Malta is a tiny archipelago in the Mediterranean Ocean, situated between Sicily and North Africa. It's seen empires come and go, as everyone from the Romans to the Moors to the British have made their mark on the land. They've all left behind a colorful, fascinating country that's the perfect destination for your next Mediterranean vacation. The weather is perfect, and the country boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites. The people speak a unique Semitic language called Maltese, but you'll find many residents fluent in English.

01Observe Solar Alignment at Mnajdra

Megalithic Temples of Malta Marianna Ceccarelli / Getty Images

Malta has been occupied for at least five thousand years, and many ancient structures survive - including this prehistoric temple. Every year, on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the rising sun lights up the main room. Conversely, the light on the solstices illuminates the sides. Come at any time during the year to connect with the distant past.

02Explore the Upside-Down

The natural crater found in Qrendi, Malta known as Il-Maqluba. Creative Credit / Getty Images

Yes, there is truly an Upside-Down on Malta! Called by its Arabic name Il-Maqluba, this structure is a very old sinkhole that formed due to either a storm or an earthquake in the 14th century. It's now home to several rare species of fungi and plant life, including the native Maltese Salt Tree. Enjoy exploring, but the area is protected, so step carefully and don't pick anything.

03Meditate on the Memento Mori at St John's

Mosaic of St John's Co-Cathedral - Valletta, Malta

For part of its history, Malta was under the control of the Knights of the Hospital of St. John. When Suleiman the Great invaded, the knights prevailed, but at great cost - over half their number perished. They were interred in the cathedral in the 16th century, where now the floor is tiled with many depictions of skeletons and reminders of death.

04Become a Sailor Man

"Popeye village" is a tourists attraction in Malta slava296 / Getty Images

Despite being Robin Williams' debut, the 1980 Robert Altman film Popeye was a box-office flop. It left behind one enduring legacy, however: Popeye Village. The residents have carefully preserved the set built for the movie, going so far as to install a breakwater to protect it from high tide. This is a great place for kids, as the park offers daily boat rides and puppet shows. Be advised that the park closes during bad weather.

05Visit the Site of a Miracle

Mosta Dome, Rotunda of St Mary - Night View kparis / Getty Images

In the 19th century, the Maltese raised enough money to rebuild the Mosta Rotunda. Inspired by the Roman Pantheon, the church features one of the largest unsupported domes in the world. In 1942, services were about to begin when a German bomb crashed through the dome! 300 parishioners were about to be seriously injured or even killed - except the bomb did not detonate. The event was hailed as a miracle. Though the actual bomb was dismantled and thrown into the ocean, you can see a replica in the sacristy.

06Feed the Birds on Duck Village

Two ducks on the pier on Manoel Island Malta

Just off the coast of Manoel Island, this tiny island isn't inhabited by people - only ducks! Built by a fan of the fowl over thirty years ago, the island features colorfully painted duck coops. The island has further attracted chickens, geese, and even some guinea pigs and bunnies. Admission is free, but the facility always needs fruit and vegetable trimmings or birdseed to feed their charges.

07Journey Into the Valletta Tunnels

Old medieval stone passage way in historic Senglea, Malta DC_Colombia / Getty Images

Part of the centuries-old defenses of the island, the tunnels were believed to have been dug when the country was under the protection of the Knights of St. John. During World War II, the Maltese took shelter from German bombing raids in these tunnels. Many of these tunnels remain hidden, but the ones near the Knights Hospitallers museum are accessible to the public.

08Learn SCUBA Diving

scuba diver on the bow of the recently sunken wreckof the p31 in Malta semet / Getty Images

The clear blue waters of Malta are perfect for SCUBA diving, and the ocean surrounding the islands features everything from distinct wildlife to historic shipwrecks, such as the HMS Maori. If you've never gone on a dive before, you have your pick of several professional schools, who will be happy to provide gear, show you the ropes, and take you on your first trip into the water.

09Tour the Three Cities of Cottonera

The stone Victory Monument decorates the same named square (Misrah ir-Rebha), surrounded by historical mansions with cafes and restaurants, Birgu (Vittoriosa), Malta. efesenko / Getty Images

Inhabited since Phoenician times, the three cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua are brimming with culture and history. The architecture is incredibly Instagrammable, especially the unique, artistic doors. You can book one of the popular boat tours, a double-decker bus tour, or try a self-guided electric cart tour.

10Swim in Dwejra Bay

Inland Sea at Dwejra, Gozo, Malta, wide angle Marco Dal Canto / Getty Images

Though one of Malta's premier attractions, the Blue Hole, closed forever in 2017, you can still visit nearby Dwejra Bay. This natural pool of brilliant turquoise waters invites you to take a relaxing swim. The surrounding area is windswept rock, so wear good shoes. If hiking is more your thing, several easy trails wind through the cliffs above the bay.

11Taste Gellewza and Girgentia Wines

traditional glasses arrangement in Maltese tavern CIPhotos / Getty Images

If you've never heard of those varietals, it's because the Maltese rarely export any, preferring to drink it all themselves. They may be on to something, as those who have tried the wines can't stop gushing about them. Gellewza grapes are made into either still red wines or sparkling rose, while Girgentia makes a white wine comparable to light chardonnay. Take your pick from the wineries dotting the island, many of which conduct frequent tours and tastings.

12Ride a Horse on Golden Bay

Ghajn Tuffieha Golden bay on Malta island

Golden Bay is a soft, sandy beach on the north of Malta. Due to its orientation, it's perfectly positioned to view the setting sun. And adding on to that perfection, you can watch the sky fall from horseback. Several stables offer horses and guides for hire. Pack a picnic and plan an outdoor day trip.

 

13Watch a Show at Teatru Manoel

The famous Manoel Theatre Its reputed to be Europe's third-oldest working theatre and considers itself as the country's national theatre and the home of Malta Philharmonic Orchestra

This glorious complex was built in 1732 on orders of the Grandmaster of the Knights of St. John and is one of the oldest continuously-operated theaters in the world. Take a selfie on the gorgeous white marble staircase, then enjoy a pre-show drink at the courtyard bar. The lineup changes constantly, so check ahead when planning your trip.