Thinking of a hassle free European holiday with good weather guaranteed? How about Malta? You might think it’s just a beach destination, but hold your horses! While this is partly true, there’s so much more to this Mediterranean sun kissed island than just partying. Let us show you around Malta and its local delights.
Even though tiny, the island can easily overwhelm you with all the attractions to visit, food to eat and sights to see. We’ve been there. We understand how crazy your visit can get in the humid Mediterranean heat if you don’t plan it well.
You have to take it easy and remember to breath it all in. You really don’t have to see it all, but rather see those sights that can really enhance your trip and enrich your knowledge about this ancient island.
We encourage you to have experiences that will allow you to get under Malta’s skin and see the Maltese islands a little bit differently. Quality and not quantity travel experiences are what really counts we always say.
The best part is, you never have to rush anywhere. Sleep in, have a chilled breakfast on that rooftop terrace or a local cafe, then explore. Does that sound good? Great, then let’s have a good look at Malta…
1. Get Acquainted – Take a Free Tour
With so much to see and do on the island, you also need to get to grips with its history and culture. Malta has a fascinating past, dating back to prehistoric era. This rocky isle is still home to some of the oldest surviving manmade structures on the planet.
Are you thinking you don’t have time to learn the history? Join the free tour in Valletta run by the local Maltese company Colour my travel and you might just be surprised how pleasant and effortless a 90 minute history lesson can be.
You will get to explore Malta’s beautiful capital Valletta on foot, hear stories about the iconic Knights of St John and learn quirky facts about Malta. The guides are very friendly, knowledgeable and entertaining. It’s a great start to your Maltese holiday. The tour is free, but you are expected to leave a small tip at the end if you enjoyed the walk.
If you are interested in more in depth, specialised tours, you can also check out the Tours By Locals site and choose your private guide for the day. The tours are not always the cheapest, but can provide a good quality, personalised service and insight into life in Malta. Charlie used to work as a freelance London tour guide via the site so we know they are reliable!
We really enjoyed our free tour and found it very interesting, but if you are independent and like to explore on your own terms, here are a few things we suggest you don’t miss…
2. Malta Through the Key Hole
Do you want to learn about one of Malta’s best kept secrets? We thought so!
You see, Malta is so much more than just a beach destination. There’s wealth and privilege that you can also be part of without actually being entitled, but you’ll have to budget for it.
For years Malta’s most beautiful and noble houses were under a veil and only admired from afar. However now you can have a rare opportunity to cross the threshold of ‘the most beautiful 18th century country house’ Villa Bologna or even the Presidential Palace.
Founded by the British expatriate Jim Dunn, the concept Private Malta is delivered through Corinthia Palace Hotel and Spa. A full package starting from €550 and comprising of a minimum of 3 night stay in the hotel will see you dining at exclusive locations, visiting private residences which otherwise are closed to the general public and much more. Sweet indulgence nonetheless!
We appreciate that this option might be way over your budget, it certainly is for us, that’s why we have a number of down to earth suggestions to make your Malta holiday exciting and less pricey!
So before you hit that beach, let’s have a look if we can interest you in some of the oldest (according to the Maltese) structures built on this earth…
3. Call in to the Home of Prehistoric Man
Like we said, Malta’s fascinating past dates back thousands of years to the Megalithic Age. ‘Megaliths’ refers to monument built of large stones, mostly burials chambers and graveyards. So the temples of Malta are not just temples, but also burial sites of prehistoric man. Let’s go see them!
To start your exciting explorations you might want to consider visiting National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta. An impressive building itself, the museum is home to an extensive collection of artefacts dating back to 5,000 BC and displaying some of our ancestors belongings.
If you’ve read so far, you must be a bit of a history buff and you will be delighted by a visit to the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum. It’s a prehistoric burial site and an underground maze of rocky chambers, with earliest remains dating back to 4,000BC.
Before planning your visit, check the official Heritage Malta website for an up to date information and opening times.
Time to visit our ancestors! A total of 6 sites in Malta are listed as UNESCO World heritage Sites:
The Ġgantija Temples are the earliest megalithic temples found in Gozo. At more than 5,500 years old, the temples are even older than the Pyramids of Egypt and thought to be associated with the goddess of fertility.
