A Malta vacation is exceptionally eventful for families in 2023. For a start, in February the country has one of Europe’s oldest and most colorful Carnival celebrations. Then comes April and a wealth of historic and moving events to mark Easter. Plus, it’s one of the sunniest European countries which means great early spring weather too. So if you’re looking for truly unforgettable experiences, here are some of the reasons you should consider a Malta vacation in 2023.
Where to find Carnival celebrations on your Malta vacation?
This year Mardi Gras or Carnival is celebrated worldwide between Friday, February 17 and Tuesday, February 21, 2023. The week before Lent which begins on February 22, Ash Wednesday, is traditionally one of excitement, pageantry and partying. In Malta it’s all three mixed with a strong sense of history, after all carnival has been celebrated here for more than five centuries.
The country is made up of three islands, the main island of Malta and two smaller islands, Gozo and Comino. Of course, you’ll find Carnival festivities on all three this February. However, the key events take place in the stunning Maltese capital of Valletta.
Fortunately, Malta is exceptionally easy to get around so wherever you choose to stay you can join in the spirit of Carnival. Although if you want to plan your trip a little in advance, we’ve mapped out some of the most family-friendly celebrations for you.
How Valletta celebrates Carnival in 2023
As we said, Carnival in Malta or Il-Karnival ta’ Malta, is celebrated with enthusiasm all over the country. But to be at the heart of the most thrilling events, head to Valletta.
The Maltese capital is where to see epic street parades and dazzling floats. It’s also the center of day-time fun that’s squarely aimed at entertaining kids. And as evening falls the celebrations take on a more adult theme with much eating, drinking and all-night parties.
What not to miss in Valletta with your kids
- Look forward to several dazzling street processions through Valletta during Carnival. Each is lavish and you can expect to see live bands and acrobats, theatre groups and dance troupes.
- The tradition of float building in Malta passes down from generation to generation and Carnival creations take many months to design. Unsurprisingly, they’re fabulous. Kids will particularly like the comical ones. But parents tend to appreciate the sharply satirical scenes the most.
- If you like to dress up, Carnival is the perfect excuse. Enter the Best Costume Competition and you could even add a win to your Malta vacation this February.
- Il-Karnival ta’ Malta is over 500 years old. If you want to know how it came to be, join one of the fascinating workshops held in Valletta during carnival.
- For parents who want to be grown-ups for the night, the magnificent Carnival Ball held on Valletta’s Triton Square is the place to be on Saturday February 22 2023.
More Carnival highlights which make a Malta vacation magical
Carnival in Malta was pioneered by The Knights of the Order of St. John in the 15th century. So understandably, many of its traditions are ancient. Although you’ll find plenty of newer ones to enjoy too.
Marvel at the skill of the Kukkanja masters
Kukkanja dates back to the early 1700s. Held in the Palace Square it was a competition to find sausages, hams and live animals hidden outside the guards house. Finders keepers was the rule, so whatever you found, you kept.
Today’s Kukkanja involves competitors scaling a tall, greased pole. This is done with incredible skill and dexterity and cash prizes are up for grabs. It’s fun to watch and another event with an incredible atmosphere.
Celebrate the start of Carnival with Il-Parata
Il Parata is an ancient dance performed outside the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta.
Originally the Carnival could not begin without the Grandmaster’s permission. This took the form of a stone hung from his palace announcing justice was suspended for the duration of Il-Karnival ta’ Malta. Permission may no longer be necessary, but Il Parata still marks the start of festivities with the traditional dance now performed by local children.
Catch Il-Qarċilla for laughs on Sunday evening
Another old Carnival custom, Il- Qarċilla is a nonsense marriage contract read to a fictional bride and groom by an equally fictional notary. The first of these rhyming verse ‘contracts’ was written by the Maltese poet, Felic Demarco and read in 1760.
During this year’s Carnival, you can catch Il-Qarċilla performed by actors wandering the streets of Valletta on Sunday evening.
No Malta vacation is complete without Carnival food
Food plays a big part in any Malta vacation. However, Carnival is the lead up to the restrictions of Lent, so eating extra heartily all week is almost a rule.
You’ll find street vendors all over Valletta selling sweet and savory treats during carnival. But one delight you should never miss is Prinjolata.
This traditional Maltese dessert is actually a dome-shaped cake made from almonds, eggs and biscuit. It’s then covered in cream and melted chocolate, topped with cherries and eaten any time you like during Carnival.
