A Practical Travel Guide to Malta

by | Dec 2, 2022 | Europe, BLOG

Malta is a country south of Sicily, at the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. It might be the world’s tenth-smallest country, with only just over 500,000 people living in an area of 122 square miles. Still, few countries have such an interesting history and tradition as Malta.

Malta is an authentic paradise for history buffs, architecture lovers, and anyone looking to live the quiet Mediterranean lifestyle.

Today, Malta receives 1.6 million visitors annually, and many choose to stay.

This travel guide to Malta will give you practical information to help you plan your trip. See all the must-visit attractions and places, things to do, and most importantly, tips on where to eat and stay when you visit Malta.


Brief History of Malta

People have lived on the small island of Malta for eight thousand years, and every civilization, from the Phoenicians and Byzantines to the Arabs and Spanish, called it home at some point. 

Malta has an immense strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea, so people still visit it from all corners of the earth. Although Malta gained its independence recently, in 1964, it remains a collage of cultures, making it incredibly varied in terms of tradition, culture, and food. There’s no other place like Malta. 

Malta – Nick Fewings

Facts and Stats 

  • Maltese and English are Malta’s official languages, although more than half of the population also speaks Italian.
  • Malta is not properly an island but an archipelago. Three islands, Malta, Gozo, and the small Comino, make up most of the country, but there are at least two dozen small islands in the area. 
  • Malta has a Mediterranean climate with average summer temperatures of 26°C (80°F) and mild winter temperatures as low as 13°C (55°F).
  • Malta is not only about leisure but also a medical tourism destination with many health providers. 

How to Get There?

Both large and budget airlines have flights to Malta daily, especially during summer. Malta’s International Airport receives flights from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Cruise ships stop in Malta as well.

European Union visitors don’t need to go through customs or migration, but the lines are short even for travelers from other parts of the world.

Transfer services are readily available upon arrival, and public transport is connected to the airport. Hire a car, take a cab or hire a shuttle service to take you to your destination.


Where to Stay in Malta?

Malta might be tiny, but every town and city on the island is different. Distinct areas offer unique experiences. Sunny coastal destinations, sleepy villages, and bustling towns show different sides of Malta, and they’re all extraordinary. 

No city in Malta is better than others — they’re simply different. Touring the island is a beautiful way of getting to know all it offers. Let’s explore the best places in Malta, starting with the country’s capital, Valletta.


Valletta

Valletta is Malta’s capital city and a vibrant destination. The walled, fortified city on the main island is also the largest in the country.

There’s no shortage of hotels and hostels in Valletta, and they’re all within walking distance of most attractions, including the stunning 28 churches and museums (the city covers only one square mile!)

Valletta is also the most expensive city in Malta, so if you’re on a budget and want to save money, you should stay in a less busy town.

You can always visit Valletta, as it is a one-day trip from every part of the island.

Malta – Valletta – Micaela Parente

Old Town

Explore the old streets of Valletta, its churches, and museums. Walking around the city is like traveling back in time; the architecture will surely amaze you, even if you don’t care much about those things.

There are more than 300 monuments scattered around the city, fountains, and statues, and there is always a new narrow street to explore.

After a long walk, have a drink in one of the many bars and restaurants in the city.


Gozo

Gozo is a small island north of the larger island of Malta. Despite its size, Gozo is one of the most populated regions in Malta, and there’s something for everyone.

From impressive landscapes and blue shores to ancient towns and remarkable temples. 

Gozo is usually less expensive than the island of Malta, and it is a family-friendly destination. Guest houses and vacation rentals are typical on the small island but don’t expect the all-out parties typical in the busiest cities in Malta.

Gozo is also ideal for a quick one- or two-day trip. 

Malta – Gozo – Photo: Berit Watkin via Creative Commons

Sliema

Sliema is a fashionable seaside resort just a few miles from Valletta and is the island’s commercial capital. There’s no place like Sliema for shopping, but the destination is also known for its party scene.

Staying at Sliema can be pricey, as there aren’t many hostels in the area, but if you’re all about dancing all night long, there’s no better place to stay in Malta. The food scene here, by the way, is varied and much more international than the one in the rest of Malta.

Malta – Sliema – Photo: Mike Mcbey via Creative Commons

What to Eat?

There’s no shortage of places to eat in Malta. The country has a vibrant Mediterranean cuisine influenced by neighboring Sicily and, in general, Italy. Seafood, of course, is always fresh and varied, and specialties inland include roasted rabbit, pasta, and potatoes. 

If there’s something sure is that you won’t go hungry in Malta. The food in Malta is hearty, and the pastries are beautiful. A Middle Eastern influence gives variety to the otherwise Mediterranean cuisine, but there are plenty of International menus, especially in Valletta and the country’s beach resorts. Here are our favorite typical dishes to try during your stay.


Stuffat tal-Fenek

This is the typical Maltese rabbit stew — the country’s national dish! The local rabbit is stewed until tender, and it’s often served with a spicy tomato sauce. Potatoes are a typical side for this dish, but variations exist, and they’re all worth trying.


