Malta is a small country of of three islands, Malta, Gozo, and Comino, in the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily and Tunisia. Part of the European Union, Malta is a popular European beach destination that is fairly easy to reach from mainland Europe. Dan and I spent a week in Malta in July, 2019, enjoying the sun, the crystal blue water, and the summer vibe! I definitely recommend Malta as a getaway from Europe or Northern Africa! For now, coming from the US, is a long ride, but that could change as Air Malta is allegedly looking to expand to the US East Coast… We shall see – fingers crossed!
While currently a popular vacation destination, Malta has a long history, dating back to 5900 BC. Malta has been home to ancient indigenous populations, some of whose structures are still intact(!) and ruled by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British. We got a lot of British and Sicilian vibes, as well as a bit of Arabic. Malta also played a large role in World War II. I had no idea about Malta’s interesting and lengthy history, and it was definitely fun to learn about its history on our trip!
HIGHLIGHTS OF MALTA
If you’re planning to visit Malta, these are my personal highlights, but, rest assured, there is more than enough to keep one busy for more than a week! However, I thought a week was the perfect amount of time to explore Malta. Here are some of my favorite Maltese activities!
The Blue Lagoon on Comino island was probably the biggest highlight for me; the turquoise water in the Blue Lagoon was absolutely stunning and I had a great time swimming in the Blue Lagoon for a day, despite it being heavily touristy. I would note that Dan did not enjoy the Blue Lagoon as much as I did, mainly due to the crowds.
Valletta, Malta’s capital city, is a gorgeous capital that feels like its stuck in a time capsule. Do not miss a morning walking around this gorgeous city. And I do mean morning in the summer, to avoid the heat!
Mdina, Malta’s former capital, is an impressive walled city, and it was also Kings Landing for Season 1 of Game of Thrones!! I found Mdina to have a similar awe-inspiring feel to that of Dubrovnik (Kings Landing post Season 1), but without the hoards of tourists. Go in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat.
Malta is famous for its colorful doors and balconies for good reason. Valletta and Mdina are two of the best places to see and photograph Malta’s famous doors and balconies.
Gozo, the middle Maltese island size-wise, is a short ferry ride from Malta island. We spent two nights on Gozo and Gozo has a completely different, laid back feel than Malta. If you have more than a few days in Malta, I recommend venturing to Gozo for at least a day and night.
OUR MALTESE ITINERARY
Our first full day in Malta was spent on a day trip to the Blue Lagoon with Hornblower Cruises, departing from Bugibba Jetty (we took a Bolt, Malta’s version of Uber, from St. Julian’s). Our day trip lasted from about 10:00 – 17:00 and it was totally amazing! The blue lagoon is awesome and while touristy, I think its totally worth fighting the crowds! We also took a 15 minute tour of some of the caves around Comino, which was organized by Hornblower. Highly recommend a tour of the Blue Lagoon to Malta visitors.
Our second day started with a visit to a well-known Maltese winery, the Meridiana Wine Estate. The wine was okay, but the tour was interesting and it is located on land that was bombed during WWII. We sampled 4 glasses of wine for 12 euro per person.
After our wine tasting, we toured the Hypogeum, which is a UNSECO World Heritage Site. There are no pictures allowed inside the Hypogeum, but the Hypogeum is an ancient underground temple. Buy your tickets far in advance to tour the Hypogeum, only 80 people are allowed in per day. It was definitely an interesting site to visit, but I wouldn’t kill yourself to ensure a visit.
Our second day ended with a swim in the Intercontinental’s Sky Bar and dinner at the most delicious pizza restaurant – Restaurant Sotto! The pizza was amazing and deliciously Italian.
On our third day, we took the Gozo Channel Line ferry over to Gozo island for two nights. The ferry was super easy and only took about 25 minutes. It cost €4.65 per person round trip. Upon arrival in Gozo, we walked into its capital, Victoria, and had a tasty good meal at Stanley’s Chippy Shop (of TripAdvisor fame).
We ended the afternoon with a break at the hotel before walking into Xlendi for a romantic dinner on Xlendi bay at Restaurant Ta’Karolina!
Our second day on Gozo was spent driving around the island and seeing some of its beset sites. We saw Dwejra Bay (the former home of the Azure Window), the salt pans in Marsalforn, Our Lady of Ta’Pinu Basilica, and the Ggantija Temple. All of these sites were really cool, and I felt like we saw a lot of Gozo!
