MALTA, TRAVEL

Why you must visit the Islands of Malta

island-of-malta
My first trip to the island of Malta was back in early 2000, way before I decided to become a travel blogger. I’ve always been an avid photographer, snapping memories of my vacations, but I never thought to gather a lot of useful details.
This trip to Malta was one of those, ‘Where should we fly to?’, moments. One of my friends was coming to London, and instead of seeing the same old places, we decided to catch a cheap flight to a Mediterranean island. Malta was that island. Not only was Malta cheap to fly to, but my friend had business at a 5* hotel in Malta we could stay at for free! Who could resist a trip to Malta, wherever it was…
But that was then and this is now. I haven’t been back since, and I asked a number of colleagues who’ve been there recently to remind me about why I need to go back, and why you need to visit the island of Malta. Here is our list of what to see and do on the magical island of Malta with a few inside scoops.

Where is Malta located?

The island of Malta is located in the central Mediterranean Sea just 50 miles south of the island of Sicily. It’s 176 miles east of Tunisia and 207 miles north of Libya. For a bit of history, Malta received her independence from Britain in 1964 and then became a republic in 1974. Malta then joined the European Union in 2004 and became part of the Eurozone in 2008. That means that Malta uses the Euro for currency just like a majority of Europe, and that English is widely spoken. It’s a great destination for a first time traveler visiting Europe and the Mediterranean.

Map of Malta in Mediterranean

Map of Malta in the Mediterranean

Location of island of Malta in Mediterranean

Islands of Malta and Malta’s Population

When we refer to Malta, we actually refer to three main islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. The population of the islands of Malta is 470,000. Around 430,000 people live on Malta, 32,000 on Gozo, and Comino is coming in at Pop. 3 – yes, 3 inhabitants according to statistics! There are a variety of other uninhabited islands around Malta as well.

Map of Malta, Gozo, Comino

How do you get to Malta?

The easiest way to get to Malta is to fly, of course. The main Malta International Airport is at Luqa (Airport Code: MLA), which used to be an old Royal Air Force military airport. The Malta Airport is a little over 6 miles from Valletta, the capital of Malta, and lies between the villages of Luqa and Gudja. There are more than 30 commercial and low-cost airlines that fly into Malta from any major city in Europe. It’s the base of Air Malta, the official airlines of the islands. Depending on your departure city, and time of year, you can get really great deals on flights to Malta.


Taking the Ferry to Malta

If you are keen to take a ferry boat to Malta, there are a few ferries that operate between Malta and Sicily, and Malta and Italy with over 20 sailings a week.

Ferry from Sicily to Malta

There is one route that operates from Catania, Sicily to Valletta, Malta on Grimaldi Lines, which takes about 7:15 hours. Another company, Virtu Ferries, operates one route from Catania to Valletta, which is part bus from Catania to Pozzallo and then you catch the ferry from Pozzallo to Valletta. This takes approximately 4.5 to 5 hours depending on road traffic.

For the quickest ferry route to Malta, go directly from Pozzallo to Valletta. It takes a mere 1:45 hrs! How’s that for speed.

Book your ferry crossings here.

Ferry from Salerno, Italy to Malta

For an extended trip on a ferry, which would be better in the summer, go from Salerno to Malta. Salerno is just south of Naples and it would be a great trip after you visit the Amalfi Coast. The ride will take 26:5 hours and you can get a sleeping cabin or simply a deck chair. Just imagine all the cool people you can meet floating through the Med for 26 hours!

Book your ferry from Salerno to Malta here.

MSC-Meriviglia ©Cruise Direct
MSC-Meriviglia ©Cruise Direct

Take a Mediterranean Cruise to Malta

Malta is also a big cruise ship destination. Valletta has a big cruise ship port where ships are passing through all the time. On a cruise ship, you’ll have only one day in port to explore, unfortunately. But even so, it will give you a chance to savor Valletta, and plan an extended trip to this magical island. Many of the popular Mediterranean Cruises can be found and booked here.

