Situated on the west bank of Ganges River in Uttar Pradesh state of North India, Varanasi, also known as "Benares" or "Kashi" is mystical and captivating. As one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Varanasi is a place where history and religion form a colorful melange. A Hindu legend passed through millennia states that Lord Shiva (the destroyer, transformer, and protector of the city) founded Varanasi five thousand years ago, though contemporary scholars agree to be around three thousand years old. For Hindu devotees, a journey to Varanasi has the same significance as the Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca or the Christians to Jerusalem. It is believed, that taking a bath in holy Ganga River has the power to wash away one's sins. Due to the large distances and poverty in India, for Hindu followers, this sacred pilgrimage is often ones in a lifetime trip.
What makes Varanasi even more fascinating, is its spiritual meaning for another religion- just 13 km outside of the city is Sarnath, one of the four holy places for Buddhism.
My friend and I arrived at the modern and well-connected Varanasi Airport (VNS) and during our drive to the hotel, located in the new part of the city, we couldn't help but noticed how clean were the roads compared to New Delhi and Agra. Our guide shared with us the reason: the Indian Prime Minister Modi favors Varanasi and there is a continuous stream of financial resources.
Where to Stay
Varanasi is divided into Old and New City with the majority of the international hotel chains (Taj, Sheraton, Ramada) located in the new part.
Travel Tip: For Travelers feeling adventurous and seeking an authentic experience you might consider a stay at Brijrama Palace, 18th Century Palace converted into a 4-star hotel located in Old Varanasi, right on the banks of Ganga River.
Use a Local Guide
In a city with a million population and the lack of public transit getting around on your own can be challenging. During our stay, we used a prearranged local guide & driver. Our driver helped us to maximize our time by navigating us through traffic. Our guide Shasha, born and raised in Varanasi gave us an inside of the local traditions, beliefs, took us to the Ghats, Hindu Temples, local restaurants and off-the-beaten-path tour of the Old City.
Sunrise Boat Ride on Ganges River
In the Old City, the 8th km stretch of the River is accessed by man-made stone steps called Ghats. Majority of them were built in the 18th Century to provide an entry for the pilgrims seeking a holy dip or to perform religious rituals. Today about 80 of the Ghats are functional and have primary bathing and cremating purposes. Despite our early morning (6 am) start, upon our arrival, the Ghats were already brimming with all kind of activities- praying & bathing ceremonies, locals washing clothes and hotel sheets, flower sellers and beggars. Along the banks of the river are also a number of Hindu Temples, lower-end, privately run hotels and "moksha guesthouses" used as the last resting place for dying people. Hindu people believe that dying in Varanasi will help them to attain Moksha- instant liberation from the circle of life and death.
Travel Tip: Despite being a holy river, sadly, Ganga is one of the most polluted rivers in the world and drinking/bathing is not advisable.
Attend Ganga Aarti Ceremony
In Hinduism, Ganga River is a Goddess and Ganga Aarti Ceremony is a sacred ritual devoted to Mother Ganges. This daily ceremony takes place after sunset at Dashashwamedh Ghat- the main Ghat where according to a myth Lord Brahma "created" Lord Shiva and welcomed him. Although today the ritual is thought to be in a certain degree commercialized, Ganga Aarti is still a must-see, powerful Hindu ceremony and attracts thousands of devotees every night. Young priests follow a spiritual ritual performed by brass lamps and mantra chanting. Offerings to the Goddess in the form of conch shells filled with flowers and incense sticks are let to float down the river.
Visit Kashi Vishwanath Temple
Kashi Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, the protector of the city, is one of the holiest Hindu Temples and is located in Old Varanasi, in close proximity to the Ghats. There is no certain period when the original construction began, but throughout the centuries, the temple has been destroyed and reconstructed many times. In the 17th Century, the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb defiled the sacred Hindu spot and erected a mosque on it, which is today the reason for numerous religious conflicts and rigid entrance security. On a daily bases, Kashi Temple receives 3,000 devotees and the number goes up on certain holy festivals.
Take a Guided Walk in the Old City
Walking around Old Varanasi feels like stepping back in time. Following our guide, my friend and I passed narrow muddy alleys, centuries-old houses, Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, local shops selling souvenirs and offerings for the temples and of course cows!
Travel Tip: At the end of your walk, stop to a local Masala Tea Shop.
