Located at a strategic crossroads about 97km (60 miles) from Sicily and 290km (180 miles) from North Africa at the southernmost tip of Europe, the island nation of Malta has been a coveted prize for thousands of years and at one time or another was ruled by the Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Castilians, the Knights of St. John (aka the Knights of Malta, who ruled from 1530 to 1798), the French, and the British. Malta gained independence from Britain in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, and today its golden capital city offers a wealth of history (cathedrals, palazzos, and fortifications, mostly from the period of the knights' rule), as well as museums, restaurants, and shopping opportunities. Its Grand Harbour also offers one of the cruise world's best "coming into port" experiences, with massive honey-colored stone fortresses rising up like ornate sand castles. In other parts of the island you can visit quaint towns, ancient sites (including the oldest known free-standing prehistoric temple structures in the world), and historic churches.
Coming Ashore in Malta:
Ships dock about a 15-minute walk or a 5-minute taxi ride from the center of town and its central Republic Street.
Getting Around in Malta:
Valletta is quite compact and easy to explore on foot, and taxis are available at the pier to get you to other parts of the island. Though they do except cash (settle on a price first), they also operate on a prepaid voucher system: Tell the taxi dispatcher where you want to go and he'll tell you the price.