Weather in Malta

Malta benefits from a Mediterranean climate with quite mild winters and hot summers. The average year round temp is 73° during the day and 60° at night, so a bit like San Diego. The coldest month is January with around 60° during the day and 48° at night. The hottest month in Malta is August with temps around  85-90° and around 70° at night. Snow is rare, but it has happened in the past century! But don’t let that put you off.

Malta is a great year-round destination, even in Winter!

Malta in Winter
Valletta’s Christmas Decorations
Inma from A World To Travel suggests heading to Malta in Winter
Not everyone knows that the Winter weather in the Mediterranean sea is still enjoyable and a perfect time to visit. This is, at least, the case of the Maltese islands. I had a chance of visiting the Malta and Gozo a few years back in December and absolutely loved the experience! Since then, I can’t stop recommending it to everyone. It is true that it can get a bit rainy, but with warm temperatures and enjoying the same touristy spots without the crowds and at much more affordable prices, Malta in Winter surely is a safe bet. If you make it to Malta during the winter, keep an eye for the following events:
  • December: Christmas At St John’s Co-Cathedral, Feast Of The Immaculate Conception, and New Year’s Eve In Valletta. NYE is a great time to be in Malta as live music acts and entertainment happens everywhere before the fireworks show at Valletta waterfront starts at midnight to welcome the new year, lighting the harbor and its forts.
  • January: Valletta International Baroque Festival at various venues across the city like the historic Teatru Manoel.
  • February: Malta Carnival. It mostly takes place in Valletta, where thousands dress up in bright costumes and take part in parades of colorful floats.

Things to eat in Malta: Try the Pastizzi

Pastizzi with chocolate hazelnut filling
Pastizzi of Malta

Emma from Explore Shaw says the Pastizzi of Malta are to die for. Pastizzi’s actually remind me of a squished, flaky, chocolate croissant.

You’ve probably heard of Malta’s traditional pastizzi’s that come in cheese and pea flavors. They’re traditional, tasty and infamous to Malta. But if you want something completely unique and absolutely delicious, you need to try one of their Nutella pastizzis! This little gem is a traditional pastizzi pastry filled with hot overflowing Nutella. Honestly it was one of the best things we ate while we were in Malta! 

Nutella pastizzis can be found in bakeries across the mainland, as well as next door on Gozo. They have become hugely popular across the little island! There’s nothing like it, and if you have a bit of a sweet tooth, this is not to be missed! If you’re hoping to try, make sure you get there early in the morning, as many bakeries have been known to sell out before lunch time! 

Over the last few years, crazy pastizzi’s have become even more of a trend, with different eateries trying to out-do each other with their fillings. Across the country you can also find pastizzi’s filled with Maltese sausage, rabbit, beef cheek, apple and pizza. Or if you visit Pastizzi Gourmet you can literally find every kind of filling, from lamb and mint, to cranberry and white chocolate chips!

Get your Lonely Planet Malta Guide

Things to do in Malta

First Stop: Visit the capital city of Malta, Valletta

Valletta Malta Streets

Kate from Our Escape Clause says the first stop has to be Valletta

Malta’s capital city of Valletta is easily one of the most beautiful spots in the country: with its steep hills, gorgeous enclosed balconies, and stunning viewpoints over the Mediterranean Sea. No trip to Malta could be complete without dedicating some time to exploring its capital.

Valletta is the 2018 European Capital of Culture. It is nothing if not a place that showcases a co-mingling of cultures: pulling heavy influences from Italy to the Ottoman Empire to northern Africa and everywhere in-between. Valletta is a unique and important city.

While you’re there, be sure to visit the extremely ornate St. John’s Co-Cathedral, admire the view from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, cruise through the Grand Harbor, check out the interior of the Grand Master’s Palace, and tour some of Valletta’s quirky museums, such as the Toy Museum.

