Malta is one of the world’s smallest countries, located just below Italy and completely separated from the rest of Europe, giving it an exotic appeal. I really wanted to visit Malta because of its alluring civilised island paradise nature, its rich war history, and its reputation as a party destination. I had friends from Malta who spoke perfect English and had told me that most people there did as well, so I wasn’t worried about any language barriers.
In fact, during my visit I would realise Malta’s strong use of English made it one of the best destinations for English-speaking travellers. Every aspect of the county including its people, environment and food contained the foreign elements necessary to make me feel as if I were entering a whole different world, but I never had to stumble my way through purchasing food, asking for directions or just partaking in general conversation.
I timed my visit during February, so I knew I’d miss out on a lot of Malta’s summer activities. However, I was still looking forward to exploring Valetta and Mdina, and visiting the other unique areas the country had to offer like Gozo, Sliema’s shopping, St Julians’ nightlife, and Dingli Cliffs. I was fortunate to have friends in the country, who were generous enough to show me around and give me a really informative and fun experience.
|3||Sliema||10am-5pm||Shops & Waterfront||0||Walking & Car|
|4||Dingli||11am-3pm||Dingli Cliffs & Exploring||0||Car|
|5||Gozo||9am-6pm||Folklore Museum, Victoria, Ramla Bay & Exploring||€8||Ferry & Car|
|6||Valletta||10am-3pm||National War Museum & Exploring||€6||Bus & Walking|
|7||Malta||10am-7pm||Popeye Village & Exploring||€10||Car|
*Cost reflects price of admission to attractions, not food, souvenirs or transport.
Day 1: Malta Airport
I was pretty tired after my long flight and arriving late at night didn’t help. I wanted to sort out airport transfer pretty quickly. It’s easiest to pre-arrange your airport pickup so you can get started started on the real Malta holiday.
|Malta Airport Transfer|
There are a few options at the airport. You can choose a shuttle bus, or for a few extra dollars, get a private car to take you to your hotel doorsteps.
Day 2: Mdina
After flying into Malta late the previous night, I was greeted by some friends and the complete opposite of the “sunny and warm” winter weather I’d been promised. However, when I awoke the next day, the rain clouds had dispersed, giving me my first taste of Malta’s sunny side. The country is truly beautiful all year.
Making the most of the good weather, I decided to venture out to Mdina, the country’s old capital city. Mdina was located almost on the other side of Malta compared to where I was staying in Sliema. Fortunately, due to Malta’s small size, this only meant it was about 20 minutes to reach via car. I could’ve also caught a bus out there, which runs about every 10 minutes, but I couldn’t pass up the offer of a guided tour with friends. Not that I was driving, nor would I have wilfully volunteered to drive.
Driving to Mdina
Driving out to Mdina was my first experience of day-time driving in Malta. Almost immediately I learned one crucial thing to be aware of when driving is road rules are more suggestions than actual rules. I found myself gripping the side of my seat on numerous occasions.
If you’re driving in Malta for the first time, be ready for other drivers to regularly run stop signs and red lights, fail to indicate, travel at speeds way above the limit, put their hazard lights on just to park in the middle of the road, and spend more time in the opposite traffic’s lane. This way of driving appears to work because the Maltese are very wary drivers and adept at handling this haphazard environment, but for a tourist it was a little shocking at times.
Mdina – the Silent City
The city of Mdina is commonly known as the “Silent City”, because very few vehicles are allowed inside other than emergency, residential, wedding, and funeral cars. Because of this, we had to park the car outside and enter the city on foot. I immediately associated Mdina with something out of a medieval movie with its high walls and beautiful architecture. This is definitely a place where you should bring a camera.
Mdina’s streets are narrow and possess the romantic ability to make you feel hidden from the rest of the world. As I made my way to Bastion Square, at the far end of the city, I was able to see a lot in a very short space of time.
|Mdina Small-Group Walking Tour|
For a proper tour of Mdina, join this small group tour as a professional guide shares insights on the history of the more popular landmarks around Mdina.
Cathedral & Chapels
St Paul’s Cathedral was one of the first buildings I saw upon entering Mdina, despite being situated further into the city. This magnificent structure, which towers above everything else, has got to be one of Mdina’s focal points. The entry fee was surprising considering most of the other cathedrals I’d visited before had been free. However, €2.50 wasn’t too much to pay to see the astonishing interior artwork, and it also covered entry to the Cathedral’s museum, which had some interesting artefacts and treasures. It doesn’t take long to see everything, so I was able to move on pretty quickly.
There were also some chapels dedicated to particular saints. These might be worth a visit if you’re interested in the saints, but I just admired the outsides.
