A rich and varied history created by the influence of so many nations on one island makes Malta one of Europe’s most historically rich outposts. This ‘Jewel of the Mediterranean’ has been occupied since the earliest days of civilisation, and with a fascinating mixture of cultural legacies and architectural styles there really is something here for everyone. Last year, Sarah took her family for a week’s holiday on the island to see what this historically diverse island could offer families.

My family exploring the Zonqor Point Salt Pans in Marsascala Malta.
Exploring the depths of the Zonqor Point Salt Pans.

Malta has always intrigued me – a European country yet with such a heavy Arabic influence that the architecture, customs and language all speak of much more exotic cultures. With a history that spans from the Neolithic onwards there is so much on offer that you are spoilt for choice. However, as a country with no theme parks, water parks or child orientated attractions, would we find enough to do to keep both the culture vultures and the children in the family happy?

I have to say that I developed a great affection for Malta, and the upside of all the many traffic jams was the opportunity to admire all of the stunning architecture and the interactions of what looked to be a very close knit community. I just loved the slightly run down nature of many of the older buildings, they hadn’t been gentrified and commodified like so much of the rest of Europe. There were overgrown alleyways, crumbling walls, jutting Spanish balconies (gallarijas) covered in greenery and everywhere stunning ornate doors that hinted at lavish interiors. The mix of baroque, neoclassical and renaissance architecture with a hint of the Middle East was particularly appealing, the sheer preponderance of mellow coloured stone, the flat roofs, towers and domes all intermingled with cranes building the next generation of structures was a fascinating mix and a true visual feast. Vibrant blue sea, blushing sunsets and golden buildings have all left an indelible mark on my memory.

Did the others like it as much as I did? There were fair comments about buildings being run down, things falling into disrepair, too many people, too much noise, copious building and development. I suspect Malta may look very sanitised within a decade or so, to the pleasure of many but the detriment of people who appreciate the timeworn and slightly shabby as I do.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Malta is an island with a complex and fascinating history, mainly due to its location in the central Mediterranean. Partway between North Africa, the Middle East and Europe, it has been a prime location on trade routes as well as fought over and conquered many times over the centuries.

Malta has been inhabited since 5900BC, known as the Ghar Dalam Phase, when people first farmed the land to such an extent that the island became uninhabitable. The next civilization lasted from 3850BC to 2350BC, and it was these people who built the megalithic temples dedicated to the goddess of fertility which are reputed to be amongst the oldest free standing monuments in the world. Bronze Age warriors followed, until the islands were settled by the Phoenicians from 800 – 480BC. The Carthaginians ruled from 480 – 218BC which was when the Romans arrived during the 2nd Punic War. St Paul was shipwrecked on the island on his way to Rome in 60AD and brought Christianity to the island. The island was under Byzantine rule from 395 – 870AD being briefly occupied during that time by the Vandals and the Goths, before the arrival of the Arabs in 870AD, who left a linguistic legacy behind that still has such a major influence on the Maltese language. The Normans from Sicily arrived in 1091, followed by the Genoese, Swabians, Araganese and Castillians who all left their marks on the island and culture.

Reenactors of the Knights of St. John in front of a fort in Valetta.

Knights of St. John reenactors in Valetta.

In 1530 the islands were given to the Knights of St John who ruled Malta until 1798 bringing a golden age to the island, a period of prosperity and high artistic achievement, as well as strengthening the whole island with impressive fortifications. The Knights repelled the Ottoman Turks in 1565 in what became known as The Great Siege of Malta. However Napoléon and the French invaded in 1798, ending the rule of the Knights, but they were expelled in 1800 and Malta became a British protectorate. Malta finally achieved independence in 1967, becoming a Republic in 1974 and joining the EU in 2004. WWII was particularly hard on the Maltese who suffered greatly at the hands of the Axis powers, and in fact Malta was bombed more heavily than London was during the Blitz. Their fortitude and resilience earned the whole island the George Cross for the adversity they had to face.