Of course, any trip to Valletta should also include time spent on food: Malta has tasty wine and delicious seafood, so be sure to try some of each in Valletta!

In addition to being a great spot in its own right, Valletta is also an excellent place to stay in Malta because of its access to the rest of the county. If you’re hoping to tour everything from Gozo to Marsaxlokk and everything in between while in Malta, Valletta is one of the best, and most central, places to stay.

Check out HOTEL ACCOMMODATION in Valletta here

Head to Popeye Village with the kids

Popeye Village Malta
Popeye Village Malta

According to Rhiannon from Wales To Wherever, Popeye Village is well worth the stop

Nestled into an idyllic cove just a little way outside of Mellieha, the vibrant Popeye Village was purposely built in the late 70’s for one reason: to bring Sweethaven to life!

Originally intended as nothing but a film set for the Robin Williams musical production, I don’t think anyone would have guessed that almost 40 years later Popeye Village would still be standing as one of Malta’s most unique tourist attractions.

Walking into the village feels like you’ve stepped right into a Popeye comic strip. The buildings are as colourful and rickety as you’d imagine, and some of the interiors have even been kept exactly as they are in the movie! This means you can wander freely around Olive Oyl’s house and Popeye’s Cabin, among others.

Some of the other buildings in the village are home to a plethora of Popeye memorabilia, from original comics to old-fashioned steel lunchboxes and even yo-yos. It’s an incredible place to visit for anyone with even an ounce of interest in the world of comics.

Throughout the year, Popeye Village has a range of different activities, with Christmas being especially interesting for children as they can visit Santa’s Toy Town and see the elves hard at work! The entry fee varies depending on the season, but Summer tickets (high season) are about $16 for adults and $12.75 for kids.

Popeye Village is an easy day trip from anywhere on Malta’s mainland, but if you wanted to stay nearby there are plenty of accommodation options in Mellieha. One of the more unusual places to visit in Malta, Popeye Village is definitely one for the whole family!

Check out Hotel Accommodation in Valletta here

BOOK YOUR HOTEL near Popeye Village here!

Explore Malta’s Megalithic Temples

megalithic temple on the island of malta
megalithic temples of malta

Dave from Dave’s Travel Pages believes you should see the Megalithic Temples of Malta

The islands of Malta have a rich and varied history, with the influence of mankind on the landscape dating back many thousands of years. Some of the most intriguing and ancient remains, are the Megalithic Temples of Malta.

Six of the temple complexes in Malta are classed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These temple complexes are Ġgantija, Ħaġar Qim, Mnajdra, Ta’ Hagrat, Skorba, and Tarxien. Unless you are an archaeology buff, you probably won’t have time to visit all of them during your time in Malta. You should definitely visit at least some of them though, and so I would suggest seeing the Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra Temples.

These two temples are just 500 meters from one another, and so you can easily see them together. Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra Temples have a few unique and thought-provoking aspects about them, one of the main ones being the highly unusual ‘honeycomb’ doorways and lintels.

You can easily visit the temples of Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra yourself if you are traveling around Malta in a rental car or using public transport. You don’t need a guide, and there are interpretive boards, as well as a museum, which helps to fill in some of the background information.

The best option is to visit them as part of an organized tour, so that you get a better understanding of not just of the temples, but also the country itself. Interested in adding a visit to your Malta trip planning itinerary? Read more here about the Megalithic Temples of Malta.

Tarxien Temple in Malta

Visit the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

According to Chris W. from CTB Global®, you must see the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni.

The Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni is one of Malta’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Paola just outside of Valletta. It’s built over 5000 years ago in the Neolithic age and the only underground temple of its kind in the world. A visit is a must-do on any Malta itinerary. Tickets sell out weeks or months in advance as just a few people can visit a day. Make sure to book well in advance. If you don’t you might not be able to visit. A few are sold early morning on the day of visit too, but it means spending hours in line. Also, ask the concierge at your hotel. Surprisingly ours was able to get tickets without a problem for a visit!

