malta travel guide

Malta Travel Guide

MALTA TRAVEL GUIDE

Nestled between Sicily and the North African coast lies Malta, a Mediterranean island that’s a concoction of various cultures. It was ruled by the Romans, Moors, Knights of Saint John, French and the British before finally becoming its own country in 1974— and the multitude of influences is evident at every corner you turn. From the same red phone booths as you’ll see in England to the Italian-inspired cuisine, Malta is a delight to those who crave cultural variety and global influence. My friend Mollie and I recently spent 3 days here with Visit Malta to learn as much as we could about this beautiful island.

For starters, don’t let the size of the island mislead you… there are loads of towns and villages to see! We squeezed so much into such a short period of time (I think if you want to see and do all of these things, plus some others we missed, you should plan at least 5 days). It’s also very close to Sicily and makes for an easy ferry to hop over there before/after if you want to make a longer trip out of it. Regardless of how long you plan to stay in Malta, here are some highlights I think you simply can’t miss.

VALLETTA

MALTA

Malta’s fortress city is also the country’s capital (and was named the 2018 capital for culture in Europe!) I think this is hands-down the most convenient area to stay while visiting if you want to be centrally located and conveniently positioned near areas that are walkable and great for dining or shopping. This area is rich in sites to see and explore, has so many intriguing historical buildings and it’s narrow colorful streets are so fun to get lost in!

malta
malta

We had dinner at The Harbour Club on our first night in Malta and it was hands down my favorite place we ate on the entire trip! It has gorgeous views of the fortress and a menu thats inspired by Mediterranean and French cuisine. Sit on the upstairs terrace for gorgeous views and delicious food + wine to watch the sunset.

harbour club

While my favorite thing we did in Valletta was honestly just getting lost in the streets, be sure you don’t miss these specific sites while planning your itinerary:

ST. JOHN’S CO-CATHEDRAL

Build in the late 1500s by Girolamo Cassar, this cathedral used to be the Conventual Church of the Order of Malta and is gem of Baroque art and architecture. Today, this church is still an important shrine and a sacred place of worship.

CASA ROCCA PICCOLA

This residence provides a unique insight into the customs and traditions of the Maltese nobility over the last 400 years and has historical items (silver, paintings and furniture) on display in their private home. The highlight for me was their darling pet parrot, Kiku, who waves and says hello to all the visitors.

LUNCH AT TA’NENU

If you’re looking for authentic Maltese cuisine, look no further than Ta’Nenu. We had an incredible lunch here while exploring Valletta (be sure to try the ftira: a ring-shaped, leavened, Maltese bread with loaf, usually eaten with fillings such as sardines, tuna, potato, fresh tomato, onion, capers and olives.)

We also grabbed coffee and a croissant from Cafe Castille one morning, which was a lovely little find!

malta cafe

GOZO

On our second full day, we caught the ferry to Gozo: another island in the archipelago that makes up Malta (and the former home of the famous Azure Window, which fell down in 2017 due to stormy weather).

gozo malta

Our first stop in Gozo was Xaghra to visit the Gantija Temples (which are the oldest free-standing structure in the world and one of the most important archeological sites of the Maltese islands). They were build between 3600 and 3200 B.C. and excavated in 1827. While walking along the grounds, we saw locals selling prickly pears, which are plentiful on the island of Malta (be sure to taste them for yourself while visiting!)

malta prickly pear

After the temples we proceeded to Marsalforn to visit Calypso’s Cave, which overlooks the gorgeous red sandy beach of ramla l-Hamra. Legend has it that this cave is the same one that Homer mentions in his famous ‘Odyssey’ where the beautiful Calypso kept Odysseus as a “prisoner of love” for seven years.

malta1.jpg

Before heading back to the main island, I’d also recommend paying a visit to these attractions in Gozo:


TA’ PINU CHURCH

This structure is a shrine to Our Lady of Pinu and contains paintings of the Assumption to Heaven of Our Lady. Legend has it that in 1883, a woman from the village heard her voice at this same site and it rapidly became a centre of pilgrimage.


BOAT RIDE AT (FORMER) AZURE WINDOW

While the Azure Window no longer stands, there is still so much beauty along this area of the island. Hop on a boat (there are loads running from Dwejra you can catch) and marvel at the stunning geography and landscape.


ĆITTADELLA

All roads in Gozo lead to Rabat, which is also known as the island’s capital city. This old Citadel is visible from almost the entire island. For centuries, it served as a place of sanctuary whenever the island was under attack.


LUNCH AT TA’ RIKARDU

Rikardu produces his own wine and cheese (the cheese is INCREDIBLE) from his vineyard and farm. He sells and serves the produce in his shop/restaurant in the Citadel along with other local products. Rikardu also offers visiting tourists a milking and cheese-making experience if you’re interested, but at the very least- enjoy lunch here!


ST PAUL’S BAY

cafe del mar

We stayed in St. Paul’s Bay at Hotel Santana, which is in the northern region of Malta and near most of the best beaches. Had the weather been a bit better (we had a lot of wind and a few patches of rain) it would have been great for those looking to be conveniently located to places to bask in the sun. Since we were exploring so much more than relaxing, I think in hindsight staying in Valletta would have been more ideal in terms of convenience. Nevertheless, I’m glad we got to experience St. Paul’s as well! One afternoon when the weather cleared up, we had a lovely time at Cafe Del Mar: a beach bar with beautiful views and pools. If you’re looking for a great place to soak up the Mediterranean sun, I highly recommend coming here!



THE THREE CITIES: VITTORIOSA, SENGLEA & COSPICUA

I loved exploring The Three Cities. They were some of the most charming bits of our entire trip! They aren’t as popular as other areas on the island but offer an authentic slice of life and showcase palaces, churches, forts and bastions that are far older than what you’ll find in Valletta.

If you love strolling through charming streets that are a bit more quiet than the touristic city center, make sure you pencil in plenty of time for these three gems!

malta
three cities malta

We also had an incredible lunch at Don Berto in Birgu, which had dazzling views of the harbor and delicious Maltese cuisine. I definitely recommend coming here

Don Berto Malta

MDINA

malta doors

We ended our trip in Mdina, which may have been the most charming little town of them all! Mdina’s history goes back to more than 4000 years and it was here that the Apostle Paul lived after being shipwrecked on the islands (be sure you visit the Cathedral of Mdina, which is where he stayed and where later, became a bunker to shelter thousands of locals in safety during bombings of WWII). 

Also, while in Mdina, sure you stop for a slice of famous cake from Fontanella Tea Garden  (it also has beautiful views from the terrace upstairs!) And of course, allow plenty of time to wander the idyllic streets and bask in all the charm of this village. 

While visiting Malta, you simply must try a traditional pastizzi, which is a savory party filled either with ricotta or mushy peas (we opted for ricotta and it did not disappoint!) These can be found all over Malta, but we happened to try ours while strolling through Mdina. 

malta

There is a lot more I could say about Malta, but I hope this gives you a helpful starting point to plan a trip to this beautiful island! If you’re interested in help building your trip/itinerary to Malta (or anywhere else) be sure to contact me to book a travel consulting session!

Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned in the weeks to come for a recap of my time in Romania, Bath, The Cotswolds and other recent adventures!

xx,

Whitney

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