Malta is made up of three small islands absolutely packed with history, culture and natural beauty. This nation has an extremely interesting history dating back to when it was first inhabited approximately 8 thousand years ago.
Throughout history empires have recognised the strategic importance of these islands and invaded and defended it immensely. The result is a huge amount of forts, temples, citadels and cities that feel like open air museums. It’s incredible how well most of these buildings have survived. Many have been restored but thankfully restored in a way which preserves the original look as much as possible. On top of all this Malta’s Mediterranean coastline is dotted with crystal clear bays and beaches. I visited Malta in 2023 and you’ll find everything you need to know to visit in this Malta travel guide.
Malta Travel Highlights
- The picturesque capital Valletta
- The ancient capital Mdina
- Gozo Citadel
- Beachs & Bays of turquoise water
- Nightlife in Paceville
Malta is the tenth smallest country by geographical area and the fourth most densely populated. The country is an archipelago that sits in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and Africa. It expands massively by receiving three times its population of tourists throughout the year with most of them coming from the UK during summer. This means things can get really busy in summer which turns Malta into a year-round destination as a winter visit means you’ll avoid the crowds but still enjoy good weather thanks to Malta’s great climate.
How to get around Malta
Being such a small island the best way to get around Malta is to hire a car. There is a bus network connecting most of the tourist sites but it gets full in summer and some routes don’t run very often. The freedom a car provides is much better than trying to time your day with the bus schedule, plus you can pick up a small car relatively cheaply. I got a Hyundai i10 with RentalCars.com for €90 for 6 days.
The island of Malta is home to over 90% of Malta’s population with the rest residing on the island of Gozo and a very small amount on Comino. Unless you’re sailing around the Mediterranean on a yacht you’ll be arriving on the island of Malta at either the port or the airport. The main port is in Valletta’s Grand Harbour and day trips are easily planned if you’ve only got a day on the island. Hire cars, taxi’s and rideshares (Bolt & Cool) are available at the airport which is a 20 minute drive to Valletta.
Where to stay in Malta
The best places to stay in Malta are Valletta, Silema and St Julian’s and will depend on what you’re looking for. You should visit all three while you’re in Malta and they’re all within a 15 minutes’ drive of each other so don’t stress about where to stay. Valletta has ferry services to the Three Cities, Silema and a fast ferry to Gozo. Silema has newer accommodation options and plenty of places to eat and drink. St Julian’s is closer to the nightlife in Paceville.
Maltese food has influences from Italian, French, British among others and there’s plenty of restaurants across the islands offering traditional dishes. Some of the most common Maltese dishes included fried rabbit, pastizzis and ftira which is a Maltese flat bread. The most common local beer is Cisk which comes in low carb, zero alcohol and flavoured versions.
Things to Do in Malta
Valletta the Capital City
Valletta is home to many historical buildings, including the 16th-century St. John’s Co‑Cathedral and the Baroque Grandmaster’s Palace, as well as numerous museums, art galleries, and other cultural sites. It’s also one of the main tourist spots in the country which means there’s lots of bars and restaurants across the city. Walking around the city is one of the best things to do in Malta.
The Malta Experience
The 45 minute educational audio-visual show is available in 14 languages and provides a great overview of Malta’s fascinating history. Following the documentary there is a 30 minute tour of the La Sacra Infermeria which tells the story about how the site was once used as a hospital. Admission costs €16 and is open every day expect Sunday.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
The cathedral is in front of one of Valletta’s main squares and contains the tombs of the Grand Masters of the Order of Malta. Built in the 1570’s the cathedral is more impressive on the inside than out. The Cathedral is open to the public every day except Sunday and public holidays and entry costs €15.
Lower Barrakka Gardens
The Lower Barrakka Gardens are a lush public park originally built as a private garden under Grandmaster De Paule. There is a variety of monuments and statues, including two antique cannons from the Great Siege of 1565 and a bronze marble statue dedicated to the Knights of St. John.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
The gardens are located on the southwest side of Valletta and have spectacular views over to Senglea, Birgu and Cospicua. Canons are fired daily at 12:00 and 16:00 and you can take a tour of the battery. The gardens are a short walk from the City Gate and there’s a huge lift down to the port where the ferry leaves for Cospicua.
The Three Cities
Senglea, Birgu and Cospicua make up the Three Cities and are located across the Grand Harbour from Valletta. The cities are just as picturesque as Valleta so are a great place to explore on foot. There’s no clear division between the three cities and all are as picturesque as each other. A ferry runs between Valletta and Cospicua and costs €1.50, from the port you can walk to Senglea and around the yacht-filled harbour to Birgu. Safe Haven Gardens is at the tip of Senglea and has great views over to Valletta. Fort St Angelo is located at the end of Birgu headland and is open to tourists so you can walk along the walls of the fort.