The other fascinating old constructions I found while in Mdina were the catacombs. One of these can only be seen as part of a tour group, which I didn’t want to wait for, but the St Paul’s Catacombs could be explored individually.
It cost €5 to enter, which I thought was a reasonable price at the time, but later discovered was quite expensive compared to the better attractions in Malta. I still really enjoyed exploring the tombs underneath the city and seeing the elaborate shrines, forgotten items and some fascinating underground architecture from the 13th Century. It was a completely different experience to anything I’d had before and remains a prominent memory of my trip.
I almost didn’t see Mdina Glass the first time I walked past it and my friend’s had to point it out before I really noticed it. The shop has two little doors with a small sign between them and practically blends into the sides of the buildings it’s part of.
I was fortunate not to miss it, because Mdina Glass is one of the city’s hidden gems. The shop sells hand-blown glassware in unique colours and styles, from wine glasses to door handles. I would’ve purchased something if not for my already overflowing bags.
Mdina Glass also runs sessions where people can watch the glassblowers craft items for free. By the time I had arrived I’d unfortunately missed the last session. In hindsight, it would’ve been better to check their website to see when the glassblowing workshops were being run.
Mdina Dungeon and Mdina Experience
Mdina has a rich and detailed history that I was interested in learning about, but I didn’t want to feel like I was attending school during my holiday. Fortunately, I found a few places where I could learn about parts of Mdina’s fascinating past while feeling entertained at the same time.
Mdina Dungeon provided some interesting facts and stories about the city’s darker side, but the tour wasn’t as exciting or well-presented as I’d expected after visiting similar dungeon attractions in other countries.
I much more preferred being able to sit down in the Mdina Experience and watch a multimedia presentation about the city’s history. It was a very comfortable viewing experience thanks to the cushioned sofa and surround sound headphones. The movie ran for about 25 minutes and held my attention for most of that time. Both of these attractions cost €4, so I never felt like I was spending too much.
Fontanella Tea Garden
The last place I visited in Mdina was Bastion Square. Bastion Square was the furtherest spot from where I entered, but I didn’t find the walk long or difficult. From the Square I was able to look out at incredible views of Malta’s countryside.
This was definitely my favourite spot in Mdina, because of the views and Fontanella Tea Garden. Fontanella was the reason my friends had taken me to Mdina and after eating there I knew why. We ate a late lunch comprised of freshly cooked pizzas. I then had a tough decision to make as to which cake I would order for dessert. The menu had over fifteen types, most of which I’d never heard of before and all of them looked exquisite. I eventually opted for a slice of orange and chocolate cake, which didn’t disappoint. All of this was washed down with mango tea.
We sat outside on the top level, so for the entire meal I got to look out over the nearby countryside. The prices weren’t noticeably expensive, but I definitely could’ve eaten for cheaper somewhere else.
Day 3: Sliema
Sliema is known for its harbour and shopping districts. I visited two of the bigger shopping centres in Sliema: The Plaza and The Point Shopping Mall. These are both multistorey centres with numerous boutique and high-end stores. I’m not a big shopper, so I didn’t spend much time at either one.
What I enjoyed more was just walking down Sliema’s waterfront. Instead of sandy beaches, Sliema’s waterfront is comprised mostly of natural rock pools that meet the ocean. The waves crash over some of the pools giving the water inside a Jacuzzi-like bubbling effect. The water was too cold for me to get in, but I did see some people bravely swimming in the ocean.
Day 4: Dingli
Dingli is a small town near the coast of Malta, a little south-east of Mdina. I travelled there solely to see one of Malta’s prime viewing points: Dingli Cliffs. We stopped at a bakery in Dingli on the way where I had my first experience with Pastizzi, small pastries with a filling of either cream cheese or peas. I preferred the cream cheese variety for flavour, but they became too sweet after a while, which was when I moved onto the pea ones. I found the best approach was to purchase a combination. They’re only small, so three or four would satisfy me.
Upon arriving at Dingli Cliffs, my eyes were immediately drawn to the incredible views of the Mediterranean Ocean. The views are what everyone comes here to witness, and the best spot is a part of the cliffs that juts out from the rest and stretches across the ocean. Along this section was a rocky outcrop that provided some natural seating and protection from a spot of rain that lasted for about 10 minutes. I also got to see the ruins of some buildings and the chapel of St Magdalena, which were pretty interesting.
Dingli Cliffs also has a darker side. When I was looking over the edge I saw the wreckages of numerous vehicles. The reason for why these were there varied slightly. Some believed they were the remains of successful suicide attempts, while others thought they were from people trying to claim insurance. For me, these remnants of tough times divided Dingli Cliffs into a place of beauty and destruction, making it a more interesting place.
