The glittering Mediterranean, a bustling promenade, and high-rise hotels that sparkle in the midday sun. From the top deck of the ferry from Valletta, Sliema looks like any fancy resort in Europe. But go behind its 21st Century façade, and you’ll discover a world of colourful backstreets, distressed Victorian grandeur, and Malta's hottest nightlife.
Sliema is one of the most popular locations on the island, both with visitors and locals, thanks to its thriving economy and sociable character. The rooftop bars, alfresco restaurants and endless choice of adrenalin-pumping activities lend themselves to pleasure-seekers, but those looking for a more chilled out vibe will easily find it in one of the town’s cafés and parks.
Independence Gardens is the ideal starting point for an excursion around Sliema. Stretching along one side of St. Julian’s Bay, there are plenty of shady benches to lounge on, whilst you make full use of the free WiFi. People-watch the joggers, dog walkers and young couples strolling along the promenade. Cat lovers and art fanatics alike will love the giant feline statue, which is currently undergoing a revamp by local artist Matthew Pandolfino.
With the waterfront being the heart of activity, it should come as no surprise that Sliema was once a peaceful fishing village. However, that all changed in the Victorian era, when the British upper classes thought it a nice place to build townhouses, villas, and churches. Besides the Anglican church at Holy Trinity (built 1866), the Catholic houses of worship constructed by the Maltese are also a must-see, as each is packed with glorious frescos and spectacular architecture.
If you thought the churches were awe-inspiring, wait until you see the Teatru Salesjan, a real show-stopper. Sliema’s oldest theatre hosts a variety of performance art events, held upon the small yet perfectly formed stage. With its lavish decorations and classical reliefs standing out against the theatre’s plain walls, it almost resembles one of our famous niches, which are also dotted around town. Look out for them among the vibrant, floral-covered townhouses in Sliema’s side streets.
Sliema’s history isn’t all churches and culture. Standing sentinel over Marsamxett Harbour are two 18th Century forts, Tigné and Manoel. The former, which watches over the harbour mouth, is one of the oldest polygonal forts in the world. Tigné’s unusual circular keep makes it a landmark on the Sliema skyline. Its story stretches all the way to the Great Siege of Malta, in 1565, when the invading Ottomans built a battery there to bombard the much larger Fort St. Elmo, just a few hundred meters away. Manoel Island, meanwhile, is a star-shaped fort, built by the Knights of St. John. If Malta’s military history captures your attention, you’ll discover plenty of it here.
Whatever your interest, no trip to Malta would be complete without spending some time at the seaside. Want to try surfing, scuba diving, ride a jet ski, or hire a speedboat? Sliema has you covered. If a simple dip to cool off is what you’re looking for, the “Roman Baths” (constructed in the Victorian era) are a unique place to do so. The shallow saltwater, washing in from the Mediterranean with every wave, makes for a tranquil swimming spot shielded from the full force of the sea.
Last, but certainly not least, on your Sliema itinerary should be the charming ferry. It’s the most stylish way to enter Valletta from this part of Malta, giving you panoramic views of the capital, Marsamxett Harbour, and the heights of Sliema behind you. The unmissable photo opportunity and unforgettable experience is the only way to wave goodbye to lovely Sliema.