Don’t forget to pick up some Perlini before Lent too. Colorful, sugar coated almonds, they used to be thrown into crowds from floats. Now they’re available to buy all over Malta in Carnival week.
Find more Carnival traditions for your Malta vacation
Easter adds sunshine to your Malta vacation
Spring is an ideal time for a vacation in Malta. Not only is the weather warm and sunny, it’s the season for Easter which you’ll find celebrated across the islands in the week leading up to Sunday, April 9, 2023.
In predominantly Catholic Malta, Easter is one of the year’s most important festivals and it’s a combination of religious solemnity, joyous celebration and historic traditions. Everything from processions and passion plays to Easter feasts is family-friendly and visitors of all faiths (or none at all) can expect to feel warmly welcomed wherever they go.
What to look forward to this Easter in Malta
Easter week begins on Palm Sunday the world over, however, Malta marks the event a little earlier with the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on the Friday before Good Friday.
- Known by the Maltese as Id-Duluri, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows takes place in churches across the country. As well as large processions of people singing and praying as they walk through the streets of towns, villages and cities, you can also expect to see some of the faithful walking barefoot or dragging chains as thanks to Our Lady of Sorrows for answered prayers.
- Palm Sunday is another beautiful celebration marked all over Malta when palm leaves and olive branches are blessed, carried in processions and made into little crosses which are then given as Palm Sunday favors to the faithful.
- To see one of the Malta’s loveliest Easter events, visit Siggiewi in the south of Malta island. It’s here on the evening of Maundy Thursday that an atmospheric torchlit procession of pilgrims walks from the village square to the summit of Girgenti Hill to pay homage to the Laferia Cross.
- The solemnity of Good Friday is acknowledged by the silencing of all church bells across Malta. This is also the day when you can witness robed and hooded penitents walking barefoot through the streets. Although no mass is held on Good Friday many Maltese visit their local churches to kiss the cross around 3pm, the time of day Christ is said to have died.
- By complete contrast to Good Friday, Easter Sunday is a day of jubilation with all churches open, bells rung throughout the country and a joyous atmosphere everywhere.
Easter is also a time for feasting in Malta
Malta’s traditional Easter specialties are particularly delicious and, as elsewhere in the world, some are made just with kids in mind.
- Figolli are sweet almond Easter cakes covered in icing or chocolate and topped with half a chocolate Easter egg wrapped in colorful foil. They’re made especially for children, but everyone loves them. Expect your kids to be delighted by the shapes of Figolli which can be anything from fish to cars, lambs and butterflies.
- Kwarezimal biscuits are traditionally the only sweet treat allowed during Lent. Chewy, nutty and flavored with orange-flower oil, they’re a must-taste if your Malta vacation takes in some of Lent or Easter week.
- Qagħaq tal-Appostli is a loaf of unleavened bread traditionally baked with honey, almonds and sesame seeds and eaten at Easter after the celebration of the Seven Visits on Maundy Thursday.
Don’t miss the restored Red Tower on your Malta vacation
The legendary Red Tower is one of the oldest garrisons in Malta. Built in 1649, it was designed to accommodate 50 soldiers and withstand a siege of up to 40 days.
Magnificently restored, the tower sits on the coast just outside the beach town of Għadira in the far north of Malta island. So quite apart from its fascinating history, views of Comino and Gozo from the battlements are magnificent.
The Red Tower’s many exciting tales are told in a permanent exhibition and the restored cannons on its flat roof have undeniable kid-appeal.
Open year round, the Tower entrance is free for under 12s and around $3.00 for older children and adults. So it’s not only a fun family visit with fabulous views, it’s another very affordable day out in Malta with kids.
How to plan a Malta vacation in 2023
Where is Malta
Malta is a Mediterranean archipelago made up of three main islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino.
One of the two official languages spoken in Malta is English, the other is Maltese.
Valletta is the smallest capital city in the EU but has the highest concentration of historical sites in the world.
Malta’s three UNESCO World Heritage sites include the world’s oldest freestanding structures and the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.
How to get here
Direct Air Access to Malta from the US & Canada is available on several major international carriers. These include British Airways, Air France, KLM, Swissair, Delta and Emirates, as well as Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. All carriers connect to a European Air Malta hub.
Where to stay
Malta has a wide choice of family accommodations ranging from boutique hotels in Valletta to resort hotels on the coast. Gozo is famous for self-catering vacation rentals in traditional island farmhouses. Visit Malta can help you find the perfect place to stay on family vacations in Malta.