Silema is packed with bars and restaurants along the promenade in both directions making it one of the busiest places on the island. Many tour companies offer cruises heading around the island or over to Comino and Gozo. Walking along the coastline to the north you’ll end up at Silema beach and Balluta Bay which are nice to look at but neither have much sand. If you want to do some shopping while in Malta you’ll find most well-known stores in The Point and The Plaza shopping centres located close to each other in Silema. You can take a short ferry from Silema to Valletta for €1.50 and you’ll see Fort Tigne at the tip of Silema.
St Julian’s is a lively neighbourhood known as one of the best places to experience Malta´s nightlife and a short walk along the coast from Silema. There’s bars and restaurants surrounding Spinola Bay and further north is St George’s Bay which is more relaxed. Cuba bar has a great view overlooking Spinola Bay but if you can’t get a table head down to San Guillano which also has tables by the water. The casino is at St George’s bay and the Hilton closer to Paceville.
Paceville is where you’ll find most of Malta’s nightlife that has lots of bars within a few streets of each other. Paceville is packed in summer and you’ll find pub crawls, drink specials and likely see hens and bucks / stag parties on a night out.
Seemingly built to resemble some of the harbours along the French Riviera, Portomaso is very different from the historical sites of Valleta. New apartments surround the bay and the yachts complete the theme. Nice to visit but unless you’re parking your boat here there’s not too much to do.
This small fishing village is alive with activity as local fisherman constantly arrive, depart and maintain their fishing boats. The colourful boats are called luzzus and are painted depending on their origin within Malta. All have eyes painted onto the front of the boat which is the Eye of Horus used to protect the fisherman at sea. The promenade is full of restaurants and markets. St Peter’s pool is an ideal place too cool off in summer and can be reached by a 10 minutes drive or 40 minute walk from Marsaxlokk.
One of the highlights of Malta is visiting Mdina and wandering around within its tall walls. The fort was originally built and expanded by various empires during their occupation of the island but most of the current structure was built between the 16th and 18th centuries. The narrow and short pathways are said to be designed so that each corner is no longer than the distance an arrow can travel. Mdina was once the capital and was a filming spot for Games of Thrones.
St. Paul’s Catacombs are a short walk from the ancient city of Mdina and are a network of over 26 burial chambers and Malta’s largest catacomb collection
The grotto is on the southwest coast of Malta close to the temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra. Once you walk or drive down to the coastline you can pay €8 (or €64 private) for a fishing boat over to the grotto and into a few of the caves surrounding it. There’s also a viewpoint at the top of the hill on the main road. There’s restaurants around the Grotto so you can grab lunch before heading off.
Malta’s prehistoric temples are some of the most impressive megalithic temples in the world. The temples pre-date other structures, such as Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, and remain symbolic of Malta’s rich cultural heritage. Spread across several sites, the temples were built throughout different periods in Maltese history, from the Ggantija temples on Gozo (dating back to 3,500 – 2,500 BC) to Tarxien temples in south-eastern Malta (estimated around 3000 BC).
Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Temples
These well-preserved megalithic temples are located next to each other on the southern coast of Malta close to the Blue Grotto. The temples were largely built during the Neolithic and early Bronze Age and consist of various stones intricately placed in various shapes and sizes. Entrance is €10 and you can view a 5D experience about the temples.
The Dingli Cliffs are the highest place in Malta reaching 250 metres and provide panoramic sights of the island and the Mediterranean sea. There are lookouts scattered across the coastline and if you’re travelling by car you can stop anywhere along nearby roads. There are limited public busses passing via the cliffs and they run fairly infrequently so check the schedule to plan your trip to and from the cliffs.
Popeye Village was the set for the 1980 musical Popeye and is now a theme park, however, it’s mostly known as a backdrop to one of the most common Malta holiday photos. Popeye Village has a carnival feel with music, food vendors and rides.
Goldern Bay is a typical golden sand beach you’d expect in the Mediterranean but surprisingly is one of few in Malta. This bay is overlooked by hills and has a few places to eat ranging from cheap stalls to highend restaurants. Golden Bay is located in the north on Malta island and from here you can walk up to Ghajn Tuffieha Tower and around to Riviera beach which also has golden sand. Continue along the coast to the Clay Cliffs and lookout
Paradise Bay is located on the northeast coast of Malta island close to where the ferry departs for Gozo and Comino. The mix of white sand, blue sea and surrounding cliffs makes it one of the most beautiful spots on the island. Sunbeds and umbrellas are available for rent and you can walk among the rock formations scattered around the bay. Paradise Bay also offers water activities such as snorkeling and kayaking.
