For a small island, Malta packs in the attractions. This small collection of islands is crammed with an almost unfair amount of history and culture – unfair on its neighbors, that is. For visitors, this historic island nation is a gem amid the waves. Unlike much of the Mediterranean, travel in Malta is free from long train or bus rides, endless lines and other problems common to more spread out countries. Instead, Malta is extremely compact. Most major attractions are easily reachable from the capital, Valletta. Meanwhile, the city itself is easy to navigate thanks to its simple grid format, not to mention the hospitality of locals. As a former British colony, most Maltese are comfortable speaking English, making travel even easier.
Is Malta Child Friendly?
Parents will likewise find Malta toddler friendly for the most part. With the exception of some archaeological sites, kids are no problem. Older children in particular will enjoy many of Malta’s attractions just as much (if not more) than parents; what kid doesn’t like castles and shining armor?
Moreover, most of the island nation is surprisingly stroller friendly, while its rare to find a restaurant that won’t offer options suitable for little ones. The only one issue is that it can be hard to find baby gear. Malta is, after all, a small place, so make sure you bring everything you and your kids will need. Should you need a stroller or something special I recommend you head to The First Years baby shop in Mosta. It is hear that we found the replacement for the stroller the airline broke on our way to the island (surprisingly Valletta has very little to offer).
What to See in Malta
Malta’s chief attractions are historic sites, many linked to the Order of St. John. The island nation also boasts some of Europe’s most important prehistoric archaeological sites and is also home to some great natural attractions. There are a few beaches too, but I don't consider them to be a highlight.
Take some time to meander, try out local food and drinks, and slowly sample what this Mediterranean island has to offer.
St John’s Co-Cathedral
Often considered Malta’s most iconic site, St John’s Co-Cathedral is also widely viewed as one of Europe’s best preserved Baroque churches. Constructed between 1572 and 1577 by the Order of St. John, the co-cathedral was originally quite an austere affair. It was only in the mid 17th Century that Baroque artists got their hands on the initially aesthetic building. With the blessing of the Order, they totally overhauled St. John’s, turning it into one of the era’s most enduring celebrations of art and culture. The cherry on top is the presence of two masterpieces by Baroque superstar Caravaggio. The more famous of the pair, The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, is an emotive ode to the saint’s martyrdom (pictures not allowed!).
The co-cathedral can be easily reached by public transport. It’s just a few minutes by foot from the bus terminus near City Gate, making it a pretty straight forward trip from virtually anywhere in Valletta.
Grand Master's Palace
Ever wanted to live the life of a crusader? If so, then don’t miss the Grand Master's Palace. After the Ottomans booted the Order of St. John from their stronghold on Rhodes, this palace became the abode of the order’s grand master. As you’ll see, the knights weren’t exactly roughing it here. The interior is dripping with incredible art and some of the most lavish décor anywhere in the Mediterranean. This imposing building isn’t just a pretty face; the armory is packed with Renaissance era war gear. Gawk at the knights’ shining armor, noble-looking swords and clunky old firearms. The highlights are the suits of armor belonging to grand masters. Also, don’t miss the Turkish weapons, captured during the legendary 1565 siege of Malta. If you’re having a Malta vacation with kids, then this place is pretty much mandatory.
The palace is located on St. George's Square, and currently serves as the presidential offices. Public tours are available, with the armory now functioning as a museum.
The 19th Century Fort Rinella is a must-see for anyone with even a vague interest in military history. After all, Rinella represents a major milestone in early-modern military technology. This was the world’s first mechanized fort, and it brought early industrial power to bear on a terrifying level. The centerpiece of the fort is the jaw-dropping, 100-ton Armstrong gun.
Despite its ingenuity, Rinella was just one node in a larger defensive network, which protected generations of Maltese over the centuries. To get a feel for just how impregnable the island was, take a walk along Valletta’s old walls. The walk is circular, and can be started from pretty much anywhere in the city. The City Gate is as good of a place as any to start. Visit at sunrise or sunset for a real visual treat. If you’re looking for things to do in Malta with toddlers, this one is a reasonable choice. While getting up on the wall can be a pain with a pram, once you’re up there it’s smooth sailing.