Visit Sarnath, a Holy Place for the Followers of Buddhism
Located a short 13 km drive outside of Varanasi is the historical complex of Sarnath, one of the four holy places for the followers of Buddhism. This "Mini City" is comprised of a few Buddhist & Jain Temples and an archaeological site with the remains of Buddhist Monastery and Dhamek Stupa built in 500 AD to replace an earlier structure commissioned in 3rd Century BCE by the great king Ashoka. It is said that Dhamek Stupa marks the spot where in the 5th BCE Buddha gave his first sermon to his disciples after attaining enlightenment.
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A recent trip to India inspired this blog- hope you find it useful. Fascinated by Ancient History, GQ Travel mission is to bring world heritage sites to life through travel.
Traceable India history dates back to the third millennium BC when flourishing Indus civilization together with Mesopotamia, Pharaonic Egypt and Yellow River Valley formed the Four Cradles of the Ancient World. The fertile plains of Indus Valley were home to thriving major urban centers like Harappa and Mohenjo Daro that left their mark in the history. It is believed, that sometimes during the Bronze Age Hinduism came to existence and dominated the religious life of the populous until the 6th Century BC when the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama branched off from the mainstream and gave birth to the Buddhism. The Great Empires of Ancient India (such as Maurya & Gupta) bloomed until 8th Century AD when series of Muslim invasions weakened and led to the decline of the region. A new page in Indian history was written with the arrival of the Mughals and the founding of the Mughal Empire in 16th Century AD. In the span of three Centuries, Moghuls established multiple capitals in India, Pakistan, and Afganistan, including New Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Jaipur, Kabul to name a few, and left a remarkable cultural and architectural legacy that can be seen today in their well-preserved palaces, tombs, and forts. The mid of 19th Century marked the arrival of the British Raj which lasted until 1947 when India got its independence.
Traveling to India feels like traveling back in time- Mystic religious practices are still performed in Ancient Hindu and Buddhist Temples, Mughal Forts, and Palace complexes continue to amaze visitors with their beautiful structures, laborious ancient arts and craft works passed through centuries are still practiced within communities and on display in local workshops.
Today Hinduism is the predominant religion in India, with 80% of the population identifying themselves as Hindus. The rest of the country adheres to other religions (Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism)
To enter India, you need a valid passport, return ticket and, if your visit purpose is travel for a period less than 30 days Indian Visa prior arrival (Electronic Travel Authorisation ETA)
Arrive in India with Pre-Planned Program
Whether you decide to travel with a partner or in a group, it is imperative to plan your entire stay in India a few months in advance with a travel advisor specializing in a cultural immersive travel. This will secure your airport transfers, preferred hotels, arrange your local guides and save your time in the destination.
Traveling with an organized small group or with a private guide/driver is highly recommended. Why? You will rarely see Western Tourists walking on the streets! The major Indian cities are densely populated and chaotic, the traffic is bad and driving rules/signs virtually non-existent. To make the driving experience worst, domesticated animals such as cows, dogs, goats are let to roam free on the streets and even can be seen on the highways. Fortunately, important highways connecting driving distance cities in the Golden Triangle( such as New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra) are modern, fast and efficient. As an alternative, India Railway system is cheap and trains, mainly preferred by the locals connect the entire country. When embarking on a train, one must be prepared for frequent delays and confined compartments.
Travel Tip: If you do like to experience how the locals get around the city, hop on a rickshaw ride!
Where to Stay
For the sake of comfort and hygienic purposes, staying at 4 or 5-star hotels is vital. In reality, due to local customs and traditions, you cannot simply get out of the hotel and walk to a store/supermarket/restaurant. A nicer hotel will provide you with a complimentary supply of bottled water ( The tap water in India is not drinkable), a clean room, Western Breakfast & various amenities. Majority of this properties are located in a close proximity to historical points of interest.
Travel Tip: If within your budget, staying at a Heritage Hotel displaying Indian History will completely transform your experience. Today, many former maharaja palaces are converted into luxury hotels.
Where to Eat
Eating at random street stands and restaurants is not advisable. India is a third-world country and the locals have poor hygiene in preparing street food. Unless your body is used to the local bacteria, you risk getting sick. However, buying peeled fruits from the street vendors is safe and you can enjoy tasty organic apples, bananas or coconuts.
Travel Tip: Unless your guide takes you to a trusted local restaurant that is known for its good hygiene, you will have no other choice than taking all of your meals in the hotel and unfortunately to pay Western Prices. On the positive side, a reputable hotel will serve a variety of Indian and Western dishes.
