Located just south of the island of Sicily, Malta is a country all on its own but with a unique history. Built by the Knights of St. John, it was later occupied by the British for about 200 years. In fact, Malta is one of the few European countries that recognizes English as an official language. Although it’s a tiny island with just under a half-million inhabitants, Malta is also well known as a popular filming location for movies and TV, most recently made famous by Game of Thrones in season 1. Not only does the island nation offer unique landscapes and well-preserved historical architecture, but the country has also embraced the film industry as one of its major economic segments.
Malta is a great destination for a long weekend and there are direct flights from most major European capitals. Budget airlines also have frequent departures to Malta so it’s not uncommon to find a good deal under 100€ round trip within Europe. In fact, compared to many European destinations, you’ll find Malta to be inexpensive with reasonable prices in accommodation, food and drink and activities. Of course, being part of the British Empire for so long, they drive on the left side of the street and power outlets are UK style, so be sure to pack your adapter so you can charge all your devices.
A Welcoming and LGBT+ Friendly Destination
Like many Mediterranean countries, Malta was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church over the centuries so much of the history, buildings and local culture is influenced by the religion. So like their Italian neighbors to the north, it is a very Catholic country historically speaking. But that’s where the similarities between Italy and Malta end. While Italy has remained conservative under the guise of the Vatican, present-day Malta has made extremely progressive strides in LGBT+ legislation and acceptance in just the past couple of decades. It now ranks at the top of Europe’s ILGA list with respect to LGBT+ rights and protections, but also has open and welcoming attitudes in the hearts and minds of the local population. If you’re looking for LGBT+ events, Malta Pride is hosted at the beginning of September. In fact, Malta even won the bid to host EuroPride in 2023 so the island will surely see a huge influx in LGBT+ tourists come in for the event.
Awesome Accommodations with Unique History
Valletta is the capital city of Malta and the best place to stay. Base yourself inside the impressive walled city to be in the heart of the action. Or better yet, stay just outside the bastion walls at the historic Phoenicia Malta. The property is an institution in Valletta and offers a luxurious stay within steps of the Valletta gates. Built in 1936, the property not only has an amazing history with elegant old-world design and architecture, but it also combines an element of modern touches from its beautiful gardens, well-position infinity pool and relaxing spa, which was opened in 2017. During the construction of the spa, workers uncovered an original fortification wall dating back to before Valletta was even constructed. While digging in old parts of Europe can certainly setback construction projects upon unearthing old relics of years past, in this case, the wall is so well preserved that it was integrated into the design of the spa itself, adding a unique element to the modern, bright and airy space. After a day out sightseeing, there’s nothing better than relaxing by the pool or enjoying the sauna facilities, including a salt room with walls constructed from Himilayan blocks of salt. During our visit, we also learned a little-known fact that in the years 1969 and 1970, an abandoned building part of The Phoenicia Malta hotel complex was the site of a ball-style pageant, much like RuPaul’s Drag Race. A Maltese trans woman was the first contestant to win.
Fun Things to See & Do
The main sights of Malta can be easily covered in 3 to 4 days. Start with the capital city of Valletta on the main island. Within this walled city, you’ll find lots of shops, restaurants and bars as well as St. John's Co-Cathedral, the ruins of the Royal Opera House and beautiful views along the harbor. Take the lift down to the harbor from the Barrakka Gardens to catch a gondola or ferry over to the Three Cities—Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. Senglea is a residential area with beautiful streets for strolling and photo ops. On the other side, Vittoriosa has the Inquisitor's Palace and Fort St. Angelo. The third city, Cospicua, is the largest of the three with Immaculate Conception Church being the main site to visit. Just outside of Valletta is Mdina, Malta’s old capital prior to Valletta. You’ll recognize it as one of the filming locations from Game of Thrones and it’s well worth a visit.
After exploring the main island of Malta, spend a day exploring the island of Gozo. It’s a 20-minute ferry ride if you’re driving and head to the northern port of Malta. If you aren’t renting a car or taking a private tour, taking the fast ferry from Valletta and connecting with the hop-on/hop-off bus is a good option to tour the main sites. We loved seeing the Inland sea where a gorge in the cliffs lets water in creating a small sea area surrounded by land. Take a boat ride from here through the opening to tour the exterior of the island coast where the former Azure Window once was before it fell in a storm and where divers will enjoy the Blue Hole. Nearby you can also catch another filming location from Game of Thrones. You’ll also want to see the Cittadella, a medieval fortress in Victoria, Gozo’s capital city. As for beaches around the island, there are only a few sandy ones but there are plenty of spots to enjoy the water anyway like the Blue Lagoon or swimming in the bay of Mgarr ix-Xini as well as St. George’s Bay.
Maltese food was described to us as Italian style with a French touch or “Frenchified Italian.” So quite similar to Italian but a bit heavier. You’ll definitely want to try some traditional Maltese dishes but most restaurants actually offer a variety of cuisines. For outdoor plaza dining in Valletta check out Republic 59. For a selection of restaurants and bars with outdoor seating just walk down Strait Street, the former red-light district of Valletta. Michelangelo is a gay-owned bistro also worth visiting in Valletta. In Gozo, head to Ta' Cenc Il-Kantra Bar & Restaurant. Here you’ll enjoy great food (the Kaponata is a must) and beautiful sea views where you can even walk down and take a dip. Cafe Del Mar is a popular spot for drinks during sunset. It’s located up north, about a 30-minute drive from Valletta. When visiting the Three Cities, try out Vault1 on the waterfront for an assortment of food labeled Street Food—burgers, pizzas, pastas and salads. Include Maltese wine in all your meals—we certainly did! As you tour the island you’ll also see a cheap well-known treat called pastizz, a ricotta cheese stuffed pastry, that’s worth the nibble.
Pleasant Mediterranean Climate
Malta is the type of European destination that combines several factors: reasonable prices, island vibes, unique topography, historical cities and monuments plus a welcoming local population who values self-expression. While this LGBT+ friendly island sees tourism peak in the summer from April to October, its mild, Mediterranean climate means off-season visits make for great weekend trips as well. July and August can be hot and September is humid. This makes the winter also a good time to visit while the temperatures are much cooler but still enjoyable. Perhaps the only time to really avoid is January and February because of the rain.
Check out Gay Guide Malta for additional information and tips on finding accommodations, activities and trip planning tools, plus updated information on the LGBT+ scene and top recommendations on the island. The official website of the tourism office, Visit Malta, is also a good resource in planning your trip.
Are you interested in visiting Malta and looking for assistance planning your trip? Our visit was hosted by the lovely Malta native, Nadine, owner of BLOOM! Her team can put together an awesome package like she did for us to ensure you see all the best highlights. Leave the planning to the experts and just enjoy it all once you arrive. Nadine was a fabulous host and we can’t recommend her enough. Click here to visit the BLOOM! website to make a booking inquiry.
Our visit to Malta was hosted by BLOOM! and The Phoenicia Malta with support from Visit Malta, but rest assured all opinions are our own. We have no doubt that anyone visiting Malta with our hosts or any other on the island will be welcomed with the same hospitality we experienced.