A tour of The Hypogeum takes you to all three levels of which the top level starts at 10 meters below the surface. This level consists of many burial chambers and over 7000 bodies have been found there. The lowest level has a few chambers which were used for storage of water and grain. The middle level however is the most important with a central chamber called the Holy of Holies. The Main Chamber, Oracle and Decorated chambers complete this level.

The Hypogeum is like the surface megalithic temples but much more intact including roofing. Visiting the Hypogeum is a great way to understand how surface megalithic temple might have looked like in full glory. Keep in mind the Hypogeum is underground and you will be in a confined area for over an hour. It’s very humid and can be slippery, so dress appropriate. A visit to the Hypogeum of Malta is one you’ll always remember.

Chris has a wonderful itinerary for Malta you may enjoy reading.

Visit the Lascaris War Rooms

Lascaris War Rooms

According to Sarah from ASocialNomad, I need to return to Malta to visit the Lascaris War Rooms.

The island of Malta occupies a strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea. This was never more evident than during World War II, where the defense of the island and the resilience of her people played a key role in turning around the war in favor of the Allies.

The operations of the team who ran this defense are one of Malta’s best-kept secrets. It was here, underneath the Upper Barracca Gardens in Valletta, that men and women ran the secrets of the war in the Med. You can understand more about what happened by visiting the Lascaris War Rooms.

The Lascaris War Rooms are a series of networked, underground tunnels and rooms where Britain’s war headquarters were during World War II.  All the offensive actions in the Mediterranean were organised from here, the defence of Malta was planned here and most famously, the invasion of Sicily was organized and executed successfully from here. 

Many of the tunnels and rooms are restored and renovated. A guided tour with docents brings to life the history of the rooms and those who lived and worked here. Step a little further into history by adding on the War Tunnels Headquarter’s tour and you’ll see where hundreds of allied men and women slept, worked and fought.

This is a superb way to understand an important part of Malta’s recent history and understand her strategic role in world events.

The fortified town of Mdina

Mdina Malta Photo
Fortified town of Mdina
Kylie from Our Overseas Adventures says you must see Mdina.
Visiting the beautiful fortified town of Mdina should be high on your list of must-dos when exploring Malta. Firstly the history of Mdina is worth visiting the town for alone – it dates back more than 4,000 years. It’s a wonderful experience to wander through the streets and alleyways, admiring the beautiful honey-coloured baroque architecture. Over the years, Mdina has been home to Malta’s nobility, and you can see many of their palaces still standing.
One of the highlights when visiting Mdina is a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s located on the site where it is said that St Paul the Apostle met the Roman governor Publius after being shipwrecked. It’s a stunning example of baroque architecture, and the ceilings are decorated with frescoes of scenes of St Paul’s life. 
Another interesting place to visit is the Vilhena Palace, which has a colorful and varied history. The current building was re-constructed in the 1700s in French Baroque style, after several centuries of earthquakes. Over its life, the building was home to the administrative council, a summer palace for the Grand Master, a hospital and sanitarium, and is now the national Natural History Museum. There’s an interesting collection of plants, insects and fossils unique to Malta.
Finally, don’t forget to check out the famous Mdina glass when visiting. There are all kinds of beautiful handmade glassware and ornaments to purchase to take a little bit of Malta home with you!
BOOK HOTELS IN MDINA HERE!

