Travel Guide: What to See and Do in Malta
An old stairway in Valletta
Have you ever been to Malta? Has the thought of visiting this small but familiar-sounding country ever crossed your mind?
Maybe it hasn’t. Malta was certainly not on my list of places to visit, but I’m really glad my mom and I spent some time there this summer as part of our annual mother-daughter summer trip. We spent two weeks in Malta with a little sojourn to Sicily in between. I’ll write a separate post about Sicily (and Rome, where we spent a few days at the end of our travels) because even though Malta is small, there is SO. MUCH. TO DO.
Traveling to a new place can always be a little overwhelming. If you’re like me, you want to experience as much of a new place as possible, to the point where researching is a bit anxiety-inducing because you’re so worried you’ll miss something. (No? Is that just me?) The promise to myself to take it easy and prioritize beach time over exploring went right out the window once we landed and discovered that Malta’s history is so rich, and that unlike other islands, it is so much more than beaches and palm trees. In fact, the density and proximity of Malta’s buzzing urban cities and its wildly confusing millennium-spanning history is just too much for me. When people ask me about my trip I can’t give them an answer. So maybe just read this post instead.
So: I’ve divided this post into a few categories that will hopefully make it easy for you to get a sense of this amazing place.
The Maltese are for the most part, very friendly and helpful. They speak English, Maltese, and a lot of them also speak Italian. There is a heavy Sicilian influence (the island is only 2 hours away), but the Maltese are fascinating because their country was occupied by so many different cultures. While on the island however, you will likely always be surrounded by the British. Malta was ruled by the British for almost 200 years and is still a part of the Commonwealth. As a result, I think the British looooove to vacation on Malta.
It’s hard to find traditional Maltese dishes amongst the fish and chips and traditional foods you would find in the U.K. Menus are wildly varied, but there is always some great fish, a good pasta, and plenty of North-American dishes like hamburgers and steaks. Like I said; varied. The plus side of all the British influence is that delicious tea is readily available. As someone who always misses my tea on vacation, this was a plus. Once we were able to seek out some traditional Maltese dishes; we found it to be delicious and rustic. Maltese bread is round and thick, usually topped with local cheeses, greens – a bit like a pizza. Then there’s bigilla – a delicious broad bean dip eaten with light crackers. So good. They also have some great local wines that are very smooth and a delicious flaky pastry called Pastizzi.
Delicious fresh pasta at The Ortygia Experience in Valletta – highly recommend to eat here for a great pasta!
We were so surprised to find that the Maltese drive on the opposite side of the road! Just like in the UK. If you’re lucky (aka brave or crazy) and rent a car; this is likely the best and easiest way to get around the island. There aren’t any direct highways, and most of the roads go through the cities and towns, but with a car, you can get to most of the main cities and villages within 30 minutes. Unless there’s traffic. Which, there usually is because Malta is very densely populated. We took public transportation everywhere, which was reliable and air conditioned – a great way to get around. My only piece of advice would be to travel early or not during rush hour, because you can end up standing on the public bus for an hour plus both ways.
Where to Stay
As I mentioned, Malta is so densely populated, that a good majority of it is bustling, city life. It’s a confounding juxtaposition to the crystal blue coastlines and beaches that border the whole island. If you prefer to stay in the buzz of the city, Valletta, or Paceville or St.Juliens may be your speed. Here you can find modern hotels, clubs, restaurants, bars, and shopping. Valletta, being the capital, has a beautiful historic centre. We stayed in St.Paul’s Bay; which, although a bit further from the main attractions of Valletta and its surrounding cities, had some amazing sunsets and a more relaxed vibe. The beaches here were fabulous (all rock, which I prefer) and there is a fantastic boardwalk that follows the water for a good 5K.
A view of the beautiful boardwalk in St.Paul’s Bay
The Sunset in St.Paul’s Bay. There are bars and restos where people gather to watch the sunset each night. Reminded me of Ibiza!
What to Do
There is sooooo much to do on Malta, it’s hard to find a place to start.
– Although it’s a super touristy thing to do, I would definitely recommend hopping on the touring buses to get a good sense of the island. DO NOT take the red citysightseeing tour buses – the staff is lazy and unhelpful, and the speakers don’t always work, so you lose any information. DO take the Malta Sight Seeing buses – normally green or blue; there is so much information offered, and our driver stopped at each spot for a few minutes so we could take photos without having to wait for the next bus.
– Gozo: Definitely take the short ferry ride to Gozo, a smaller island just off Malta. Gozo is home to megalithic temples (dating back to 5000BC – that’s older than the pyramids in Egypt, people) and some of the most dazzling, stunning rock-faced beaches I have ever set eyes on. The historic centre is also very beautiful, much smaller than the cities on Malta, and with fewer tourists.
A quiet side street in Gozo’s capital city, Victoria.
– Take a boat trip: We took The English Rose boat tour which is smaller than most of the other boat tours offered. This meant we had better access to some of the smaller bays and caves, and there were fewer crowds to contend with. Our tour took us to the Blue Lagoon and Crystal Lagoon on Comino Island and the harbour on Gozo. These lagoons are probably some of the magical lagoons and waters I’ve ever had the opportunity to swim in.
Can’t get over the colour of the water … even a month later!
The Blue Lagoon on Comino Island is packed with people but definitely worth a visit!
We hiked a little bit farther away from our boat in the Crystal Lagoon on Comino to find this peaceful spot away from crowds … thank goodness my mother is in great shape!
Speaking of … there she is! Mom and I on the English Rose boat tour. We made some fabulous friends on this tour – a lovely couple from Torino, Italy!
– Mdina: A peaceful, dead quiet walled in city that, like most of Malta, is ancient. Much of Malta’s urban centres are centuries upon centuries old, which makes wandering through the tiny medieval streets extra fascinating.
The quiet streets of Mdina …
Another quiet street in Mdina … as in the rest of Malta, there were some beautiful tea houses with stunning vistas.
– Valletta: The capital city. It’s bustling, full of restaurants, shops, and has a great pedestrian series of streets that are full of old, restored architecture. It has a huge harbour that is so impressive for an island.
Afternoons are quieter on Malta – similar to southern Italy, shops are typically closed in the afternoons …
– Beaches and Sunsets: We had some great beaches near us in Saint Paul’s Bay; and indeed, we saw other tourists from all over the island come to our part of the island to get in the water. All of the rock beaches have handy ladders to help you get in and out of the water. Saint Paul’s Bay has a great sunset view, which we enjoyed almost every evening. Truth is though, almost all the coast of Malta is covered in stunning beaches, you just have to pick one!
The sunset view from the boardwalk in St.Pauls Bay. I’m wearing GAP shorts and a men’s Joe Fresh shirt (consignment) from AMH Style, sandals that I found on Sicily (made in Spain), locally made Sicilian woven bag
Awesome sunset after a dip in the Mediterranean
I always run when I travel and my mom is a big walker so we both appreciate if a destination is safe and has easy access to getting in some scenic mileage. I was so happy that we stayed in St.Paul’s Bay because the boardwalk is long, wide, and a beautiful place to run along the sea. I followed it all the way to the next town over which was about 7K in one direction.
I would highly recommend a visit to Malta – there is so much to see and do, the beaches alone are fabulous. I don’t think it’s necessary to stay for longer than 7 days, but it’s a safe, beautiful, and fascinating place to spend some time. Hopefully this post has given you some insight into this island!
As always, thanks for reading, xo