After touring around the island, we did a wine tasting at Ta’Mena Estate, which was more of a farm than a winery. Our day ended with another dinner in Xlendi, this time out The Boathouse.
On Friday, we took the ferry back to Gozo and after checking into our new hotel, the Hilton St. Julian’s, we took a Bolt to Mdina for the afternoon, which was absolutely lovely!
We ended Friday with a dinner at the Leglin wine bar in Valletta.
On our final day in Malta, we took a food tour around Valletta, explored Valletta a bit on our own, and ended the evening with an Italian dinner in St. Julian’s.
FAVORITE MALTESE EATING AND DRINKING HIGHLIGHTS
I’ll post about some of our favorite meals but in short, Malta is home to some interesting food that is not easy to find off the islands. That being said, I unfortunately kept comparing it to Italian food and, I just did not find it as good as Italian food… In any case, we still had some excellent meals and dishes. Here is a short list of some of my favorite Maltese finds!
The local Maltese soda, Kinnie, is every where in Malta; there are even vending machines and a diet version. Definitely worth trying when in Malta.
Fried foods, like British and American-style fried foods, are strangely popular and well-done (er, fried) in Malta. I guess its due to its close ties to Great Britain. We had quite good fried food (though it wasn’t the most exotic or healthy) all over Malta, including on Comino Island where the only food options are food kiosks geared strictly to tourists. Malta is also a good place to find a solid fish and chips.
Rabbit is the national dish of Malta, and many restaurants offer rabbit every night. I am not a rabbit lover, but Dan tried it a few times and enjoyed his dishes. If you’re adventurous or a fan or rabbit, Malta is definitely a good place to have the dish.
Another must try in Malta is Italian food, since its so close to Italy! Italian food is readily available on Malta, and Italian coffees, cannolis, pasta, and pizza were everywhere. We had some AMAZING pizza at Restaurant Sotto in Valletta. Highly, highly recommended.
Along the fried cheese theme, I had multiple Gozotian cheese served fried as an appetizer on the island of Gozo. The cheese was soft and white and often served with a berry sauce. Big fan! This dish was easy to find all over Gozo – less so on Malta.
Any and everything fig. I love figs and, lucky for me, figs are very popular in Malta, especially so in desserts and liquors. On our first night, I had a great fig pie served with homemade ice cream at Restaurant Peperoncino on Malta.
In addition to fig liquors, Malta makes a lot of liquors from everything from fig to prickly pear to carob to limoncello. We tried a few different types on our trip, often as a complimentary after dinner drink at restaurants. Since these were liquors, they were not too strong and could easily be drank without a mixer.
We also tried Pastizzi on Malta as part of our Valletta food tour. Pastizzi may be the most famous Maltese food and its ubiquitous in Malta. Pastizzi is basically a puff pastry filled with a variety of fillings, from peas to cheese to Nutella. I tried the cheese, but pastizzis are quite cheap so you can try them all.
Finally, Malta’s local beer, Cisk! Cisk is everywhere on all of the islands, and they even have some fun summer shandy-type flavors. I had a few Cisks on this trip and for a mass produced beer, its quite good!
WHERE WE STAYED
On Malta, we stayed in 2 hotels in St. Julian’s – the Intercontinental and the Hilton. We choose these hotels because of points and status that we have at the hotels. I preferred the Hilton to the Intercontinental, but they were both nice.
As mentioned, both hotels were in St. Julian’s, a very popular tourist area on Malta. If you stay in St. Julian’s, know that there is a party atmosphere (clubs, bars, hookah), lots of chains, and loads of tourists. Stay elsewhere if you are searching for a more local feel.
On Gozo, we stayed at Cescas Boutique Hotel, between Xlendi and Victoria. While it was a bit out of the way, Cescas was gorgeous and a complete 180 from St. Julian’s. We did not have a car and were fine, but renting a car is helpful at Cescas on Gozo, as its at least a 15 minute (somewhat dicey on the side of the road) walk from the nearest restaurant (except the one onsite).
- The Maltese speak English and Maltese, and many speak other languages.
- Malta uses the euro. Large stores, hotels, and most restaurants accept credit card, but smaller shops, kiosks, and some restaurants only accept cash. As such, its advisable to carry cash, especially when not on Malta island.
- Malta generally uses the UK 3-prong electric outlet, although some hotels also have the European 2-prong outlets.
