MALTA TRAVEL GUIDE
The ancient island of Malta is fabled in legends as the island where the Greek hero Odysseus was kept for seven long years after being lured into captivity by the siren Calypso. Today Malta doesn’t have any sea nymphs (or none that mere mortals can see), but the enchantment remains as it were. The island continues to lures modern-day travellers bitten by wanderlust, to its pretty towns and gorgeous beaches.
Malta does have a lot more to recommend it - beautiful bays and harbours, ancient towns with quaint cobblestoned streets, Baroque churches and Roman Catholic festivals, and the icing on the cake – a sunny, balmy Mediterranean climate.
MALTA QUICK FACTS
- Capital: Valletta
- Currency: euro (€)
- Area: 316 km²
- Population: 514 564 (2019)
- Language: Maltese (official), English (official)
- Religion:Roman Catholic 98%
- Electricity: 230V/50Hz (UK type plug)
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MALTA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 10 February, Feast of St. Paul’s Shipwreck
- 19 March, Feast of St. Joseph
- 31 March, Freedom Day
- 1 May, Workers’ Day
- 15 August, Feast of the Assumption
- 8 September, Feast of Our Lady of Victories
- 21 September, Independence Day
- 8 December, Feast of the Immaculate Conception
- 13 December, Republic Day
FESTIVALS IN MALTA
Carnival - A week of celebrations preceding Lent, with traditional processions of floats, fancy dress, and grotesque masks. Carnival is celebrated throughout the islands but with a particular flair in Valletta and Nadur. (February)
Fireworks Festival - A noisy and colourful festival of fireworks, folk music, and entertainment in Valletta’s Grand Harbour and across Malta and Gozo. (April)
Medieval Mdina - A weekend of medieval events, including human chess, birds of prey, archery, and cookery at the Medieval Mdina Festival. (April)
Valletta Film Festival - An international competition, with films showing at St James’s Cavalier as well as outdoors at Pjazza Teatru Rjal, Fort St Elmo, and Pjazza San Ġorg. (June)
Malta Arts Festival - For three weeks from early July, the Malta Arts Festival incorporates music, dance, theatre and literature performances, and art exhibitions at various Valletta venues and Argotti Gardens in Floriana. (July)
Malta International Food Festival (Medina) - The plazas and lawns of the restored Mdina Ditch Garden host stalls selling a wide range of local and international cuisine for four days in July.
Mediterranea - A 10-day festival of culture on Gozo, celebrates the history, art, crafts, opera, and music of the island. (November)
BEST TIME TO VISIT MALTA
The climate of the Maltese Archipelago is typically Mediterranean, with distinct winter and summer seasons i.e. mild, rainy winters and dry, hot summers. Generally speaking, Spring and Autumn is the best time to visit Malta outside of hotter, more crowded, summer months.
During the high season (June to August) weather is ideal for outdoor activities, sightseeing, and swimming and there is no shortage of festivals. However, be prepared for busy beaches, solidly booked accommodation, and high temperatures.
During the low season November to March), you will have a lot of rainy days and high rainfall in Malta. January and February are coldest; a northeasterly wind (grigal) occasionally disrupts the Gozo ferry service. Temperatures over December average 12°C to 18°C. Expect an increase in tourist activity between Christmas and New Year.
The shoulder season (April to June & September to October) is great for visiting Malta. Sea temperatures are ideal for swimming throughout this period. As winter draws nearer, temperatures drop, and rainfall increases.
MALTA WEATHER SYNOPSIS
The climate of the Maltese Archipelago is typically Mediterranean, with distinct winter and summer season i.e. mild, rainy winters and dry, hot summers.
MALTA TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN MALTA
HIKING & CYCLING IN MALTA
You can enjoy outdoor activities in Malta throughout the year. This means that there is no need to visit during the peak tourist season!
