02 October 2017
Malta’s charms are undisputed. Its warm Mediterranean climate, beautiful coves and turquoise waters have been drawing visitors for millennia.
It is an archipelago steeped in history and culture – with no less than 3 UNESCO world heritage sites on its 122 square miles. As a result, these beautiful Mediterranean islands play host to a wide variety of traditional festivals throughout the year, as well as more recently inaugurated cultural and musical events.
With a fantastic year-long event calendar and a pleasant climate all year round, there are lots of things to see and do in Malta, whatever the time of year. Read on to find out some of the festivals and spots you could visit on your trip to Malta!
A Distinctly Christian Flavour
There is a distinctly Christian flavour to many of Malta’s festivals and events.
It is said that Paul the Apostle brought Christianity to Malta when he was shipwrecked just off the coast on what’s now known as St Paul’s Bay. Later, in the sixteenth century, the knights of St John ruled over the islands and left behind them an extraordinary architectural and artistic legacy.
Today, religion still plays a major role on the island. The central date of any village’s calendar is its local ‘festa’ honouring the parish patron saint and, with more than 360 churches on Malta, Gozo and Comino, hardly a weekend goes by without a town or village celebrating its patron saint in fete.
The main festa season runs from the end of May right through the summer and well into September. If you’re visiting during these months do try to seek out a local festa and join in the celebrations, which typically feature local marching bands, religious processions, special masses, local delicacies, including Maltese nougat, fireworks, late night parties, and other festivities.
Christmas and Easter are also important dates in the Maltese calendar and are wonderful times of year to visit the islands. At Christmas, nativity scenes, crib displays, carol singing and church services predominate. The annual candlelit carol service at the Baroque St John’s Co-Catherdral in Valletta is a notable highlight.
Malta enjoys its own carnival, il-karnival ta’ Malta, dating back to 1535. In the week leading up to Ash Wednesday masked balls, colourful fancy dress, masks and dancing competitions and a parade of floats through Valletta’s streets bring a riot of colour and fun to the capital.
A more sombre tone is struck during holy week, where local churches honour the death and resurrection of Jesus with services and festas, and locals make the ‘seven visits’ to pay homage to the Altars of Repose at seven churches.
Fantastic Fireworks & the Arts
Not all of Malta’s festivals and events are steeped in the traditions of the church, however.
Beginning with special events throughout Valletta to welcome in the New Year, Malta’s cultural legacy is brought to life in many events and festivals throughout the year.
At the end of April, Malta’s International Fireworks festival brings international pyrotechnic companies to Valletta to put on a magnificent display celebrating Malta’s accession to the European Union on 1st May 2004.
Through July, the Malta International Arts Festival attracts artists from around the world while also promoting local artists in music, dance, theatre, installations, film, literature and poetry. The programme often features numerous free events as well as special performances and exhibitions, inspiring visitors from around the world.
The Jazz Festival also takes place during July, offering three nights of magical international performances under the summer sun and star-lit skies of Valletta.
In Autumn, the focus shifts to the island of Gozo for Festival Mediteranea; an international festival celebrating the arts, food and drink events and an opportunity to learn more about Gozo’s temples and architectural sites.
And every October Valletta’s state palaces and museums open their doors to art exhibitions, theatre performances and musicians during Notte Bianca, a city-wide cultural event. On Valetta’s streets, visitors can enjoy numerous musical and dance performances and many bars and restaurants stay open late.
Heritage and History – Plus Beautiful Beaches!
If all that culture has left you hankering after a bit of R&R, then you’re in luck. You’re never too far away from a decent beach in Malta.
Malta’s coastline is breath-taking. There are long, sandy gently shelving beaches like those at Mellieha Bay, St George’s Bay or the aptly named Golden Bay. And there are rugged hideaways like the red-sand beach at Ghajn Tuffieha or the rocky Peter’s Pool on the Delimara Peninsular.
The Blue Lagoon is a must-see. It lies between the tiny islands of Comino and Cominotto, a turquoise lagoon of clear blue water over white sand surrounded by rocky caves. It is a beautiful swimming spot and definitely worth the day trip by boat for the experience.
If you’ve come for a festival, don’t leave without exploring some of Malta’s 5,000-year history. Sites not to be missed include the Neolithic temples built between 3,600BC and 2,500BC, such as those in Tarxien, Mnajdra and Hagar Qim; all UNESCO world heritage sites and some of the oldest stone buildings in the world. The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum burial complex dates back to the same period and is quite extraordinary, although visits do need to be booked in advance.
Malta’s Roman history can be explored in Mdina: the Roman Domus villa just outside the walls of Mdina and the Roman/ Byzantine catacombs decorated with early Christian frescos in the city are well worth a visit.
The capital Valletta should not be missed. Begin your tour of the city by the City Gate, then walk around the edge of the city following the old fortifications built by the Knights of St John. The Upper Barrakka Gardens on the fortifications offer sweeping views over Valletta’s Grand Harbour and Malta’s oldest fortress, the Fort St Angelo, which predates the Knights.
Inside the city walls, the Grand Master’s Palace, the Malta at War Museum, the Lascaris War Rooms and the National Museum of Archaeology provide further glimpses into these fascinating islands’ colourful and varied history from this, Europe’s sunniest capital.
If you would like to know more about what Malta has to offer, the things to see while you’re there or the varied programme of events the islands host throughout the year, please contact your Travel Counsellor!