This article will give you a primer that comprehensively covers the country of Malta, starting with the basics you need to know, followed by a section with traveller-focused information which leads into the larger travel guide that is this site, Malta Uncovered.
Expect a mix of fact-based statistics, common perceptions and a few personal beliefs as a tourist-turned-local with Maltese roots.
Throughout Malta’s history, this small archipelago has seen its fair share of fighting and foreign rule.
Being located in the heart of the Mediterranean, it was considered being of great strategical importance as a naval base, as recently as World War 2. You will find traces everywhere of the various cultures that ruled the island over the past two millennia or so.
No other country in the world offers a taste of so many different historical and cultural influences in such a small area. It’s a side of Malta few people know of and is well worth exploring.
The Maltese themselves are known to be warm and welcoming and the vast majority speak English well. In fact, English is one of the country’s official languages (the other being Maltese). The vast majority of the population are Roman Catholic and religion plays a fairly important role in daily life, even though its influence is in decline.
Before you dive into more detail on Malta, here’s a great little video with drone footage by Oliver Astrologo that offers a glimpse of what Malta’s about:
Malta consists of three inhabited islands:
Malta is located South of Sicily (Italy), in the centre of the Mediterranean. More here: Where is Malta?
Malta has a Mediterranean climate, which is characterised by hot, dry summers and mild winters with relatively infrequent rainfall and win. Traditional seasons are a little different than other European countries, having short spring and autumn seasons with weather conditions changing less gradually than countries further away from the equator.
The hottest months of the year are July and August, with average daytime temperatures reaching 32 C, with occasional heat waves reaching into the low 40-42 C range. The coldest months of the year are January and February (with daytime temperatures hitting 16 C on average and lows dipping under 10 C), while November and December typically being the wettest months.
Although it never snows, the country is familiar with relatively extreme weather conditions with heavy rainfalll, thunderstorms and hailstorms occurring from time to time, sometimes causing floods in lower-lying areas such as valleys.
Something that makes Malta unique is the concentration of historical sites within the mere 316 km² of land covered, all traces of Malta’s rich history.
Over the centuries the islands have been ruled by various influences from across Europe, with the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, the French and finally the British leaving their traces of their presence and influence in Malta and its population. A little-known fact is that the Megalithic temples found spread across the islands are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world and are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Malta is one of the latest additions to the European Union (member since May 2004) and is developing in a number of areas, improving the quality of life for its citizens as well as offering tourists a better holiday experience. The island’s economy is largely dependent on tourism, but the island’s accession to the EU has given many industrial areas an array of opportunities.
In recent years, the Maltese government invested heavily (also in the Malta’s internet connectivity) to attract and grow both IT and Financial businesses. with attractive corporate tax rates while creating a lucrative environment for mostly Scandinavian online gaming companies to set up shop in Malta. Although the gaming industry also attracts employee talent from abroad, it has seen a surge in local employment, also aiding Malta in achieving one of the lowest employment rates in the EU, in 2015.
On 1st January 2008, Malta adopted the Euro, which replaced the Maltese Lira as the country’s currency. Although the global recession that year, combined with the high price of import of fossil fuels (on which Malta is heavily dependent, due to lack of explored natural resources) had an impact on the local economy, the country’s deficit has remained well within the EU’s deficit limits.
The flag of Malta is a standard bicolour flag with the colours white (at the hoist) and red (on the fly), which are of historical significance to Malta, having also been used by the Knights of Malta and their flags displaying the Maltese cross. A representation of the George Cross, which features on the white part of the flag.
The cross on the Maltese flag is actually the George Cross, which was awarded to Malta by King George IV of the United Kingdom during World War 2. Being part of the British Empire, Malta was a key location in the Mediterranean of strategic importance to Allied forces and was under siege for four years, being heavily bombed by the Italian air force and German Luftwaffe. Despite nearing starvation due to supply lines being cut off, the Maltese fought and bravely withstood these dark times and in recognition for their bravery were awarded the George Cross.
More facts and FAQs here: Top Malta Facts.