BEACH OPTIONS IN MALTA
Malta’s best sandy beaches are to the northwest, including Golden Bay, Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Mellieħa Bay, and the small, white-sand Paradise Bay. Elsewhere there are great rocky swimming spots along the Sliema waterfront and rocky coves along the south-eastern coast.
Gozo’s best sandy beaches – Ramla Bay and San Blas Bay – are to the northeast, and there are rocky swimming coves and bays both north and south.
The wondrous Blue Lagoon on Comino gets extremely busy in summer, but if you head here in the late afternoon you’ll find it less so and it’s also better when the sun is lower in the sky as there’s no shade nearby.
All beaches get busy in summer, when the weather’s baking hot, though you’ll often find hidden rocky coves less crowded. Wherever you swim, keep an eye on the weather. Don’t swim when the sea is rough, as undercurrents can be powerful.
SURFING IN MALTA
You can find some good surf in Malta from October to March. The best surf spots are Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay in the Northwest and St. Thomas Bay in the Southeast.
KITESURF IN MALTA
You can only kitesurf off the beaches in Cyprus from October to April as all beaches are closed to kitesurfing during summer. Luckily winter also has the best winds, but the conditions are not great for beginners!
For more details on kite surfing in Malta expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN MALTA
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
MALTA TRAVEL COSTS
Malta is an expensive travel destination when you compare it with some other European destinations like Bulgaria and perhaps even Spain and Portugal. However, if you travel outside of the peak season you might just be surprised that Malta can also be very budget-friendly.
Some sample costs:
One night in an Airbnb apartment rental €40-70 EUR
A single bus ticket to anywhere on the island €1.50 EUR (€2 in summer)
Lunch/Dinner main meal at a restaurant in Malta €15 EUR
Espresso at a local cafe €2 EUR
A glass of Maltese or Italian wine €3.50 EUR
Maltese beer €2.50 EUR
Breakfast sandwich: €3-5 EUR
Pastizzi (cheap snack): €1 EUR
Taxi prices: €4 EUR (then 2-3 EUR per kilometer)
MALTA TRAVEL TIPS
While most carriers operate seasonal flights, there aren’t many airlines that fly to Malta year-round. Ryanair, Air Malta, Easyjet, and Lufthansa are the biggest carriers that service the island year-round. You can find one-way flights from the mainland for as little as €20 EUR, especially if you book in advance. You can also take the ferry to/from Sicily; it’s 2.5 hours and costs around €100 EUR each way (depending on the season).
There are pretty much three ways to get around the island: bus, taxi, and car rental. Buses cost €1.50-2 EUR for a single two-hour ticket and €21 EUR for a 7-day pass. Car rentals can be found for as little as 20 EUR per day, although this can easily double (or triple) in price during the summer. Book early to secure a good deal. If you plan on using buses during the summer months when the crowds peak, expect long waits. Don’t be in a rush if you’re using the bus!
Cycling around the country is only recommended for experienced cyclists. Across on Gozo, roads are considerably quieter, and cycling is a good way to explore the island’s compact terrain.
When the weather is nice, there are a bunch of free activities to do, such as enjoying the beach, hiking, swimming, and just walking around. A coastal hike along Golden bay, Ġnejna Bay, Fomm ir-Riħ Bay, and Riviera Bay will only cost you the bus ticket and is an incredible day-out. A trip across to the Three Cities from Valletta will cost a bus journey or a boat trip of the same price and can be explored by foot. Additionally, all the churches in Malta are free to visit! Most museums and attractions will cost €5-10 EUR but you can get a Malta tourism card (the MaltaPass) that will save you about €10-20 EUR depending on how many attractions you squeeze in.