VALETTA - the Capital City

The famous Valetta skyline from the harbour.

The famous Valetta skyline, dominated by the dome of the Shrine Of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Valetta is the capital city of Malta and is the hub of the whole island. A World Heritage site since 1980, Valetta was founded by the Knights Hospitaller in the 16th century and has a mixture of Baroque, Neo-clasical and modern design. Described as an 'open air museum', and with a wealth of palaces, churches, gardens, monuments, fortifications and harbours, it is an incredibly beautiful city and a wonderful place for a walk.

Head to the old town which is just past the main bus terminal and walk the surprisingly straight streets to soak up the atmosphere and appreciate the sheer volume of historical buildings and architecture. The buildings are all a mellow honey stone, the narrow side streets are dotted with balconies, votive statues, paintings and parapets and it is not hard to see why the Valetta skyline is one of the most famous in the world. Its an easy place to stroll around or to sit in cafes people watching. The only downside is the sheer volume of people, particularly in the main streets, but leave them behind you and explore those narrow cobbled streets and there is all manner of history and quirkiness to admire.

An ornate Maltese doorway, a Valetta street and a plant filled balcony.

The ornate doorways, quirky streets and striking balconies of Valetta.

THE MALTA EXPERIENCE

The Malta Experience is on the waterfront next to Fort St Elmo in Valetta, and is an excellent place to start when you arrive in Malta. The theatre is underground in a part of the old fortress and reached through a walk through dark tunnels. The first part is a 45 minute film which takes you on a sweeping journey through Malta's fascinating and tempestuous history, starting with the first inhabitants of 5900BC, right though to modern times and their role in the EU. The film is highly engaging and very educational and gives children and adults the perfect background to all they they are likely to see during their stay in Malta.

Inside a banqueting room of the Sacra Infermeria, showing the elaborate decorations.

A lavish banqueting room inside the historic Sacra Infermeria.

This film is then followed by a guided tour through the Sacra Infermeria, the Holy Infirmary. This is utterly fascinating and was a real highlight. Built in 1574, and extended over the years, the main feature is the 'Great Ward' which is 155m in length and was the largest in the world at that time. The hall is very impressive, but we were most impressed by the facilities they offered to the patients as the guide explained the furnishings and privacy that was on offer, with each bed having its own loo in a cubicle set back from the wall, something you are lucky to get in modern hospitals. These cubicles all had ventilation to a herb garden, filled with sweet scented flowers to get rid of any odours. Chemists here discovered the use of honey to treat infections and food was served on silverware to prevent the spread of bacteria. The Knights Hospitallers who ran the hospital and who are the forerunners of St. Johns Ambulance, seemed far ahead of their time and the tour was both highly interesting and educational.

The building is now used as a conference and entertaining centre and you are taken to one of the massive main chambers below ground which is beautifully decorated for events and which has played to host to any number of dignitaries and rulers of state.

Visiting The Malta Experience

Show Times
Monday to Friday, 11h00, 12h00, 13h00, 14h00, 15h00, 16h00
Weekends and Public Holidays, 11h00, 12h00, 13h00, 14h00
14h00 shows not on Sundays between July and September)

Ticket Prices
Adult €16,
Child (5-11 yrs) €6,
Children under 4 go free
Prices include the film and tour around La Sacra Infermeria
Special Family Offer available - download the voucher from their website and get two children half price with two adult admissions as well as 10% discount in cafe and 15% discount in shop

Official Website

Top Tips for taking kids to The Malta Experience

When you arrive at the main Valetta bus station, its about a 15 min walk through the old town to get to the Malta Experience, all downhill. This does mean your return journey will be uphill however, and not all roads are ideal for pushchairs.

The film is very child friendly, being just the right length before boredom sets in. Each chair has its own set of headphones that you can tune to 17 different languages. Waiting for the film to start provides plenty of opportunity to listen to them all and keep little people amused.

The whole venue is pushchair friendly, although there are some steps.