The Rotunda of Mosta

Rotunda of Mosta Malta
Ben from The Sabbatical Guide says the Rotunda of Mosta, which resembles the Pantheon in Rome, should be firmly on your list.
There are a lot of ancient buildings and churches on Malta, but this one holds a few interesting facts and secrets.
Firstly, it is a little slice of Rome right here on Malta. If you’ve ever been to the Italian Capital, this building will seem familiar. The architect Giorgio Grognet de Vassé originally trained as a priest, and on his time in Rome, fell in love with the Pantheon. He used his experiences for inspiration when he was commissioned to design a building for Mosta.
Secondly, it is the fourth largest, unsupported dome in the world. The other three are all in Italy.
Thirdly, (and most excitingly!), it is known locally as the ‘miracle church’. On April 9, 1942, a German bomb dropped through the ceiling onto a congregation of over 300 people. Not only did it not explode, but no-one even got hurt. This was heralded as a miracle, and you can see a replica of the bomb in one of the backrooms under a sign that reads, ’The Bomb Miracle, 9 April 1942’.
Entrance to the Rotunda is free, and is about a half-hour drive from the capital city of Valletta.

Visit Marsaxlokk on Malta

Marsaxlokk-Fishing-Boats-Malta-Reflections-Enroute

Corinne from Reflections Enroute says the fishing traditional village of Marsaxlokk is a must see.

A traditional fishing village located in the southeastern part of Malta, Marsaxlokk is my favorite place.  The bus stop drops you off in the middle of town at the fish market. If you happen to go on a Sunday, you’ll enjoy the market in its full glory, but if not, you can still walk around the small harbor taking in the view.

The town has been an active fishing port for centuries, and their boats reflect this nod to tradition. They are brightly painted, adorned with the famous, “eye of Osiris.” They are so unique that you won’t be able to stop photographing them. I couldn’t.

Many people head to this small town on a day trip to take in a leisurely, fresh seafood lunch, because it doesn’t take too much time to see the cathedral and wander around the town. The fish is as fresh as can be, and you can have your choice of local fish or other famous Mediterranean fish, like tuna.

Marsaxlokk is a little quieter than some of the areas that are full of young and wild party-lovers. The town pretty much closes down once dinner is finished.  For us, or for people who don’t want to stay out all night, it’s the perfect place to stay.

If you love a view…go to Marsaxlokk!

BOOK HOTELS IN MARSAXLOKK HERE!

Build in a visit to Gozo

Gozo Malta

Michael from The World Was Here First says Gozo is well worth the visit

While many travellers to Malta tend to only visit the less developed island of Gozo as a day trip or skip it altogether, the island of Gozo has plenty to offer travellers who have more time to spend on their Maltese itinerary.

To get to the island of Gozo, you can take a ferry from the northern port of Cirkewwa on the main island of Malta. You don’t need to buy a ticket when traveling to Gozo, however, you need to buy a return ticket when you return to the main island.

There are a large number of fantastic activities to keep you occupied during your time in Gozo. Some of the best things to do include going sailing to visit nearby Blue Lagoon and Crystal Lagoon, relaxing on of the many beaches such as Ramla, going for a hike or exploring the capital city of Gozo – Victoria (Rabat).

One of the highlights of visiting Gozo is also indulging in the amazing food and wine scene that the island has to offer. You can visit one of the boutique wineries such as Tal-Massar Winery for tastings or enjoy a meal at the many fantastic restaurants such as La Stanza or Maldonado who serve delicious local cuisine at affordable prices.

While there are accommodation options throughout the island, I recommend staying close to Victoria (Rabat) as there is a much larger range of restaurant options and you can use the bus network to travel to any other part of Gozo.

BOOK ACCOMMODATION IN VICTORIA, GOZO HERE!

And Gozo is perfect for diving

Diving in Gozo

Suzanne from the Meandering Wild says Gozo is the best for diving….

Malta, and more importantly Gozo are the perfect places to dive in the Mediterranean.  The waters are warm year round but perfect for diving in just a wet suit from June through late September. In August when we visited, the water was perfect, clear and warm although a little rough. This didn’t matter. Our Dive Centre in Marsalforn planned and took us to places that were good despite the weather. 

The diving is great for beginners and the courses are brilliant as they happen in the sea, not in a boring swimming pool.  Newly qualified dives are also easy. There are lots of shallow places to dive with lots of life and interesting landscapes below the surface.