Malta at War Museum
Despite all Malta’s defenses, the island was hard hit during World War II. Incessant areal bombardment took a brutal toll on the Maltese, who spent much of the war taking shelter in bunkers. At the Malta at War Museum, visitors can experience one of these bunkers for themselves. Join a tour through the hand-cut tunnels, and quiver in the dark as you remember what it would have been like to be down their in the darkness during the war.
The 5000-year-old Hal-Saflieni Hypogeum is, without doubt, a mandatory pitstop for any visitor to Malta. This was once a necropolis for a prehistoric Maltese society. Likely produced by the same society that produced Gozo’s prehistoric sites, Hal-Saflieni probably once held as many as 7000 bodies, which were buried here over the course of a millennium. Unfortunately, children under the age of six aren’t permitted to enter. However, that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this truly awe-inspiring site. Consider taking turns with your partner if possible, and make sure you don’t miss this one.
Ghar Dalam Cave & Museum
Ghar Dalam means “cave of darkness,” and yes, it gets dark. This cave system’s lowest levels are estimated to be around 500,000 years old. Among the scientific community, the caves are legendary for their massive haul of prehistoric fossils, including of dwarf elephants.
National Museum of Archaeology
If you’re not tired of history yet, then you might want to have a peek at Malta’s National Museum of Archaeology. The highlight of the museum is the collection of prehistoric stone tools, some of which are more than 7000 years old. Another impressive exhibit is that of a collection of Phoenician artifacts, including some pretty stylish Bronze Age amulets.
Mdina & Mellieha
With its rich history, Valletta may seem immortal, but it hasn’t been around forever. Mdina was Malta’s first capital, and is today an adorable Renaissance-style village. Explore the windy streets, and check out the mansions of the Maltese nobility. Mdina is a fairly good place in Malta for families, with the streets being easily navigable and the town itself having a nice, laid back vibe.
The heart of the village is the lively Bastion Square, which is especially enjoyable in the early evenings. This is when the tour groups have usually made their departures, and the village exhales as the twilight rolls in.
Mellieha, in the North part of the Island, is mostly famous for its nearby beach and for it being the closest city to the ferry terminal that takes travelers to Gozo. There are some WWII tunnels to explore as well as the Parish Church to visit, though other than that it's an easy going town with restaurants, shops, and the beach.
Where to Stay in Malta with Kids
There's no lack of hotels in Malta, as the countries economy relies heavily in tourism. And while the island is quite small and can easily be tamed finding a good family friendly hotel may be tricky. Depending on what you want to do you'll have to decide if you want to stay close to the ocean, or inland. I recommend you look for one with good views and close to the ocean, and if the temperature is pleasant during your visit your kids will appreciate any beach time you give them.
The small island of Comino is barely a speck of dry land lost in the Mediterranean. Situated between its larger siblings, Malta’s main island and Gozo, the unassuming Comino is widely considered one of Europe’s best snorkeling spots. It’s also very popular among divers and windsurfers, who come for the glistening azure waters and remote beauty. Best of all, Comino is completely free of cars. In fact, apart from one lone hotel, the island is uninhabited. That doesn’t mean you’ll be alone, though. During peak season, the scenic Blue Lagoon gets packed with day trippers from the main island. Indeed, a day trip from Valletta is the best way to see this small island.
Visiting Gozo with a Baby
Malta’s second largest island, Gozo is significantly more laid back than Valletta. Largely rural, it’s the perfect spot to catch a glimpse of the real Malta, where rolling hills are dotted with medieval churches and prehistoric sites. According to legend, the island was home to the nymph Calypso, who fell in love with Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. In Homer’s epic, Calypso held Odysseus captive for years on Gozo. Of course, Odysseus hardly would have had much to complain about. Gozo is the quintessential idyllic Mediterranean hamlet, and immediately puts visitors at ease with its charm.