You’ll find a lot of companies that will take you around the island in a boat for around €30-45 EUR. If you plan to take a trip across to Gozo Island, the ferry across to Gozo costs around €5 EUR one-way. It can be rather expensive to take a tour around Gozo, but you can take the local bus for the same price as on the mainland. Gozo.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF MALTA
Valletta, Malta’s beautiful little capital, is rich in history and culture and has some of Malta’s best restaurants and bars. Nearby lie Sliema, St Julian’s and Paceville, seafront settlements that together form Malta’s dining and nightlife capital. To the northwest are Malta’s best beaches and the island’s major resorts. Central Malta is the most traditional-feeling area of the main island, home to the historically fascinating towns of Mdina and Rabat. The southeast has more gorgeous coast, a vibrant fish market and some of Malta’s finest prehistoric temples. To slow down, head to Gozo and Comino for epic scenery walks, outdoor activities and relaxation.
ONE WEEK IN MALTA
Having your own car can make things easier - else base yourself Valetta, Naxxar, Sliema or St Julian to make use of bus connections. Begin by exploring the narrow streets and fortification of Valetta for 2 days. Make sure to include a visit to Fort St Elmo and the National War Museum before a ferry ride across the harbour to Vittoriosa and Senglea. On day three visit the Tarxien Temples and Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, en route south for lunch at Marsaxlokk. Spend the afternoon at St Peter’s Pool, a rocky bay with flat rocks perfect for sunbathing. On day four take a boat trip to the Blue Grotto, explore the clifftop temples of Ħaġar Qim & Mnajdra, and then spend the afternoon in Mdina and Rabat. Allocate day five to relaxing on a beach, such as Golden Bay, recharging for physical activity on day six – a walk around Park tal-Majjistral or maybe scuba diving around the Marfa Peninsula. End on a high with a day trip to Comino’s Blue Lagoon.
5 DAYS IN GOZO
Although Gozo is much smaller than Malta it will still benefit you to have your own wheels. An electric bicycle might be the ideal way to get around or a scooter. This gives you the flexibility to rent a farmhouse for the duration of your stay.
Start with a morning visit exploring Victoria (Rabat) and the narrow lanes of Il-Borgo. Make your way over to the seaside resort town of Marsalforn for a lazy lunch with a view and then visit the dramatically set salt pans just outside the town. On your second day head to the grand pilgrimage centre of Basilica of Ta’Pinu and while away the rest of the day walking, swimming and snorkelling amid the fantastical moonscape scenery of Dwejra. Use day 3 to walk around the breathtaking clifftop scenery of Ta’Ċenċ then seek out a lesser-known spot for swimming and snorkelling. On day 4 visit the prehistoric Ġgantija Temples and the attractions of Xagħra, before spending the afternoon reclining on Ramla Bay or more remote San Blas Bay, both of which are beautiful beaches where red sands meet blue water.
Valletta was built after the triumph of the Knights of St John at the Siege of Malta in 1565, and the city’s narrow grid of baroque streets and fortifications remain intact. It may be small, but it’s packed full of sights; when Unesco named Valletta a World Heritage site, it described it as ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world’.
Parliament Building - Enjoy the angles of Renzo Piano’s spectacular architectural statement.
Upper Barrakka Gardens - Check out the stunning view that puts the ‘grand’ in Grand Harbour.
St John’s Co-Cathedral - Discover the glories of the magnificent church of the Knights.
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum - Visit this extraordinary underworld from millennia past.
National Museum of Archaeology - Admire the modelling of the ‘fat ladies’ statues.
Vittoriosa - Get lost in charming backstreets followed by a cruise of the Grand Harbour.
Fort St Elmo & National War Museum - Discover Valletta’s fascinating war heritage amid the centuries-old ramparts of this historic fort
SLIEMA, St JULAN'S & PACEVILE
Connected by a lovely seafront promenade, with shimmering Mediterranean views, this collection of districts merge into one another, and are packed with shops, restaurants and bars. St Julian’s was once a pretty fishing village, but now five-star hotels and apartment complexes dominate its scenic bays. It adjoins the small nightlife enclave of Paceville, which springs to life at night after a couple of shots. This is also where many of Malta’s English-language schools are located. More exclusive-feeling Sliema has long been associated with the Maltese upper classes, and makes an enticingly peaceful base, just far enough from the action. Gracious townhouses sit along backstreets, while burgeoning apartment blocks line the seafront, which is blessed by rocky beaches and swimming spots.