Travel Tip: Consult with your doctor for preventive medicines/vaccines you might need to get.
What to Buy
Support the local economy by purchasing locally made fabrics (such as silk, cotton), gemstone jewelry, marble & house goods, organic tea. Every city specializes in a particular art & craft. Your local guide will take you to cooperative workshops, where you can see the art of handmade goods in action, passed through generations and have an opportunity to purchase. New Delhi is famous for its Pashmina Shawls, Arga for its marble and leather goods ( local workshops employ the same inlaid marble technique used in the building of Taj Mahal), Jaipur is a world center of gemstone jewelry, Varanasi famous for its silk. These workshops are supported by the Indian Government and often an entire village is involved in the production and makes their living. The laborious, long and handcrafted process dictate almost Western prices, but you are buying with the peace of mind that you have helped to feed a local family and the uniqueness and quality are assured. Buying souvenirs or clothes from street vendors will be cheaper, however, a majority of the goods are Chinese manufacture and of low quality.
How to Dress
Dress modestly. Avoid wearing tidy shorts, short skirts or tank tops. Adopt loose cotton pants, long light dresses and a shawl to cover up your shoulders (especially when you enter a temple)
Travel Tip: Most of the temples require taking off your shoes. If you don't feel comfortable to do so, bring a pair of socks with you.
Cash & Tipping
If most of your trip is prepaid ahead of time, you don't need to carry a lot of cash with you. Established and brand name hotels, restaurants and stores accept credit cards. You will mainly need small Indian Rupees bills (INR) to purchase offerings for the temples you visit, for restrooms (20 INR) and to tip pretty much everybody that provides a service for you(guides, drivers (on your discretion), hotel/ restaurant staff, room cleaners, bellboys 100-200 INR)
Travel Tip: Always carry with you a package of tissue paper/wet-naps, most of the restrooms don't have toilet paper!
I hope this blog inspired you to visit India yourself! For questions and travel quotes contact Gia at: firstname.lastname@example.org/www.gqtrav.com
Paris, The "City of Light" is a destination in itself and it is on every traveler's list. As one of the cultural centers in Europe and one of the most romantic cities in the world, the things to see and do are almost endless but without a proper planning, they can become easily overwhelming. However, it doesn't have to be this way. A few minor twists can completely transform your Parisian experience.
Learn a few basic French words
You may know, that France is one of the European countries where Engish is not widely spoken. If you are not prepared, the language barrier can easily create unpredicted and challenging situations. That being said, there are ways to go around this. Patience and learning a few basic French words like "Bonjour", "merci", "S"il-vous-plait"is a good start!
Choose a centrally located hotel
Paris is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the world. Comprised of 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods), there are a variety of accommodations that can satisfy many travel tastes. If you are a first-time visitor, choosing a hotel that is either a walking distance to major must-see sights( Eifel Tower, Norte Dame, Louvre Museum etc) or near a train station can save you a lot of time and frustration. For our recent stay, my husband and I choose the boutique Louison Hotel located in Saint- Germain-des-Pres neighborhood. Also known as "Luxembourg", this arrondissement is home to the Luxembourg Museum and Gardens. This being our first time in Paris, we loved the location: steps away from multiple metra/train stations (including Gare Montparnasse for a short train ride to Chateau De Versailles), shopping, and a wide choice of restaurants and historical cafes including Le Procope, the oldest cafe in Paris. There was a nice mix of residential buildings and small hotels that didn't feel touristy.
Reserve your museum tickets ahead of time
Paris is home to one of the most visited museums in the world and if you don't reserve your tickets in advance you risk waiting on hours-long lines.
Travel Tip: Choose a ticket with a time entry/skip the line option. For some museums, you may have to do that a weeks in advance.
Travel Tip: If you are planning to purchase The Paris Pass, consider for how many days you are in Paris and how many museums you like to see per day (once activated, the Paris Pass have to be used in consecutive days and might not make a financial sense)
Give yourself an extra time to get to your point of interest
Paris metro is one of the oldest and one of the best systems in the world, but the complex metro system can be a challenge even for the most experienced traveler. Expect to take a couple of days to master the train system and to get lost a few times before getting used to it.
Travel Tip: If you can, just walk! You will get exercise and you will discover hidden neighborhood gems on your way.