- The well-known white Malta taxis are pricey. We used the app Bolt and it worked pretty well, very similar to Uber (which does NOT work in Malta). Ecabs is a similar app that was recommended, but we did not try it. If you use Bolt, be sure to check that you want to pay by credit card if you do not have cash – otherwise the app defaults to cash payment. Note – as of July 2019, neither Bolt nor Ecabs work on Gozo or Comino.
- Malta is by far the busiest and most modern of the 3 Maltese islands. You can find whatever you need on Malta. Things are much harder to find on Gozo and Comino.
- Bring a cover for your shoulders if visiting churches; the Maltese are quite religious (Catholic).
- Sicily is only a 90-minute ride away via fast ferry, making the two Mediterranean destinations an easy pair.
- The island of Comino is tiny; there is only 1 hotel and restaurant on the island, and the Blue Lagoon is the primary site to see there. Don’t plan on spending more than a day unless you are staying at the hotel on the island.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Intercontinental Malta: St. George’s Bay St. Julian’s STJ, 3310, Malta. Located right in the middle of St. Julian’s with two pools. The Sky Beach Restaurant and Champagne Bar costs money to access if you are not staying in one of the Executive Level rooms. Good AC and awesome gym.
Hilton Malta: Vjal Portomaso St Julian’s PTM, 01, Malta. While in St. Julian’s, the Hilton Malta is located a bit away from the hustle and bustle of St. Julian’s, but still within walking distance to the bars/restaurants of St. Julians. I preferred the Hilton to the Intercontinental, but we also had lounge access in the Hilton (and not the Intercontinental (like we did in Singapore), and that may have swayed my opinion. Good AC and multiple pools on property.
Cescas Boutique Hotel: Triq tal-Ghajn, Il-Munxar, Malta. A true boutique hotel in a renovated farmhouse in Gozo. Kind of in the middle-of-nowhere, you can technically walk to Xlendi and Victoria. Good breakfast included with booking. Wifi and AC included. Pool on premises.
Hornblower Cruises: Dawret Il-Gzejjer, San Pawl il-Baħar SPB 1480, Malta. One of the more popular Blue Lagoon cruises in Malta. Book in advance online to secure your spot.
Peperoncino: 8 Triq Il- Bajja, San Ġiljan, Malta. Open daily 18h30 – 22h. Reservations recommended for the best tables!
Sotto Pizzeria: 32 South St, Valletta, Malta. Open Tuesday – Sunday 12:00 – 14:45, 19:00 – 23:00. Closed Monday. Reservations recommended, as this place is popular! Casual attire.
Hypogeum: Triq Ic Cimiterju Raħal Ġdid PLA, 1116, Malta. Open daily 9 – 5. Book your tickets via my link months in advance, or be prepared to pay $$ via a third party vendor. Only 80 people allowed in per day. The Hypogeum was quite interesting, but not a “must do” if you are short on time or cannot procure tickets.
Meridiana Wine Estate: ATD 4000, Malta. Closed Saturday and Sunday. Use the “Book A Tour” feature on the bottom of their website to inquire about a tour/tasting, which are usually held during the week between 10:00 and 15:00. Our tasting was 12 euro/person for 4 wines and some crackers. I recommend upgrading to their full tray of snacks, which costs a bit more but is enough for lunch.
Ta’Mena Estate: Rabat Road, Xaghra XRA 9010, Malta. A popular winery and farm, with tours offered twice a week (I believe on Thursday and Saturday). Book in advance via email.
Leglin Wine Bar: Old school wine bar in downtown Valletta. Book in advance via Facebook Messenger.
The Boathouse: XLN1010, Xatt Ix Xlendi, Il-Munxar, Malta. Right in downtown Xlendi, next to Ta’Karolina. Closed Wednesday. Open Thursday – Tuesday 12h – 15h30, 18h – 22h. Reservations recommended, especially for waterside dining.
Ta’Karolina: Triq L-Ghar ta Karolina, Munxar, Malta. Open 12h30 – 15h30, 18h30 – 22h30. Highly recommend booking a reservation online, especially to secure one of the romantic tables on the water like we had!
Stanley’s Chippy Shop: San Gorg Basilica, Victoria, Malta. Super casual and no reservations. Bring cash.
Off Beat Malta Food Trails: Great food tour of Valletta – you try delicious food and walk though a good bit of the city. Book online in advance.