way to learn about the Three Cities, which provided a fortified home to the island’s early settlers.
Archaeological evidence shows that Malta was probably first settled around 5200 BCE. The country is home to several megalithic temples, some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world (even older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge). The temples are remarkable not only because they’re so well preserved, but also because of their originality, intricacy and massive proportions — they would have required considerable technical skill to construct. You can visit the megalithic temples on day tours that depart from Valletta.
Unwind at Night: Malta’s Best Music Destinations
Cafe del Mar Malta is the ideal introduction to Malta’s nightlife scene. Grab a cocktail and watch the sun dip below the Mediterranean — the seating area has unobstructed views of the sea. Once the stars are out, the space transforms into a dance venue for special events and parties. Cafe del Mar, which started in Ibiza, is known for its uptempo and chillout compilation albums, and guest DJs uphold its reputation for good vibes.
Maltese Festivals and Celebrations
In fashion with the Mediterranean lifestyle, the Maltese approach to life is to appreciate and celebrate it as much as possible — so it should come as no surprise that the country is quickly establishing itself as a hub for music and festivals. Especially during the summer, when fireworks light up the sky almost every night, the after-dark scene is always bustling and the calendar of events seems to overflow. From the Malta International Arts Festival to the Malta Jazz Festival, there’s a little of something for everyone. Malta also hosts a handful of major music festivals, including the Isle of MTV festival during Malta Music Week, which attracts international crowds and artists.
One of Malta’s newer venues, the Aria Complex is located on the outskirts of the nightlife scene in San Gwann. Set in a space that feels like a hybrid between a converted factory and a greenhouse, Aria is home to some of Malta’s biggest parties. With its large pool and multiple bars, and it can hold a lot of people without feeling crowded, making it an ideal spot for when you’re in the mood to dance.
Keep these recs at your fingertips with my easy-to-save guide.
This post is an excerpt that originally appeared on Savoteur –
The Two Faces of Malta
I went to Malta as part of a press trip with the tourism board.
All opinions are my own.