Get an early morning start
Why would you get up early on your vacation? There are many reasons to do so, but the primary being is to avoid the crowds! Unless you book a "behind the closed doors/after hours entry" private experiences you will still wait on lines, but they will be considerably shorter compared to mid-day museum visits, also you will get better picture opportunities.
Ready to start planning your Parisian Escape? Contact Gia : email@example.com/(305)-433-1243
Why Sicily you may ask? For savvy travelers, who have seen most of mainland Europe, the island of Sicily offers an idyllic Mediterranean escape with longer summer- high temperatures (80 F) often through the whole month of September. Similarly to its neighbor island nation of Malta (see the previous blog about Malta), Sicily will satisfy diverse travel tastes with its unique blend of rich history, local culture, and maritime traditions.
Basic facts you need to know:
Travel tips you might find helpful:
To start planning your Sicily vacation, contact firstname.lastname@example.org/(305)-433-1243.
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Fellow travelers, with your hardly-earned vacation right around the corner, how many times these thoughts have crossed your mind?:
"Let me go with the flow and leave the planning of daily activities once I get there."
Well, this might have been the right approach in your 20s, but today's savvy travelers know that a bit of pre-planning is essential to be able to actually relax on a vacation. Of course, the variety of tricky experiences in my own travel adventures have served to reinforce this idea, and we generally pre-book the main points of interest ahead of time (while still leaving some free time for exploration), and would like to share a few key points learned from the process.
Pre-planning will optimize your vacation time
In the today's busy world, time is money -- and time at your vacation destination is especially valuable -- so leaving that to the last minute to "go with the flow", will mostly result in last-minute stress, missed opportunities, and an unsatisfactory experience generally. Picture this: After one or two typical international flight connections, you finally have arrived in the destination. The last thing you'd like to do at that point, is to start exploring ideas what to do and not to do and when/where to go. Yes, most likely there will be an excursion desk in the hotel or nearby ready to book you on a tour for the "best rate" according to them. The chances are, that's just another tourist trap. ...Just to cite a recent an "eye-opening" example from my last family vacation in Malta, we reserved the one of the popular Captain Morgan Cruises for a day tour to the Blue Lagoon and the island of Gozo (you can see Captain Morgan booths almost at every corner of the sea promenade in Sliema, where is the main foot traffic). The total tour was 8 hours, out of it, we've spent 1 hour "beach time" at the Blue Lagoon and 1 hour touring Gozo (including the bus transfers). We ended up with 6 hours on the boat "cruising" between the islands, considering the fact that the distance between Malta and Gozo is less than 14 miles!). What a time-waster!
Special interest activities typically require -- or benefit from -- an advance booking.
Did you know? Exclusive museum/ special interest entrance tickets require an advance registration (the Tomb of the Pharaoh Seti I in Valley of the Kings in Egypt is one of the best-preserved tombs just recently opened to the general public and allows only 150 ppl per day with a special permit), or Scuba Diving Trips (limited number of divers in a group, in addition, most dive shops require reservation at least one day ahead).
Tip: Using a travel specialist to assist you with special interest tours will save your time and will enhance your vacation experience by leveraging relationships with local tour operators.
Save $ reserving in advance online
Did you know? Many local tour operators offer two type of rates- An online rate and a walk-in rate. Sometimes the price difference is significant.
Skip the long lines to must-see sites
Majority of must-see historical sites are notorious for their long wait lines (the walk-in entrance to the Vatican museum can easily be a couple of hours). However, a travel expert will tell you that there is two type of travelers: those that wait in lines, and the other ones, who don't. Many museums offer a skip-the-line pass for an upcharge which is totally worth it in terms of a value and time-saver.
Pre-planning helps to reduce your stress
Unfortunately, stressful situations do occur when you are on vacation, especially due to a lack of coordination and planning to stay ahead of the game. Quite often, nailing-down a couple or a few key, high-value, items can work wonders in helping to create the best, most-optimized experience for you and/or friends and family.
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The land of the pharaohs is a destination that has fascinated travelers since antiquity. Egypt is the "Gift of the Nile" that the Greek historian Herodotus described when he visited in the 5th Century BC. There are not enough words to describe the magnitude and ingenuity of the Ancient Egyptian Engineering and the stunning colorful religious scenes carved in the temples and tombs -- you have to see it for yourself.
Travel Tip: As a Muslim country, the locals are conservative, but you will soon find that they are also genuine and helpful. The US dollar and the Euro are strong and go a long way.
