It’s been over a month since we got back from our trip to Malta & Milan so its time for a little recap.
Getting to Europe was a bit of a pain since we needed to take three flights to get there. However, for the price we paid ($258.12 per person), I’d definitely do it again. We arrived in Milan and spent the first and last day there. In between we spent six really enjoyable days on the island of Malta.
Milan wasn’t a city that we were overly excited about visiting but we figured that for parts of 2 days we could figure out enough to do.
After stopping by our hotel which was just outside of the downtown area, (very easy to get to by train from the airport) we headed into the city and made our first stop at Sforza Castle. Within the castle were a bunch of museums but we didn’t visit any of them. We wandered around the grounds which were very lively and pretty much like a public park. Lucas enjoyed running around the grounds for a while so this was definitely a good way to start our visit.
Our next stop was a visit to the impressive Milan Cathedral (aka the Duomo), the fifth largest in the world and largest in Italy. We spent a lot of time in the busy square in front of it taking photos. Lucas had fun trying to jump, chase pigeons (gross) and chased after other kids!
We came back later in the day to stop inside but didn’t take any photos. While impressive inside, the Duomo is much more interesting & photographic from outside (plus I didn’t want to pay for a photo permit).
The main attraction that I had to see during our time in Milan was the Ossuary at San Bernardino alle Ossa.
An ossuary is a place to store bones and at the church they decorated a small chapel in an elaborate way. When we first arrived there were 2 other people visiting and I was a bit surprised to see others stopping by while we were there.
The ossuary was definitely impressive and I plan to write a dedicated post about it soon.
Other than these few attractions, we spent a fair amount of our time just wandering around. We were hoping to get tickets to see The Last Supper but it was sold out months in advance.
We were excited to spend some time visiting the islands of Malta and had lots to see and do on our agenda.
We spent 6 nights at the Le Meridien St Julians, a nice hotel but one that wasn’t without issues and annoyances. However for us, the hotel is never the main attraction of our trip so it didn’t ruin our time by any means (although it did waste some time with excessive waits for the elevator).
It’s pretty easy (and cheap) to get around the island. Public buses can get your just about anywhere but they can get very crowded. One annoying thing about the bus system is that just about any route goes through Valletta. So every time we wanted to go somewhere we’d first need to catch a bus from St Julians to Valletta (which took around 20+ minutes) before getting another bus to our intended destination.
Here are some of the highlights of our visit to Malta:
We started off our visit by heading to Valletta, the capital of Malta. Valleta is a walkable and enjoyable city to spend some time in and is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s definitely fun to walk around the steep and narrow streets with no set destination.
We enjoyed visiting places like the St Johns Co-Cathedral, National Museum of Archaeology, Grandmaster’s Palace Armory and Upper Baraka Gardens, which allowed for amazing views of the Grand Harbor.
Lucas also got to have some fun playing in the pedestrian only areas and also loved taking a quick mini-train ride around the city. While in Valletta, I also came across this ridiculous street sign.
We spent a half day wandering the walled city of Mdina and checking out Rabat which is just a few minutes walk away.
Mdina is known as the silent city and has lots of interesting buildings/ architecture to enjoy as you walk around the narrow streets. The one thing that we found annoying were the cars and horse-drawn carriages that passed by at times. Based on the layout of the area, I’d expect for this to be a pedestrian only area.
We didn’t spend a ton of time in Rabat but it was quite interesting. We stopped for a bit to listen to a school band playing music in front of a church before heading into the Catacombs of St Paul’s Grotto.
We enjoyed wandering around the passageways and Lucas was startled at times by “spooky” sounds which ended up being other people around 95% of the time! We didn’t see lots of things in the catacombs but it was fun walking around the different stone rooms. We even spotted some bones in one of them.
We visited Gozo, the second largest island of Malta for one day and really enjoyed the views and sites. Getting there from St Julians was a bit of a pain. Once we got to Valletta , we had to take another overly crowded bus ride, around an hour to the ferry. The ferry ride went fast and Lucas made a friend during the quick ride.
Since we had limited time, we decided to hire a taxi to drive us between the sites. Kim and I felt that this was money well spent since it allowed us to visit everything we had planned in a short amount of time.
Our first stop was the Ta’Kola Windmill which is included on the same ticket as the Ggantija Megalithic Temples. The windmill, from 1725 has lots of artifacts on display and was set up as it would’ve been used back when it was lived in. From there we walked around 5 minutes to the Ggantija Temples (photo below). I’ll talk more about the temples later in the post. After some time over at the temples. we drove to possibly the most scenic and photographic place in all of Malta, the Azure Window. We spent some time taking photos and enjoying the views but I would’ve liked even more time to wander around a bit more. We then spent a while at the Citadel, a fortified area which is home to the Museum of Archaeology, and even more interesting Old Prison.
The Megalithic Temples of Malta were at the top of the list for sites to visit during our time on the islands. Seven megalithic temples are located on Malta and Gozo and date to the Bronze Age. All of the temples are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a single entry.
What makes the temples so important and interesting is that they are the oldest free-standing monuments in the world. The oldest temples in the group are the Ggantija Temples which are located on Gozo. They are dated from 3,000-2,200 BC.
During the trip we visited 5 of the 7 Megalithic Temples- Hagar Qim, Mnajdra, Ggantija (2 temples) and Tarxien.
The funny thing about visiting these temples is that at first glance, they really don’t look like much. Most people might think they are just looking at a pile of rocks. However, when you think of how old these structures are, it is really amazing to think about what you are looking at. Some of the temples had signage explaining the layout of the site which also helped to imagine how these temples were used.
At the archaeology museum in Valletta, some sculptures discovered at the megalithic temples are on display. This shows that the temples aren’t just a bunch of big rocks.
When I first heard of the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum I knew it was a site I had to see for myself. However, there was a little problem, tickets are extremely limited. I tried to buy tickets two months before we left for the trip but nothing was available. The only other way to get tickets is by showing up to a museum in Valletta, hoping they have tickets. (More on this another time.)
Long story short is that I got a ticket! Since little kids aren’t allowed on the tours, I went by myself.
The Hal Saflieni Hypogeum is another site from Malta on the Unesco World Heritage List. The site has a unique story. The Hypogeum was discovered by accident. Workers broke through the ceiling while digging for a construction project in 1902. They tried to hide the find but it was later discovered.
According to UNESCO, “This unique monument dates back to early antiquity (about 2500 BC) and it is the only known example of a subterranean structure of the Bronze Age”.
Guided tours are done a 6-7 times per day but only 10 people are allowed on each tour.
The Hypogeum has a domed ceiling and it was amazing to see all of the rooms and passageways cut from the rock. I learned during the tour that it is thought that it might be an underground replica of what the megalithic temples may have looked like thousands of years back.
The Hypogeum was an ossuary with the remains of 7,000 people discovered their over the course of the excavation.
I found the site to be one of the most different things that I’ve seen in quite a while and I am really glad that I got to see it in person.
That’s all for my long overdue recap of our trip to Malta (and Milan). I hope that some of you might consider visiting Malta on a future trip to Europe. It sure seems like a country that is often overlooked but what I feel it is well worth visiting.