The vast majority of people in Malta are warm and welcoming and in typical Mediterranean fashion wear their heart on their sleeve. Passionate and rarely shying away from a good argument, they’re honest people, usually raised with strong Christian values and beliefs.
The Maltese are a proud people, with a unique culture, with a blend of foreign influences introduced during several ages of occupancy. Many falsely believe Maltese culture as merely being a melting pot of cultures introduced by foreign empires. However, there exists a broad foundation of age-old traditions, customs and values passed on through successive generations of Maltese and Gozitans irrespective of any traces of culture left by foreign rule. More on Maltese culture here.
Both Maltese and English are the country’s official languages, with the first being the national language (spoken by 97% of the population) and the second spoken widely, by around 88% of the population. Italian is also spoken by a large part of the population (around 66%), having been an official language in the past (until 1934). With free access to Italian TV stations during the second half of the 20th century, the language was picked up by children and is still also one of the most popular languages taught in schools.
Although popular belief is that Malta is a Muslim nation, it’s actually quite the opposite: Over 90% of the population are Roman Catholic. Despite being a Catholic country with religious traditions and religion still very much part of daily life, Sunday mass attendance sits at around 40% (2015) and has been steadily declining.
After a 2003 referendum held in Malta on the question of whether the country should become an EU member state resulted in a slight majority win in favour (53.6%), Malta became part of the EU on the 1st May 2004 and joined the Eurozone on 1st January 2008.
Although most people know about Malta as being a popular “sun and sea” holiday destination, increasingly, travellers from all over the world are discovering the country’s rich history and culture.
There are several great reasons to visit Malta:
The capital city of Malta is Valletta, which is located in the North-Eastern part of Malta, on a peninsula between Marsamxett and Grand Harbour (the world’s third largest natural harbour). The city succeeded Mdina as the country’s capital and was built between 1566 and the early 1570s by the Knights of Malta, under orders from Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette.
Depending on your home country and your definition of “cheap”, the best way to describe Malta in that sense is “good value”, not cheap. A few examples:
The vast majority of Malta’s population is Christian (98% of the population, mostly Roman Catholic), and the Maltese are known to be religious (and generally more conservative in their ideals). Although in the past decades there’s a clear shift in terms of mass attendance, with declining interest from the younger generations, religion is still an important part of life in Malta and an integral part of Maltese culture.
Both Maltese and English are the country’s official languages, the latter being spoken quite well by the vast majority of the population. That isn’t a big surprise, considering the country is a former UK colony, gaining independence in 1964. Since 2004, the year of Malta’s accession to the EU, Maltese is also an official European language. Apart from Maltese and English, a large part of the population has a solid foundation in Italian, having grown up watching Italian TV.
Close to 1.6 million tourists flock to Malta annually, on average. That’s more than 3 times the republic’s population. Roughly 30% are visitors from the UK, 14% from Italy, 10% from Germany, 7% from France and 3% from The Netherlands (with the remaining 36% coming from various countries across the globe).
The weather in Malta is generally warm, being known for its gentle winters and warm, dry summers with over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. The annual average daytime temperature in winter is 16 C while the average daytime temperature in summer (August being the warmest month) is 32 C. Not surprisingly, it never snows in Malta. Malta enjoys around 3,000 hours of sunshine annually on average , making it one of the sunniest countries in Europe. Compare that figure to London’s 1,461 hours and it’s no wonder this little island nation receives so many foreign visitors throughout the year.
The weather in Malta, in general, can be characterised as being extreme. Summer heat waves can reach up to 40 C, and although winters are relatively warm, the high humidity levels can make winter nights particularly cold. It doesn’t rain often, but when it rains there’s a lot of precipitation, often causing floods with water flowing down valleys congested by modern construction and infrastructure.
You bet. Squeaky clean. Malta was found to have the best quality bathing water (shared first place with Cyprus and Luxembourg) among 30 EU member states in the 2014 Bathing water quality and trends report (PDF download). 100% Of its bathing water was considered to be of excellent quality.
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