Travel Tip: Renting a car is not really an option: The country roads are extremely busy, most of the directions are in Arabic and traffic lights are a rare occurrence. In order to travel, the Egyptian Tourism Board must issue you a road travel permit. In the countryside, there are security checkpoints every few kilometers.
Travel tip: If the purpose of your vacation is to party, reserve an all-inclusive resort in Sharm El Sheikh or Hurghada (Egypt's popular resort towns), where you can find trendy bars and nightclubs in a short distance from your resort.
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If you have any remote interest in ancient history and culture, a trip to Egypt will transform the way you see life.
When you arrive in the country and run into the dusty roads, the traffic, and poverty, It is hard to imagine that this land was a home to an advanced and thriving civilization, dating back to more than four and a half Millennials. Nevertheless, the evidence for it still exists and your first encounter with it will be seeing the Pyramids at Giza.
One of the best way to visit multiple archaeological monuments is taking a river cruise from Aswan to Luxor and below are few good reasons to consider why you should take a cruise on the Nile
A quick note: While some travelers choose to visit only Luxor and Karnak Temples, the most beautifully preserved are those from the Ptolemaic period (nearly 1500 years later than Luxor and Karnak complex), and they are near the city of Aswan.
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Do you check your luggage every time you travel? Even for shorter getaways?
According to the Airline information technology company, SITA, and their new baggage report for 2018 mishandled luggage rates has reached a record low-70 % drop since 2007 with the help of new technology implementations.
However, the biggest ongoing problem is luggage mishandling between tight flight transfers with a large number of the bags being misplaced in this process.
Here are five reasons to avoid checking your luggage
Reduce your risk of missing a connection
Some airlines (especially the budget ones such as Ryan Air), will require getting your luggage between flights. In any event, that you have a tight connection you can easily miss your next flight.
Protect your luggage
Often luggage is mishandled by careless airline employees that can result in broken wheels, handles or dirty spots. If you have invested $$$ in a quality, brand name bags seeing your luggage mistreated is not a pretty sight.
Saves you time
When checking your luggage you have to add automatically an additional hour to your travel time. As a savvy traveler to save time, you will have either printed your boarding pass ahead of time, or you will have it on your mobile phone. In this scenario, you should be able to go straight to your gate after the immigration wheeling your carry on bag, instead of waiting on a line to check it in a heavy suitcase. In an event that your luggage got lost, you will have to spend at least a day of your vacation shopping for "must have" items instead of enjoying your time in the destination.
It can reduce stress
Have you ever thought how much stress is associated with a lost luggage? Think about the multiple phone calls, waiting on lines to make a claim, waiting for the luggage delivery etc., in my humble opinion, this is really something that can ruin your vacation.
Save $ on baggage fees
In the last years, unfortunately, most airlines have adopted the pay for check-in luggage policy, and this is one of their main profit sources. Unless you have a credit card issued through the airline you are flying with, which might wave the fee, you should expect to pay if you want to check your bag. In addition, the budget airlines are notorious for their business policy of charging for a carry-on bag as well. So, a key takeaway is to keep a sharper eye on baggage policies generally, especially when flying with a different airline with whom you might not be as familiar.
Thanks for reading and share your comments below!
Did you know that Malta's history is older than the Pyramids? The archipelago is home to some of the world's oldest human structures and many of them are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Moving on to the later millennia, the strategic geographical position of the island has naturally attracted the ruling military powers of that period. Phoenicians, Greek, Romans, Moors, the Knights of the Order of Saint John, the French, the British -- all have left their impact in shaping Malta's history, culture, and architecture ...
Quick facts & geography
Malta is one of the smallest nations in the world (just under half a million inhabitants) situated right in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily and the North African Coast. A part of the EU, the local currency is Euro and there are no visa requirements for US citizens. The official languages are Maltese and English (as a former British colony). The Maltese Archipelago is comprised of Malta (the largest island), Gozo and Comino, with the capital Valletta located on the main island. Malta's territory is very small (122 sq. miles) and the best way to explore it is to use the well-developed Public Bus System.
Travel Tip: Get the Explore Card (Adult) for 21 Euro, and enjoy unlimited rides for a week!
Travel Tip: Order your taxi once you arrive at the airport. Taxi services from Luqa airport to any destination in Malta are available 24 hours a day. Pre-paid tickets can be purchased at fixed rates from the booth at the Welcome Hall.