There is a good cafe on site with indoor and outdoor seating.

MDINA - The Medieval Capital

Mdina is one of Europes finest examples of an ancient walled city and with an incredible mix of Medieval and Baroque architecture. Founded in the 8th century by the Phoenicians, it used to be much larger until it was reduced during the Byzantine occupation. Mdina became the capital under the Order of St John and remained so until 1530. The town experienced decline until a revival in the early 18th century when the baroque features were added. It does however still retain its medieval character. Known as the Silent City, Mdina only has 300 inhabitants and having always been a centre of nobility, it has a multitude of grand houses that have been passed down through the generations and most of which are still kept within the family.

The city of Mdina, Malta, from afar showing the thick walls, domes and spires.

The beautiful walled city of Mdina.

The city is absolutely stunning and was a wonderful place to walk around; it is probably the most beautiful city I have ever visited. Even the tourists and cars couldn’t detract from its charm. Full of soft cream-coloured buildings, shady narrow passageways, outcrops of greenery and bougainvillea surprising you as you round corners, the views from its thick walls are beyond superlatives. I could easily have spent far longer than a day here, just walking the streets peering through elaborate doorways and secretive grilled windows. Mdina serves as a commercial centre and market to its rural environs, as well as destination for 75,000 tourists a year attracted by its beauty and historical significance. Mdina is home to St. Pauls Cathedral, several chapels and monasteries, magnificent archways, palaces, 16 foot thick walls surrounded by a 700m moat and the Roman villa Domus Romana, which is just outside the city walls.

We had a leisurely lunch in a verdant honey coloured courtyard, a long amble around the sheltered streets, visited the Carmelite chapel and then paid to enter the Mdina Dungeons. Quality tourism this was not, but the gruesome waxworks, macabre scenarios and recordings of screams yielded some (older) child friendly educational entertainment that gave us all some giggles and offset the peaceful charms of the city outside.

A narrow street inside Mdina the ancient capital of Malta.

A narrow, shaded street inside the ancient capital of Mdina.

Visiting Mdina and Rabat


Mdina and Rabat are two cities right next to each other. To get to Mdina you will need to catch the bus to Rabat and walk the rest of the way, which isn't far. Catch the no. 51, 52 or 53 from Valetta (they leave every 10 mins or so). The journey takes about half an hour.

Alternatively you can take organised tours such as this one, which often include other places such as Mostar and which will remove a lot of the headaches from the planning.

ST PAULS CATACOMBS, RABAT

There are hundreds of catacombs in Malta, most of them around the old capital of Mdina in the Rabat area. The St. Paul catacombs are the largest covering an area of 2,000 square metres. Constructed by the Romans in the 7th and 8th centuries AD, they are interconnected underground cemeteries, as Roman law didn’t allow burial within cities.

Starting with a small but well-presented museum, you go outside and see several small stone doorways dotted around the grounds, each of which leads to a separate set of catacombs. You descend below to see a series of mostly chambers hewn out of the rock in one continuous piece of carved architecture, some of which extend for quite a distance. The overall impression is one of subtly lit chalk crypts, some of which are really small, forming a maze with narrow pathways. Apparently it can get quite claustrophobic if there are a lot of visitors and we did notice the occasional panic button installed in case anyone finds it too much.

A view inside St. Pauls catacombs showing the chalky interior and shapes of the tombs.

Inside the maze of the catacombs.

These were initially of great interest for the children as going underground and following the narrow paths around was quite fun, but after going down a few of them the novelty quickly wore off. It would have been useful to have more information available about what they were looking at, why some of the areas were particular shapes etc. There was a separate building that did contain some of the information, but they were tired by then and would have preferred it if had been there to see in front of the things its talking about. We weren’t offered an audio guide and I wasn’t aware there was one until I checked TripAdvisor after our visit, but it could well have made a big difference to how much we all learnt from the site, so I would definitely recommend it.