Imqarrun il-Forn

This pasta dish is very much Italian. Macaroni and tomato sauce come together in this baked dish, which is not dissimilar to lasagna. A slice is often all you need to satisfy your hunger, even after a long day touring the island.


Kapunata

This dish looks and tastes like the Sicilian classic, the vegetable-based caponata. It is a famous side dish but can also be the main course, in which olives, capers, peppers, onions, and tomatoes come together for a meatless but satisfying dish that can be enjoyed hot or cold.


Lampuki

The lampuki are fatty fish available seasonally in Malta, generally in fall and early winter. The local fish can become a wide variety of foods, including pan-fried fish, grilled fillets, or the famous Torta tal-Lampuki, a sea-scented pie with a golden crust and a well-seasoned filling. 


Pastizzi

Pastizzi are puff pastry rolls stuffed with cheese, veggies, or meat. These two-biters come in different shapes and sizes and are a lovely snack to grab and go. This is Malta’s version of fast food, and it’s delicious for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.


Bread

Bread might not sound overly exciting, but Malta has some of the most ancient baking traditions, and the bread is on another level. The Ħobż tal-Malti is a thick, baguette-like bread typical at every table — you can’t have enough of it. 


What to do in Malta?

Malta is more than its delicious food, historical cities, and blue shores; there’s something to do in Malta for every traveler. Malta is more varied than one thinks, especially for such a small country.

You can spend days, weeks, or months in Malta and still find exciting things to do, places to visit, and people to meet.

Here are the most attractive things to do and the best places to go in Malta for every type of traveler.


Visit Gozo

Gozo is the northernmost island in Malta and a suitable destination for everyone visiting the country — Gozo has its own feel. Gozo is a fantastic alternative if you enjoy the countryside.

History buffs will also have a wonderful time here; visit St. George’s Square, the Old Prison, and the Museum of Archeology.

Visit during the colorful Nadur carnival, if possible, especially if you’re into local food specialties.

Ferries connect Gozo with Malta’s northern shore and depart every 45 minutes.


Dwejra Bay

The western tip of Gozo is stunning, with its extraordinary wave-lashed cliffs, magnificent rock formations, and wind-tossed headlands.

This section of the coastline, known as Dwejra, is rich with natural wonders such as Fungus Rock and what was once the iconic Azure Window, which was sadly destroyed by a storm in 2017.

The location is considered one of the best in the Mediterranean for diving and snorkeling, and the cliffs are carved with walking routes that provide fantastic panoramic views.

Malta – Photo Felix Köning via Creative Commons

Ġgantija Temples

Gantija es una de las ruinas neolíticas mejor conservadas de las islas, con una vista impresionante de la meseta central de Gozo.

El templo más antiguo se construyó en el 3600 a. C., mientras que el más joven se añadió unos años más tarde.

Malta – Gantija – Photo: Bs0u10e01 via Creative Commons

San Blas Bay

This hidden little beach is located at the end of a leafy valley covered with fruit trees, and its reddish sand stands out against the green of the orchards.

There is no direct access by road and only one kiosk in summer, so it is usually a fairly quiet place.

Malta – San Blas Bay – Photo: Gerd Eichmann via Creative Commons

Visit Mdina

Mdina is a landlocked city at the heart of hilly Malta; the city’s name comes from the term Medina, which means “city” in Arabic.

The medieval town was a prominent religious center, and remnants of its past glory are all around — they go back to the Phoenicians and the Romans!

The city walls alone are worthy of a visit, but the several Palazzos, churches, and chapels are genuinely magnificent.

There are no cars in the “Silent City,” so enjoy walking Mdina’s ancient streets.

Malta – Mdina – Photo: R Muscat via Creative Commons

St. Paul’s Cathedral

Mdina Cathedral is supposed to have been built on the site of the villa of the Roman governor Publius, who was converted to Christianity by Saint Paul.

After an earthquake demolished the original construction, Lorenzo Gafa created, in 1697, the sober baroque building that exists today.

Malta – St Paul´s Cathedral – Photo: Mstyslav Chernov via Creative Commons

Rabat

Rabat, a las afueras de los bastiones de Mdina, es más una ciudad moderna y cotidiana, pero también tiene su grado de cultura, ya que alberga numerosos sitios cristianos importantes, incluida la cueva donde se dice que vivió San Pablo y las primeras catacumbas cristianas.


Party in St. Julian’s

St. Julian’s is a coastal town on Malta’s northeastern coast, neighboring Sliema, a few miles north of Valletta. This is the ultimate destination for young crowds looking for long nights of music, dancing, and partying.

The area is lovely during the day, too, especially for the Old Parish Church and the Spinola Palace, but ensure you’re at St. Julian’s Paceville area at night when the party starts.

There are plenty of open-air clubs, bars, and restaurants.


Visit Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk is a fishing village and harbor on Malta’s southernmost coast. The picturesque site of Malta’s traditional fishing boats is perfect for taking pictures, and the food in the area, of course, is unmatched — there’s no fresher seafood in the country.

Marsaxlokk’s open market is a popular destination and an effective way to experience the coastal town’s relaxed lifestyle.

