Malta: Overview of a small island nation and republic
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.
- Malta’s geographical area size is just 316 km² or 122 m², making it one of the smallest nations in the world (ranked 208th out of 251 countries)
- Population size: 445,000+ in 2014 (making Malta the 8th most densely populated country worldwide)
- Official languages: English and Maltese
- Government: Parliamentary republic, with a President as Head of State and Prime Minister as head of government
- Independent republic since 13 December 1974
- EU member state since 1 May 2004
- Currency: The Euro, since 1 January 2008. Previously: the Maltese Lira
- Capital city: Valletta
- Average daytime temperature in winter: 16° C
- Average daytime temperature in summer: 32° C
- Average annual hours of sunshine: 3,000
- Malta is a member of The Commonwealth of Nations (following its independence from the British Empire on 21 September 1964)
- Annual tourist arrivals: > 1.8 million (Source)
- Religion: Roman Catholic (over 90% of the population)
- Number of Catholic churches: 359 (!)
- Drives on the left-hand side (one of only 18 countries in the world)
- National airline: Air Malta
- Public transport: Bus system
- Airports: 1, Malta International Airport
More facts and FAQs here: Top Malta Facts.
Popular locations in Malta
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.
This primer will give you a quick introduction that’s all about Malta as a country, and as a potential destination for your next trip. In fact, if you’re considering visiting Malta, have a look at my travel guide with personal advice and written by a foreigner living in Malta.
Why should I visit Malta?
There are several great reasons to visit Malta:
- There’s a lot to see and do and you don’t need to travel much
- You can find some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean here
- The weather’s great all year round
- Good choice of hotels, restaurants and nightclubs
- The Maltese are very hospitable and the vast majority speak English well.
Flag of Malta
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.
What does the cross on the Maltese flag stand for?
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.
Where is Malta located?
Malta is located South of Sicily (Italy), in the centre of the Mediterranean. More here: Where is Malta?
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.
Quick impression of Malta
Here’s a great little video with drone footage, created recently by Oliver Astrologo:
Maltese people and their culture
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.
Malta and the European Union
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.
Popular FAQs about Malta
Is Malta a country? Is it an island?
Yes, Malta is a country (and island nation, or small archipelago) consisting of three small islands (Malta, Gozo and Comino).
Is Malta part of the UK?
No. Although Malta formed part of the British Empire between 1813 and 1964 (and still forms part of the British Commonwealth today), the country is an independent republic.
Is Malta in the EU?
Yes, Malta is a member state of the European Union.
When did Malta join the EU?
Malta joined the EU on 1 May 2004.
Does Malta use the Euro? When did Malta start using the Euro?
Yes. Malta adopted the Euro on 1st January, 2008.
Is Malta a third world country?
No, neither in the actual definition of “third world country”, nor in its connotative meaning is Malta a third world country.
What is the capital city of 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.
Is Malta safe?
Yes, Malta is safe with relatively low crime levels and no reported terrorist activity.
Is Malta cheap, or expensive?
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:
- A Heineken beer in a supermarket: €0.90-€1.00
- Good rib-eye in a decent restaurant: €20-25
- A bottle of Smirnoff: €11
- Mixer drink in a bar in Paceville: €2.50
- A taxi ride from the airport to most localities in Malta: €20
- A bus ticket for a single trip (max 2h): €2.00 (cheaper with a public transport card: €0.75. 7-Day card (unlimited travel): €21.
Is Malta a Muslim country?
No, in fact over 90% of the population are Roman Catholic, which is also the country’s official religion.
What religion to the Maltese practice?
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.
Does Malta have alcohol?
Yes, most types of alcohol are available for purchase and consumption and the Maltese produce lager beers and liquors themselves.
Does Malta have sandy beaches?
Yes, Malta has several sandy beaches, most within easy reach.
How many islands are part of Malta?
What language(s) do the Maltese speak?
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.
What’s the weather like in Malta?
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.
What’s the local time zone?
It’s CET (Central European time), which translates to UTC +01:00.
Why do people go to Malta?
Usually for two reasons: 1) Sun & sea and good weather all year round and 2) Discovery – Malta is known for its cultural and historical value. There are many more reasons why people visit Malta, however.
How many tourists visit Malta?
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).
Is the sea around Malta clean?
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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