Visiting St Pauls Catacombs

Opening hours
Monday to Sunday 09h00 – 17h00
Closed on some public holidays

Ticket Prices
Adults €5
Concessions and ages 12-17 €3.50
Children aged 6-11 €2.50
Under 5's visit for free

Good to Know
The catacombs can be quite hard to find. Walk down Triq St Agata and after 150 metres the buildings open out and you see the catacombs on your left. Keep walking past them until you reach a modern building with some very broad steps, this is the entrance. After you have visitied some of the catacombs, you need to cross the road to access the rest - use your ticket at the turnstile to get in.

There is no cafe on site, but there is a wonderful Maltese bakery on your walk back to the bus stop and I highly recommend an assortment of delicacies from here to sustain you while you await your bus.

Official Website

ST ELMOS FORT - THE NATIONAL WAR MUSEUM

Right next door to The Malta Experience in Valetta is Fort St Elmo, which now houses the National War Museum. I took just my son to this as the others went off elsewhere. The fort itself is huge and a whole series of buildings, of which the museum is only a fraction. The fort was constructed in 1552 and was the scene of massive bombardment and intense fighting during the Great Siege of Malta in 1551, as well as the first place attacked by aerial bombardment in WWII. The museum is spread across five distinct areas in chronological order starting with the Bronze Age, approx. 2,500 BC and ending with Malta joining the EU in 2004.

A sculpture of four knights in armour at the National War museum in Malta.

A modern sculpture of Knights outside the National War Museum.

Of particular interest was the George Cross, one of only two awarded collectively, for the heroism and fortitude displayed by the population during the enemy raids and blockade which saw the people of the island nearly starve during WWII. What we enjoyed the most though was a projection onto the floor that old the story of Operation Pedestal in August 1942. In simple graphics it told how the SS Ohio, laden with cargo to supply the near starving people of Malta, was escorted in a convoy across the Mediterranean under such intense enemy bombardment that most of the convoy was destroyed and the SS Ohio limped in, sinking in the Grand Harbour just as soon as its cargo had been offloaded. My son and I, and everyone around us, stood there spellbound watching the story unfold. The museum contained plenty of other treasures and had a fair few interactive displays, although some of them were being upgraded on the day of our visit so we didn’t get to appreciate them all.

It is a good museum, although feels a bit disjointed due to its different buildings, and it certainly has some impressive views. We managed a couple of hours here before museum fatigue set in for my son, as some of the earlier time periods were less interesting for him.

The George Cross and letter from the King, and a canon, both at the National War Museum in Valetta.

The George Cross and letter from the King, and an anti-aircraft gun, both at the National War Museum.

Visiting the National War Museum

Opening hours
1st April - 30th September every day 09h00 –
1st October - 31st March every day 09h00 -
Closed on some public holidays

Ticket Prices
Adults €10
Concessions and ages 12-17 €7.50
Children aged 6-11 €5.50
Under 5's visit for free

Good to Know
The National War Museum is right next door to the Malta Experience so you could combine both sites in one journey.

There is no cafe on site, but you can use the one in the Malta Experience.

Official Website

THE SALUTING BATTERY, VALETTA

The Saluting Battery is a focal tourist attraction for the capital city of Valetta. Situated high up in the historic ramparts, it is said to be the oldest still operating saluting battery in the world, having been in use for nearly 500 years. The area was originally an active military installation, with the canons in place to protect the Grand Harbour below. The area was first used during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 and the multi-tiered bastion on which it is still located was finished in 1570. The battery has seen action during the blockade of 1798 as well as during WWII.

The canon being fired by a soldier at the Saluting Battery, Valetta.

The moment we had all been waiting for! The gun is fired with a loud bang and a cloud of orange smoke.

Since British rule in the 1800s, a gun was always fired at sunrise, midday (to signal the hour to ship masters below so that they could set their chronographs) and at sunset. The guns were removed by the British in 1954 and the site fell into disrepair until 2004 when the site was restored back to its late 19th century configuration. The canons are used now to mark state occasions, feasts and visits by dignitaries.

