Malta packs a lot into its little archipelago. From movie locations – Game of Thrones and Gladiator have both been filmed here – to the kind of perfect beaches that make us grateful to have the Mediterranean on our doorsteps, Malta has it all. With a new title as the 2018 European Capital of Culture, the promise of over 300 days of sun a year, plus some seriously blue waters in which to sail, swim or soak, it is little wonder that P&O Cruises snapped up this Mediterranean marvel as the starting point for their Eastern Med cruise holidays. Here’s how to make the most of a day in the destination.
Eat your spinach and head for Popeye Village
Robin Williams remains one of our all-time heroes and a visit to Popeye Village will trigger the nostalgia of any 80s kid. Built in Anchor Bay in 1979 as the set for the movie, Popeye Village now serves as a tourist attraction and one that is well worth a visit. Even youngsters with more of a preference for Peppa Pig than Popeye will enjoy the experience, with crazy golf, a beach, filming opportunities and an inflatable water park on offer for a really reasonable entrance fee.
See the Azure Window in Gozo in a whole new way
The Azure Window was Malta’s most famous landmark and its collapse in an especially heavy storm recently has left locals distraught. Whilst Mother Nature has changed the Maltese island of Gozo’s landscape forever, there’s still time to see the limestone arch crumbled beneath the waves, where it will remain for just a few months before it is again lost to the conditions. The sea arch has been reborn as one of Malta’s top diving sites, its giant shards forming a network of passageways that have seen the marine life move in. The structure is freshly formed, so be sure to join a registered, professional dive club if you’re planning a visit.
Take a dip in the Blue Hole
Malta’s original dive site is a stone’s throw from where the Azure Window once stood. The Blue Hole is one of the best dive sites in the Mediterranean and the most popular in Malta, attracting snorkelers to the coral garden that surrounds it and scuba divers delving deeper down to find the really good stuff, like John Dorey, Grouper, Octopus, Sea Hare and Cuttlefish.
Drink like a sailor on Strait Street
Even if your Mediterranean cruise to Malta doesn’t include an overnight stay, atmospheric Strait Street is worth a daytime visit. The once raucous neighbourhood was once frequented by sailors in their droves and to this day it remains the place to be for hole-in-the-wall bars and live music. Pull up a chair in the slender lane and order a Cisk, Malta’s signature brew. All in the interests of cooling off in the heat, you understand.
Investigate the Lascaris War Rooms
Malta has its fair share of history, playing a pivotal role in both World Wars. The Lascaris War Rooms are buried deep inside the city’s bastion walls and have served as both slave quarters and secret army headquarters. The defence was masterminded from inside these very walls during World War II and you can almost feel the tension as you walk between rooms still filled with maps, communications equipment and plotting tables.
Stroll Upper Barrakka Gardens
Malta certainly isn’t short on views but those from the Upper Barrakka Gardens are arguably the best of a very impressive bunch. Views from the gardens extend right across the Grand Harbour, out over the Three Cities and as far as Fort St Angelo. Have a wander and stick around for the ceremonial firing of the canon in the Saluting Battery each day at noon and again at 4pm.
Take a trip back in time in Mdina
Game of Thrones fans may recognise the walled city of Mdina, which served as King’s Landing in early seasons of the show before filming relocated to Dubrovnik. Inhabited since the Bronze Age, Mdina’s tiny golden stone buildings could tell quite the story. Conquered by the Normans, run by the Knights of Malta and rumoured to be the one-time home of St Paul The Apostle, the mysterious streets look almost the same today as they did centuries ago, right down to the gas lamps that light them when darkness descends.
Let them eat cake at the Fontanella Tea Garden
Calories don’t count on holiday so make the Fontanella Tea Garden your first port of call on arrival into Mdina. Something of a Maltese icon and most certainly a crowd-pleaser, this unassuming café is famed for two things; its sweeping view of Malta and the bastions, and cake. Don’t bother with the mediocre main meals – you’ll find better elsewhere and scoffing a sandwich instead of seafood in the Med is sacrilege anyway – instead diving straight in to strawberry meringue or hazelnut crème chocolate cake.
Take a boat to the Blue Grotto
We couldn’t give you our guide on what to do in Malta without mentioning the Blue Grotto. A 30-minute boat ride from the tiny harbour town of Weid iz-Zurrieq will take you to a great arch sweeping out from the rock face. The sea has carved six natural caves inside, of which the Blue Grotto is the most impressive. Visit in the morning and you’ll witness the water illuminated with its famous stunning cobalt blue hue. Boats go out until around 5pm but the early bird catches the colour!
Are you sailing from Valletta on a P&O Cruises Mediterranean cruise? Let us know what you plan to tick off the list whilst in Malta.