Hmmm. Malta? Isn’t that a part of Italy, somewhere near Sicily? This is what many people think, but that’s only half right. Malta is an archipelago that lies between Sicily and the Northern African coast. It is packed with interesting architecture, brilliant turquoise sea, charming cities and a laid-back vibe.
I predict that Malta is going to be the next hotspot, much like Croatia is now. So, you gotta go before that happens. And when you do, don’t miss these best things to do in Malta.
Insider Tip: The Hop On-Hop Off Bus can take you to many of the places on this things to do list. You can also rent a car, just be aware that they drive on the left side of the road and that GPS is a must!
Malta Bucket List: 14 of the Best Things to Do
on the European Island
WHAT TO SEE + DO
1. ✦ Eat Fish in Marsaxlokk
Marsaxlokk (pronounced marsa-schlock) is a traditional fishing village where colorful boats clutter the bay and the shore facing street is lined with fresh fish restaurants.
Popular amongst tourists, it’s best to go to Marsaxlokk on Sunday when the open-air local fish market sells the morning catch. You can choose to make your own purchases to cook up at your leisure or instead just pick one of the many roadside restaurants to indulge in a selection of the finest fish. We opted for the latter of the two.
Looking for a fish restaurant in Marsaxlokk? Try the fresh fish carpaccio at Tartarun or the catch of the day at Roots.
2. ✧ Swim in Comino’s Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is a large “swimming pool” whose aquamarine colored sea is postcard worthy. This water-lover’s paradise can be found on the island of Comino. At under four square kilometers, it is car-free and virtually uninhabited. That fact and the azure waters draw quite a crowd of day-trippers, so get there early!
You can take a ferry from Gozo or Malta to get there or simply book a day tour that has a pickup directly from your hotel.
photo by imagea.org
3. ✦ See the Panoramic View at Upper Barrakka Gardens
Some of the best things while traveling (and in life) are totally free. This is definitely the case with the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Malta’s capital city of Valletta. It offers the public beautifully landscaped grounds to stroll through and a stunning panoramic view of the Grand Harbour.
Built atop a bastion, every day at noon characters dressed in British Artillery uniforms with fire a salute from the canons below.
4. ✦ Visit the Three Cities of Cottonera
Be transported back in time with a visit to the three fortified cities of Cottonera; Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua. Jutting into the waters of the Grand Harbour, the inlets of these maritime towns have been used since Phoenician times. Today the are filled with swanky yachts and surrounded by picturesque homes (my kind of place!).
The most common way to see the Three Cities is to take a sightseeing boat ride, but for a more unique experience try a self-guided tour with the Rolling Geeks. With you at the wheel, their electric carts direct you where to go and give you a history lesson on the way. It make it easy to tour at your own pace, stopping longer at the sites that interest you.
For another option, let someone else do the driving while you relax on a Vintage Bus Ride through the Three Cities.
5. ✧ Play at Popeye Village
Who doesn’t love Popeye? Popeye Village, also known as Sweethaven Village, may look like just some rustic and ramshackle buildings, but it is so much more. The film set of the 1980 musical “Popeye” has come a long way over the years. Today, it is a fun attraction for young kids and the young at heart (me!!).
Visitors are greeted by none-other than Popeye himself and his fun friends who may just let you be a movie star for the day. There are also water trampolines, an indoor jump around, boat rides, sunbathing and wine for the adults (now you’re speaking a language I can understand!). Eat your spinach and head on over.
“I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach.” ― Popeye the Sailor Man.
6. ✦ Explore the Silent City of Mdina
Mdina is the old capital of Malta and referred to as the “Silent City”. It’s not to hard to understand why. There are limited cars that can enter to immaculate town, mostly owned by the approximately 300 residents. This contributes to the peaceful atmosphere as you stroll through the narrow cobbled streets admiring the shuttered windows and a handful of quaint shops.
For a special evening, dine at The Mdina Restaurant, which specializes in Mediterranean and local cuisine, like the Stuffat Tal-Qarnit, a traditional stew consisting of octopus cooked in red wine, raisins, apples and roasted walnuts.
BOOK A TOUR: Mdina: Full-Day Tour with Lunch
BOOK A TOUR: Mosta, Crafts Village, Mdina & Valletta Full-day Tour
7. ✦ Step Inside St. John’s Co-Cathedral
I’ve seen a lot of churches around the world, but St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta was one of the most magnificent. This gem was built in the 16th century for the Knights of St. John and boasts an eye-catching Baroque style. It is also home of a famous Caravaggio painting.
You can go on your own or book the Valletta: Medieval Walking Tour which makes a stop there.
8. ✦ Wander the Streets of Valletta
No trip to Malta would be complete without exploring the UNESCO World Heritage streets of Valletta. The capital city is not only home to St. John’s Co-Cathedral (see #7), but also home to charming narrow streets, trendy restaurants and Upper Barrakka Gardens which boasts a panoramic view of Grand Harbour (see #3).