Exploring Gozo with toddler in tow can have its occasional challenges, such as the occasional stroller-crunching hill. The lack of crowds does help, though. We took a City Sightseeing Hop On/ Hop Off bus tour that took us around the island on a single day and it's the best thing we could have done. It kept things simple and we didn't have to worry about a car. The bus will pick you up as close as possible to your hotel and you'll be taken to the harbor where you'll cross to Gozo on a ferry (ferry ticket not included, but you may want to check prices and schedule)
Gozo’s most well-known attraction is the Azure Window, an unusual cliff with a 28-meter-tall natural arch. It’s a great spot for a selfie, though go early to avoid crowds. Another unmissable attraction is the Ta' Kola Windmill. The structure itself dates back to the 18th Century, with the interior being decorated in period adornings. So if you’ve ever wanted to see what it was like to live as a peasant farmer during the age of gunpowder, then this is your chance. On the other hand, if this doesn’t quench your thirst for some history, then why not go back further in time – much, much further. The Ggantija temples are a complex of prehistoric religious sites on Gozo. They’re arguably among the most important megalithic temples anywhere in the Mediterranean, and even predate the pyramids of Egypt.
After visiting Ggantija, you might also want to check out the Zaghra Stone Circle. Built somewhere around 3000 to 2400 BC, this site was originally a funeral complex, and today remains Europe’s only stone-enclosed underground temple.
There are a few beaches in Gozo where to hang out, and while none of them can be compared with beaches in the Caribbean or the Pacific they usually have some charm of their own. Take Xlendi, for example. This little down at the very bottom of a winding road sits in a little bay surrounded by high cliffs. It's a good place where to have lunch right by the ocean (prices are not cheap) and spend some time walking along the boardwalk .
If you need some fresh air after visiting Zaghra, consider hitting up the Citadel in Victoria. Usually referred to by locals simply as “Cittadella”, this mass of late medieval military might recently underwent a major renovation. While some visitors say the renovation greatly improved the Cittadella’s accessibility and appeal, others argue it’s lost some of its charm. Either way, it has some great views of Victoria below. Walk the old walls, and soak up the Mediterranean views. Or, head over to the Cittadella’s main church, the Cathedral of the Assumption. Legend has it the cathedral was built on the site of a Roman temple, which was later converted to a Christian church, before being destroyed in the 9th Century Aghlabid invasion. Since then, the cathedral has survived the centuries with only a few scars, including those inflicted during the chaotic 1693 Sicily earthquake. Also, don’t miss the amazing grain silos. These gaping silos are almost like a caving expedition within the cathedral. Further down, there’s a tunnel to a collection of 20th Century fortifications, including World War II era bunkers overlooking coastal batteries.
Typical Food in Malta
Traditional Maltese dishes are influenced by Mediterranean, North Africa and British cuisines for the most. Pasta, fish, rabbit and bread in different forms and recipes are the staple ingredients.
Take Bragioli, slices of beef wrapped around minced beef and herbs, pastizzi, the national dish, are flaky pastries filled with ricotta or mushy peas and can be eaten at any time of the day or night.
Meat eaters will love Fenkata, the famous Maltese rabbit stew with delicate and soft meat and an accompanying sauce with spices, tomato and wine, and Lampuki, pan fried local fish with a thick sauce with capers, tinned tomatoes and onions.
Make sure you give your kids some Kinnie, the famous Maltese soft drink brewed from bitter oranges and extracts of wormwood
Few countries are as easy and convenient to visit with a baby as the island nation of Malta is. While Malta is the hub of all things history, partying and resort style accommodations, Gozo is where you'll want to go to get away from the crowds and explore a less crowded island; and I do recommend you visit both. While the island is small enough to visit from Valletta, you may want to switch hotels just to get a different vibe of the island, and if you have the time spend a a few days in Gozo too. As for baby gear, you'll find pretty much everything you need regarding food and clothes, but larger gear (strollers, car seats, etc) are much more difficult to come by, so come prepared. The Island has a mild climate so visiting during shoulder season is your best bet, as there will be less people and hotels will be cheaper.
Our fantastic trip to Malta was possible thanks to the help provided by the Malta Tourism Authority (http://www.visitmalta.com) which you should contact if you need any help.