More than a decade ago, I made my maiden voyage to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, spending a whirlwind weekend there.
Ten years later, Shawn and I would move to the tiny country, so that Shawn could pursue a master’s at the University of Malta. This experience allowed me to soak up copious amounts of sunshine and culture. It also taught me how to appreciate a slower pace of life.
From prehistoric temples and fascinating fortifications, to olive and citrus harvests, the island is rich in possibilities. Here’s hoping these dispatches help you find your own magic in Malta.
Table of Contents
- Get acquainted with Malta’s stunning capital city, Valletta. Pop into a handful of Valletta’s museums and churches, wander past vintage storefronts and palaces undergoing a renaissance, and take in magnificent views from the city’s fortifications.
- See Malta from a sailboat, as sailors have for millennia.
- Pick oranges or participate in an olive oil tasting, knowing that you’re helping support local farmers in the process.
- Step back in time in medieval Mdina, and explore Malta’s Roman roots at the Domus Romana Museum. Nearby, in Rabat, is the fascinating St. Paul’s Catacombs. Rabat’s pretty residential streets are worth a peek, too.
- Glimpse rainbow-hued wooden fishing boats in the village of Marsaxlokk, and savor freshly-caught fish. If it’s summertime, watch a world-famous dog and human diving duo in action at St. Peter’s Pool.
- Attend a festa, the quintessential Maltese celebration. Each year there are more than 70 of these saint’s day festivities to choose from!
- Although Malta is best known for its saint’s day festivals, there are many more annual events: Citrus Festival (January), Carnival (date varies), Strawberry Festival (April), International Fireworks Festival (April), and the Żejtun Olive Festival (September).
- Explore what is believed to be the oldest prehistoric underground temple in the world — the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum.
- Soak up the sunshine at the pristine Għajn Tuffieħa Beach, which is overlooked by a Knights of Malta-era watchtower.
- Hit the Xemxija Heritage Trail, and discover the old Roman road, Roman baths, neolithic tombs, ancient cart ruts — even a gorgeous stone apiary perhaps dating back to Roman times.
- Take in Malta’s rugged coastline while visiting Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra Temples. If time permits, head northwest to the dramatic Dingli Cliffs. The mysterious ancient cart ruts — informally called Clapham Junction — are not far from the Dingli Cliffs either.
- Glide across the Grand Harbour to the Three Cities in Malta’s version of a gondola – a dgħajsa.
- Appreciate the dramatic views from a coastal watchtower. The Maltese islands are dotted with about 30 of them, but the Red Tower has one of the best settings.
Watch: Scenes from Valletta
- Watch snow-white salt being harvested from the Xwejni Salt Pans on Gozo’s northern coast.
- Admire the sophisticated construction of Malta’s mysterious ‘Temple Builders’ at their largest temple, Ġgantija, which predates Egypt’s Pyramids.
- Gawk at the beauty of the Gozitan countryside while strolling atop Victoria’s Cittadella.
When I visited Valletta back in 2006, short-term lodging options were few and far between. Back then, I stayed at the Asti Guesthouse, run by sweet Annie and her family, and situated on the steep steps of St. Ursula Street. In recent years, more and more boutique hotels and self-catering apartments have appeared on the scene in Valletta (affiliate links), some occupying pretty old palazzi. Since we lived in Valletta, we never had the need to stay elsewhere in the city. Still, Valletta boutique hotels like the Casa Ellul, Trabuxu Boutique Living and 10 Strait Street piqued my curiosity, as they look like they offer a stylish blend of old and new. Airbnb is also an option for finding accommodation. (If you’re new to Airbnb and sign up using this link, we both get $25 in travel credit. Some readers have mentioned that Airbnb modifies the promotion from time to time, so the figure might be a bit more or less.)
Since Valletta is compact, chances are that you’ll find yourself in a convenient spot wherever you choose to stay on the peninsula. Valletta hosts the island’s main bus terminal, so staying there makes day-trips to sites elsewhere on the island convenient. Even if you’re visiting for a long-weekend or city break, there is much to keep you busy in Valletta itself.
While I would wholeheartedly recommend staying in Valletta, it might not be a good fit if you’re planning to spend most of your time at the beach, or if you’re not accustomed to lively surroundings (honking horns, construction noise, and ‘pleasant noise’ — like acoustic guitar and chatter of guests emanating from the wine bars & cafés).
If you’re thinking of moving to Malta, here are my recommendations for finding long-term accommodation.
We regularly used the bus to get around the islands of Gozo and Malta. However, when we needed an early-morning taxi to the airport from Valletta, we used eCABS. We were impressed with the customer service we received, and the pre-arranged fare was the best I found too.
Bus – If you’ll be exploring Malta for a few days or more, you’ll probably want to pick up a multi-use bus card. Depending upon how many days you’re staying, this will likely save you money, and it’ll make bus drivers happy too, since you won’t need to make a cash transaction. Journeys completed within two hours should count as one fare, so save your receipt if you choose to pay with cash. If you’re living in Malta for a longer amount of time, you’re eligible to apply for a residential Tallinja card, which offers even lower fares. Whatever card you choose, use this Journey Planner to map out your excursions. Keep in mind that short distances can be deceiving when it comes to travel times throughout the island! The island is densely populated, and it can take an hour just to go a few kilometers. This is especially true during rush hour, or if there’s just been a heavy storm. (When we first got to Malta in 2015, flooded roads meant that it took us about 2.5 hours to travel just 10 kilometers by bus!)
Malta – Gozo Ferry – It takes about 25 minutes to get from Malta’s ferry terminal (in Ċirkewwa) to Gozo’s terminal (in Mġarr). See the Gozo Channel website for ticket prices as well as a timetable of ferry crossings.
Sliema – Valletta Ferry – It takes about 5 minutes to travel from Valletta’s Marsamxett Harbour to the city of Sliema by ferry. This is considerably faster and more scenic than taking a bus! See the Sliema Ferry website for a timetable and fares.
Valletta – Three Cities Ferry | Dgħajsa– The journey time from Valletta to Vittoriosa (known locally as Birgu) is roughly 5-10 minutes. Alternatively, you can travel by dgħajsa, Malta’s version of a gondola. Dgħajsa drivers congregate near Valletta’s Three Cities ferry point. Like its Sliema Ferry counterpart, a ferry or a dgħajsa is a quicker and more enjoyable way to travel from city to city than by bus. Visit the Three Cities ferry website for a timetable and fares. As for dgħajsas, on one of our crossings by dgħajsa, Shawn and I met ‘Captain Bruce’ who pilots the Pici. He can be reached by mobile at 99 93 33 77. Alternatively, you can schedule a dgħajsa through this website. (I have no experience with this site.)
Additional Malta Resources
- Malta’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Calculate the current exchange rate.
- Since 2004, Malta has been been a member of the European Union. It is part of the Schengen Area.
- Visit Malta (official tourism website)