Adi shares her 15 top things to do in Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, on a romantic escape, including where to eat and stay on the islands.
Since we had our kids, the majority of our trips have been with the whole family. After a few years, we added a dog to the mix. It made travel interesting but more challenging. Luckily, we have family in Romania willing to make the journey to wherever we currently live in Europe, so Mom and Dad can have occasional romantic getaways. This is how we visited the Champagne region in France, Santorini, Greece, Paris, France, London, UK, and this year, the beautiful Maltese Archipelago.
Malta has been on my wish list for years, ever since my husband told me stories of his three-month stay in Valletta, back in his Navy days. He always said he would love to go back together and show me where he used to roam as a young lad.
Table of Contents
- 1 Where to Stay in Malta
- 2 Where to Eat Cheap in St. Paul’s Bay
- 3 Things to do in Malta
- 4 Things to do in Valletta, Malta
- 5 8. Rotunda of Mosta or Mosta Dome
- 6 9. Mdina
- 7 10. Island hoping in Malta
- 8 Things to do in Gozo Malta
- 9 How to get around the Maltese Islands
- 10 More Malta Travel Tips
Where to Stay in Malta
Because we had enough air miles the flights didn’t cost us a thing, so all I had to find was an Airbnb apartment within our budget. I found the perfect place in St. Paul’s Bay. Neil’s apartment was the right choice for us – two bedrooms, modern, steps away from the bay with a perfect view of the sunrise.
St. Paul’s Bay centre is party central most of the evening and night, but this apartment was on the opposite side. I loved how it gave us the opportunity to live among locals. Victor, the owner’s dad, could not have been nicer, more welcoming, or more hospitable.
We spent the first day finding our feet in our new neighbourhood. St. Paul’s Bay has a party scene and a plethora of restaurants and fun activities for all ages. After spending some time in this area, we retreated to the edge of the sea, on the rocky shore, to watch the sunset – A perfect first day.
For other great hotels in Malta, check out Booking.com for the latest prices.
Where to Eat Cheap in St. Paul’s Bay
Being budget travellers and foodies, I always look for great cheap eats. In St. Paul’s we had our daily breakfast at Gormina, part neighbourhood grocery store, part bakery and pastry shop. Apart from the mesmerising smell of fresh bread, what attracted us here were the traditional Maltese savoury pastries called pastizzi.
The Maltese figured out the perfect, cheap snack and it comes in the form of filo dough filled with either chicken curry, cottage cheese, or mushy peas, for the price of .50 euro cents each. We could not start the day without these perfect, hot, bites.
If we found ourselves in the bay in the evening, the only place we had dinner was Fins and gills, a fish and chips eatery, in the middle of a busy intersection; Not much of a view but the food was delicious. Because the owners are a family of fishmongers, Fins and Gills serves the fresh catch of the day which you can have deep-fried or grilled. June is bluefin tuna season, so my husband had his fill every time, while I gorged on sea bass and rock salmon. Dinner for two cost us under 20 euro every time.
The next day, after having our fill of pastizzi, we went on to discover more of the island.
Things to do in Malta
Marsaxlokk is a charming, traditional village, quite popular with tourists, for its colourfully painted wooden fishing boats. However, If you visit early in the morning, you can almost have the entire place to yourself. There are offers for rides around the harbour and St. Paul’s Pool by water taxi at every step. While we were not interested in the harbour tour, St. Paul’s Pool looked beautiful.
We were the only ones in the boat, so we arrived at the pool quickly. You can spend as much time there as you like and are picked up later at a prearranged time. Make sure to bring a swimsuit so you can dip in the incredibly clear water. If you want as few people around as possible, try to be there early.
2. Ħaġar Qim Temples
As with all our trips, I look for charming villages full of whimsy, while my husband is interested mostly in the history of the country we visit. It’s a combination that works for us and keeps the trips beautiful and interesting at the same time.
Ħaġar Qim is a megalithic temple complex dating 3600-3200 BC, making it one of the most ancient sites on Earth, and recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The government put a lot of heart and money into preserving these valuable temples.
