The tiny nation of Malta has been the go-to location for Hollywood for decades — from "James Bond" in the 1970s to more recent hits like the hugely popular TV series “Game of Thrones” have been shot here. Some hotels stayed open during COVID just for filming “Jurassic World: Dominion” (coming out in 2022). And so visiting here feels like you’ve stepped into a movie set, with technicolor backdrops, and no shortage of fun ways to enjoy each location.
These simple facts, along with Malta’s stunning landscape and history made this an ideal vacation to spend with our 15- and 17-year-olds. We also enjoyed its delicious Mediterranean food, interesting indie shopping and safe nightlife. Here’s a wrap-up of what we found to do in this picturesque, historical archipelago.
A Premium Sea View Queen Suite (here and below) at the Corinthia Hotel St. Georges Bay offers 516 square feet of space and comes with a lounge area and a private balcony.
Where to Stay
Corinthia Hotel St. George's Bay has a layout that is sprawling enough for teens to have privacy and entertainment, but not too big to worry you. The 248-room hotel is part of a massive complex perched over the sea. All guestrooms have uninterrupted water views — worthy of Bond, and in fact, parts were shot nearby. The rooms are spacious and have large balconies overlooking the pools or sea. We stayed in a renovated corner suite (Room 456) with new modern décor in cool grays and blues with a comfortable living area and a wrap-around terrace overlooking the sea. Bliss. Our kids were just next door in a non-renovated but charming room that was large enough to keep them from fighting. Good to know: The Executive Lounge offers waiter service and à la carte breakfast, plus lunch and heavy hors d’oeuvres and drinks at dinner. It’s perfect for hungry teens to get snacks when they like, and parents can relax with a drink.
The hotel has something to keep everyone happy — tennis, spa, a well-outfitted health club and five cascading pools that lead to a private beach with a wide range of watersports, including a PADI diving school. We enjoyed several walks from the hotel along the rugged coast line, spotting old fortification towers and barracks, dating from 17th century. The Corinthia offers plenty of choices for lounging around and dining too, ranging from Afternoon Tea in the lobby to a Michelin-star restaurant, Caviar & Bull, and the American-themed Henry J. Bean’s Bar & Grill.
Most importantly, the property is about a 10-minute walk to the village of St. Julian’s, and unlike the rest of Malta, the vibe here is distinctly modern; there’s a mall with a bowling alley and streets filled with little cafés for snacks, ice cream and souvenir shops. Malta is one of the safest countries in Europe and at night we saw packs of teens hanging around and bouncing in and out of the many bars and discos.
For VIP bookings or room questions, luxury travel advisors can contact Director of Marketing Andrew Galea ([email protected]; 011-356-9942-1457)
Experiences on Tap
Corinthia Guest Relations Manager Janet Theuma ([email protected]; 011-356-2370-2650) knows the best spots for families, particularly teens. “We mostly organize private tours around the historical sites, boat rides to Comino’s Blue Lagoon, and fishing, where kids can also cook what they eat,” she said, adding, “being in the middle of the Med, watersports –– parasailing, jet skis, kayaking, snorkeling and diving –– are staples of any itinerary with teens.”
Making Malta’s rich history fun is easily done; one of the most popular ways is with GPS-programmed self-driving electric cars that look like golf carts, aka the “Rolling Geek” tour of the island’s famous Three Cities, the popular name given to the neighborhoods of Vittoriosa, namely Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua — fortified villages that date as far back as the middle ages. Fun Fact: Parts of the “Da Vinci Code” and the “Count of Monte Cristo” were shot here. “Guests love the ‘Rolling Geek’ tours because in less than three hours they enjoy a speedboat ride to Birgu, cover some of the island’s best history, and kids get to ‘drive’ themselves!” says Theuma.
We opted for a full day with an incredibly knowledgeable private guide, Mariella Galea ([email protected]). She came with a plan to cover many areas of the 17-mile long island. Starting with the compact capital of Valletta, Galea pointed out many of the city’s 320 historical monuments and noted some famous film locations along the cobbled streets. Top Spot: The incredible St. John’s Co-Cathedral, built in the 1570s as the church for the Knights of St John. The place literally glitters, so much so that the teens walked around mouths agape, staring at the ornate gilded arches, barrel-vaulted ceiling and frescos. The marble floor with tombs decorated with skeletons along with the gruesome “Beheading of St John,” the only signed Caravaggio painting in existence, were some of our favorites. Another highlight was the skyline view from Upper Barrakka Gardens over the harbor, which happened to be hosting the famous Rolex sailing regatta while we were there.
From Valletta, we walked the Three Cities, then drove to Marsaxlokk, a small, traditional fishing village, to see the iconic luzzu, the brightly painted fishing boats adorned with eyes, an ancient Phoenician custom said to protect the fishermen while at sea. The area is a working fishing port, and we had a fantastic lunch of whole fresh fish roasted in a salt crust (a local custom) at Ir-Rizzu Restaurant. (Note: We liked this area so much that we went back on our own for the Sunday flea market and ate another whole fish.)
Watersports in and around Malta’s caves provide a unique experience.
Rejuvenated from lunch, we were off to the megalithic temple complex, Ħaġar Qim, older than Stonehenge, and surrounded by striking white cliffs. On our way, we stopped to see the stunning Blue Grotto, then to Mdina, also known as “the silent city,” a medieval walled city with narrow streets and centuries-old buildings. The main gate of Mdina is instantly recognizable from the first series of “Game of Thrones.”
The day with Galea was a great beginning to our trip and gave us a sense of the three islands; she left us tired but with instructions on how best to spend the rest of our time in Malta. The next day, we rented a car and took a short ferry to the island of Gozo. We loved the Ġgantija temples, the earliest of the Megalithic temples, older than the pyramids of Egypt, and the restored ancient town of Cittadella, located on top of one of Gozo’s famed three hills, made up of a maze of quaint streets around a cathedral, where we found some cute boutiques selling crafts.
We stopped to swim in a lovely cove and for lunch at the Azure Window restaurant, overlooking the water. From Gozo, you can take a short boat trip to Comino, the tiniest of the islands, to see and snorkel in the famous Blue Lagoon, a bay with crystal clear azure water. Due to a turn in the weather, we didn’t get the chance to visit. Seems we have the perfect excuse to go back to Malta.
Mdina, a medieval walled city with narrow streets and centuries-old buildings, is also known as the “Silent City.”
Good to know: A net-zero luxury development is being built on Comino by HV Hospitality designed by world-renowned architect Antonio Belvedere (former partner of the Renzo Piano Building Workshop) and is expected to open in 2024.
Finding More Local Flavors
Thanks to TikTok, teens are obsessed with trying local street food and buying local crafts. Head to Buchmans for a delicious local sandwich called ftira –– crusty bread filled with tuna and veggies. We found amazing gelato in St. Julian’s at Rivareno, which had unusual flavors, like cinnamon, chestnut and persimmon.
Don’t leave without some brightly colored Maltese glass; find this in Mdina at Mdina Glass. While you’re in Mdina, have a slice of cake overlooking the water at the Fontanella Tea Garden. Malta is famous for its delicate silver filigree jewelry, which looks much more expensive than it is, making it an ideal gift for teenage girls. You can buy jewelry at Ta’ Qali, a small crafts village or in the Cittadella in Gozo.