The salute is a fascinating thing to watch, with the soldiers marching in their colonial pith helmets against a backdrop of the stunning views across the Grand Harbour. Here you can admire the soft cream colours of the buildings and the huge sweep of the harbour covered in small boats, although on our visit there was an extremely ostentatious super yacht that removed some of the charm from the scene. You can watch the soldiers getting two of the four guns ready (in case one fails) and waiting to get the exact moment right. The salute itself is impressive with a loud bang and plenty of orange smoke, even though they only fire blanks. On the day we were there, a pigeon flew right past the canon as it fired, and it disappeared in a cloud of feathers and smoke. It must have been a rare event as the doomed pigeon made several international newspapers the next day!

A view across the saluting battery and harbour of Valetta, Malta.

A view across the Saluting Battery and the Grand Harbour of Valetta.

Visiting the Saluting Battery

Opening hours
Monday - Saturday 10h00
Closed on some public holidays

Guns fire at 12h00 and 16h00

There is a brief commentary before the noon day firing, which starts at 11h45

Ticket Prices
Watching the firing is free, but you can take a guided tour at 11h00, 12h10 or 15h00 for
Adults €3
Children under 16 €1

Good to Know
You can buy a combined ticket for the Saluting Battery, the Lascaris War Rooms and the War H.Q. Tunnels all in Valetta for €50 for the whole family

Official Website

Top Tips for taking kids to the Saluting Battery

The Battery is very easy to get to from the main Valetta bus terminal, its just a quick and easy walk away.

Get there at least 15 minutes early if you do want to see the canon firing, as the crowds really build up and children won't be able to see anything unless they have got a good spot at the front.

ZONQOR POINT SALT PANS, MARSASCALA

Malta has a thriving natural salt industry which originated with the Romans and continues to this day as the tradition is passed down through the generations. An intricate patchwork of shallow pans and channels are carved into the coastal rocks allowing sea water to enter and fill them. Left to settle for eight days, during the drying process crystals form a thick layer of salt which is then harvested, packaged and sold, particularly to tourists looking for a genuine Maltese souvenir.

Both Gozo and Malta have several sites of these salt pans, the largest in Malta is Salina Bay near Bugibba, but there are smaller ones dotted along the coast. We visited the Zonqor Point pans, mainly because they were only a five minute walk from our apartment in Marsascala, so we ended up going several times as I found them so interesting to look at.

There is no entrance fee or tourist facilities, you simply walk down a flight of steps to reach them and can explore them and wander around as you please. On a golden sunny day they are a delight, particularly for the children who enjoyed running around, dodging the wet bits and exploring their depths for any stray sea creatures.

Exploring the Zonqor Point Salt Pans in Marsascala, Malta.

Exploring the shapes and patterns of the Zonqor Point Salt Pans in Marsascala.

Visiting the Zonqor Salt Pans

The salt pans can be found in the town of Marsascala on the south eastern coast of Malta. Marsascala is a very Maltese town, although does cater for tourism. It has a huge curved promenade that spans the coastal section of the town and has some beautiful views.

Nearby is the traditional fishing village of Marsaxlokk which is well worth a visit and is a lovely place for a walk.

Day Trip to COMINO Island

Comino is a tiny rugged island between Malta and Gozo of just 1.4 square miles and is virtually uninhabited with only three elderly residents. The island shows some evidence of occupation from the Neolithic period and was inhabited by farmers during the Roman era. Its caves were popular with pirates during medieval times, it was hunting grounds and a place of exile during the 16th and 17th centuries and finally a place of quarantine during the French occupation of Malta in 1800.

View of tour boats in the blue waters around Comino.

Tour boats in the turquoise waters of Comino.

The island is a wildlife reserve and is famous amongst tourists for the Blue Lagoon, a sheltered inlet of clear blue water over white sand. There is only one hotel on the island but most of the visitors are day trippers who arrive in their droves on the ferries that leave from Malta and Gozo. There are no cars allowed on the island so all transportation is done by foot or boat.