St Julian’s - Wine and dine alfresco at the cafes and restaurants lining the compact coves at Spinola Bay and Balluta Bay.
Sliema Beach - Swim off this flat, rocky, and easily accessible beach, then relax with a gelato or aperitivo cocktail at oceanfront cafes.
Sliema Waterfront - Join a boat trip and cruising right around Malta or spending a day exploring Comino and the Blue Lagoon.
Portomaso - Push the boat out with a flash cocktail amid the super-yachts lining this marina.
Paceville - Party in the pubs and clubs around Malta’s most popular and liveliest nightlife area.
Sandy beaches, water sports, boat trips, birdwatching, horse-riding, and walks along the dramatic coastline – Malta’s north is a prime location for holiday fun. Beaches range from the wonderfully accessible Mellieħa Bay, a long stretch of white sand speckled by sunbeds, kiosks, and water sports, to the more remote Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, less crowded because of its steeply stepped approach. You can go off the beaten track at Selmun Bay, the wildest beach and a well-kept locals’ secret, or roam to discover splendid views from the cliffs at Ras il-Qammieħ, Malta’s westernmost point. It’s also the heartland of Malta’s farming community, and Merill Eco Tours’ rural culinary adventures demonstrate the north is definitely not only about sun and sand.
Marfa Peninsula - Explore the dramatic underwater seascape and scuba-dive off this more rugged and remote part of Malta.
Ras il-Qammieħ - Exult in vast coastal views from this wild headland.
Għajn Tuffieħa Bay - Make the long climb down to near-empty sands on a quiet spring day.
Malta National Aquarium - Enjoy the setting on the Qawra promenade and the region’s fabulous underwater inhabitants.
Golden Bay - Take a speedboat trip across cobalt waters, launch from this lovely bay and take in the beautiful isle of Comino.
Rural Malta - Discover the best of northern Malta’s hard-working farming community on a day trip with Merill Eco Tours.
The perfect combination of beautiful historic centers with some of the island’s most spectacular scenery. This is where you can explore Mdina, Malta’s atmospheric ancient walled capital, perched on a hilltop with stupendous views over the hills and out to sea, visit remarkable medieval frescos in ancient catacombs and marvel at one of Europe’s largest church domes. Natural attractions include stark cliffs (the perfect place to watch a sunset) and a scenic bay ideal for swimming (if only you can find it).
Mdina - Stroll deserted thoroughfares to discover the haunting silence of this walled city after dark.
St Agatha’s Catacombs - Absorb the local vibe of Rabat before going underground to admire amazing frescoes.
Dingli Cliffs - Negotiate new walking trails to take in views of the coast and the tiny island of Filfla.
Mosta Dome - Question divine intervention while marveling at the unexploded bomb in this church with one of the world’s biggest domes.
Fomm ir-Riħ - Chill out at this remote bay reached by a walking path.
Several of Malta’s most extraordinary historical sites lie in the less-visited southeast of the country, including its most breathtakingly located prehistoric temples (Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra), which date back more than 5000 years, and the Għar Dalam cave, full of fossilized remains of prehistoric animals. There’s splendid coastal scenery, too, boat trips to visit grottoes, and fabulous swimming spots off the tourist trail. It’s also the base of much of the country’s heavy industry, which means tourism is less developed here, though many locals head to the south to eat out at the weekend. Many people visit the fishing village of Marsaxlokk for its Sunday fish market, and to eat seafood at the small town’s many restaurants, which front a harbour full of bobbing, colourful boats. The nearby coastal port of Marsaskala is also very popular as a dining destination, especially on weekends.
St Peter’s Pool - Negotiate the walking trails and take a giant leap of faith into the glittering royal-blue waters of this coastal gem.
