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Six things to do in Malta – Mediterranean magic just a three-hour flight from Dublin and Cork

Malta’s slogan for the return of tourism this summer is for visitors to “Feel free again”. As I boarded my flight in Dublin Airport, I realised that was exactly how I felt.

ike many during the height of the pandemic, I thought travelling would be so far beyond our reach for a long time. This particular trip was one I had planned and had to cancel during 2020.

Fast forward to July 2021, and I didn’t expect to be fully vaccinated and on the way to explore the beautiful Maltese islands in the Mediterranean sea.

It may have been the anticipation at work, but a flight that was a little over three hours felt like no time at all. Before I knew it, I was in a taxi to my accommodation in St Julian’s and, as I opened the door to the apartment, I knew that adventure and exploration was waiting for me. I had made it to the other side and was about to be blown away.

What really stood out during my visit was the hospitality of the Maltese people, as well as Malta’s similarities to Ireland on this small island. The entry criteria are stricter than many EU countries (see below), but it felt very Covid-safe, with high compliance to regulations with the majority of the population fully vaccinated.

Here are six of the best things to do when you’re there…

1. Valletta and the three cities

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Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Mdina, Malta

The capital city Valletta is a good place to start your trip, with plenty of museums in which to discover Malta’s interesting past.

As you walk through the city gate and Republic street, you’ll see evidence of English rule whether that’s red phone or post boxes, or marks from bombing during the second world war.

St John’s Co-Cathedral dates back to the 1500s, and includes tombs and symbols of the Knights of St John decorated in Baroque style.

The Cathedral has art including Caravaggio’s masterpiece ‘The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist’.

Close by at Casa Rocca Piccola you’ll meet an unlikely local celebrity, Kiku the parrot, in a museum that brings history to life within the family home of Marquis Nicholas de Piro.

At the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens you can look across at the three cities and take a short walk or the lift to the harbour below.

There you can get on a traditional Maltese boat across for less than €5 to enjoy traditional winding streets where the pace is a little slower.

With so many traditional Maltese and Mediterranean food choices, my top picks would be within the city gates at Rampila or nearby at Rubino, both listed by Michelin guide.

Be brave and try the rabbit, you might just like it!

2. Dingli

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Journalist Cathy Lee in Malta

You’ll discover untouched beauty at the Dingli Cliffs, located just outside the town on the highest point on the island of Malta.

The cliffs are accessible by bus or car but temperatures tend to rise, so bring water if you plan to go for a walk.

Local merchants offer traditional food, drinks and souvenirs, and about two kilometres up from the viewing point is the Dingli Cliffs window which offers a slice of paradise and the best view.

After working up an appetite, the town of Dingli will be your next stop.

You’ll find the glamorous Barbajean restaurant offers delicious tapas, as well as tasty cocktails and Maltese wines from the nearby vineyards.

For wine enthusiasts, you’ll discover this part of the island offers reasonably priced wine tasting tours.

3. Gozo and Comino

Tour companies offer reasonably priced group trips for families or adult-only sunset trips with private yachts also available, so there is no reason not to spend the day in Comino and Gozo.

Leaving from Bugibba (St Paul’s Bay), you’ll learn about trade and traditions on the way to Comino’s Crystal Lagoon, to swim and explore the caves.

Next is the legendary Blue Lagoon, unique for its clear blue water and known as a party-goers paradise as there are just four full-time residents on the island.

From here, a trip to Gozo will certainly interest those longing for art and culture as the streets are quieter, and locals would say that it’s more traditional.

You can visit the Citadel castle by taking a taxi, walking or hiring a quad bike. There are panoramic views from the top and within you’ll find crafts, food and gifts.

4. Mdina, Temples and blue grotto

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The walled city of Mdina is an architectural marvel of medieval and baroque buildings

You cannot go to Malta without visiting the ancient silent city of Mdina, Malta’s first capital. A former colonial settlement of Imperial Rome, it’s recognisable as King’s Landing for Game of Thrones fans.

There are cafés, restaurants and museums with the far walls offering views of the south of the island, and from Mdina, you can travel by car or bus to visit Malta’s UNESCO World Heritage site, the ĦaarQim and Mnajdra Temples.

You’ll enter the museum on site to find out about the signs and symbols within which you can then walk inside and explore.

A three minute drive away is the famous blue grotto with its caves and large sea arch. Diving the ship-wreck is a popular activity here as well as swimming, and there are small boat trips to see it up close.

5. St Peter’s Pool and the fishing village

For thrill seekers, cliff jumping and diving at St Peter’s Pool is a must.

Located a short walk or drive away from the traditional fishing village of Marsaxlokk, the views along the route are picture perfect.

You can enter the water via the ladders at either end of the rock pool but all would agree, the best way in is to jump.

When you’ve dried off, take a leisurely walk back to Marsaxlokk and taste the fresh fish at any of the restaurants located right on the water’s edge.

Most restaurants will let you choose your fish from the daily catch but to get a taste of everything, ask for the seafood platter from La Nostra Padrona restaurant.

6. Golden Bay and Popeye village

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Golden Beach, Malta. Photo: Deposit

If you’re looking to unwind, visit Golden Bay and the spectacular Għajn Tuffieħa where you can enjoy the views from the nearby tower.

Golden Bay horse riding caters to every budget and experience level and you can explore the dusty coastline with friendly guides there every step of the way.

If you want to go a bit further for the perfect family day out and a gorgeous sunset, visit Popeye village.

Beginning as a 1980s film-set, today it’s a family-friendly theme park including an inflatable water-based obstacle course.

To complete your trip, go for a meal at Bahia in Lija to try the seven course tasting menu. Each course tells the story of Malta’s history and presents flavours to bring you on a journey you’ll never forget.

Need to Know

Get there

Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies four times weekly from Dublin to Malta, and twice weekly from Cork. Tour operators include Budget Travel, Sunway, Cassidy Travel and Cork’s J.Barter Travel as well as a local travel agents.

Getting around

Taxis are available as well as buses and car hire. It’s unlikely you’ll spend more than 20 minutes in a taxi, so both means of transport are reasonably priced. A bus fair is €2 cash or contactless payment, and a ticket is valid to use again on another bus within two hours.

I would recommend hiring a small city car due as some parts of the island having narrow winding roads and limited on-street parking.

Where to stay

The capital Valletta has plenty to see and do and tends to be busy during the day and quieter at night time.

St Julian’s is a popular choice with young people due to its buzzing night life scene, while Bugibba (St Paul’s bay) tends to cater more for larger groups and families with plenty of activities.

If you want to relax and unwind beside the beach, Golden Bay won’t disappoint.

Travel rules & restrictions

Malta and its islands are allowing entry to fully vaccinated travellers with proof of vaccination (14 days from the final dose) – it accepts the EU Digital Covid Certificate.

Children aged 5–11 can travel if they accompany their fully vaccinated parents or legal guardians, provided they present a negative PCR test taken no earlier than 72 hours before arrival. Children below the age of five are exempt from travel requirements.

Certificates of recovery from Covid-19 or negative test results are NOT currently accepted for anyone aged 12 and over. Without proof of vaccination, these must undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

All arrivals must also fill out a passenger locator form.

You can see the latest Covid-related travel criteria for Malta (and your return to Ireland) on reopen.europa.eu, dfa.ie/travel and gov.ie.

Cathy was a guest of the Malta Tourism Authority. See visitmalta.com for more.

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