The first time I ever heard of Malta, I was sitting around the dinner table while visiting my cousins in Sicily. My grandfather's first cousin who lived in Palermo was given the honorary title of knight of Malta thanks to the many years he served as chief pilot for Air Malta in the '70s and '80s. It wasn't until earlier this year that I heard the name Malta bubble up again. A fellow fashion-industry friend had just gotten back from a trip, another co-worker stopped there on a three-week jaunt throughout Europe, and a mutual friend from Paris spent a week in Sliema while on summer holiday. All of a sudden, it seemed like more and more people in my orbit had just come from this tiny island country that I'd barely heard of previously—and more were considering trips.
They're not the only ones who are doing so, either. Reuters confirmed that interest in European travel from the U.S. increased by an impressive 77% in 2022, thanks in part to a weaker Euro and post-COVID travel demand. Malta has largely flown under our radar, though, in part because there are no direct flights from the U.S., but that appears to be changing as more Americans seek out Malta for all the same reasons you'd want to visit, say, southern Italy or Greece—crystal-blue water, ancient towns, and a local wine and olive oil production—but without the crowds and steep prices. Now, a slew of new hotels are opening left and right in Malta, and among them is the AC Hotel St. Julian's where I stayed earlier this month to experience firsthand all that this country has to offer.
Situated in the coastal hamlet of St. Julian's, the hotel offered the perfect doorstep to exploring the best that Malta has to offer but with the sleek design and modern amenities I've grown accustomed to as an international traveler. It's equipped with a luxe rooftop pool that overlooks the bay, a lounge that highlights cocktails made with local spirits and a state-of-the-art gym with a second pool for indoor swimming.
In case, like me, you also found yourself typing Malta into Google Maps, I'll give you the footnotes. It's situated 50 miles south of Sicily and just 120 more to the east of Tunisia, giving it a unique blend of both European and North African influences. Just like Sicily, Malta was invaded countless times throughout history which has given it not just a storied past but a landscape marked with Baroque architecture. Even the Maltese language is a blend of Italian, French, and Arabic, a unique mix that sounded at once familiar and foreign to my Italian-speaking ears.
Here, I'm sharing my ultimate Malta travel guide for any future plans you might make (or be inspired to make) to the Mediterranean isle.
What to Pack
Despite my early November trip, the weather in Malta was still sunny and warm. Some light layers were all that was needed and I relied on a few suitcase staples like a trench coat, ballet flats, and linen trousers for exploring. I got away with a pretty low-key uniform since nothing was overly fancy there. Packing for Malta, you'll want to think quintessential Mediterranean items like neutral linens, midi dresses, and flat sandals.
A pretty midi dress should be the first thing in your suitcase for any Mediterranean trip.
Whether you're spending the day at the beach or walking around one of Malta's ancient cities, a woven tote is a must.
Polished and packable.
Matching sets are like a cheat code for easy travel outfits.
Bonus: these can double as plane pants.
Learn from my mistakes: one great pair of sunglasses is all your need for a short trip.
A white button-down goes into my suitcase no matter where the destination is.
I can't think of a better place to wear Alighieri's "Gone Fishing" necklace.
How pretty is this color?
One of my favorite travel hacks is that pajama sets can double as cute beach coverups.
The cushy sole makes them a dream for long days on your feet.
Can we make vacation jeans a thing?
A layer you won't be annoyed to pack.
Simply a must.
Explore the Coastline by Boat
The first thing you see as the plane descends into the Malta International Airport is a swath of shockingly blue water stretching out beneath you. Naturally, one of the first things I'd suggest on any trip here is get yourself on a boat, stat. The best way to take in the natural beauty of the island is to spend a day just off the shore to admire the Maltese coastline and, of course, jump into the water. Don't miss the famed Blue Grotto and the nearby caves that light up in brilliant shades of iridescent blue in the sunshine.
Touring a Local Winery
Like many of its Mediterranean neighbors, Malta is also home to a local wine production that taps into the hot and dry climate to produce a number of unique wines, many of which you can only find on the island. We stopped in at Markus Divinus winery where owner Mark Borg produces a limited number of bottles a year.
Experiencing the Tasting Menu at ROSAMÍ
The dining experience at Michelin-starred ROSAMÍ was easily one of the most memorable meals I've ever had and definitely the standout moment of my Malta trip. The multi-course tasting menu started out with a custom Negroni cart and ended with the pastry chef personally serving and explaining our dessert.
An Afternoon in the Silent City of Mdina
Originally the Maltese capital, Mdina is one of two walled cities in Malta and it dates all the way back to to the 8th century BC. Despite its lengthy history, the population has dwindled to less than 250 because the grand palazzos that once housed many of Malta's upper class have been passed down for generations as family heirlooms rather than permanent residences for many. Hence the name "silent city" which refers to the fact that so few people actually live full-time here. Regardless, it's a sight to behold with winding cobblestone streets and small piazzas filled with outdoor cafés, some of which serve as the backdrop to key scenes in Game of Thrones.
A Traditional Maltese Baking Class
Much like its language and culture, Maltese cuisine takes a healthy amount of influence from the Italians. That's especially true of its key pastry export, called pastizzi. After taking a baking class with A Pastizzi Experience, I learned that it's a pastry of flaky layers of dough that's usually filled with salted ricotta. It's a hearty dish that many Maltese will eat for lunch or a snack since it rarely costs more than a few euros despite being exclusively made my hand.
A Visit to St. John's Co-Cathedral
Fun fact: Malta is home to over 400 churches. Despite its Arabic history, the majority of modern-day Maltese belong to the Roman Catholic Church and there's no shortage of beauty to be had in its cathedrals. In the city of Valletta is the stunning St. John's Co-Cathedral, originally commissioned by the Order of St. John in 1573. Every single inch of the space is meticulously decorated in gold leaf and carved marble but the pièce de resistance is easily the original Caravaggio painting that the cathetral has housed since the Italian painter's stint on the island.
Walking Around the Walled City of Valletta
Valletta is Malta's second walled city and the island's de facto retail hub. All up and down in gridded city blocks are international and local boutiques, outdoor cafés and a fair share of nightlife. The city is also home to St. John's Co-Cathedral, so an afternoon spent exploring is simply a must.
Indulging in Locally-Caught Seafood
Naturally, I couldn't leave the island without a proper seafood meal, Maltese style, and the lobster pastas, salt-baked sea bass, and tuna crudo at our final dinner at Onda Blu on the harbor more than sufficed.