Malta was once one of Europe’s best kept secrets, but is fast becoming one of the most popular destinations in the Mediterranean. An archipelago consisting of Malta, Gozo and Comino, the Maltese Islands are only three hours from the UK and offer a destination with enough history, culture, nightlife and year-round sunshine to keep every traveller happy – not least gay holidaymakers.

Malta was recently ranked number 1 in the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Inter-sex Association’s (IGLA-Europe) which ranks the continent’s best countries for LGBT human rights progress.

While in 2006 a Eurobarometer survey found that just 18% of the Maltese population supported same-sex marriage, last year the same poll found the figure had shot up to 65%. As well as having some of the best gender identity laws in the world, in April 2014 a bill was enacted to create civil unions with rights equal to marriage. In fact, Malta is a great destination for your wedding or honeymoon. There are plenty of impressive locations throughout the islands for your nuptials, such as Palazzo Parisio and the Upper Barrakka Gardens.

The Maltese Islands enjoy year-round sunshine. As well as the beautiful, picturesque beaches you’d expect from a Mediterranean haven, the capital city of Valletta has just joined the global heavyweights as the European Capital of Culture for 2018.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the fortified coastal city is a breathtaking monument to the rich medieval history on display. Valletta is the perfect place for a city break, with plenty of culture to soak up, such as Saint John’s Co-Cathedral and The Manoel Theatre.

There are plenty of exciting events coming in 2017 which includes a selection of festivals and initiatives which contribute to the Valletta 2018 Cultural Programme.

The Malta International Arts Festival (29th June – 29th July) provides a dynamic platform through which established and emerging Maltese artists can showcase their work and engage with broader audiences. Each year, the festival strives to enrich the cultural calendar with a host of events, including virtuoso music performances, visual installations, dance, and well-established international acts performing at various venues in and around Valletta.

The Valletta Film Festival (16th – 25th June) is Malta’s largest film event, a live and communal affair that transforms Valletta into a city-sized cinema, with 40 feature films and 25 short films being screened at several venues around the capital. Free screenings are also held at Pjazza San Ġorġ, Valletta, while masterclasses, conferences, and debates provide a platform through which participants can discuss film and contemporary affairs over the course of the festival’s programme.

One of Malta’s longest-running festivals, the Malta Jazz Festival (20th – 22nd July) is a highly-acclaimed music event that brings local and international artists to the city of Valletta for three days of jazz performances, concerts, and events. Each year, the festival features some of the most popular jazz musicians working in the music sector, and also offers a diverse programme of free activities and events, such as open-air concerts, master classes, intimate performances, and contests.

July will see the Festa Gay Festival taking place from 21st – 23rd July, which includes a parade and a big gay boat party! Malta’s Pride event is coming in September, with Pride Week starting from the 4th – 10th and Pride Day being on the 9th.

When it comes to cuisine, Malta boasts a true blend of Mediterranean flavours, with influences from Sicilian, Italian, Lebanese and North African cooking. The fresh, delicious produce is enjoyed as part of thriving open-air cosmopolitan nightlife, where you can stroll between relaxed café culture to clubs and bars in which to dance away the night. Malta has a small but thriving gay community made up of both Maltese and foreign residents, with LGBT-specific venues and plenty more to be found among the liveliest partying areas of Paceville, Bugibba and St Julians.

For those looking for nightlife, Malta is attracting world-class DJs to its many music festivals and venues, including the gay club AXM in St Julian’s.

For more information, visit http://www.maltauk.com/lgbt/