There is everything from shallow reefs to deep wrecks all filled with life. Fish are everywhere and there are colourful corals and small shellfish on every surface. Some of the best dives are in the caves around Gozo and Comino. You find huge, spectacular caverns just below the surface. And some of them have air spaces so you can surface and see the inside of the cave.

We used Bubbles Dive Centre but there are lots of centres to choose from. Just look for PADI centres in an area where you want to dive. We chose to stay in Marsalforn as it is a quiet coastal town with lots of nearby things to do and a good bus service to the rest of the island.  There are a range of options for places to stay and places to eat making it an easy base for some excellent diving.

BOOK YOUR MALTA EXCURSIONS HERE

Blue Lagoon on the Island of Comino

Blue Lagoon Malta

Stephanie from History Fan Girl says a visit to Malta isn’t complete without seeing the Blue Lagoon.

Malta’s Blue Lagoon is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country, and for good reason. This beach on the small island of Comino has water that truly lives up to its name. The island is uninhabited except for a single hotel and some campgrounds. And the beach is only accessible by boat, so most go as a day trip. I’ve been on two separate trips to Malta. I know that as soon as I return to the country I’ll head straight back to this relaxing spot.

The lagoon is the area between the beach on Comino and the small islet of Cominotto across the water. The swimming area is roped off, and you can watch the yachts nearby. There are caves to explore, and you can also leave the beach and walk around the island. Or you can walk over to another little bay nearby. Another popular activity is to take a boat ride around Comino.

The best way to visit is to catch the first boat of the day. That way you get a prime beach chair and umbrella. I like to stay until the last boat leaves. I get to enjoy the entire cycle of the day, that way . It’s fun people watching to see the tourists get off the boats in the morning. You’ll be happy with the perfect the water temperature for a quick cool-down when it’s time to swim, . 

Some will skip the Blue Lagoon, thinking it’s too touristy. Even though it is a popular tourist site, you can climb up to the rocks overlooking the water if you want to escape the crowds. Don’t miss visiting, since this is the best beach in Malta!

BOOK YOUR HOTEL NEAR THE BLUE LAGOON NOW!

Get your guide for Malta trips

Interesting Facts about Malta

  • In Malta, you drive on left, like in the UK and Ireland. The roads are easy to drive in Malta, but there is a lot of traffic. Malta’s has one of the highest car-to-person rations in all of Europe.
  • Malta’s capital, Valletta, is only 0.31 sq miles and is the smallest national capital of any European country. However, the largest city on Malta is Birkirkara with a population of around 23,000.
  • Malta is one of the world’s smallest and most densely-populated countries.
  • The main languages spoken on Malta are Maltese, English and Italian. It’s a great country to visit if you only speak English.
  • When we refer to Malta, we are actually referring to three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino, which is virtually uninhabited.
  • There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites on Malta: the seven Megalithic Temples, Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum and Valletta
  • Malta is a great retirement destination for a number of reasons. The weather is good year round, and English is widely spoken. The cost of living is lower by 15% compared to the US, and it has very low crime. The healthcare is excellent, and it’s easy to fly to numerous European destinations. Then there are festival and activities all year round.
  • Ninety-seven percent (97%) of the Maltese population consider Maltese as their mother tongue. Eighty-eight percent (88%) speak English, 66% speak Italian, and 17% speak French.
  • There are more than 365 churches in Malta so you can worship at a different church each day.
Easter Procession in Malta
Easter Procession in Malta

The islands of Malta are great to discover and there’s so much history to experience and see. Have you been to Malta? Let us know in the comments below!

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Life On The Mediterranean

US expat living the life on the Mediterranean in the South of France. I regularly travel to Spain, Italy, Greece and other intriguing locations around the Mediterranean. Former Hyatt Corp Marketing Manager, student accommodation director and hotel photoshoot art director.

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