If you are lucky, you’ll try freshly caught lampuki, a dolphin-like fish and the region’s specialty.

Tour the harbor and see if you can catch something!

Malta – Marsaxlokk – Photo: Kirk K via Creative Commons

Old Town Valletta

Explore the ancient streets of Valetta, its churches, and museums. Walking the city is like traveling back in time; the architecture will surely amaze you, even if you’re not into that stuff.

There are over 300 monuments scattered around the city, fountains, and statues, and there’s always a new narrow street to explore.

After a long walk, have a drink in one of the city’s many small bars and restaurants.


Grandmaster’s Palace

Gerolamo Cassar, a prominent Maltese architect, built this beautiful palace between 1573 and 1578.

Now it is the president’s office, but for more than 200 years, it was the Grandmaster’s residence, supreme ruler of the Order of the Knights of Saint John.

The Grand Master would welcome foreign envoys and important guests here, and the State Apartments are appropriately filled with reminders of the Order’s enormous wealth and power.

Malta – Grandmaster´s Palace – via Creative Commons

St John’s Co-Cathedral

St John’s Co-Cathedral, inaugurated in 1578, towers over Valletta like a massive fortification. However, austerity gives way to spectacular beauty and wealth when you walk through the door.

Every inch of its ornate interior is filled with carved and gilt arches, painted vaults commemorating the life of John the Baptist, and marble floors covering the tombs of hundreds of Knights of Malta.

The marble floor of St John is beautifully inlaid with tombstones, each wall is intricately carved with flowers and garlands, and the vaulted ceiling is magnificently ornate.

Malta – St John´s Co-Cathedral – Photo: Karelj via Creative Commons

Explore Fort St. Elmo

Fort St. Elmo is an impressive fortification in Valletta, on the seaward shore of the Sciberras Peninsula, and has an exciting history; it played a critical role in the great siege of Malta in 1565.

This is one of the most dramatic forts in the Mediterranean. The fort has been restored since 2009 and is now in full glory.

Learn more about Malta’s medieval history and its famous knights resisting an overwhelming Ottoman invasion.

Malta – St Elmo – Photo: John Haslam via Creative Commons

National Museum of Archeology

To fully understand Malta’s past, a visit to the National Museum of Archeology is required. Among the highlights are Horus and Anubis jewelry, bronze daggers, and a Phoenician porcelain human sarcophagus.

Malta – National Museum of Archeology – Photo: Hispalois via Creative Commons

Birgu (Vittoriosa)

Birgu was the initial headquarters of the Knights of Malta in 1530 and was a medieval port city.

During the Great Siege of 1565, the Knights resisted the Ottoman Turks besieging them from this location, giving the city the formal name of Vittoriosa.

Birgu became a sleepy backwater until the gateway to the Royal Navy, headquartered here during the 19th century and through World War II until the last troops left in 1979.

Malta – Vittoriosa- Photo: Neil Farrugia

Hal Saflieni Hypogeum

This huge underground necropolis is one of the most amazing archaeological sites in the world.

The upper level was excavated around 3600 BC. C. and two more layers were excavated below.

The red ocher drawings discovered at the site are the oldest and most unique prehistoric paintings on the Maltese islands.

Malta – Hal Saflieni – Photo: Hamelin de Guettelet via Creative Commons

Ħaġar Qim & Mnajdra

Built between 3600 and 2500 BC. C., even before the famous circle of Stonehenge.

These ancient limestone temples are the best preserved and most evocative of Malta’s distinctive megalithic structures, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

They are located on beautiful rural terrain that has changed little since the temple’s construction; its monumental entrances, internal rooms, stairways, and altars provide astonishing testimony to the art of the people of these islands 5000 years ago.

Mnajdra has three fairly typical temples, although Ħaġar Qim, on a limestone acropolis, is unique, housing some of Malta’s most remarkable early carvings.


Comino

Comino is a small, 3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi) Maltese island famous for its bird sanctuary, nature reserve, beautiful beach destinations, and blue lagoon.

If you are not very excited about sunbathing on a crowded beach but want to get to know Comino and its beautiful beaches, we recommend walking a bit and going to the other side of the island.

Finding small beaches and coves with places to enjoy the sun and the sea will be easier.

If you like walking, take the path that crosses the entire island because you can enjoy an unforgettable adventure and admire the spectacular views of Comino island.

Malta – Comino – Photo: Juan Antonio Segal via Creative Commons

Swim in the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is a beautiful beach with transparent and crystalline waters, really very pleasant for swimming.

Swim, snorkel, and scuba dive in the blue water, or spend the day at the Santa Maria Bay beach.

However, the drawback is that it is so popular during the summer it is completely full, and it becomes very difficult to find a place to put your towel.

Also, being a rocky beach, it is a bit uncomfortable to sunbathe on the hard ground.

If you prefer, you can take a boat tour which is also quite popular here.


Welcome to Malta!

Now that you know how to get to Malta, where to stay, what to eat, and what to do, know that this is just the beginning of an amazing trip.

There are many things to see and do on this small Mediterranean island, meaning you’ll want to return no matter how long you stay.








 

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