We’ve consulted our informal panel of mums – some expats, some locals – on their top ten activities to do with kids on summer holiday here in Malta. I often find myself fretting around this time of year about the long, three-month summer holiday looming. If you live here, there’s a limit to how much beach you can take, or is there?
True, local families pack a mega-sized holdall and food hamper and carry everything but the kitchen sink to camp out on the beach for a whole day, and stay well into the evening BBQ hour too. But that’s not everyone’s idea of a varied holiday. And if you and your kids are paler skin types, beware of whole days on the beach, sun protection or not.
Our panel’s list is a God-send then if you’re seeking a few ideas that aren’t all beach. It does include some sun and sea activities of course. Do note that some outings, if you’re here in peak summer, need arranging for early morning or late afternoon so you avoid the hottest part of the day. We’ve tips on this and more. This post contains just some ideas – in no particular order – and we’ll be following with more for kids under themes like sport, history and even choice ice cream eating & evening strolls!
1. Popeye Village
This attraction near Mellieha in Malta’s north has evolved from the film set of the 1980 production of Popeye, the musical. It is set around picturesque Anchor Bay. Amazingly, It never ceases to be popular with younger kids (and older ones too!). My son (7yrs) said it was one of his best school trips ever.
Parent’s Verdict: “Loads to do, good food, shaded play pool, shaded swimming pool, swimming in beautiful bay with bouncy things, animation (bit cheesey, but my kids love it), puppet show and santa’s workshop (they went round about 7 times last summer, yes in summer!) and there’s a funfair and an indoor play area at the top of the cliff.”
Parent’s Verdict: “A trip to the museum in Birgu (one of the ‘Three Cities’ across Grand Harbour from Valletta), combines well with wandering along the marina, looking at superyachts and chatting to the crews. Catch a round-the-harbour-creeks tour in a traditional Maltese Dhaghsa (kind of gondola) between Valletta and Birgu. Lots of restaurants by the Marina. Cheaper, cavernous, kiddy-friendly cafe at eastern end of carpark (well hidden, just keep walking along marina front).
3. Buggiba promenade
You can hardly miss this stretch of seafront if you’re holidaying in this tourist town, but even for us locals, or if you’re staying elsewhere, it has a lot of ‘fairground’ style in-your-face fun that kids love. We covered it in winter, here, but summer is its ‘season’ par excellence.
Parent’s Verdict: It can seem a bit ‘naff’ but has great activities like trampolines and bumper cars – usually open from about 6pm. Parents can sit and enjoy a drink at one of the bars which are tucked away along the front, but with a good view of the activities. Trampolines are approx €2 for 15 mins and cars €5 for around three rides. Fabulous Italian Ice-cream kiosk to the St Paul’s Bay end of Bugibba which finishes off the evening nicely. All sorts of hair braiding and henna tattooing stalls along the prom as well. Stop and watch the open-air botchi (like French boules) game at the local club. Good for people watching – not such a kids activity, but still, they may find it interesting watching older tourists do their line-dancing at one of the bars!
4. Horse Riding at Bidnija
Horse riding in Malta? Where the ground is hard and the heat is on? Yes, this may seem strange especially if you come from areas with plenty of green and rolling hills. But riding in Malta can be exhilarating for the views alone. It may also be an activity you never get around to doing at home. Bidnija is one of several stables; another is near Golden Bay, and there’s a small stable near Siggiewi, on the Girgenti-Fawwara road. Gozo has stables too. In peak summer, rides are early morning or late afternoon to evening.
Parent’s Verdict: My friends and I took our six kids aged 3, 4, 8 and 9, on one of the horse tours in Bidnija and they all loved it! And it was great for us mums too as we walked with the horses and got a good hour power walk out of it. The setting was beautiful and the horses very well kept. Fine, they just walk in line, so it’s like a giant pony ride, but it only cost 10 euro per kids, and it was a great outing!
5. Hanging out at the Airport
This has to be one of the oddest things to suggest, but if you are here in the heat and on a two-week stay or living here, the air-conditioning in its indoor play area and viewing gallery is not to be scoffed at in peak summer. Malta is so small that you can get to the airport easily and find parking at a fraction of the price of most European airports. Kids love plane watching, the book shop, cafes, play area and kiddies’ meals….and it’s cool!
