We welcomed 2016 in Malta, an archipelago nestled between Europe and Africa. Considered the Dubai of the Mediterranean, Malta is incredibly accessible, yet is not a popular destination, at least not for many Americans. It is an off the beaten path destination and one of the smallest countries in the European Union.
Arriving in Malta
We took the ferry from Pozzallo, Sicily to Valletta. But British Airways and Air Malta have daily direct flights from many major cities in Europe such as London and Zürich. From the ferry port we took a taxi to the center since it was 10pm and we were tired. But taxis can be expensive, a definitely better way to explore the island is using its colorful public transportation, which is very cheap and reliable. We made Valletta our home base and stayed at this Airbnb apartment. The apartment is beautiful, in a great location and fantastic views. So climbing a million stairs to the top floor (no elevator) was worth it.
Some interesting facts about Malta:
In addition to Maltese, English is also an official language
Maltese is one of the most complicated languages to learn. The alphabet contains 38 letters and has a strong Arabic influence. It sounds like Arabic but they use Roman letters. It also has French influence.
They use the Euro.Malta has been passed between Arabs, Spanish and British. The result is a fantastic heritage mix that makes this place unique.
For Americans, there is no visa requirement to enter
They drive on the left side of the road, like in England
It was the most bombed place during WWII
The Phoenicians got the color purple, which was the color of royalty from Malta
Malta is not an island, is an archipelago. Put all islands together and you’ll get the size of Philadelphia.
This archipelago was located in a strategic location for trading for the Romans
What to do in Malta?
These places can be easily accessed with public transportation, which is less than 1.50€ per person. I wouldn’t rent a car and would avoid using taxis as they can be quite expensive.
Go to the churches, walk up and down the old streets, walk along the coast, see the fortifications. Kind of look like Old San Juan in Puerto Rico to me.
Take a Day trip to Marsaxlokk. A fishing village. Very colorful and cute. I bought Gyozo sea salt from here.
Visit St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta which was consecrated in 1578. and look for Caravaggio’s masterpiece, The Beheading of John the Baptist.
We could not go to Paola or Gyozo because attractions were closed due to New Year celebrations, but I wanted to see at least Paola, so if you go, try to check it out.
Avoid Sliema if you can. This town is filled with English and Irish bars, and a bunch of concrete buildings. It is the most anti-authentic experience you can have in Malta. But from here, it will be possible to take a ferry to Gyozo, excursions included for 35eur per person.
St. Julien has nice views of the ocean, a beach and is good for shopping.
What to eat?
Maltese cuisine includes dishes with wild rabbit and lots of fish, especially sword fish. Other delicacies not to miss are the pastizi, the Maltese cannolo (very similar to the Sicilian, not sure what the difference is) and goat cheese.
Maltese cannolo, gelato flower, pastizi
Malta is a great place to spend New Years. Yes, most attractions are closed during the 31st and 1st, but if you go a few days before (or stay a few days after) you should be able to see most of the major attractions and still enjoy the celebrations, which by the way are over the top, with free concerts and lots of street vendors selling food and drinks. To save money, we bought the drinks, including the champagne, before hand and brought it with us.
With the hospitality of its people, rich history, vibrant nightlife, gorgeous beaches, and how easy is to access, Malta makes the ideal year-round holiday destination.