Malta is located to the south of Italy and north of Africa. It has a huge potential and there’s no wonder that, despite its sunny weather and clear waters, more and more tourists venture out of the hotels to discover its 6000 years of history and culture. The best thing about Malta is that it has something for everybody. Even if you might not be interested in stones or beaches, you’ll still find a lot of options to choose from. This being said, don’t feel forced to visit a site just because it’s on the list and you have to. Filter them out and have a good time, there will still be left plenty of things to do and see.
The islands of Malta
Malta comprises 8 islands, but only three of them are inhabited. Of course, they are also the most popular ones: Malta, Gozo, and Comino. If you want to find out more about the other island, check this article.
Getting around in Malta: renting a car vs. taking the bus
Malta is tiny and the bus system is pretty well organized.
On the main island and Gozo you can get everywhere by bus. On the other hand, sometimes you might have to wait a lot and if you have to change, you might lose more time than you’d like.
Renting a car gives you more flexibility, but less authenticity. Besides, in this case, there will be days when you’ll have paid for it and didn’t use it.
For us, a combination of the two was perfect. We rented a car for the first 3 days and traveled by bus on the next 4.
This allowed us to get to all the places we wanted, but also have some days on which we experienced the local transport system. On those days, we were also able to enjoy a glass of wine or prickly pear liquor at lunch, which is always a plus.
Check the routes and prices of the bus tickets here, including the recommended Explore card for 7 days. We only needed 12 journeys for both of us, as we had a rental car on the first 3 days.
If you’re thinking about renting a car, check my full guide and don’t forget to have full insurance on it.
!!! In Malta, they drive on the left, just as in the UK.
Where to get accommodation in Malta?
We stayed one night in Luqa, as our plane landed at night and this was the closest town to the airport. It was a good decision as not only was the apartment clean and nice, but it also gave us the chance to discover one of the most beautiful and underrated towns on the island.
The next four days we were based in Mellieha. We chose it for its proximity to the ferry and Popeye’s village. We chose Airbnb for this accommodation. If you also want to give Airbnb a chance, use my link for a 40$ discount on the first booking.
We spent the last two nights in Tarxien, as I had a booking for the Hypogeum and it’s also pretty close to The Three Cities and Valletta. Depending on your interests and time of the year, you might want to change it with Sliema. I wouldn’t recommend St. Julian unless you’re very young, wild and hungry for parties. There’s not much else to do there.
If you’re not interested in Popeye’s village or another day of the itinerary, I’d recommend spending at least one night in Gozo, as this island is packed with things to do and see and I felt that in one day we barely scratched the surface.
7 days itinerary in Malta
As our plane landed in the middle of the night and departed in the evening, we had 7 full days to enjoy the best Malta has to offer. I’ll tell you what we chose to visit and the itinerary I suggest.
Day 1: Luqa, Marsaxlokk, St. Peter’s Pool, Blue Grotto and sunset at Dingli Cliffs
We landed at night, but knew it in advance and decided to sleep close to the airport, in Luqa, and pick up the car in the morning. We’re glad we did this, as it also gave us the chance to see Luqa in the morning. The town is not on the usual touristic map. To us, this was a pleasant surprise, as there’s not much information about it online. It was the most authentic location we visited during our week in Malta. Probably that’s exactly why it’s still like this.
We took our time to observe the icons at the doors covered with straw blindings, the colorful balconies, the local people gathered at the bars and a big church with some interesting features, like a dome inside of it. Some pastizzis and sweet fig rolls made for a delicious breakfast.
As soon as we picked up the car and Mr. M. got accustomed to driving on the left, we headed to Marsaxlokk, a fishing village in the south-east corner of Malta, known for its Sunday morning fishing market and for the cute colorful traditional boats. It wasn’t a Sunday and there wasn’t a fish market, but there were several stalls selling souvenirs from China and traditional sweets, as well as a lot of seafood restaurants where we could sample the daily catch. In regards to the typical wooden boats, we could certainly declare ourselves satisfied, as the bay was covered with them. The town is pretty small and two hours is more than enough for the seafront and the main square, including a coffee.
Next we went to St. Peter’s Pool, as it’s only 5 minutes away by car and around 30-40 on foot. I’ll tell you a secret from the guy at the Tourist Office. If you travel by car, follow the blue arrows, the ones you normally see on the roads, not the ones that send you to the parking lot. This way, you’ll get to a free parking lot, not to the one for tourists. Just go ahead, even if you have some doubts when the road will seem to disappear at some point.
St. Peter’s Pool is a natural pool, just like Giola in Thassos. The water is clear and there is even a spot where you can enter the water without jumping. Go round the jumping spot!
