While many globetrotters flock to well-trodden destinations such as Positano and Santorini, the beautiful archipelago of Malta still remains off the beaten track.

The cluster of islands is situated in the Mediterranean Sea, just 93 kilometres south of Italy. Here, find a combination of unnerving limestone cliffs flanked by crystalline blue seas and hidden caves, complete with a treasure trove of prehistoric sites replete with history. 

Historically, its location in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea makes it a sought-after prize for many: it was conquered by nearly all of its neighbours, from the Carthaginians to the Romans to the Saracens until its independence in 1964.

The result? A harmonious blend of cultures and traditions that is now known as uniquely Maltese. To get you going on this otherworldly island, we’ve gathered an all-you-need-to-know guide for your first trip: from the most interesting locations and local dishes, to the comfiest beds in town. 

What to do

Dive beneath the seas 

Malta travel guide
Comino (Image credit: Mike Nahlii on Unsplash)

Malta is synonymous with the ocean: its year-round summer climate and azure seas make it perfect for anyone who enjoys a bit of swimming, diving or snorkelling. For an interesting diving experience, explore the Grand Harbour of Valletta.

It is home to the HMS Maori, a military destroyer that was sunk by the Germans, and now rests 14 metres below the shore. As it is easily accessible and relatively shallow, it is a good spot for beginner divers. If you like reef and cave diving, head to Comino.

The uninhabited island is situated just off the shores of mainland Malta, set within a backdrop of shimmering turquoise waters. Here, find a whole series of underwater caves that makes itself the home to brimming aquatic life such as octopus and barracuda.

Embrace the seaside breeze in Marsaxlokk

Malta travel guide
Marsaxlokk (Image credit: Remi Yuan on Unsplash)

Marsaxlokk (pronounced as Marsa-shlok) is a cosy fishing village positioned at the south of Malta. Come for a slice of real Maltese life, complete with a buzzing daily market and fantastic seafood diners. Refurbished, low-rise houses line the waterfronts, littered with a wide selection of restaurants and boutiques that entertain its Sunday hordes.

If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Restaurants on the Edge, you will find Haber 16, the welcoming bistro of Malta’s national goalkeeper, Justin Haber, here. Whether or not you choose to dine here, the quaint fishing village is known for its views of brightly coloured luzzu (fishing boats) bobbing in the harbour, so be sure to grab an alfresco seat wherever you are. 

Sip on some exclusive Maltese wine

Malta travel guide
(Image credit: Ta’ Mena Estate)

Wine lovers may want to pay a visit to Ta’ Mena Estate, a local vineyard that produces Maltese wine. Wine from Malta is difficult to find outside the country, as so little is produced it usually ends up in the glasses of locals.

At Ta’ Mena Estate, guests can take a guided tour around the vineyard and get a sampling of different wines, olives and other local treats. Some interesting varieties to try would be the wines from the locally grown Gellewza, a dark-skinned grape that produces a red wine close to rosé, and Girgentina, a chartreuse-coloured grape that produces a light, fruity white wine

Where to dine

Surf N Turf

Malta travel guide
(Image credit: surfnturfmalta)

We know, the name sounds like a seaside bistro along the Hawaiian beach. However, Surf N Turf is nothing like what you’d expect from its name. The award-winning restaurant is all about serving fresh food with the best possible customer experience. The brainchild of Chef Kerstin Manicolo and award-winning sommelier Joshua Borg, their goal of never-ending research for perfection and originality really shines in the flavours of their dishes. 

The menu revolves around strong, simple flavours that are market-led, meaning to say only the freshest produce of the day will be used for their dishes. Some mainstays on the menu include the sweet French oysters served with liquid nitrogen and the Argentinian grain-fed beef rib-eye with beef cheek ravioli, wilted spinach and poached asparagus.

Mgarr United Bar & Restaurant

Malta travel guide
(Image credit: Mgarr United Bar & Restaurant)

No one leaves Malta without a taste of the classic Maltese dish — rabbit stew. The country’s national dish is slow-cooked for at least two hours in an exotic blend of garlic and wine, then served with a side of gravy, carrots and potatoes. The history of this dish dates back to the time of the Knights in 1530.

What possibly started as a symbolic resistance to the hunting constraints imposed by the Knights of St. John, has evolved into a cultural delicacy guarded by locals. Today, the dish is a symbol of social gatherings and family reunions, with family-kept recipes that are passed from one generation to another. For a taste of this uniquely Maltese dish, order it at Mgarr United Bar & Restaurant.

The Lord Nelson Restaurant 

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If you’re looking for a fancy night out, consider dining at The Lord Nelson Restaurant. The name may come off as off-putting and cocky, but it immediately becomes clear why it has been named so once you step inside.

The interiors have been tastefully done, decorated with details that enhance the traditional 300-year-old Mosta townhouse, complete with perfectly-preserved wooden windows and beams. The name, coupled with the interiors, transports guests back to a time of opulence, and guests are served by servers that are extremely attentive yet non-intrusive. 

The dreamy establishment is paired with a rotational menu that prepares a whole array of exciting and seasonal dishes. Its six-course tasting menu is an option too: either choose six dishes you would like to try or leave it up to their talented team to surprise you. Whatever you decide, you’re guaranteed to be spoiled for the night.

Where to stay in Malta

The Coleridge

Malta travel guide
(Image credit: Th Coleridge hotel)

Consider a stay at The Coleridge for a night of history and charm. The boutique townhouse hotel makes its home in a building dating back to the early 1600s when Valletta was being crafted by the finest European architects and engineers of the day. Its unique namesake stems from the famed British poet Samual Taylor Coleridge, who spent his days in the area and wrote extensively about his time on the island. 

The charming establishment houses a total of six suites — all elegant in their own way, with their own individual dynamic disposition. They have been lovingly designed with one-of-a-kind antique pieces and opulent fabrics, complete with spectacular artwork that echoes the same design flair through the hotel. For a special experience, book a night at the penthouse, Fayette, which includes a two-storey terrace and an outdoor whirlpool tub that overlooks the city. 

The Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux

Malta travel guide
(Image credit: Xara palace)

The Xara Palace is furnished to pay homage to its past as an aristocratic palazzo. Nestled within a unique 17th-century palace oasis in the medieval city of Mdina, the five-star establishment is a unique option for anyone in the area.

Each of its 17 luxurious rooms and suites is fitted with stunning 180-degree views over the island, and are all individually and tastefully designed with antique furniture and paintings. Soft Parisian fabrics and elegant king-sized beds make the stay even more desirable. 

The establishment is home to one of Malta’s favourite fine-dining restaurants, De Mondion, an upscale restaurant that serves immaculately presented French, Mediterranean and Maltese cuisine on white linen tablecloths. A more casual alternative is Trattoria AD1530, a cosy choice which serves a mix of Mediterranean and Italian cuisine. 

The Snop House 

Malta travel guide
(Image credit: Daniel Cilia for The Snop House)

If you’re looking for an intimate stay with tons of character, consider a stay at The Snop House. The boutique hotel is located within a classic Maltese building that was rebuilt after the bombing of World War II. Here, expect to see warm limestone walls and carefully selected materials that bring tons of local flavour to the modern estate.

Each of its six contemporary rooms comes personally decorated with art pieces that invite guests to discover the history and culture of Malta. Choose between two room types: three of the rooms that face the back are quieter, while the three larger ones in the front come with beautiful views of the magical Grand Harbour. There are no fancy gym, spa or pool amenities here, but the hotel’s intimate service and personal touches make for a welcoming stay nonetheless. 

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