Exploring Malta's Three Cities
Exploring Malta's Three Cities

Exploring Malta and Gozo with Kids

If the getting there is all part of the fun, or should be (if you can wrench their wretched phones out of their hand and make them actually look at the world all around them), then Malta is the perfect family destination. We’re haring around this Mediterranean island’s Three Cities by a natty little electric self-drive buggy, which with its pre-programmed GPS ensures we get the low-down on all the highlights of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.

‘We lose our hearts to Gozo’s Ix-Xlendi Bay – the sandy beach is small but there are diving boards off the long stretch of rocks bordering the beach, inviting you to hurl yourselves into the cool green waters.’

‘The cradle of Maltese history’ by virtue of having been a refuge for almost all the settlers who came to this island, and the first home to the Knights of St John (a medieval Catholic military order that still exists today – making it the world's oldest surviving order of chivalry), the Three Cities are packed with magnificent palaces, churches, forts, bastions and restored townhouses, and clustered around a glamorous superyacht-filled marina lined by tempting waterside restaurants.

A Valletta water taxi

A Valletta water-taxi ride

From Vittoriosa we hop aboard a traditional water taxi (dgħajsa tal-pass) over to the island capital Valletta – a ride that costs just a couple of Euros to take you across one of the world’s most spectacular harbours. Also established by the Knights of St John, in the 1600s, charming walled Valletta on its peninsula is tiny, mainly pedestrianised and drenched in history – kids of all ages love the twice-daily firing of cannons from the Saluting Battery on Upper Barrakka Gardens overlooking the harbour, while older kids enjoy the camp Baroque drama of St John's Co Cathedral, home to the gloriously gory Beheading of St John the Baptist (the only signed Caravaggio painting in existence) and lots of depictions of skeletons on the walls and floors (all the Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta are laid to rest here).

And after all that culture, we hop aboard a small ferry taking us over to sister island Gozo – regarded as 'Malta’s countryside' for its more laidback vibe. Maltese flock here on weekends and holidays for its space and its beaches. Ramla il-Ħamra (‘Red Sandy Beach’) is the best-known, for its protected dunes (believed to cover Roman ruins) and its fabulous swimming and snorkelling, but we also lose our hearts to Ix-Xlendi Bay – the sandy beach is small but there are diving platforms off the long stretch of rocks bordering the beach, inviting you to hurl yourselves into the cool green waters. Ix-Xlendi also manages to retain the feel of a typical Gozitan fishing village but combine it with a good array of restaurants, bars and small hotels. 

Diving in Ix-Xlendi Bay

Diving off the platforms in Ix-Xlendi Bay

Another don’t-miss on Gozo are the UNESCO-listed Ġgantija Temples -  one of the world’s oldest free-standing structures (older even than the Pyramids or Stonehenge), and shrouded in mystery – Maltese legend has it that they were constructed by a race of giants. And lunch on Gozo doesn’t come any better than at Peppina, a modern restaurant serving innovative field-to-table seasonal food - vegetable-focused, but also offering meats including rabbit, the country’s national dish. Other great things to munch on here are the traditional ftira bread and the fresh cheese, while parents will love sampling unique Maltese wine, which isn’t exported outside the island.

Back on Malta, another highlight of our trip was the ‘Silent City’ of Mdina, which many will recognise as having portrayed King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. One of Europe’s finest ancient walled cities, this was once Malta’s capital but now has a population of only 250 or so, all living in Norman and Baroque homes lining its labyrinthine streets. For the best effect, come after dark when it’s lamplit and oozes atmosphere.

We stayed in a couple of big-name resorts in lively St Julian’s – the Hilton Malta and the Malta Marriott, both of which come with lovely harbour views, indoor and outdoor pools for refreshing dips after all the gadding about, and great dining for all ages. Also see Where to Stay for other family-friendly places to stay in Malta.

We come away from Malta and Gozo knowing we’ll go back for their perfect blends of beaches, history and exciting outdoor activities amidst delightfully rugged landscapes, including diving, sea kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, mountain biking and horse-riding. Malta has well and truly shaken off its reputation as a destination for retirees and works well for families with all ages of kids, from sandcastle-building tots to late teens who love its adrenaline sports, alfresco cafe culture and lively nightlife.

Malta also hosts one of Europe’s biggest free summer festivals, Isle of MTV, or if you come in April, its glorious seven-night International Fireworks Festival International Fireworks has its origins in the Knights of St John’s important feasts. September, meanwhile, sees it host one of Europe's best Pride festivals.
Read more about family holidays in Malta

By Rhonda Carrier

Offer of the week

7 nights at Robinson Cyprus for just £5724 for a family of 4

Find out more