Blue Grotto - Take a mid-morning boat trip to marvel at this natural formation’s shimmering play of light and shadow.
Għar Dalam Cave & Museum - Explore a mysterious underworld of prehistoric bones and ancient history.
Marsaxlokk - Devour fresh seafood with a view of bobbing fishing boats.
Marsaskala - Meet the friendly locals amid the weekend eating and drinking scene at this southern Maltese port.
Gozo, called Għawdex (aow-desh) in Malti, is a gloriously pretty island, with what the 19th-century nonsense poet Edward Lear called a ‘pomskizillious and gromphibberous’ landscape. He coined the words to describe the island’s fairy-tale hillocks topped by enormous churches, its hidden, glittering coves, and its sculptured coastal cliffs.
For such a small island, Gozo packs in a wide variety of experiences and attractions. Travelling history fans shouldn’t miss the megalithic temples at Ġgantija, and the recently restored Il-Kastell fortress towering above Gozo’s compact capital of Victoria is one of Malta’s finest sights. Mountain biking, kayaking, and clifftop hiking are all opportunities for active visitors, while Gozo’s food and wine scene focus strongly on fresh local produce and briny-fresh seafood. While Malta can sometimes feel busy and crowded, sleepy and laid-back Gozo offers the perfect opportunity to breathe out and relax.
Gozo moves at a much slower pace than its bigger, busier neighbour. Although it is more than one-third the size of Malta, it has less than one-tenth of the population – only about 30,000 Gozitans live here (and they are Gozitans first, Maltese second). This is a lovely place to kick back, with sandy beaches, rocky coves, excellent scuba-diving and snorkelling, plus history in the form of megalithic temples and medieval citadels.
San Blas Bay - Get red sand in your shorts at one of Gozo’s best swimming and snorkeling beaches.
Comino - Take in the incredible 360-degree views from atop this tiny island.
Dwejra - Admire a coastal moonscape and negotiate the Inland Sea by a fishing boat.
Mġarr ix-Xini - Have a seafood lunch at this tiny bay, ideally having arrived by boat.
Salt Pans - See the sun sparkle and waves crash at Gozo’s historic salt pans.
Victoria (Rabat) - Explore the recently restored Il-Kastell citadel.
Xlendi Walk - Negotiate this stunning coastal hike from Mġarr to Xlendi.
Getting to GOZO and move around:
Gozo Channel runs the car and foot passenger ferry connecting Ċirkewwa on Malta with Mġarr on Gozo (every 45 minutes from 6 am to 10.30 pm, and roughly every 90 minutes overnight). Pay for your return ticket in Mġarr on the return trip, not on the way out
Buses tend to run daily, about hourly, and most pass through Victoria. You can buy your ticket aboard the bus or at the ticket machines at the Victoria bus station (Triq Putirjal), which is close to the town center.
If you want to see as much of the island as possible, then it makes sense to rent a car.
Cycling is also a great option on Gozo as the roads are mostly quiet.
WHAT TO EAT IN MALTA
LGBTQ IN MALTA
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Malta are of the highest standards, even by comparison to other European countries. Same-sex marriage in Malta has been legal since 1 September 2017, and prior to that Malta has allowed civil unions for both same-sex couples since 2014.
Malta is regarded as being among the best European countries in terms of friendliness towards LGBT travellers and host their own annual Malta Gay Pride March.
WHERE TO STAY IN MALTA
One of the best Gozo accommodation options is to rent a farmhouse.
Dozens of old houses have been converted into accommodation, and many retain the beautiful stone arches, wooden beams and flagstone floors of their original construction (some are up to 400 years old). Most of the properties are now fully equipped with a kitchen, a swimming pool, an outdoor terrace and a barbecue, laundry facilities and cable TV.
They can sleep from two to 16 people, so are perfect for families or groups of friends, and the costs are very reasonable.
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