Parent’s Verdict: The indoor play area is airy, clean and usually not crowded (check ahead to see if there’s a party, particulary in June when Holy communion parties there are popular). Weekdays, buy lunch in the cafe, spend over €15 and entrance to the play area is free. The big bonuses for me are air-conditioning, plenty of parking, chemist open long hours, cash point, book shop, and being able to buy fresh milk and bread. Yes I know it’s sad – but the airport is useful for more than flights!6. Splash ‘n’ Fun
Every local with kids visits this water park (billed as Malta’s premier one) on the coast road heading north at Bahar ic-Caghaq, at least several times a summer season. So, be warned this is a popular and hugely busy attraction. But get your timing right and you can miss some of the crowds and get in cheaper!
Parent’s Verdict: “They love it, and we’ve a pool at home! It’s cheaper after 3pm in July/Aug, after 1pm til end June – or a season ticket may get you in free earlier. It does get packed in high summer. Also, it’s surprisingly great in winter; with its indoor bouncy castles, small funfair rides and so on, it can while away the hours. There are some healthy-eating options at the cafe. But the best part of the park is that staff in the indoor area have the sole job of making sure your kids are having fun/can climb up the high bits! Also, all other staff are great with kids.
7. Sunset at Golden Bay
Parent’s Verdict: A nice simple way to end a summer day, that never fails to amaze young and old. Sunsets along this north west coast are to die for. End the day too with a pizza at one of the beach bars and your kids will go home to bed happier still. Before sunset though, take out a pedalo, or a dinghy for the braver, older kids, or be part of a rowdy group on the banana boat. For more on Malta’s top views and sunsets, click here. For full details of Golden Bay, amenities etc, click here.
8. Ta’ Qali Crafts Village and environs
Ta’ Qali features on most visitor tours for it crafts’ village based on an old British airfield. Wandering the ‘Nissan huts’ with their lace, pottery, filigree, knitwear, glass ware and so on can be fun, but if you’ve very small kids you have to keep a close eye on little hands grabbing breakables. A calmer way to visit is for parents to split up with one going to an activity while the other browses. Here are some ideas of what’s on offer…
Parent’s Verdict: With some planning, and booking in advance, you can get kids to have a go a pottery. Try Bristow Potteries (usually need groups though) and Alka Ceramics. Watch glass blowing at Mdina Glass and let them buy beautiful beads for threading (but don’t let them break anything). Stop for cafe’ there or at Bristow. The whole Ta’ Qali area is good for picnics. There’s now an Adventure Playground, offering lots of things to climb on and swing/slide down, graded by ages (incl. adults), so good for families. Lots of water features for the summer, but no shade, so time your visit in peak months. Clean toilets, lots of parking. There is a kiosk, but never seen it open, so take water and snacks just in case.
9. Falconry Centre & Limestone Heritage, Siggiewi
You can make a whole day of it along the west coast, just inland from Dingi Cliffs by combining these two attractions in Siggiewi, and then heading for a swim at Ghar Lapsi, a popular local spot (rock inlet, some lido area, playground, cafes, and good for snorkelling).
Parent’s Verdict: The Falconry Centre gives a good hour-long flying display (11am and 4pm in summer months) with an informative commentary, well-kept birds (everything from vultures, owls and eagles to Peregrine falcons). It has a lot of special breed birds in large aviaries as well. The centre is bravely pioneering the art of falconry, despite Malta’s reputation for the shooting of birds of prey. The centre is well run and well kept offers a good visitor experience. Also ideal for kids’ groups and an unusual birthday party activity.
Limestone Heritage, on the Siggiewi bypass, is another well-run private attraction that is informative for kids (film and walk through). It is based in an old quarry and takes you through Malta’s love affair with its age-old building material – limestone – from prehistory to modern times. Sights, sounds and the life of yesteryear recreated. All-round family interest. Cafe and worthwhile gift and souvenir shop.
10. Malta at War Air Raid Shelter museum, Birgu
A good one for slightly older kids and for parents. This attraction, run by a heritage foundation, Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, depicts life for the local people during the bombardment of Malta in World War II. The museum is housed in an old 18th century military barracks built in the historic walls of Vittoriosa (Birgu). It is an excellent insight into the hardships facing people during the Blitz, and is a good addition to a day-trip to Birgu (see Maritime Museum above as well, for other ‘what to do’s’ in Birgu.).
Photos: Courtesy Amanda Holmes