Just a short ferry ride away from Malta island is Gozo Island and a day trip here is one of the best things to do in Malta. The 30 minute ferry leaves regularly everyday from and costs €4.65 as a single passenger or €15.70 for a car and driver.
Citadel / Citadella
Another highlight of Malta is the large Citadel located almost in the middle of Gozo and is yet another monument in Malta that’s like travelling back in time. Work on the Citadel first began in 1500BC and continued until modern-day refurbishments. There’s no entry fee and you can walk around most of the site enjoying views in all directions across the island.
Ggantija Megalithic Temples
Built between 3600 and 3200 BC, they are some of the oldest prehistoric temples still standing. Ggantija is Maltese for ‘giantess’ and the site is composed of two temples built on a nearby hillside – Ggantija l-Ghadira and Ggantija l-Kbira. Many regard them as the only genuine megalithic temples in Malta, with their original stone decorations still in place. Entry costs €10 and they’re closed on Tuesdays and public holidays.
Rotunda of John the Baptist
The largest church on the island located in the city of Xewkija. The circumference of the dome is 85 meters making it the third largest unsupported dome in the world.
Another impressive church built in the 20th century, the church is close to the town of Gharb on the western side of the island.
One of the nicest bays in Gozo but very crowded in summer. The bay is overlooked by small cliffs either side which have walking trails and lookout points on the northern side. The bay is a great place to swim although it gets crowded in summer and parking is limited so arrive early or take a bus.
A large bay lined with restaurants but few places to swim. Personally, I preferred Xlendi Bay but if it’s a busy summers day you’ve got more space at Marsalforn.
Known as one of the biggest tourist destinations in Malta, the turquoise water of the Blue Lagoon draws in hundreds of tourists daily, particularly in summer. Visitor numbers are limited by the number of boats heading there each day so book in advance to avoid missing out. The lagoon is wedged between Comino Island and tiny island of Cominotto and reached by boat from either Malta or Gozo.
Other Activities in Malta
There’s so much to do on Malta I didn’t have time to do everything I would’ve liked. Below are some other things you can do while in Malta that I’ll be doing next time I visit.
There’s scuba diving sites all over Malta including caves, shipwrecks and reefs for all levels of divers. The most popular dive sites are The Blue Hole, The Inland Sea, Cirkewwa and Um El Faroud. Costs per dive with full equipment are approximately €40 depending on the dive company.
Hire a Jetski
Jetski’s are pretty expensive in Malta but allow you to see a lot of the island because of its small size. Hourly rates range from €70 to €100 and you can pick them up around Silema or St Julians.
Kayaking is a great way to see Malta and regular tours operate around Silema. The water is usually flat which makes kayaking a great way to see Malta.
Meridiana Vineyard offer tours and tastings of their vineyard in Ta’ Qali close to Mdina. Bookings are essential and you can find out more detailed on Meridiana.com.mt.
English is widely spoken which makes it easier visit Malta but you will also hear a lot of Maltese which surprised me when it sounded more Arabic than Italian. The Maltese language is an interesting and complex one, with a long and rich history. Though Maltese has its roots in Arab and Romance languages, it has also some English, influences. I found out while I was there that Maltese is the only Semitic language to be granted official status in the European Union.
Go see Malta!
The best way to sum up Malta is that it’s packed with so much to do and see in such a small place. There’s history, culture, nightlife, beaches, adventure activities, water sports, museums, wineries…the list goes on. Being such a small nation makes getting around really easy and receiving so many tourists each year means there’s plenty of accommodation options, tours, guides and other travelers. The longer you stay the more you’ll see but ideally one to two weeks is great to explore Malta. The best time to visit Malta is either just before or just after summer.
Travel Resources for Visiting Malta
Viator – Huge selection of activities, tours and experiences with great cancellation and price match policies.
Get Your Guide – Great selection of experiences from sea, land and air.
SkyScanner – The best place to start looking for flights. They compare prices from a huge amount of airlines.
Hostelworld – Thousands of hostels with millions of reviews. You can also contact other travelers before you arrive.
Travel Insurance – None of us plan to fall off motorbikes or break a leg snowboarding but if it happens make sure you’re covered.
Booking.com – One of the best accommodation booking pages available. This is my benchmark before searching for a better deal (which often can’t be beaten).
AirBnB – Huge range of home to rent across the globe and discounts for longer stays.
RentalCars.com – The best site for renting cars while travelling, they find the best rates and provide great insurance options.