We took a ferry journey from Cirkewwa, Malta in a rather tiny boat that felt even smaller once it was out on the open waves as we pitched, rolled and got rather wet on a very dark blue sea. It was with some relief that we saw the very craggy golden coastline of Comino and eventually rounded the cliffs to a turquoise and thankfully still inlet where we waited quite a while for all of the boats to offload their passengers. Troops of people walked on a narrow path to the famous blue lagoon, but it was far from the beautiful and peaceful haven we had anticipated. There was a clear blue lagoon but the cliffs were full of noisy trucks selling burgers and pineapple cocktails with their generators whirring loudly, the bay was full of boats and there were people posing everywhere for Instagram photos against a backdrop that hid the reality of what was actually there.

Fortunately, we had pre-booked an off-road Segway tour of the island with Outdoor Explorers and had the best day of our holiday, we all loved it, not just the children. We were able to leave the crowds of tourists behind and were taken around the island to visit the few buildings, the smugglers caves and the natural thyme scented interior while learning the history of the island and the stories of the islands current occupants. We visited St Mary’s tower, built in 1618 as part of a chain of defensive towers, the tiny Comino chapel and the old hospital. We were also taken deep into coastal caves that smugglers still use to this day.

The adventure was a huge success and it was wonderful to get away from the crowds, although the return journey back to Malta was hard work, with swarms of people pushing and shoving to get on the small ferries to take us back to the island. With hindsight it may have been a better idea to take one of the many tours on offer that organise a trip around the island without the fighting for space on ferries home, as there are plenty (such as this one) on offer.

A family on segways in front of the old hospital on Comino.

Segway fun in front of the old hospital on Comino.

Visiting Comino

You can get a ferry from Cirkewwa on the northernmost tip of the island. There is a small hut opposite the back of the Ramala Bay Hotel that sells the tickets at €10 for a return trip. The journey takes approx. 25 minutes but bear in mind that you can end up anchored off Comino for a while waiting for all of the other boats to offload first.

Make sure you queue in the right place for your return back to Malta. There was a huge scrum of people all fighting for a space on the boats back and it took a while before people realised that they were waiting for ferries to Gozo instead of Malta.

THE JERMA PALACE HOTEL

This is far from a typical tourist attraction, but we stumbled across it on one of our walks and after a swift bit of online research, discovered that it is in the Telegraphs Top 14 Abandoned Places and so we just had to take a closer look. Built in 1982 by a Libyan corporation, it was a lavish four star hotel where Muammar Gadaffi had his own presidential suite. The hotel closed in 2007 and since then has gone through several changes of ownership and plans, none of which have come to fruition. It is now a shell of what it once was, having been stripped of everything of any value.

Graffiti on the outside walls of the abandoned Jerma Palace Hotel in Malta.

Talented graffiti adorns the walls of the abandoned Jerma Palace.

We saw several locals walking in and so followed them. It is a fascinating place and we explored the abandoned tennis courts, restaurants and even the swimming pool. It had its own rocky beach, which we wandered around and even some salt pans. It was slightly eerie and a bit unsettling, but locals were using the area to play with remote controlled cars and paint seascapes. So it's clearly well visited - although judging by the graffiti, I'm sure the hotel sees far less salubrious activities at other times.

It is very much a case of enter at your own risk, but it was certainly an adventure and the kids loved it as it really gave a frisson of excitement and adventure as a contrast to the usual, safe tourist pursuits.

My son playing on the old tennis courts of Jerma Palace in Marsascala Malta.

Playing on the old tennis courts of the Jerma Palace.

Visiting the Jerma Palace Hotel

Getting there
Located in Marsascala next to the 17th century St. Thomas Tower, there is a well worn gap from the beach to the hotel grounds.

Wander at will but I would strongly advise against going at night.

