In the middle of the Mediterranean is an archipelago that's less than half the size of New York City's five boroughs. The island nation of Malta covers about 122 square miles, but don't let its small size fool you — this country packs a tremendous amount of variety into a tiny space. Malta is rich in history and nightlife, making it the ideal getaway for both the history buff and the partygoer. Embrace your inner nerd by day and pop bottles at night by checking out these must-sees, all of which prove that Malta is more than just a sun-and-sand destination.


By Day: Immerse Yourself in History

Valletta 

Photo by Kelley Louise


Begin your trip in Malta’s capital city of Valletta, the smallest national capital in the European Union. Built by the Knights of St. John in the 16th century, the city retains its Baroque elegance despite the damage done during World War II. When UNESCO named Valletta as a World Heritage site, it described it as one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world, and Valletta certainly earns that honor. Monuments like the Upper Barrakka Gardens and Grandmaster’s Palace showcase the city’s historic depth, and newer gems like the Renzo Piano–designed Parliament House have breathed fresh life into the peninsula. 

Upper Barrakka Gardens, Battery St., Valletta, Malta

Grandmaster’s Palace, Republic St., Valletta, Malta. +356 2124 9349

 

Rolling Geeks Tour of Vittoriosa

Photo by Kelley Louise


The city of Birgu is also known as Città Vittoriosa, an honorific that recognizes its role in the Great Siege of 1565, when the Maltese prevented the Ottoman Empire from invading. The best way to get to know this historically important but largely unvisited city is by car. In fact, the very best way to get around the city is by a talking a self-driving electric car in a unique tour offered through Rolling Geeks. The Rolling Geeks cars have preprogrammed GPS directions, and a recorded voice explains sites as you pass them, giving you the perks of an organized tour with the convenience of doing things on your own schedule. Offering a glimpse into Malta’s maritime fortunes, the Rolling Geeks tour is a refreshingly different way to learn about the Three Cities, which provided a fortified home to the island’s early settlers. 

Xatt il-Forn, Birgu, Malta. +356 7995 0695; rolling-geeks.com

 

Megalithic Temples

© viewingmalta.com


Archaeological evidence shows that Malta was probably first settled around 5200 BCE. The country is home to several megalithic temples, some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world (even older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge). The temples are remarkable not only because they're so well preserved, but also because of their originality, intricacy and massive proportions — they would have required considerable technical skill to construct. You can visit the megalithic temples on day tours that depart from Valletta. 

 

Parish Church of Mellieha

© viewingmalta.com. Photo by Gregory Iron 


One of the most stunning Baroque buildings on the island, the Parish Church of Mellieha is perched atop a cliff with breathtaking ocean views. The church is the starting point of the finale for the Mellieha Village Festa, held each September, when the Statue of Our Lady is carried through the streets. The celebration involves feasts, music, fireworks and more and commemorates that 16th-century victory over the Ottomans. Travelers can visit the church year round to take in the unbeatable views and ornate interior.  

Mellieha Village, Malta. mellieha.com

 

Unwind at Night: Malta’s Best Music Destinations

Cafe del Mar Malta

Photo by Kelley Louise


Cafe del Mar Malta is the ideal introduction to Malta’s nightlife scene. Grab a cocktail and watch the sun dip below the Mediterranean — the seating area has unobstructed views of the sea. Once the stars are out, the space transforms into a dance venue for special events and parties. Cafe del Mar, which started in Ibiza, is known for its uptempo and chillout compilation albums, and guest DJs uphold its reputation for good vibes.

Malta National Aquarium, St. Paul's Bay, Malta. +356 2258 8144; cafedelmar.com.mt

 

Maltese Festivals and Celebrations

Photo by Kelley Louise


In fashion with the Mediterranean lifestyle, the Maltese approach to life is to appreciate and celebrate it as much as possible  so it should come as no surprise that the country is quickly establishing itself as a hub for music and festivals. Especially during the summer, when fireworks light up the sky almost every night, the after-dark scene is always bustling and the calendar of events seems to overflow. From the Malta International Arts Festival to the Malta Jazz Festival, there’s a little of something for everyone. Malta also hosts a handful of major music festivals, including the Isle of MTV festival during Malta Music Week, which attracts international crowds and artists. 

 

Aria Complex

Photo by Kelley Louise


One of Malta’s newer venues, the Aria Complex is located on the outskirts of the nightlife scene in San Gwann. Set in a space that feels like a hybrid between a converted factory and a greenhouse, Aria is home to some of Malta’s biggest parties. With its large pool and multiple bars, and it can hold a lot of people without feeling crowded, making it an ideal spot for when you’re in the mood to dance. 

Triq Hal Gharghur, San Gwann, Malta. +356 9949 8995; ariacomplex.com.mt

 

The 1930’s Carpentry Wine Bar

via Facebook


Located in Mdina, Malta’s capital from antiquity to the medieval period, this charming wine bar can be spotted by its bright red doors. The bar wins over locals and travelers alike with its small but flavor-packed food menu, cocktails and wine selection. The space fits only a handful of tables indoors and a couple outside, giving it an intimate feel. The building used to be a traditional Maltese house and has quite a storied past, including the fact that it survived having a bomb fall in front of it during World War II. For a taste of traditional cuisine, order the slow-cooked rabbit. 

119A St. Paul's St., St. Paul's Bay, Malta. +356 7931 9190; Facebook


By Kelley Louise

Kelley Louise is a travel and lifestyle blogger who is passionate about making a difference in the world. She writes about local and sustainable travel, and has a focus on the best ways to find off-the-beaten-path adventures. Visit her blog at the-culture.co or follow her on social @kelleytravels.