Malta: Overview of a small island nation and republic in Europe
Although most people know about Malta as being a popular “sun and sea” holiday destination, increasingly, travellers from all over the world are discovering the country’s rich history and culture.
- Malta’s geographical area size is just 316 km² or 122 m², making it one of the smallest nations in the world (ranked 208th out of 251 countries)
- Population size: 445,000+ in 2014 (making Malta the 8th most densely populated country worldwide)
- Official languages: English and Maltese
- Government: Parliamentary republic, with a President as Head of State and Prime Minister as head of government
- Independent republic since 13 December 1974
- EU member state since 1 May 2004
- Currency: The Euro, since 1 January 2008. Previously: the Maltese Lira
- Capital city: Valletta
- Average daytime temperature in winter: 16° C
- Average daytime temperature in summer: 32° C
- Average annual hours of sunshine: 3,000
- Malta is a member of The Commonwealth of Nations (following its independence from the British Empire on 21 September 1964)
- Annual tourist arrivals: > 1.8 million (Source)
- Religion: Roman Catholic (over 90% of the population)
- Number of Catholic churches: 359 (!)
- Drives on the left-hand side (one of only 18 countries in the world)
- National airline: Air Malta
- Public transport: Bus system
- Airports: 1, Malta International Airport
More facts and FAQs here: Top Malta Facts.
Popular locations in Malta
Throughout Malta’s history, this small archipelago has seen its fair share of fighting and foreign rule.
Being located in the heart of the Mediterranean, it was considered being of great strategical importance as a naval base, as recently as World War 2. You will find traces everywhere of the various cultures that ruled the island over the past two millennia or so.
No other country in the world offers a taste of so many different historical and cultural influences in such a small area. It’s a side of Malta few people know of and is well worth exploring.
The Maltese themselves are known to be warm and welcoming and the vast majority speak English well. In fact, English is one of the country’s official languages (the other being Maltese). The vast majority of the population are Roman Catholic and religion plays a fairly important role in daily life, even though its influence is in decline.
This primer will give you a quick introduction that’s all about Malta as a country, and as a potential destination for your next trip. In fact, if you’re considering visiting Malta, have a look at my travel guide with personal advice and written by a foreigner living in Malta.
Why should I visit Malta?
There are several great reasons to visit Malta:
- There’s a lot to see and do and you don’t need to travel much
- You can find some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean here
- The weather’s great all year round
- Good choice of hotels, restaurants and nightclubs
- The Maltese are very hospitable and the vast majority speak English well.
Flag of Malta
The flag of Malta is a standard bicolour flag with the colours white (at the hoist) and red (on the fly), which are of historical significance to Malta, having also been used by the Knights of Malta and their flags displaying the Maltese cross. A representation of the George Cross, which features on the white part of the flag.
What does the cross on the Maltese flag stand for?
The cross on the Maltese flag is actually the George Cross, which was awarded to Malta by King George IV of the United Kingdom during World War 2. Being part of the British Empire, Malta was a key location in the Mediterranean of strategic importance to Allied forces and was under siege for four years, being heavily bombed by the Italian air force and German Luftwaffe. Despite nearing starvation due to supply lines being cut off, the Maltese fought and bravely withstood these dark times and in recognition for their bravery were awarded the George Cross.
Where is Malta located?
Malta is located South of Sicily (Italy), in the centre of the Mediterranean. More here: Where is Malta?
Something that makes Malta unique is the concentration of historical sites within the mere 316 km² of land covered, all traces of Malta’s rich history.
Over the centuries the islands have been ruled by various influences from across Europe, with the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Crusaders, the French and finally the British leaving their traces of their presence and influence in Malta and its population. A little-known fact is that the Megalithic temples found spread across the islands are some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world and are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Malta is one of the latest additions to the European Union (member since May 2004) and is developing in a number of areas, improving the quality of life for its citizens as well as offering tourists a better holiday experience. The island’s economy is largely dependent on tourism, but the island’s accession to the EU has given many industrial areas an array of opportunities.