How many days should you stay in Malta?
It depends on how deep you like to dive into Malta's history. The country is literally packed with historical must-see sights, and although the distances are short, you must take breaks between sights to absorb what you've seen. After spending a full week in Malta, I would recommend putting aside 8-10 days if you like to explore both Malta & Gozo islands (Comino is mostly uninhabited).
When is the best time to visit Malta?
Fortunately, with mild, Mediterranean winters, Malta is a year-round destination but If you really like to immerse yourself into the local culture, plan a trip in the spring and early summer months, when a number of religious and cultural events take place like Malta's Carnival and Mdina Medieval Festival
Travel Tip: If you are in Malta during the summer months, start sightseeing early morning! Malta's midsummer temperatures can go up to 34 C (93 F) in the hottest months July and August. Due to the high temperatures, sightseeing can be a challenge in the later parts of the day. We found breaking the day into two parts the most efficient, like sightseeing in the morning and beach time/sunbathing in the afternoon. For instance, my parents and I were sightseeing in the morning until 1-2 pm, and in the afternoon we were taking the bus from Sliema to St Julian's where the nearest (but not the cleanest) beach was located (St. George's Bay).
Where to stay in Malta
Again it depends on what you'd like to see/do... My parents and I stayed at Sliema, which is one of the popular tourist areas, in the closest proximity with Valletta (appx 25 min by bus). Majority of the accommodations and entertainment are located along the seafront. Note that Sliema does not have beaches per se, but instead "Lidos" which are essentially Beach Clubs with pools. Other popular areas further north are St. Julian's (known for its nightlife), & St. Paul's Bay (quieter tourist village) near which you can find the best beaches in Malta (Golden Bay & Mellieha Bay). If beaches/nightlife are not of importance for you, consider staying in Valletta, where although little quiet in the evening, you can find qualify boutique hotels, restaurants, and wine bars. (Check boutique properties like Palazzo Consiglia, Ursulino)
Travel Tip: Due to the short distances, you can easily commute between the different Bays (for instance, a bus ride between Sliema & St Julian's runs mainly along the seafront and takes about 20 min). The bus schedules are conveniently posted at each designated stop. Lastly, the Explore Card can be used to visit must-see sights like Mdina, Marsaxlokk fishing village & Hagar Qim temple complex, with all buses to the countryside departing from Valletta Bus Terminal.
Are you ready to start planning your Maltese Vacation? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org/www.gqtrav.com
Mainly traveled by Europeans, the small Maltese archipelago is somehow off the radar for the rest of the world, however savvy travelers often described it as one big open-air museum. What makes this islands unique is that so much of their past is visible today. The balmy Mediterranean climate makes Malta near around-the year cultural, beach and nightlife destination with all of the attractions packed in a small territory. That's the real advantage of staying here. This blog is inspired by Malta's rich cultural heritage.
Malta's History is closely interwined with the history of Knights of Saint John: What we see today in Malta, is the legacy the Knights of St. John left for us. The Knights Hospitaller (the Knights of Saint John), was a religious and military Roman Catholic order formally founded in the 12th Century to protect Jerusalem against the Ottoman Turks invasion. After the Order of Saint John was expelled from its base in the Island of Rhodes during the Ottoman Siege in 1522, a search for a new base began. This led to a new chapter in the Knights' history when the Pope gave them the island of Malta in 1530. The Knights Hospitallers settled in the area known as the Three Cities and more specifically in Birgu (Vittoriosa). After the Great Siege in 1565, and in order to celebrate the victory over the Turks, the Knights embarked on an ambitious project to build a new capital: Valletta. With one of the highest concentration of historical monuments per territory in the world, today, the city is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Start from Valletta
To get the best introduction to Malta's history, start from the capital Valletta followed by the Three Cities. Must see sights are Saint John's Co-Cathedral (an exquisite example of Baroque Architecture), Grand Master's Palace (headquarters of the Grand Master of the Order of Saint John), Upper Barrakka Gardens (Public Gardens), offering panoramic views of the Grand Harbor, Casa Rocca Piccola (a "living" 16 Century Palazzo), Fort Saint Elmo (National War Museum)... this is just short list of the historical sites which you can find in Valletta. If time allows, take a ferry for a scenic ride (multiple departures throughout the day ) to The Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea & Cospicua). Visit The Inquisitor's Palace (seat of the Maltese Inquisition for two centuries) in Birgu (Vittoriosa) is a must!