After spending some time at the edge of the cliffs, we walked to a nearby restaurant called The Cliffs, where the local bus from Valletta stops. The restaurant was very busy on this day and we were lucky to get a table. We had to wait for a while, but there was no where else to go. A better option might have been to bring our own food; perhaps some more Pastizzi.
|Malta Segway: Dingli Adventure Tour|
Save your energy from walking and explore the Dingli Cliffs on segway instead. Led by an experienced tour guide, you will see the natural landscape of Dingli and other main attractions in the area.
Day 5: Gozo
This was easily one of my favourite days. Gozo is Malta’s second island, so getting there required a short drive to the harbour in Cirkewwa, followed by a 30-minute ferry ride. This was probably the longest travel time I experienced in Malta, but it felt less like travelling and more like part of the sightseeing.
The ferry was pretty cheap for a carload of four people, and they also accepted walk-on passengers had I’d caught the bus there instead. It had an inside area with a concession stall that sold snacks and drinks, and a top level, which was great for getting outside and admiring Malta from the ocean.
|Full-Day Quad Tour of Gozo|
An interesting way to experience Gozo is on a quad bike, which allows you to reach areas of the island that buses could never reach. Main attractions include Qala Belvedere, the Simar Valley, Ramla Valley, Calypso Cave, Victoria, Marsalforn, and The Salt Pans.
I made my way to Ramla Bay, a small beach located on the island’s north side, immediately after arriving in Gozo. There was a bus station at the harbour, but I was again travelling via car, which meant no waiting around.
The sand at Ramla Bay was a light red colour and although it was too cold to swim, I still enjoyed exploring the dunes and the surrounding cliffs. Within the cliffs was a small cave called Calypso Cave, which is supposedly where the nymph, Calypso lived. According to the locals it leads into a series of caves that run through the cliffs, but I didn’t take the time to explore. I didn’t stay at Ramla Bay for more than an hour.
Like all of Malta’s beaches, it would’ve been a lot more lively and enjoyable if I’d visited in summer.
After Ramla Bay, I headed to Victoria, the main town in Gozo. Victoria was a great place for looking through local markets. There was a variety of fresh food and handmade arts and crafts available. Victoria also contained fascinating history in the form of the Citadella, an ancient fortress. I really enjoyed exploring this part of Gozo.
Within the Citadella was the Folklore Museum, which contained a collection of artefacts detailing the history of Maltese lifestyle and culture. It cost €8 to enter, which was a little overpriced seeing as the museum only took about 30 minutes to get through.
For lunch I ate at a restaurant called Ta’ Rikardu. The place had old stone walls and a very cosy atmosphere, along with a lot of decorations and pictures that added to its flair. The local menu was tasty and reasonably priced.
Day 6: Valletta
I used the local bus to travel to Valletta. I found this very easy as all I had to do was walk to a nearby bus stop, no more than 100 metres from my accommodation. I used the bus website to check bus times and there was also a timetable at the stop. It was only €2.60 for a return ticket and most buses went to Valletta, so I didn’t have to wait long. Valletta also had a large bus station, so it was impossible for me to miss the stop.
|City Sightseeing Malta Hop-On Hop-Off Tour|
If you want to make it even simpler to navigate around Valletta and other Malta sites, just get a hop on hop off bus which takes you to all the major attractions.
Valletta was everything I’d come to expect of a capital city, having plenty of shops, places to eat, and sights for tourists. However, it also had some really cool quirks like the numerous intersecting roads that were designed to confuse invaders. They also confused me and I got lost on more than one occasion. Unlike the old capital city, Mdina, I was able to see a bit of British influence in Valletta like the red phone box.
Like Sliema, Valletta also had a beautiful waterfront to walk along with shops and restaurants. I must admit on this day I gave into my Western indulgences and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe on the waterfront.
National War Museum
Despite getting lost a few times, I found if I just continued heading up Valletta’s gradual slope I eventually reached its furtherest point, Fort St Elmo, one of my favourite parts of Valletta. The Fort is one of Valletta’s historic attractions and contains the National War Museum, which is well worth a visit. For only €6, I was given unique insight into how the World Wars affected Malta and its people, saw some fascinating war artefacts, and had my eyes opened by the equally horrifying and inspiring images of Malta during World War II.
From Fort St Elmo, I walked around the outer edge of Valletta, through the Barrakka Gardens. These were great to wander through during the day, but they seemed better for couples to spend a romantic afternoon in than a single traveller. At the Upper Barrakka Gardens I got to witness some of the best views of Malta’s Grand Harbour. These gardens also contained a line of old war cannons, aimed out towards the water. These are apparently fired at noon, but I unfortunately missed seeing this happen when I visited.