Used for animal sacrifice rituals, Tarxien Temple is one of the most elaborate ancient temples of Malta. The site features the remains of 4 temples with lavishly decorated stone blocks, reliefs, massive statues & altars. It’s just a 12 minute drive from Valletta.
Made of coralline limestone the Mnajdra Temple is thought to have been used as an astronomical observatory. The temple is a great place to visit during summer solstice and witness the spectacular sight as the sunlight passes directly through the main entrance.
At the Ħaġar Qim Temple you will discover an elliptical hole which also aligns with the Summer Solstice sunrise. Similarly to the Mnajdra Temple, the sun’s rays pass through this hole illuminating stone blocks just opposite the main entrance.
Ta’ Ħaġrat Temple is the only Temple site which is built entirely of local Upper Coralline Limestone and well worth a look.
Finally on our UNESCO list is Skorba Temple located on the outskirts of Mġarr. It provides not only a great insight into the oldest free standing monuments on earth, but also lovely views of the surrounding landscape.
There are many more monuments on the tiny islands of Malta and Gozo, but we though you might have had enough of the historic sites for now?
Fair enough! We know exactly what you need to do next. It’s chill time…
4. Bliss Out on Malta’s Beaches
There aren’t many sandy beaches in Malta, but that doesn’t stop the locals and guests alike enjoying the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean. There are loads of top spots around the coast to jump in for a refreshing swim.
Here are our top picks…
North side of the island
If you prefer sandy beaches, we suggest you head to the Golden Bay in Mellieha. The beach is small, but perfect for a chilled day out. The waters here are shallow so it’s great for swimming newbies and children alike.
Next door, Ghan Tuffieha Bay is another lovely beach hiding in the shadow of the breathtaking rugged coastline, a smaller (much much smaller) version of the Hawaii Na Pali Coast.
The sunsets here are soulful, ideal for travelling couples craving some romance out in the wild. For the best panoramic view across the rainbow coloured Qarraba Bay and unspoilt Tuffieha Bay, follow the path high up the lunar-landscape-like rock. It’s our favourite spot in Malta.
Gnejna Bay is another beach nearby with incredibly clear waters. The only downside of this beach is the rocky shore. The small rocks can be very sharp so be careful. Luckily, there is a handy man made pathway on the left hand side when facing the sea, that helpfully leads into the sea.
Swimming in general is fine here, but when snorkelling slightly further away from the shore, we’ve seen some large sharp objects laying around on the sea bed so be cautious. Maybe rent a kayak here and have fun paddling towards the rocks!
Mellieha Bay to the north is more a pebble rather than a sand beach, but it is great for swimming and chilling out.
The sandy St George’s Bay in Paceville, St Julian’s boozy clubbing area, is not
as stunning as the beaches mentioned above. However, the azure water here is still lovely on a sunny day, which is every day really during a Maltese summer.
Not bothered about relaxing on the sand? Then you will love Sliema Promenade stretching 3km along the rocky coastline. Just follow the main road and feel free to jump into the transparent Mediterranean Sea at any point. Exiles Bay, home to the stray cats at nations beloved ‘Cat Village’, is a popular spot for a refreshing dip.
Further along the coast you will come across some shallow swimming pools cut out by those inventive Victorians. In olden days, when swimming in public was shameful act, a tent used to be put up over the pools for privacy.
Nowadays it’s a popular hang out spot for get togethers and BBQ’s amongst the locals.
The incredible crescent shaped St Peter’s Pool attracts many thrill seekers and those wanting to test their courage. The crayon blue natural pool surrounded by white chalk cliffs is an outstandingly beautiful place to visit and the ultimate spot in Malta for cliff diving.
If you are not keen on cliff jumping, you can choose shallower pools further away from the main pool to drop into the sea.
Beware when following the path to the sea from Marsaxlokk, stick to the main road and try avoiding the tall grass where the rather large snakes enjoy their sunbathing. Luckily they are not venomous but best left in peace.
5. Trek the Hidden Paths of Malta
To get to know Malta up close and personal, take one of the exciting countryside walking trails. The walks across the island will allow you to get away from traffic and have some quiet, or even romantic time with your significant other if travelling as a couple.
