With its superbly sunny weather (more than 300 days a year), expansive beaches, thriving nightlife and 7,000 years of incredible history – including some of the oldest human structures in the world, there is a huge amount to see and do in Malta. It is also a place of stunning natural beauty.
Malta actually comprises three islands - Malta, Gozo and Comino – and lies virtually at the centre of the Mediterranean sea, 93 km / 55 miles south of Sicily and 288 km / 160 miles north of Africa. Malta is the largest island, while Gozo is quieter and more rural, characterized by fishing, tourism, crafts and agriculture. Comino, the smallest of the trio, has one hotel and is largely uninhabited.
For those who love sports, Malta offers a huge variety - from golf and tennis to sky-diving, cycling, hiking, rock-climbing, horse-riding, catamaran boat trips and myriad watersports. Malta is also famed for some of the best scuba diving in the Mediterranean.
There are tons to see in Malta – and your main struggle will be fitting it all in, especially if you’re also planning to play poker. Malta has a fascinating history going back more than 7,000 years and some of the oldest human structures in the world can be found here, including several UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
As well as the major sights (see below,) there are also some great museums including the Malta Classic Car Museum, the National Museum of Archaelogy, mosaic pavements at the ‘Roman House' in Rabat, and the National Museum of Natural History.
Don’t miss a visit to the Manoel Theatre, an 18TH century architectural gem in Valletta and one of Europe's oldest working theatres. Guided tours include the beautiful auditorium, back stage area and the theatre museum. And if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, then Mdina is a must – the setting for Kings Landing in Season 1.
Ask anyone who lives in Malta to name their favourite beach and Golden Bay is likely to be top of their list. Poker pro Steven van Zadelhoff said: “When friends are visiting I always recommend three things: Valletta, Mdina and of course – to catch some sun at Golden Beach!” Poker presenter Laura Cornelius said: “Golden Bay is definitely the best beach – it’s sandy, and you can do a horse ride there at sunset – gorgeous!”
Valletta is a beautiful city and one of the Mediterranean's most impressive ports. Known as 'The Fortress City', Malta’s capital boast some of Europe's finest art works, churches and palaces with an intriguing historical site around every corner: statues, niches, fountains and coats of arms high up on parapets. Little side streets abound, full of quaint shops and cafes and more than 90 films have been filmed in the city, including Assassins Creed and two Bond films – The Spy Who Loved Me and Never Say Never Again. If you visit Valetta, it will be hard to miss the St Paul’s Cathedral – the huge and iconic dome dominates the skyline from the Silema side. Built by Queen Victoria’s aunt Queen Adelaide, the Anglican church has dedications to the armed services – including a lectern dedicated to Winston Churchill.
Megalithic Temples of Malta
The sheer number of archaeological sites on the Maltese Islands sets their history apart from that of all other Mediterranean destinations. The Megalithic Temples of Malta are several prehistoric temples, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, built during three distinct time periods from approximately 3600 BC to 700 BC. They have been claimed as the oldest freestanding structures on Earth. One site is unique to Malta - the Hypogeum, a labyrinth of underground chambers probably used as both a burial site and a temple and comprising halls, chambers and passages hewn out of the living rock and covering some 500 sq metres. The Ggantija Temples (on Gozo) are one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and date from around 3600 to 3200 BC. Due to the gigantic dimensions of the megaliths, locals believed that the temples were the work of giants.
Perched on the top of a plateau, Mdina is Malta’s medieval jewel and once the country’s capital. This spectacular ancient walled city stood in for Kings Landing in Season 1 of Game of Thrones and traversing its narrow streets is like walking through history with wonderfully preserved churches, palaces, noblemen’s houses and mighty walls. When the knights of St John took over the city, there was a great deal of restoration but some buildings date from before the Order’s arrival including the Palazzo Falson, a feast of Baroque splendour. Mdina is also known as the "silent city" because when Valletta was completed, the whole town moved there and Mdina became virtually silent overnight.
If you have time, then a trip to beautiful Gozo – Malta’s second biggest island – is well worth it. Just 25 minutes on the ferry from the northern tip of Malta, Gozo offers a distinctly different, calmer pace of life to the bigger island. Steeped in myth, Gozo is thought to be the legendary Calypso's isle described in Homer's Odyssey - a peaceful, mystical backwater. Baroque churches and old stone farmhouses dot the countryside while the rugged landscape and spectacular coastline are popular with walkers, mountain bikers, abseilers and climbers. The island capital Victoria combines the bustle of market and shops with a relaxed and sociable atmosphere. It is a great place to watch the islanders go about their day, especially when the main market square, It-Tokk, comes to life.
Tie your poker holiday in with one of Malta’s many festivals – both music and cultural – and you’ll be guaranteed to have a great time. Lost & Found was hosted by British DJ Annie Mac and usually takes place around the beginning of June. Earth Festival in the first weekend of June also has a great rep – a weekend-long festival consisting of street markets, live music, camping, food courts, an amusement park and techno stage. Isle of TV is a one-day festival that forms part of Malta Music Week. Held just outside Valetta – headline acts have included Akon, Lady Gaga, Rita Ora and Jessie J. Notte Bianca – which literally translates as White Night – is one of the biggest cultural events in Malta and usually takes place in October. State palaces and museums throw open their doors to the public, free of charge while the city is transformed into an open-air theatre for the night with theatrical performances, concerts and gigs featured along its quaint streets. Shops, cafés, and restaurants also extend their opening hours for the duration of the festival.