The visit starts with a 3D movie explaining how the temples came to be, followed by a self-guided tour of the temples. The temples are covered making the visit enjoyable as the Maltese sun is unforgiving.
Things to do in Valletta, Malta
Valletta is the capital of Malta, and it is known for its museums, palaces, and grand churches. The walled city was established in the 1500s by the Knights of St. John, a Roman Catholic order.
Although we did not spend much time in Valletta, we managed to include some of its landmarks on our list.
3. St. John’s Co-Cathedral
This stunning Baroque St. John’s Co-Cathedral was built for the Knights of St John. Gifts of incredible works of art were donated by the Grand Masters and several knights. The opulent interior is home to Caravaggio’s masterpiece “The Beheading of Saint John.” You are required to have the shoulders and knees covered to enter the church, but they are provided if you forget.
4. Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck
The church of St Paul’s Shipwreck, one of the oldest churches in Valletta, commemorates the shipwreck of St. Paul on the Maltese Islands, in 60 AD, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. At the moment, it’s undergoing some much-needed restoration work, but it’s still easily accessible.
5. Upper Barrakka Gardens
The Upper Barrakka Gardens are public gardens and the highest point of the city walls, offering a panoramic view over the Grand Harbor, the Three Cities, as well as a shipyard and the lower-lying parts of the capital. On the lower tier you will find the Saluting Battery, now open daily, with guided tours available. Gun salutes are fired every day at noon and 4 pm.
6. The Grand Master’s Palace
The Grand Master’s Palace has been the administrative centre of Malta for close to three and a half centuries. The original palace was built in 1571 and was the seat of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitalliers of St John. During the British colonial period, it served as the Governor’s Palace. Today it is home to the House of Representatives of Malta and the office of the President of the Republic of Malta.
Sadly, the State Apartments were closed at the time of our visit, but we were able to see the impressive armoury.
7. Valletta Water Taxi Tour
One of our favourite things to do in Valletta was the harbour tour in a water taxi. You’ll see water taxis everywhere in the harbour, with prices ranging from 4-8 euro per person, depending on what tour you take. We loved the grand tour of the harbour which offers a closer view of the Three Cities –
Birgu, Senglea, and Cospicua as well as the lighthouses.
Because a local ferry ride was included in our bus passes, we took the opportunity to cross from Valletta to Sliema, where we spent the day in the harbour enjoying cocktails and celebrating our wedding anniversary.
8. Rotunda of Mosta or Mosta Dome
The Mosta Dome is one of the most impressive churches in Malta. Its massive rotunda is the third largest in the world. On April 9, 1942, a 200kg Luftwaffe bomb broke through the dome and fell into the congregation of more than 300 people waiting for the early evening mass. Amazingly nobody was hurt. Once the detonator was removed a replica was made and is now on display inside the church as a famous tourist attraction.
Mdina is a fortified city founded around the 8th century BC by Phoenician settlers and was the capital of Malta from antiquity to the medieval period. The most impressive structure in Mdina is the 12th century St. Paul’s Cathedral. To enter, you must cover your shoulders and knees, but the church provides covers if needed.
As Mdina is a popular tourist destination, try to be there early in the morning. Walking the narrow, stone streets of Mdina is beautiful, and it’s best if you’re not surrounded by hundreds of people.
10. Island hoping in Malta
No visit to Malta is complete without a ferry trip to Comino and Gozo. You have many options but the easiest, and probably cheapest option is to take the ferry from Cirkewwa.
The Gozo Ferry service is a great option for visiting Gozo, especially if you are renting a car, but it will not allow you to visit Comino, so we went with a smaller boat to Comino and from there to Gozo. It was a little more expensive but worth it to visit Comino.
Comino is a small island in the Maltese archipelago between the islands of Malta and Gozo. The little island has only three permanent residents and is a nature reserve and sanctuary for marine birds. The reason everybody flocks to Comino is its magnificent Blue Lagoon, unique in Malta. Visitors to the Blue Lagoon can snorkel, dive, or simply float in the crystal-clear waters.