In recent years, the Maltese government invested heavily (also in the Malta’s internet connectivity) to attract and grow both IT and Financial businesses. with attractive corporate tax rates while creating a lucrative environment for mostly Scandinavian online gaming companies to set up shop in Malta. Although the gaming industry also attracts employee talent from abroad, it has seen a surge in local employment, also aiding Malta in achieving one of the lowest employment rates in the EU, in 2015.
On 1st January 2008, Malta adopted the Euro, which replaced the Maltese Lira as the country’s currency. Although the global recession that year, combined with the high price of import of fossil fuels (on which Malta is heavily dependent, due to lack of explored natural resources) had an impact on the local economy, the country’s deficit has remained well within the EU’s deficit limits.
Quick impression of Malta
Here’s a great little video with drone footage, created recently by Oliver Astrologo:
Maltese people and their culture
The vast majority of people in Malta are warm and welcoming and in typical Mediterranean fashion wear their heart on their sleeve. Passionate and rarely shying away from a good argument, they’re honest people, usually raised with strong Christian values and beliefs.
The Maltese are a proud people, with a unique culture, with a blend of foreign influences introduced during several ages of occupancy. Many falsely believe Maltese culture as merely being a melting pot of cultures introduced by foreign empires. However, there exists a broad foundation of age-old traditions, customs and values passed on through successive generations of Maltese and Gozitans irrespective of any traces of culture left by foreign rule. More on Maltese culture here.
Both Maltese and English are the country’s official languages, with the first being the national language (spoken by 97% of the population) and the second spoken widely, by around 88% of the population. Italian is also spoken by a large part of the population (around 66%), having been an official language in the past (until 1934). With free access to Italian TV stations during the second half of the 20th century, the language was picked up by children and is still also one of the most popular languages taught in schools.
Although popular belief is that Malta is a Muslim nation, it’s actually quite the opposite: Over 90% of the population are Roman Catholic. Despite being a Catholic country with religious traditions and religion still very much part of daily life, Sunday mass attendance sits at around 40% (2015) and has been steadily declining.
Malta and the European Union
After a 2003 referendum held in Malta on the question of whether the country should become an EU member state resulted in a slight majority win in favour (53.6%), Malta became part of the EU on the 1st May 2004 and joined the Eurozone on 1st January 2008.
Popular FAQs about Malta
Is Malta a country? Is it an island?
Is Malta in the EU?
When did Malta join the EU?
Does Malta use the Euro? When did Malta start using the Euro?
Is Malta a third world country?
What is the capital city of Malta?
Is Malta safe?
Is Malta cheap, or expensive?
Depending on your home country and your definition of “cheap”, the best way to describe Malta in that sense is “good value”, not cheap. A few examples:
- A Heineken beer in a supermarket: €0.90-€1.00
- Good rib-eye in a decent restaurant: €20-25
- A bottle of Smirnoff: €11
- Mixer drink in a bar in Paceville: €2.50
- A taxi ride from the airport to most localities in Malta: €20
- A bus ticket for a single trip (max 2h): €2.00 (cheaper with a public transport card: €0.75. 7-Day card (unlimited travel): €21.
Is Malta a Muslim country?
What religion to the Maltese practice?
Does Malta have alcohol?
Does Malta have sandy beaches?
How many islands are part of Malta?
What language(s) do the Maltese speak?
What’s the weather like in Malta?
The weather in Malta is generally warm, being known for its gentle winters and warm, dry summers with over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year. The annual average daytime temperature in winter is 16 C while the average daytime temperature in summer (August being the warmest month) is 32 C. Not surprisingly, it never snows in Malta. Malta enjoys around 3,000 hours of sunshine annually on average , making it one of the sunniest countries in Europe. Compare that figure to London’s 1,461 hours and it’s no wonder this little island nation receives so many foreign visitors throughout the year.
The weather in Malta, in general, can be characterised as being extreme. Summer heat waves can reach up to 40 C, and although winters are relatively warm, the high humidity levels can make winter nights particularly cold. It doesn’t rain often, but when it rains there’s a lot of precipitation, often causing floods with water flowing down valleys congested by modern construction and infrastructure.
What’s the local time zone?
Why do people go to Malta?
How many tourists visit Malta?
Is the sea around Malta clean?
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