Reserve a half day tour (I'd suggest Excursions in Malta) or Tours by Locals (private local guides) to get a deeper knowledge of Valletta and the Three Cities history. Especially valuable will be to have a guide with a car in The Three Cities. A former administrative seat of the Knights of St. John, today the cities are left largely unvisited and offer an insight into Malta's Maritime History and authentic Maltese daily life. Although the cities are connected, they are spread out, and we found them not as pedestrian friendly as Valletta and exploring without a car can be a challenge.
As much as my family enjoyed exploring Valletta and the Three Cities, once my parents and I entered the Main Gate into the fortified city of Mdina, we felt like we traveled back to Medieval Times. A former capital of Malta from the antiquity to the medieval period, Mdina is one of Europe's finest examples of an ancient walled city with a unique mix of well-preserved medieval and baroque architecture. The arrival of the Knights of Saint John on the island in 1530 led to moving the capital to Birgu (Vitturiosa) and the city faced a period of decline. Though the centuries, Mdina remained a center of the Maltese noble residents and religious authorities but never regained its pre-1530 importance. Today, Mdina is home to less than 300 inhabitants giving the rise of the popular nickname the "Silent City".
Although Mdina is quite small, dedicating at least a half day is a must. Among the many historical sites worth visiting are St. Paul's Cathedral (second in grandeur after St. John Co-Cathedral in Valletta), Cathedral Museum, Palazzo Falson (13th Century Medieval Palace), Carmelite Priory to name a few. Take a time and wander around the narrow streets and stop by a traditional Maltese glassmaking store for a souvenir (Valletta Glass is an excellent choice). If time allows, enjoy a gourmet meal or spend a night in Xara Palace, a 5-star boutique hotel, member of the prestigious collection Relais and Chateaux situated in a 17th Century palace.Although Mdina is quite small, dedicating at least a half day is a must. Among the many historical sites worth visiting are St. Paul's Cathedral (second in grandeur after St. John Co-Cathedral in Valletta), Cathedral Museum, Palazzo Falson (13th Century Medieval Palace), Carmelite Priory to name a few. Take a time and wander around the narrow streets and stop by a traditional Maltese glassmaking store for a souvenir (Valletta Glass is an excellent choice). If time allows, enjoy a gourmet meal or spend a night in Xara Palace, a 5-star boutique hotel, member of the prestigious collection Relais and Chateaux situated in a 17th Century palace.
Savor Fresh Seafood in Marsaxlokk
Take a Sunday morning trip to the fish market in Marsaxlokk! This is a picturesque fishing village famous for its bright color boats and its Sunday market. You will have a chance to experience authentic Maltese culture and interact with local fishermen's and farmers. The market is an excellent choice to buy local products, and the sea promenade offers a wide variety of seafood restaurants accommodating every taste and budget.
Visit Hypogeum, Hagar Qim or other megalithic Complexes, UNESCO designated sites
The Maltese archipelago is home to one of the oldest ancient religious temples in the world, believed to be dedicated to Mother Goddess. Located just outside of Valletta, the Hypogeum is a underground sanctuary and necropolis dating to 3300 BC. Continuing just six miles south, you can reach Hagar Qim and Mnajdra megalithic temple complex constructed in the same period- 4th millennium BC. The two temples of Ggantija on the island of Gozo, recognizable for its gigantic Bronze Age structures, are well worth the trip to the island alone.
Visit Gozo & the Blue Lagoon
Lastly, your Malta's vacation won't be completed unless you visit Gozo island and Comino's Blue Lagoon. If your time allows, spend at least couple of days on the former. A regular ferry service carries passengers and cars from Malta to Gozo. The ferries depart from Cirkewwa, Malta to the seaport of Mgarr, Gozo and take about 25 minutes. For schedule and fare information visit Gozo Channel website. Once on the island take the Public Bus to the capital of Gozo.
Although the bus service is not as frequent as in Malta, is a better alternative than renting a car. Navigating through one-lane roads and sharp turns can be a real challenge. If your budget allows reserve a driver/ guide who can save your time and bring an inside knowledge.
The capital Victoria known for its Medieval Citadel and baroque era architecture is a good base to explore the rest of the island. Check PlanetWire for a complete list of must-see attractions on the island of Gozo.
If you are time constrained, there are day trips organized from Malta to Gozo and the Blue Lagoon
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