Malta cliffs © iStock/Polychronis Giannakakis
The wealth of Instagram-worthy beaches are more than enough to fill a day in Malta. Throw in the island’s millennia of history, a peppering of gorgeous antiquated towns and villages, and a super-chic capital, and you’ll soon have a packed itinerary. However, it’s all very doable—especially if you have a few extra days in which to relax on the beach and soak up Malta’s laid-back Mediterranean vibes. Tick off all the sights with our whistle-stop one-day guide to Malta.
Morning: Exploring the Capital
With only one day in Malta, there’s not a minute, or a meal, to spare. Hop in the hire car and take a scenic spin to Valletta, where pea and ricotta-stuffed pastizzi or freshly baked, tomato-topped ftira are served as a traditional Maltese breakfast.
As tempting as it is to linger over coffee in Valletta’s pretty palazzo cafés, there’s much to explore. Seek out the city’s historic boulevard, Republic Street, which leads past Grand Master’s Palace to Valletta’s most spectacular attraction, St John’s Co-Cathedral. A relic from the Knights of Malta who worshipped here in the 16th century, it’s all imposing, gold-stone, Baroque façades, not to mention Caravaggio’s famous ‘Beheading of St John the Baptist’ within.
For a culture fix, choose between fine arts or archaeology, both of which have a dedicated museum in Valletta that’s a five-minute walk from the cathedral. If it’s the former, don’t miss Turner’s dreamy watercolour of Malta; if the latter, you’ll be rewarded with insights into Malta’s epic Neolithic history, more of which come later in the day.
Afternoon: Sightseeing and Swimming
Back behind the wheel, roll down the windows and take in the Maltese countryside as it flashes past on your drive to Malta’s ancient temples, Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. These two UNESCO World Heritage Sites predate Egypt’s Great Pyramids, with the oldest structures dating back to between 3600 and 3200 B.C. Exploring the stone chambers, pillars, and ancient altars of these two prehistoric temples is a step into another world.
What would a day in Malta be without a quick dip in its balmy Mediterranean waters? While it’s not exactly your average sandy beach, the Blue Grotto, five minutes from Ħaġar Qim, is blessed with dazzling lapis-lazuli waters that are the most photogenic you could ever hope to swim in. A boat will ferry you into the cave, where you can dive in—all the better if you have masks and snorkels to explore these beguiling depths.
Evening: Dinner in Mdina
As the day starts to cool, turn back inland to Mdina, a walled city that’s steeped in history, with its foundations rumoured to have been established around three millennia ago. Park up outside its walls and venture in on foot—no cars are allowed—to take a sunset stroll through its narrow, labyrinthine lanes. Malta’s erstwhile capital offers one of the best views on the island. Watch the sun sinking below the horizon while sauntering along the city’s ancient bastions, gazing out across the island and down towards the ocean. The Medina Restaurant is where to end your one-day Maltese itinerary. All honey-hued stone walls and a balmy candlelit courtyard beneath leafy vines, it captures perfectly the photogenic essence of this atmospheric city. Leave room for dessert—the homemade ice cream here is sublime.