If you’re in for some swimming, either do it here or at the next stop, the Blue Grotto, or both if you want. Personally, I prefer St. Peter’s Pool for easy access (if you find the right spot) and because at the Blue Grotto, the swimming place is right where the boats leave. It can get frustrating to avoid them and it’s probably more polluted.
The boat trip to the arch and the caves costs 8 euros for an adult and takes around 30 minutes. In the low season, we didn’t have to wait much and the trip was pleasant. However, the boats were full every time. I wouldn’t want to find out what they look like in high season. The boatman will take you to the entrance of several caves. The water is indeed incredibly turquoise and beautiful.
In case you’re wondering, you can’t get to the caves without a boat. Also, the viewpoint from which all the photos you see on Instagram are taken, is further up, not where the parking lot is. I didn’t see any sign to it.
Next, if you like old temples and ruins, you might want to check Hgar Quim and Mnajdra, as they are close. I’m sure history buffs will be overjoyed at the opportunity to visit no less than 7 megalithic temples on the two islands, plus the Hypogeum.
The sun should be about to set. Why not head to the Dingli Cliffs, one of the most appreciated places to watch the sunset. We were there and it did look pretty, even if we enjoyed more seeing it from another place suggested by our host in Mellieha. I’ll tell you all about it a bit later.
We had dinner at United in Mgarr, which I can truly recommend, for both good traditional food and location, on the way to Mellieha, where we were accommodated.
Day 2: Gozo
The second day of our trip was entirely allocated to the island of Gozo, the little sister of Malta with a totally different vibe. Looking back, I must say this was the day I enjoyed the most on our trip. Gozo is smaller and easy to get around by car, but packed with so many great places that it’s hard to inspect all of them in a day. Besides, prices are lower than on the main island and . If you have more than 7 days in Malta, I’d certainly recommend spending at least two there.
In order to get to Gozo, you’ll have to take the ferry from Cirkewwa, close to Mellieha. We took the ferry at 9 o’clock and would recommend you get there as early as possible to fully enjoy the island. The ferries leave roughly every 45 minutes. The journey takes only half an hour. Here is the schedule of the ferry.
You don’t need to buy the ticket on your way there. You pay only once, before departing on the way back to Malta. The return ticket is 4.65€. If you travel by car, take it with you as it will come in handy. The return ticket for cars is 15.7€, including the ticket for the driver.
We started sightseeing with the unofficial capital of the city, Victoria, and the Citadella. Both were stunning and so much more than I had expected. I loved walking on the back streets of the town, where we ere the only tourists. The Citadella was also surprisingly beautiful and there’s also a combined ticket which gives you access to the prison and some museums. The one I enjoyed the most was the ethnographic one. Be sure to go there before it closes at 5 pm.
Next we checked Xlendi, a tiny bay perfect for a quick swim and went on to the ex-spot of the Azure Window and the Inland Sea. Even if the famous arch is not there anymore, this is still a lovely place to visit. Not far from the place stands Ta’Pinu Church, with its magnificent architecture, our next stop.
We continued our tour of the island with the salt pans next to Marsalforn. There was no one else around. We could observe the process and take some picturesque pictures. If you visit Gozo, don’t miss the salt pans! It was fun and relaxing to walk around, enjoy the view and learn more about the process.
For a last swimming session and sunset, I recommend Wied il-Ghasri and the Lighthouse. For dinner, I don’t think there’s a better option than Fat Rabbit in the town of Nadur. Usually, when traveling the meals are a hit or a miss. This was definitely a hit and our best food in the archipelago.
Too bad it was getting late. We didn’t have time to check Ramla Beach with its red sand, but if you have the time I’m sure it’s worth it. You could also visit some of the oldest neolithic structures standing, the Ggantija Temple. They’re said to be even older than the Pyramids of Giza.
We could have easily stayed three days on the island and just enjoy the place. If we ever return to Malta, that’s what we’ll do!
Day 3: Mellieha, Mosta, Mdina, Golden Bay
In the morning we went up into the city, where the largest church in Mellieha stand and had breakfast at the cafe across it, next to the cemetery. The raspberry muffins were tasty, the Maltese coffee was not what I had expected, as it had a lot of alcohol in it, and the views were just perfect. I wish we had discovered it earlier. We would’ve probably eaten there one meal a day just to be able to enjoy that stunning view.
Our next stop was Mosta, in order to see the dome that miraculously withstood bombing in WW2. Even if a bomb fell through the roof in the time of a mass, no one was injured.
After checking out the dome and finding out its story, we headed to the main attraction of the day, the fortified little town of Mdina. The town was once capital of Malta and there’s history around every corner. From the viewing platforms, you’ll have some great views of the surrounding area. The “silent city”, as it is nicknamed, is without any doubt worth your time.