If you decide to visit, do so in the morning. Because it’s so popular, by noon it is flooded by tourists coming it on boats, large and small, making the visit rather unbearable. If you do decide to stay, you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas, and there are a few limited food and drinks options. Bathrooms are also available on the premises, free of charge.
Things to do in Gozo Malta
We left Comino a little bit after noon, once our little paradise was swarmed by tourists. We were greeted by a much more relaxed Gozo island. Gozo is rural in character and, compared to the main island, Malta, less developed. It was mostly known for the Azure Window, a natural limestone arch that was a remarkable geological feature, which sadly collapsed this year. But do not feel too disappointed as the island offers plenty more fascinating attractions without being overly crowded.
12. Citadel of Gozo
In Victoria, you will find the Cittadella, a combination of a medieval castle and an early modern gunpowder fortress. Standing tall at the centre of the Cittadella is the Cathedral of the Assumption.
13. Museums in Gozo
A few other buildings are currently open to the public as museums:
- The Old Prison – located behind the Law Courts, was used as a prison from the 16th century to 1962.
- The Natural Science Museum – dedicated to Gozo’s geography, geology and natural science.
- The Gozo Museum of Archaeology – dedicated to Gozitan history from the prehistoric to medieval periods.
- The Gran Castello Historic House
14. Ġgantija Temples
Ġgantija is a megalithic temple complex from the Neolithic period and the earliest of the Megalithic Temples of Malta. The Ġgantija temples are even older than the Pyramids of Egypt. Their makers erected the two Ġgantija temples around 3600–2500 BCE, making these temples more than 5500-years-old and the world’s second oldest religious structures, after Turkey’s Göbekli Tepe. Due to their significance, they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
15. Ramla Bay
After visiting so many tourist attractions in Malta, we were craving some quiet beach time. We found it at Ramla Bay. The beach is wide and has a golden-reddish sand. It’s different from all the others in Gozo and Malta. Ramla Bay beach is surrounded by hills to the east and west where many local farmers have gardens, vineyards and orchards. Spending a relaxed afternoon and watching the sunset was the perfect end to our Maltese escape.
How to get around the Maltese Islands
Malta has an extensive public transportation system which is frankly quite impressive. This may be the only time in our extensive travels a bus could take us to all the important sites.
When you arrive at the airport, buy a bus card offering you unlimited travel for seven days at a more than reasonable price. The Explore Plus card also includes ferry rides to Sliema and a choice between a free Hop on/Hop off bus or a trip to Comino from Sliema.
Travelling the Malta bus routes the entire time was enjoyable and an experience in of itself. We seemed to always be within 35 stops of everything. It sounds like a lot, but the buses do not stop unless flagged from the station or if you press the button while on board. If none of this happens, they drive like a bat out of hell. It is also worth mentioning all of the buses are air-conditioned; a valuable asset if you visit in summer.
Renting a Car in Malta
Other options for transportations are renting a car, quad, bicycle or a moped. I do encourage you to buy the insurance if you rent a vehicle. Driving in Malta is on the right, and the traffic is chaotic.
Between the Maltese Islands, you have water taxies and ferries at your disposal.
More Malta Travel Tips
- There is excellent LTE connectivity all around the islands.
- June is Bluefin tuna month when a steak the size of your face costs less than 10 euro.
- English is one of the official languages, so there are no language issues
- Use Google Maps to get around. It is straightforward and efficient. You’ll know exactly what buses to take, where to catch them, and the time required to get to your destination.
- Make sure you flag down buses in the station, or they will not stop. Once on the bus, you must push the button to request to stop.
- If you are looking for a quiet stay, the centres of Valletta, Paul’s Bay, and St. Julian’s Bay are not the places for you.
- You will need British plugs for your electronic devices (the apartment we rented provided them)
- In the smaller towns, there is a 2-3-4h break during the day, so many businesses will be closed.
- Use sunscreen while walking. The sun is scorching hot during summer, and my husband found out the hard way what happens when you don’t have proper protection.