There are a few short walks across the country, but if you are an outdoors enthusiast, try the longer trek and walk the famous Victoria Line. The trek from coast to coast up and down the rocky paths will provide you with fantastic panoramic views north as far as the eyes can see.
If an all day walk along the ‘Great Wall of Malta’ sounds a bit too much, you can try the Xemxija Heritage Trail. Also known as the Roman Road, it’s a 2,000 year old trail which leads you to some ancient beehives, burial caves, reconstructed farmers hut and a massive carob tree. The bean pulp from this tree is used in food preparation and also in making medicine to relieve coughs. Download the trail’s official app for full details.
For more trails around the island, downloadable guides and maps check out the Visit Malta site. Just be sure to wear some comfortable footwear and pack enough water to keep you going in the heat.
6. Funky Boozy Bars
Now that was a big walk wasn’t it! We know exactly how it feels! How about a nice cold drink?
One of our favourite places that we already mentioned in our one week itinerary on the island is the tiny bar on St Lucia’s street in Valletta, called Wild Honey. The size of this place is very proportional to the size of the island, but it has some delicious craft beers on offer.
We seem to have a thing for small little bars. Another tiny place, located in Spinola Bay, but away from all the crowds is the Happy Dayz bar. It has a hippyish/reggae feel to it so quite a nice chilled place for a drink or two by the sea.
If you want to get a real feel for Malta, you’ve got to mix with the locals. The Funky Monkey is the place to do that. Located on the Manoel island, it’s a bar/open air club which might not appeal to everyone’s taste at first sight, but it works. In summer time locals flock here for drinks and live music under the warm and starry Mediterranean sky.
Planning a trip to Gozo? Then you need to visit the Lord Chambray artisan brewery. The craft beers here are made from top quality ingredients using the state of art machinery. You can reserve a tour by contacting them in advance via their website and sample some of the best beers on the island.
Or, maybe you’d prefer some grape juice instead?
7. Sip Local Wine at a Vineyard
Local Maltese wine was a delicious surprise!
A bottle of La Vallette red or Citadella rose will set you back under €4 at a supermarket, not bad huh? A bottle of young, full bodied Medina Cabernet Franc can set you back €14-15, which is still pretty good.
A flavoursome mix of cherries, blueberries and blackcurrants in Antonin Noir “Marsaxlokk” might cost you around €23, depending on the restaurant, but still a good price, don’t you think?
But to fully experience the local wine culture, you can taste Maltese wine in their prime location – Malta’s vineyards. Some of the nations favourite include the award winning Emmanuel Delicata family winemaker, Marsovin and Marnisi Estate.
So which one are you going to visit? We have a feeling that after all that vino, you might be a bit peckish. We’ve got you covered…
8. Eat Well in Malta
We don’t want you to get all tipsy from all that local wine experience, do we!
We’ve been to enough food spots on this rocky Mediterranean island to know where not to miss and where to avoid. Call us lucky if you like, but so far we have experienced mostly good food in Malta.
We’ve explored our local St Julian’s area lots in terms of food and know that you can have a decent meal here, just avoid the restaurants overlooking the gorgeous Spinola Bay. A shame really as the views are lovely. However, the exception is the Two Buoys restaurant at the far end of the bay.
Elsewhere, St Julian’s is loaded with lovely restaurants for every budget and some of our favourites include the elegant U Bistrot and Villa Brasserie right above it, both located in Balluta Bay.
We also like the Asian fusion restaurant Okurama International which serves great sushi. Try the 3 Black Sheep for some fantastic fungi stone baked pizza.
For a local cuisine check out Maltese Mama. The rabbit stew here is extremely indulging, says Charlie, but it’s perfect paired with a glass of young, but intense Maltese Cabernet Sauvignon.
We’ve finally visited the Emperor of India restaurant in Paceville. We are huge fans of Indian food and the place didn’t disappoint, it was excellent! However, be weary when ordering beer as the prices on the menu are for a half pint only. We didn’t realise and ended up paying nearly €6 for a pint of Kingfisher.