Day 7: Malta and Popeye Village
As it was my last day in Malta, I decided to take it pretty easy and just explore in the hope of discovering something new. Being an island, Malta certainly caters towards anyone wishing to rest and relax. For the first half of the day my friend and I drove around to some of the numerous beaches, parks, and random island paradises available. There were a lot and each one had its own reasons for making me want to stay.
When I’d spent enough time exploring, we decided to visit Popeye Village. This was the old film set of the movie Popeye transformed into a theme park. I’d spent part of my childhood watching the Popeye cartoons, and those feelings of nostalgia were a huge reason why I wanted to go to Popeye Village.
|Popeye Village Admission Ticket with Transport|
Get picked up and dropped off at your hotel with this admission ticket to the Popeye Village theme park. There will be an air conditioned vehicle for you to relax on your way there.
The theme park was really quiet, almost like a ghost town. Being winter, all of the water-based rides were closed, which probably had a lot to do with the lack of people.
The good thing about this was there wasn’t a wait for any of the games, activities, or shops. I had fun playing mini golf, watching actors roam around pretending to be Popeye characters, and enjoying some free wine tastings.
The film enthusiast in me also enjoyed seeing the real sets from the movie Popeye. I visited just after the Christmas season, so the Santa’s Workshop exhibit was still running. This turned out to be pretty entertaining more due to its unintended creepiness. Despite the fun I had, I couldn’t help feeling that Popeye Village would’ve been a lot more exciting during summer.
Nightlife in Malta
Malta has an excellent nightlife scene, which caters to those just wanting dinner with a few casual drinks or anyone wishing to see the night into the next morning. St Julians and Paceville were the areas I found to have the greatest variety of each persuasion.
One night I was taken to Ryan’s Irish Pub in St Julians where I enjoyed a delicious and hearty meal and some cheap drinks. The pub was located on a hill and looked out of the waterfront.
|St Julian’s Pub Crawl|
Join a group and stop at some of the best bars in St Julian’s. Enjoy 30 minutes of free shots at the first stop as well as free drinks at 3 additional bars.
Paceville had various types of clubs and bars located within walking distance of each other, which made it very easy to get around. One street literally had a row of eight or more buildings that were all clubs, so I could leave one and take only a few steps before entering the next.
From the few nights I spent out in Malta I discovered that certain places had their specific crowds and styles. Havana Club provided the DJ’s, drink specials, and all-night dancing. Memories was where I spent a few hours listening to karaoke and even partaking in some after I’d ingested enough liquid courage. Cascada was one of my favourites because it had salsa dancing and its own pool, which made for quite an interesting night out.
I found the taxis were quite easy to catch and I could choose to call, hail one off the street, or walk to a taxi depot. On my first night out I chose to walk to a taxi depot, where I basically told a woman at the desk where I wanted to go and she organised a taxi for me. This took about 10/15 minutes. Taxis aren’t as readily available in Malta as they are in most cities, but I’ve experience a lot worse in some Queensland towns with similar populations.
- Use Maps – Most days I was fortunate to have friends with me to show me where to go, but even with local knowledge we still managed to get lost on more than one occasion. Before visiting some of the bigger cities in Malta like Valletta and Mdina, make sure you have a map. These can be found at information desks or downloaded off Malta’s tourism website. If you’re hiring a car, make sure you get a GPS as well.
- Local Restaurants – You will be able to find a lot of food chains in Malta, but for a truly authentic Maltese experience be brave and try some of the locally owned restaurants and cafes. These were the places I enjoyed eating at the most.
- Winter – Deciding to visit during winter meant I wasn’t able to enjoy a lot of what makes Malta an island paradise. When I visit again it will definitely be in spring or summer. Malta has a few good historical attractions, but these a very small compared to what I’d found in other countries. It was clear that most of the country’s tourism centers around its beaches and other water-based activities.
- Getting Home at Night – Often after spending a night out in Malta I found the number of people needing taxis greatly outweighed the amount of taxis available. As previously mentioned, we had to walk a fair way to a taxi depot and then wait a little longer before getting a ride home. This took a bit of time and it’s not the safest situation to be in at 2am.
Overall I really enjoyed spending a week in Malta, and I wish I’d had even more time to see more of the country. Even during its coldest months, Malta still has beautiful weather and plenty of things to see and do. Each day I was able to find new and exciting activities and sights, so I never felt like I was repeating anything. I can’t wait to visit again, because I feel like I really only scratched the surface of what this country has to offer.