Walk the hilly streets and keep an eye out for the colorful enclosed balconies that date back to the early 17th century.I absolutely fell in love with them and have 100s of photos to prove it!When your feet start to get tired (and they will!), pop into one of the many cafes. My favorites were Trabuxu, Taproom Brasserie, Zero Sei and Guze Bristro.
BOOK A TOUR: Valletta: Medieval Walking Tour & The Malta Experience
9. ✧ Soak in a Natural Pool Near Dwejra Bay
Even with the loss of the Azure Window in March of 2017, Gozo is a Maltese island where the beauty never ceases to amaze. Near the remains of this famous arch, you can still swim in a natural wonder that sits along Malta’s characteristically rugged landscape. The natural pool is now the draw for many, and the layers of turquoise waters will entice you to take a dip.
BOOK A TOUR: Full-Day Gozo Island Excursion from Malta
10. ✧ Visit the Ħal-Saflieni Hypogeum
Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum is an UNESCO World Heritage underground burial site that dates back to the Saflieni phase (3300 – 3000 BC).It is believed that over the years around 7,000 people have been buried throughout the chambers. The fascinating subterranean structure only allows a handful of visitors each day, so make sure to book well in advance.
Don’t miss the other popular temples in Malta: Hagar Qim, Mnajdra and Ġgantija Temples
BOOK TICKETS: Booking Calendar
RELATED READING: 10 Unbelievable Experiences at UNESCO World Heritage Sites Around the World
WHAT TO EAT + DRINK
11. ✦ Dine at Traditional Maltese Restaurant
Traditional Maltese food is a blend of cultures — you will spot the rustic flavors from Britain, Sicily and even a dab of France. Many restaurants create a delicious fusion of old world meets new, but find yourself a truly authentic Maltese food experience where you can get a rich rabbit stew, stuffed bundles of beef slowly braised (Bragioli) and a plate of the mild Ġbejna cheese.
One of my favorite traditional meals was at Ta’ Kris in Sliema, where they are known for their classic Bragioli. But, I absolutely loved the Maltese Salad with Ġbejna cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, Maltese sausage, olives, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and capers. I am still dreaming about this salad!
DON’T MISS: Go to Nenu the Artisan Baker for the traditional Ftira, a type of Maltese bread to die for!
12. ✦ Go Wine Tasting
When you first land in Malta, you wouldn’t think that it would have a wine growing region. But, it does! And they actually produce some really nice wines. We went wine tasting at one of the upper echelon wineries, Meridiana.
You will see the Meridiana vineyards wine listed on almost every restaurant in Malta. Their biggest seller is the Isis Chardonnay, but their Mequart Cabernet/Merlot blend won me over. Book a tour and tasting to find your favorite.
Maltese wine is typically the cheapest on a restaurant’s menu, but don’t get the idea that it is inferior!
13. ✦ Eat Lots of Pastizzi
A popular fast-food for the Maltese is a savory pastry called pastizzi. This tasty treat is typically filled with either mushy peas or ricotta (the latter of the two was my favorite!).
There are plenty of pastizzeria’s to grab a quick one at, but one of the best known is Crystal Palace in Rabat where a crispy cheese snack will cost you a whopping 30 cents. It’s a tiny hole in the wall where the locals hang out, which adds to the charm.
14. ✦ Drink a Local Ċisk Beer
The locally brewed Ċisk (pronounced Ch-isk) beer is the most popular on the island of Malta. Though there are plenty of other options, the golden-colored lager is very refreshing on warm day by the sea. Plus, it is low-carb!
Where to Stay in Malta—The Best Places
There are many different areas to stay in Malta, but I found Sliema conveniently located near tons of restaurants, the Valetta ferry and easily accessible to the tour boat departures. The beautifully restored Palazzo Violetta is a centrally located boutique hotel right on the border of Sliema and St. Julians. A budget-friendlier choice in Sliema would be Three Pillows Boutique Hostel where you can opt for a private room or shared.
In St. Julian’s, Hotel Valentina is a romantic hotel steps from Paceville and Portomaso Marina. And in Valletta sleep in luxury in the beautiful B&B, Ursulino Valletta.
Essential Tips for Visiting Malta
Getting There: The Malta International Airport is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the capital of Valletta, you can take the Express Bus, which connects the airport to all the top neighborhoods on Malta island. Tickets can be purchased from the driver on the bus.
Where to Stay in Malta: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. Valletta Mint Apartment 1 (moderate) is a great choice in the capital of Valletta. For something on the less expensive side, try Casa Lapira or Valletta Dream Suites located in Valletta. Staying in Sliema is convenient, beautiful, and more affordable. If you choose to book your hotel in Sliema, try the Pebbles Boutique Aparthotel (moderate). Or for something less expensive, try the Two Pillows Boutique Hostel in Sliema. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Grand Hotel Excelsior, or Hotel Phoenicia Malta in Valletta. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Renting a car in Malta is a great option if you want to explore the further ends of the island, and RentalCars.com has some great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of options. Taxis, water taxis, ferries, and Malta’s public bus service are available all over the city, plus most of the best attractions can be accessed with the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.
Best Tours in Malta: You can find some of the top tours at Get Your Guide or Viator, and here are some of the top ones:
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
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