If you want to try some of the best food in Malta then go super local. Areas like the Three Villages of Malta (Attard, Balzan and Lija), Rabat and Naxxar can offer a great hunting ground for true foodies.
Your best catch of the day is waiting for you on the south side of the island in picturesque Marsaxlokk. The seafood restaurant Tartarun is continuously voted the best fish restaurant in Malta.
However, we can’t stress enough to avoid Sundays in this tiny fishing village as the lovely ambience and the seafront gets disturbed by the tacky Marsaxlokk Sunday market.
9. Chill in a Maltese Garden
Since you are already out and about dining, wining and mixing with the locals, why not explore some of the most beautiful streets of Malta?
The lovely St. Anton Garden is located in Attard, one of the Three Villages. Not to be confused with the Three Cities (Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua)!
The space is gorgeous at any time of year, but is in its full glory in May. Take an afternoon off and get lost in the sea of blooming flowers or take a stroll through the maze of lanky palm trees and evergreen Araucarias.
The gardens and now the official residence of the President of Malta has been open to the public since 1882. It’s exceptionally well kept and a rare public green space on the island.
Before or after your visit to the garden you might want to explore some of the most beautiful streets in central Malta. The three Villages formed from Attard, Balzan and Lija are some of the best preserved villages in the country.
For a tranquil afternoon, visit the Chinese Garden of Serenity in Santa Lucia. The garden is cleverly designed into several smaller peaceful spaces where you can have a chilled stroll.
So, relax before we drag you to the chaos of Maltese festivities…
10. Join in a Maltese Festa
Are you enjoying the local vibe in Malta? Then you will love experiencing a Maltese Festa!
The Maltese love to have a good celebration and Maltese Festas, especially in the summer season, can be seen (and heard) everywhere around the island on a almost weekly basis.
There is food, music, fairy lights and fireworks, lots and lots of them! We can often see them from our sunny terrace. It makes us feel like it’s a New Year every other day!
During our stay in a tiny charming village of Gharb in Gozo, we had the chance to see the preparations for one of the festas in the village. The main church was lit up in thousands of colourful fairy lights and looked absolutely spectacular!
Top local blog Lovin Malta has a great list of all the festas happening throughout the summer in Malta.
11. Chill Out On Gozo
After all that partying why not spend a few chilled days on tranquil Gozo, Malta’s sister island. Quieter, the island offers a great escape from the hustling main island.
Nothing is very far away in Gozo, so it’s easy to reach Dwerja, famous for its fallen Azure Window. The island was in a near state of mourning after the famous arch collapsed into the sea during a violent storm in March 2017.
We really recommend the small, but charming village Gharb, located at the westernmost point of Gozo. With only 1,500 residents, this place makes it a perfect getaway destination for your enhanced Maltese holiday.
Accommodation wise we can recommend Gozo Escapes. They have several funky villas and farmhouses with pools to enjoy. We hired a great one in Gharb for 4 nights, clean and very well looked after.
There aren’t many restaurants in such a small place, as you can imagine, but all of them are very friendly and serve decent food. We especially liked the Gharb Rangers Restaurant and it’s cosy ambience and they have a great bar!
Alternatively you can check accommodation options in Gozo on Airbnb. Beware that Gozo gets booked up throughout the summer months and looking for a place last minute can be challenging.
12. Sail the Maltese Islands
In our opinion, a Maltese holiday wouldn’t be a proper holiday without a sailing trip. Imagine the sun, the sea and you chilling aboard a beautiful boat. Sounds good to us.
We enjoyed our Full Day 3 Island Trip aboard a 23 meter long sailing boat with Barbarossa Excursions. The captain took us to some of the most beautiful spots including the famous Blue Lagoon for a swim and snorkel. The water here is so blue that it seems like someone spilt blue ink into the sea.
There are plenty of swimming and snorkelling stops throughout the day to keep you cool in the Mediterranean heat. But still, make sure to apply and reapply constantly the sunscreen as the sun in Malta is pretty fierce.
For even more action, jump aboard a dinghy and let the Barbarossa crew whisk you away on a quick trip through small, but rather fascinating caves.
So, the only question left is…. have you booked those tickets yet?
Enjoyed this post? Check out our Malta Guide to Travelling and Living on the Island