Malta is the number one LGBT destination according to the European Rainbow Index (scoring 94%), owing to the population’s respect for human rights and full equality in society. Combining a rich history, culture and temples dating back over 7,000 years, and 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, Malta is therefore an obvious location for LGBT travellers. We at Vada Magazine have put together a Travel Guide, this part covering what to see and do and part 2 covering what to eat, drink and where to have fun.
What to do – the usual sites of Valletta
A visit to the capital city Valletta is about being able to enjoy the cultural pursuits and discovering the history, architecture, and the relaxed food scene in an LGBT-friendly setting.
Casa Rocca Piccola
Casa Rocca Piccola is a privately owned 16th century palace in the heart of Valletta. Entry to this building is a fabulous opportunity to learn about the history of Valletta through this unique family viewpoint. Moreover private tours are often undertaken by the Marquis and Marchioness themselves (unlike in many privately-owned stately homes in the UK). Highlights of the tour include meeting Kiko, the family parrot who is resident in the garden, the underground war shelters, and the summer dining room.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
If you’re known for being extra, be prepared to be outshone in this cathedral. St. John’s Co-Cathedral, so named because the bishop of Malta resides primarily in another cathedral on the island, is possibly the most fabulous building to ever enter. Forget modern Middle-Eastern opulence, the interior of this religious building is adorned in gold across all walls and ceiling. Moreover floor is entirely made from elaborate tombstones of the order of the Knights of Malta.
There is a lot to see inside, from the interior itself to artefacts, tapestries, and of course some of the rarest canvases by Caravaggio. We recommend allocating a couple of hours to explore at ease, and also plenty of time to queue, as this is a popular attraction.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
The Upper Barrakka Gardens are a must for all new visitors to Malta. These gardens offer stunning views over the Grand Harbour. As well as the views, there is a regular cannon-fire ceremony into the Grand Harbour, which we saw at 4pm on a Friday – do check in advance the times of the ceremony and try to get there at least 15 minutes before to secure a good view point.
What to do – across Malta
As well as our top 3 attractions in Valletta above, there is a lot more to see in the capital city, and across the island.
MUZA is the recently opened Malta National Community Art Museum, located in Valletta. Some displays are still being completed, although still open to the public now. The museum houses a treasure trove of old master work, local artists and what we found most interesting, historical maps from different periods of Malta’s history.
Just as Brits always check the weather to see when it will be raining, the Maltese check the weather to find out the wind direction. This determines when some of the smaller boats are operating, and also which beaches to visit. One such beach is Golden Bay Beach, on the west side of the island. About five minutes’ drive north of here is Popeye Village. Originally built as the filmset for the 80s production of Popeye, the set has remained ever since as a tourist attraction. The €11 entry fee allows guests to explore the filmset, and meet Popeye.
Towards the south of the island is Blue Grotto, where, wind-dependent, small boats take visitors out about half an hour (for €8 – bring cash) to explore the blue waters and caverns. It is worth noting there is a steep climb down to the grotto, and we also suggest that visitors pick between a visit to the Blue Grotto or the Blue Hole (on Gozo, see below) as the experiences are similar.
In the heart of Malta is the fortified city of Mdina. Impressive architecture and a history dating back to the 8th century BC are a big attraction, with a compulsory stop at Fontanella Tea Garden for a tea, cake, and incredible views across the island. This silent city (so called because of its ban on motor vehicles within the city limits), is must-do day visit.
A trip to Gozo
The archipelago of Malta includes the islands of Gozo and Comino. A ferry terminal at the northern most point of the main island takes car and foot passengers. We advise setting aside a day or two days maximum to explore Gozo and this is what to do there.
Visit the Citadel in the city of Victoria. It’s free to enter and walk around (note the museum costs money). A walk around the city walls provide spectacular views across Gozo. From the outside, its also easy to spot the flat roof of the cathedral, which was very clearly designed to have a dome on, but was never built.
There are many other religious sites, including beautifully adorned churches, and uniquely, Tas-Salvatur Hill, a statue of Jesus on a small hill – the Gozo equivalent of the Cristo Redentor.
On the southwest of Gozo are the Sanap Cliffs (again for Brits, think equivalent of white cliffs of Dover) and Xlendi beach – both of which offer instagram worthy views on a coastal walk.
Formerly the infamous Azure window (before its collapse), the Blue Hole is the Gozo equivalent of the Blue Grotto on the main island of Malta. Small boats collect guests on an inland pool before embarking on a 30 minute trip through a small cave to the ocean, exploring coves and the place where the Azure window used to stand. The allure of the clear turquoise waters are just as appealing, and for €4, this is excellent value.
For visitors still wanting to see a naturally occurring window, there is an alternative on Gozo, at Wied Il Milah – dubbed the ‘new’ Azure Window, which is already attracting the attention of climbers and abseilers, not that either sport is a prerequisite for a visit for the view alone. The ravine opening up to the ocean with a window rock formation is accessible via a long staircase (with handrail). Alternatively guests can stay on the cliff to see through the window.
A short walk along the coast from the resort town of Marsalforn (near to where the Tas-Salvatur Hill is), are the Salt Pans of Gozo. These many small basins carved into the rock allow sea water to fry in order to produce salt. Both curious and unique, this is another free site that is definitely Instagram worthy.
Getting around Gozo is difficult without a car, so we recommend hiring one for the day, or better yet trying out a Tuk Tuk service, which are available for private hire or on an organised route, visiting some of the sights of Gozo.
As well as the above ideas, there are more in our previous article for ideas on a weekend-break to Malta.
Accommodation and transport
For our visit, we stayed for three nights in AX The Saint John Boutique Hotel, a 4-star boutique hotel in the heart of Valletta. This centrally located and recently opened property is ideal for visitors wanting to explore the capital city. As with many boutique properties, the entry-level ‘Comfort room’ size is snug, so we recommend a Deluxe or Superior room category for extra space. Accommodation here does offer good value for quality, service and room amenities.
The hotel has attached restaurant Cheeky Monkey, where a light buffet breakfast with a few hot a la carte options is served. A lunch and dinner menu are available. Given the hotel’s location close to the bars of Merchant Street, the bar at Cheeky Monkey offers a competing happy hour (2-for-1 offer) on cocktails, perfect for a couple of mid-afternoon Aperol Spritz.
We also stayed a night in St Julian’s area of Malta. This district is full of resort hotels, but is convenient to reach Malta’s only gay club – read part 2 for more information.