Military helicopters buzzed overhead and sharpshooters kept watch from rooftops as Queen Elizabeth II of Britain on Wednesday began her first overseas trip since the July 7 bombings in London.

Security in this tiny Mediterranean island nation was tight ahead of the three-day Commonwealth summit which begins Friday.

Still, applauding well-wishers were allowed to line the sidewalk of the narrow medieval street in the Maltese capital's historic center where the monarch's motorcade passed.

In early evening, the queen took a 10-minute walk past the crowds as thousands of Christmas lights, decorating the street, twinkled overhead.

Maltese crowded balconies and pressed up against windows in buildings lining the street for a glimpse of the queen, who arrived two days ahead of the summit's opening.

Malta, which includes three inhabited islands lying strategically between north Africa and Italy, gained independence from Britain in 1964 and joined the European Union last year.