With the sea shimmering in the bright Mediterranean light, Malta looks set to be a winner for family summer holidays – especially given the UK government’s announcement on June 24 that it will be included on the green list for travel, with no quarantine required on return for UK residents.
The Maltese, like the Italians, are family-minded and kids are welcome almost everywhere. The beaches are waiting – and sunshine is pretty much guaranteed, although you’ll need plenty of ways to cool down, with temperatures regularly above 30C. Sea temperatures will be balmy, and museums, sights, restaurants and snackbars will all be open as usual. With plenty of family-friendly accommodation, Malta ticks most families’ boxes for a summer escape.
Best family things to do in Malta
Go to the Beach
With eleven blue flag beaches, and choice spanning sand sloping smoothly into azure waters to jump-off rocky shorelines lapped by snorkel-clear sea, Malta has no shortage of swimming spots. Indeed ‘beach’ in Malta means just that – anywhere you can swim – so if your youngsters are craving sandcastles, best check what kind of ‘beach’ you’re close to. Most of the sand is in the North of the island. Mellieha Bay (Ghadira Bay) is ideal for young children with yellow sand and spacious shallows, as well as ice cream and watersports galore. Golden Bay slopes more steeply but is popular with families and has all the facilities you might want. If you’re seeking a beach break pure and simple, the family-friendly Radisson Golden Sands hotel sits right on the shore.
Explore child-sized cities
Malta’s capital, Valletta, is just 1km long by 600m wide, tucked between bastion walls and flanked by harbours. It’s a child-sized city, easy to navigate with City Gate at one end, Fort St Elmo at the other and a grid of part-pedestrianised limestone streets between. Younger children can have fun cooling off in the fountains that play across the square in front of the Grand Master’s Palace. Teenagers could reasonably be let loose for a while, perhaps to get a coffee or an ice cream at one of Valletta’s many cafes – try the iconic Caffe Cordina (caffecordina.com) or the tiny 21st-century shabby-chic Gugar Hangout. But do be aware: the legal drinking age in Malta is 17 and checks are minimal.
Dive into the blue
Malta is known for some of the best and most accessible diving in Europe, with superb visibility and almost zero chance of encountering dangerous marine life. There are some 60 licensed dive centres, many of which run courses and taster sessions for children as young as eight. You won’t find Nemo here but you might spot seahorses or octopus, as well as spectacular underwater landscapes, and (for more experienced divers) a wide range of wrecks. Diving is especially easy on Gozo where most dives are direct from the shore and most are no more than a couple of miles apart. All approved dive centres are listed at visitmalta.com.
Get friendly with fish
If you don’t fancy the real thing or your children are too young, Malta’s National Aquarium (national-aquarium.co.uk) offers a trip into the deep without even getting wet. Even better, here you can expect to find Nemo. Discover the marine life of the surrounding Mediterranean in zones covering Malta’s west coast, the Grand Harbour and Gozo & Comino, as well as a mesmerising shark nursery, and a reconstructed Roman wreck. This comes complete with an original anchor found in nearby St Paul’s Bay and believed by some to be from the ship in which St Paul was wrecked in 60AD. Add a zoo-like zone of reptiles and amphibians – from leopard gheckos to poison dart frogs – and there’s something for everyone.
Be king of the castle
‘Fortress Malta’ is a term dating from the Second World War but Malta’s many fortifications go back far further, and recent renovations have returned them to creamy magnificence and visitor accessibility. While parents peruse the fascinating history of the Knights, the Turks, and the British, there’s plenty of space for children to run around and imagine themselves defending the canon-encrusted walls of Fort St Angelo (Malta’s oldest fort), Fort St Elmo (its second), and the Gozo Citadel. While older children can enjoy exploring at will, you may want to keep a hand on the youngest close to precipitous drops.
Step back in time
The national curriculum ensures that almost every British schoolchild studies the Second World War, and in Malta they can enliven that learning in intriguing – and subterranean – ways. Valletta is undercut by a web of tunnels – secret HQ of the Allies in the Med. Bunk beds, telephones, maps and a manual air attack early warning system are all still to be seen today (lascariswarrooms.com). Across the Grand Harbour at the Malta at War Museum (maltaatwarmuseum.com), pass through a tunnel vibrated as if by bombs, before descending into the bedrock once more to wander the hand-cut labyrinth where local families sheltered for days at a time from some of the worst bombardment of the war.
Feed the family
Malta has a lot in common with Italy when it comes to feeding the family. Plenty of pasta (most of it fresh), pizza, and ice cream ensures that even fussy children will not go hungry. Is-Suq tal-belt (issuqtalbelt.com), Valletta’s Victorian covered market, converted into a modern food hall, is a gift for families with varying taste. Browse the stalls for anything from burgers to fresh fish, and falafel to award-winning Maltese bakes, then sit together at one table. For pizza with a twist head to Ta’ Nenu (nenuthebaker.com), a historic bakery transformed into a modern pizzeria serving both Neopolitan and Maltese pizzas, or ftira, marked by their use of local cheese and potato. In the village of Nadur on Gozo, at Mekren’s Bakery (00 356 21552342), you can take away ftira straight from the original blackened wood oven (which makes it taste even better).
Hop on a boat
From a traditional Grand Harbour water taxi or a Turkish gulet to a modern sail or motor boat, there’s plenty of choice to explore the island by water. Private charters or group tours will take you around Valletta, around Malta, across to Gozo or for a day trip to Comino’s luminous Blue Lagoon. One of the best options for families is a Xlendi Cruises circumnavigation of Gozo (xlendicruises.com). It’s a scenic beach crawl – or rather, bay crawl – stopping frequently for swimming and snorkelling (equipment provided) away from the landlubbers, before ending up at the Blue Lagoon.
Cliffs, caves and cart-ruts
The top of the Dingli Cliffs, the highest point in Malta, doesn’t just provide sweeping panoramas but also all sorts of stoney curiosities. Shod in sturdy footwear, the smell of thyme drifting up from the ground, explore Clapham Junction (yes, really), the largest collection of Malta’s mysterious cart-ruts. Let the children spot and track the tramlines in the rock as they cross, combine, disappear and reappear. And speculate on what ancient vehicle might have formed them. Passing punic tombs (open but marked by stone edging to prevent toppling in), arrive at the intriguing troglodyte caves. Watch your footing as you descend into these natural caverns, adapted and divided for habitation by multiple families, as late (locals reports) as the 19th century.
This family holiday has probably been a long time coming. Perhaps you just want to find some sun and chill. Who could blame you after the year we've had? From the all-inclusive db Seabank next to Mellieha Beach, to the five-star Westin Dragonara in St Julian’s, Malta has a wide range of family-friendly resorts with everything you need to do not very much: sunbeds and umbrellas, swimming pools and spas, food and drink from around the world – and crucially, activities and clubs for children of all ages (though do check details in advance due to Covid variations).
The extensive, inexpensive bus network is complemented by readily available taxis and car hire. It is no more than an hour’s drive from the airport to anywhere on the main island and there are fixed prices for the official white taxis (maltairport.com). The Gozo ferry (gozochannel.com) takes half an hour, runs 24/7, and costs just €4.65 (£4) with tickets only required on return.