GETTING AROUND

Malta is renowned for being one of the most traffic congested places in Europe, having the second highest number of cars per capita in the EU, with two cars for every three people. Cycling is considered very dangerous due to an inadequate cycle network, there are no trains or trams, so cars or buses are the only way to get around. Both will leave you sitting in traffic jams so you do need to factor this in to your holiday planning. We do feel as if we visited fewer sites on this holiday than we normally do, just because it takes so long to get around.

Buses are cheap and easy to use, but they do get extremely cramped and we spent a lot of the time on them standing. It wasn’t unusual to see buses not stopping at their normal stops as they were too full to take any more people on board, leaving angry or weary faces at the bus stops as we shot past.

Malta does have however, the very best taxi service I have ever used. E-cabs is an app you can download for free and use to book your taxi. It even provides you with a map of where your cab is and is a truly hassle free way to get around, even if you do still end up stuck in traffic. On one of our journeys which was well over an hour, we had a fascinating taxi driver who told us so much about the island, the religious feasts and the way of life that we felt we had learnt far more from him than any amount of reading could have taught us.

WHERE TO STAY

It was a real challenge finding the right place to stay. Although the island is small, travel times are long due to the sheer volume of cars on the road, so trying to find somewhere to use as a central base is hard and I’m not sure we got it right. We chose Marsascala which is a traditional Maltese town on the south eastern coast, and I had assumed that being close to the capital, Valetta, it would make it easier to get around. It didn’t quite work out that way and I still don’t know whether we made the best choice. Part of me feels we should have chosen Valetta itself due to its proximity to all of the main attractions, but it is very full of people which does get exhausting, particularly for children.

The main tourist area of Mellieha is far from Valetta albeit close to Comino and Gozo, and has far more in the way of big hotels with all of their amenities, which would suit many, although travelling to the historical sites would be quite tiring on daily basis. We did appreciate seeing traditional Malta and not being part of the tourist crowd in Marsascala, it gave us a real insight into life for the people of the island. So it would really depend on what your priorities are and how much travelling you can tolerate.

MALTA AND KIDS

A few things to bear in mind if you are planning on taking children to Malta for a holiday.

First, the Maltese love fireworks, really love them. During our stay there was a firework display every single night, often until quite late. Chatting with our friendly taxi driver we discovered that this is commonplace as there is always some festa or celebration going on somewhere. If you have children who are scared of fireworks or can't sleep through them, then do you research very carefully about your location and time of holiday.

Secondly, although there are some decent small scale play parks for children, there are no theme parks, water parks or adventure playgrounds. If this is what your child enjoys, then maybe wait until they are older before a trip to Malta.

On the upside however, there is some wonderful wildlife. There are plenty of cats roaming around, and also a great many lizards. Lizard spotting kept my youngest amused for a long time. We also saw plenty of dragonflies and even a praying mantis.
 

An ocellated skink, a common type of lizard in the Mediterranean.

Lots of lizards and skinks about to keep the younger ones amused.

Finally, a lot of the cafes seemed to have sports on their TV's, often quite loud. This can be a positive or a negative depending on your family, but it does detract from what we would consider as an enjoyable cafe culture.

THINGS I WISH WE'D HAD THE TIME TO DO

Prehistoric Temples Tour of Malta - I would have loved to do this but wasn't sure how well the kids would like it. A five hour tour that takes you to the Neolithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdar with an expert guide to talk you through it could have been an amazing experience. These temples date from 3150BC and are described as 'unique architectural masterpieces' and are recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage sites.

Mosta, in the north of the island, is famous for its Rotunda, which is the third largest unsupported dome in the world. In 1942, a German bomb pierced the dome but never exploded, and a further one bounced off the roof of the dome and landed in the square nearby, also without exploding. The church became known as the Miracle Church of Mosta as over 300 people were in the church at the time. There is also a WWII air raid shelter next to the church which you can visit, and a replica of the bomb inside the church.

A Boat Trip Around the Island - this one by night looks particularly appealing as it cruises through the Grand Harbour, which had looked stunning from our view at the Saluting Battery, and which probably looks incredible when lit up at night.