Malta museums are numerous and help you get a much fuller picture of the country’s history, people, and culture. Several of its cities are virtual living museums, and many of the actual museums are located in beautiful historic buildings and palaces that are extraordinary examples of the islands’ heritage in their own right. Even the entire capital city of Valletta is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other museums in Malta include the ancient megalithic temples that are found on both Gozo Island and Malta Island and together comprise another World Heritage Site.
There are a few Valletta museums that are among the most important in the country. The National Museum of Fine Arts is housed in a palace that dates to 1571, and was the former residence of several of the Knights of Malta. Under British rule, it was the residence of the commander of the British Admiralty. It is an opulent rococo palace with a grand stairway that is the perfect setting to display the country’s most important art treasures. One of its most prized paintings is a nineteenth-century watercolor of Grand Harbour by J.M.W. Turner of England. Other works include paintings and drawings by Renaissance masters from France and Italy as well as Maltese artists.
Another of the most important Valletta museums is the National Museum of Archeology. This is where many of the artifacts excavated from the megalithic temples are displayed. Taking tours of these museums is a great way to get an overview before or after visiting the mysterious temples, which can be done quite nearby at the Tarxien Temples and Hal Salflieni Hypogeum just outside of Vittoriosa. The National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta also has artifacts from the even earlier Phoenician period, when fishermen (probably from nearby Sicily) arrived on the islands. There are also collections from the period when Empires of Greece and Rome ruled.
Other fascinating Valletta museums include the Grandmaster’s Palace Armory, which contains the world’s largest collection of armor (some entire full suits), weapons, and artillery. There are a number of ornate bronze cannons, and parade armor from Italy, Germany, France, and Spain. This is one of the most popular of the museums in Malta because of the universal appeal of these gleaming armaments.
There are also Malta museums in Valletta that are located within some of the imposing fortresses that the Knights of Malta built to protect Grand Harbour and its parallel sister harbor of Marsamxett, which separates Valletta from St Julians and Sliema. The National War Museum is in St. Elmo’s Fort on the tip of the Valletta peninsula and has a rich collection documenting the important role that the country played during World War II. Even Fort Delimara guarding the port at Marsaxlokk is a museum, despite having a local farmer raise his pigs in it for 30 years.
You can find more Malta museums elsewhere on the island. The ancient city of Mdina and its suburb of Rabat have several worthwhile ones. Some of the Mdina museums are located in former palaces, including the Archbishop’s Palace just behind one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the country, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Built in 1722, it is a lovely palace. The Museum of Natural History is located in the magnificent Vilhena Palace with a fascinating collection of flora, fauna, and fossils from the islands.
One of the more unusual museums in Malta is found in the capital city of Victoria on Gozo Island. This is the Folklore Museum in a group of houses with architectural features from nearby Sicily. Here you can gain insight into the everyday lives of the Maltese people with displays of household goods and farming implements. Each of the most important megalithic temples on both Malta Island and Gozo Island also has a museum that provides a timeline of the prehistoric history of the region.