A small island country in the Mediterranean Sea between Italy and Libya, Malta is usually popular for its turquoise waters, breathtaking landscapes, historic architecture, and so much more. Malta’s year-round supply of sunshine and mild winter climate make it an ideal escape for those looking for a warmer December. But we didn’t come here just for that, because Valletta, Malta during Christmas is simply magical.
We heard through the grapevine that the island of Malta and Valletta, the seafront capital, turn into a Christmas wonderland. And with Christmas being an important celebration for us, we had to see it for ourselves, and it did not disappoint!
We based ourselves in the capital city Valetta, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which is often referred to as an open-air museum. The city is full of historical sites and grand medieval architecture, which are even more whimsical when steeped in the Christmas spirit. Since Malta is a largely Roman Catholic nation, the religious influence is evident during Christmas celebrations: nativity scenes, displays of cribs, and candlelit carols in churches are organized throughout the island. And many fascinating traditions begin to take place at the start of December. Here is what you can expect from visiting Malta for Christmas.
*Spoiler alert: CNN ranked Malta as the world’s number one destination for Christmas holidays more than once! So, in attempts to outdo themselves, Malta’s festivities only get bigger and more innovative each year.
Embark on the Magical Illuminated Trail
While the entire island is set ablaze with Christmas lights, installations, and unusual Christmas trees, the best place to take in the atmosphere is at the Magical Illuminated Trail. Surrounding the 16th century Verdala Palace, illuminated with lights, you step into a fairyland of lights full of sparkling installations, sculptures, lanterns, and tunnels of lights. Secure your tickets in advance, as entry is limited.
Wander around Fairyland Santa’s City
Every year, Valletta’s focal point Pjazza Tritoni, which features the stunning fountain of three mythological mermen, is transformed into Santa’s City. This Christmas Village in Valletta is full of festive activities and a magic atmosphere that will convert even the grumpiest Grinch.
The village is open from the second week of December until the second week of January, giving plenty of time for visitors to submit their requests to a real-life Santa and enjoy the enchanting rides. The fairy light garlands guide the way to Christmas Markets and illuminate the path lined with wooden stalls. The happy vendors offer everything you can imagine. It’s the perfect place to indulge in delicious Christmas treats or buy gifts for your loved ones.
There are stalls selling artisanal crafts, scarves, jewelry, and so much more. Having been refraining from buying souvenirs the entire world tour thus far, this was our chance to pick up gifts for our family.
The decorations and bubbly atmosphere could compete with what you are used to at home. But if you are coming from a colder winter, to make up for Malta’s mild weather, the Christmas Village delights the visitors with an ice skating rink where you can show off your skills or learn a new one.
The cherry on the cake is seeing the beauty of Valetta, Malta from a bird’s eye view when you go for a ride on Rudolph’s Wheel (Ferris wheel). You can buy your tickets to attractions online to avoid spending time waiting in line.
Attend Midnight Mass
By tradition, some churches in Valletta, Malta celebrate the midnight mass starting on the 24th of December. The event usually starts with carol singing, and a traditional speech by a young boy or girl about the birth of Christ, a tradition called “the preaching of the child”.
There are 359 churches on the island, nearly enough for every day of the year. For our Christmas Mass, we went to one of the most spectacular churches located in Valletta, Malta – Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Bażilika Santwarju tal-Madonna tal-Karmnu). The service began with a bright and dramatic presentation by a boy that looked to be eight or nine years old. It was spoken in Maltese, and while we couldn’t understand the language, we relished in the pride his church and family felt. The majestic church features a huge dome over the congregation and was flooded with the light of candles and decorated with many Christmas decorations. It was a wonderful experience to share this important service with others.
Watch Performances and Sing Along to Christmas Carols
December in Valletta, Malta is full of festive performances. From plays, like the Nutcracker, to live music and orchestra to traditional Christmas candle-lit carols, you can find it all. Keep your eyes peeled on event announcements before your arrival.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral holds the annual Christmas Concert delighting all attendees. There are traditional and international carols sung by a choir and accompanied by an organist.
Enjoy Cirque du Soleil
And every year in December, Cirque du Soleil pays tribute to Valletta, Malta. There is an exclusive show dedicated to the richness and beauty of its culture and heritage.
Watch the Annual Pantomime
This annual performance is one of Malta’s most beloved Christmas traditions. It is popular with both children and adults, and held at the spectacular Manoel Theatre. Attending the show is the best way to immerse yourself in local culture. The performance is done in a mix of English and Maltese. It combines comedy for kids and satire for adults, touching on the topics of politics and current affairs. We thought the theater experience and mingling with locals alone were worth the visit, but the show was entertaining too.
Enjoy Traditional Maltese Christmas Food
As in most cultures, festive food is an important aspect of Christmas in Malta. The most famous seasonal specialties include rabbit, a savory pastry called pastizzi stuffed with cheese. There is also a Christmas log, and cake which embodies everything Christmassy in one bite. You will also find locals indulging in treacle rings, which are sweet ring-shaped pastries. They are usually paired with hot chestnut and chocolate drink. Look out for these treats at the Christmas markets.
This year we treated ourselves to an amazing dining experience. We planned for Christmas Dinner at Noni, a Michelin Star restaurant, located in a historic building. The dishes are a modern reinterpretation of Maltese and Mediterranean cuisine fused with French touches. We especially enjoyed meeting the waitstaff, as they were friendly and took such pride in the presentation of the food. It was a great experience and one we will always cherish!
On Christmas day, the locals usually head out to enjoy a big late Christmas breakfast at restaurants and hotels. We suggest you do the same but make sure to reserve a table ahead of time. We know the restaurants will be packed this time of year.
Celebrating our Christmas in Malta was a bucket list moment. It was an unforgettable experience, and the perfect opportunity to immerse into another culture. If you love Christmas or have been looking to spice up your family traditions, traveling to Malta for Christmas will tick all of your boxes. If you still have questions we didn’t answer, we’d be more than happy to answer them in the comments below.
Where we stayed…
We don’t always have great success with Airbnb, but this week our accommodations were perfect! If you are looking for a place in the old town near attractions, look no further than this listing. Tell them the Retirement Travelers sent you!