After slowly discovering the lovely back alleys of Mdina, if you’re a history buff, check out the St. Paul’s Catacombs, the largest Roman underground cemetery in Malta. The caverns, tombs, and tunnels are an eerie way to learn about the mortuary rituals of the Romans and Jews, but I don’t think they’re for everyone.
Spend the evening at Ghajn Tuffieha Tower, which, in my opinion, offers better views of the sunset than Dingli Cliffs. Close by, down the stairs, on the shore lies Riviera Beach and you’ll also find a pleasant terrace where you can have a pizza and a glass of wine. I hiked around a little bit and loved this golden sandy beach.
Day 4: return the car and Popeye Village
In the morning we returned the car and afterward spent a refreshing day at Popeye Village. It might not be Disneyland, but it was fun and colorful. The small village used for filming the movie is pretty well preserved, the actors take care that the visitors don’t get bored and there are some exciting games adults can play, too.
It has a pleasant vibe. Even the stones in the fake cemetery have riddles on them like: “Here lies Bruto’s hope with Olive.”
The food is nothing to write home about, but it will do.
Day 5: Blue Lagoon + change the accommodation
We actually didn’t get to the Blue Lagoon in Comino. On two days we wanted to, but they were both windy and cloudy and decided not to. However, if the weather is nice, I definitely think you should. As this is an ideal itinerary, I’ll include the lagoon in it.
In the evening, I suggest a walk on the seafront promenade of Sliema. From there, you’ll also have some amazing views over Valletta. There’s also a historical watchtower that you can go up and in. Sliema, Malta’s largest city is busy and modern, a total contrast to the almost uninhabited island of Comino.
I don’t recommend St. Julian and would not return there, but it might suit your taste. It has the best clubs and bars, casinos, massive hotels, and resorts.
Day 6: Tarxien and The Three Cities
We decided to spend the last two nights in Tarxien, not only because it’s close to Valletta and the Three Cities, but also because I had booked a tour for the Hypogeum.
If you are also thinking about booking a tour of the Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum, keep in mind that only a finite number of people are allowed in per day (about 8 groups of 10 people) and it’s necessary to book months in advance. I booked my ticket like 3 months in advance and there was only one spot left in any of the groups. I had to go in alone, as there weren’t two at the same hour.
I’m not a big fan of ruins, but this tour was interesting. The audio guide gives you some information about life in Malta thousands of years ago, the discovery and maintenance of the site. The man that accompanies the group makes sure everybody is on track.
After the tour of the Hypogeum, we briefly scanned the Tarxien Temples and walked farther to The Three Cities of Birgu (Vittoriosa), Senglea (L’Isla) and Cospicua (Bormla). The cities are on the peninsulas across the harbor from Valletta. The best thing one can do is get lost on their beautiful alleys and enjoy the traditional architecture. In Birgu, at the tip of the peninsula, one can visit the medieval Fort St. Angelo and relax behind it, enjoying the amazing views of the Grand Harbour and the capital.
Late in the afternoon, we took the ferry to Valletta. The crossover takes around 15 minutes and costs 1.50€ one way or 2.80€ return. The boats depart every 30 minutes from early morning till late evening. The views of Valletta while approaching its walls from the bay are worth it alone.
We spent the remaining of the evening in Valletta enjoying the charming city and the tranquil atmosphere.
Day 7: Valletta
The last day was dedicated entirely to the diminutive capital of Valletta. Once we walked through the city’s main gate, it was like entering a place where the time has stopped hundreds of years ago.
The capital of this insular state is charming and picturesque. Except for the main pedestrian street, there are little to no people to be seen. The best thing you can do is hide the map and wander on random streets. The town is tiny and you’ll soon get to know the most spectacular places:
- Upper Barrakka Gardens with stunning views over the harbor and The Three Cities, but almost all the time crowded. Plan your time so that you catch the firing of the cannons at noon, but come back a little later, when there are fewer people, in order to really take in the view.
- Lower Barrakka Gardens also offer amazing views and there are far fewer tourists than in Upper Barrakka Gardens.
- St. John’s Co-Cathedral with its impressive facades and collection of paintings by Caravaggio.
- St. Elmo’s Fort that hosts the museum of WW2.
While walking aimlessly, check the little shops and cafes. Stop for a snack or a coffee whenever you feel like it. Try your luck in a traditional Maltese lottery. I also bought a ticket and won exactly what I had paid for it. Maybe you’ll be luckier.
Malta is perfect for a spring, summer or autumn holiday. No matter what you look for in a holiday, you’ll find it on the islands: culture, history, sun and clear waters, friendly people, yummy food, picturesque views and gorgeous sunsets. Just take your time, get out of the hotel and enjoy it.
Would you visit Malta? Which place was your favorite?
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