Malta had been on my radar for ages, but for some reason I had a hard time to get Mihir onboard with this destination. Finally it was time to choose a honeymoon destination and as my passport was set to expire only days after our wedding, we couldn’t leave the Schengen area. We wanted something with rich history, good food and sunny beaches and if at all possible not completely overrun with tourists. And the winner was Malta, yay! Read on if you want to know how we spent 6 beautiful days on the Mediterranean island! At the bottom you will also find plenty of practical information for your trip.
Day 1: The Capital – Valletta
We had arrived the previous evening and checked into our hotel in Sliema from where we already had a beautiful view of the Valletta waterfront. We were very excited to head towards the Sliema ferry terminal in the morning. Our enthusiasm was halted when we arrived and took a good look at the long line which had formed in the sweltering 10 am heat. After a lot of shoving and pushing, we finally got our paper tickets and made our way onto the ferry which had just arrived.
Cruising into the city
The views from the ferry are absolutely stunning and there is truly no reason to pay more than 10€ for a harbour cruise which are offered by so many companies on the island. As we gently cruised through Marsamxett harbour, we first passed Manoel Island. The most prominent sight on the island is Fort Manoel, a star fort originating in the 18th century. It looks very imposing from the water and one can only imagine what the fort’s walls could tell.
Once we had passed Manoel Island, we gazed upon the beautiful skyline of Valletta. The whitewashed buildings stand in contrast to the glistening blue waters they are surrounded by. Our ferry soon docked ashore and we disembarked. We were presented with a steep hike ahead of us, as the city is comfortably perched upon a steep hill. Slowly we made our way and after a couple of wrong turns, we finally found ourselves in the heart of Valletta.
Exploring the historic centre
We first headed for the East end of the city, where we admired the old City Gate and the New Parliament Building. Although Valletta’s original city gate was built in the 16th century, the current Futurist monument on its site was completed in 2014. The architecturally interesting Parliament building was completed only one year later in 2015. Although the modern construction attracted plenty of criticism, we found the contrast between old and new particularly refreshing. After all the traditional materials allow it to blend in softly with the remaining cityscape.
From here we made our way down Republic Street, Valletta’s most popular shopping mile. Here you can find anything from high-end luxury brands to traditional Maltese cafés. Unfortunately this street gets incredibly crowded, so be prepared. Eventually we made our way to St. John’s Co-Cathedral. The outside of the cathedral does not evoke a sense of greatness and as it was covered in scaffolding during our visit, it looked particularly unattractive. If I hadn’t known better, I would probably never have set foot inside. However, Mihir had insisted all along we visit this place, if nothing else.
At the entrance we paid the admission fee of 10€ each and received our audio guides. We then entered the cathedral and I was immediately blown away. Yes, growing up in a Catholic nation I had seen my share of opulent churches, but this one plays in an entirely different league. The interior of the church is literally the most ornate I have ever seen in my life and it is utterly awe-inspiring. We spent quite a bit of time in the nave, patiently listening to the cathedral’s history on our trusted audio guides. Then we moved on to exploring the several chapels and inspecting the works of art. After what seemed like hours, we decided we had our fill and made our way to the exit.
Bird’s Eye Views
Tired from all the sightseeing, we stopped at a café for a couple of cool drinks and then decided to pick up a sweet treat. We happened to come across a seemingly popular gelateria and decided to give it a try. As it turns out the gelateria, Amorino, has outlets all over the world, and obviously owes its success to the natural flavour of their ice cream. We omitted their popular flower-shaped ice cream in a cone, and instead went with 2 medium cups of goodness. In a sugar-induced high we pressed on to the Upper Barrack Gardens, passing the Triton Fountain on our way.
The shadowy Upper Barrack Gardens are a welcome reprieve from the Maltese heat. They also offer incredible views of the Three Cities. We took a couple of snapshots and then relaxed on a bench enjoying the view. The gardens rest above the Saluting Battery, a ceremonial part of Valletta’s fortifications. We decided to hang around as it was just after 15:00 and the canons are fired daily at 12:00 and 16:00. You could take a guided tour of the battery and get really up close with the canons, but the view from the gardens is free and equally impressive.
Although there was much more of Valletta left to explore, including the Three Cities, the heat had been eating away on us and we decided to head back home. After all it was our honeymoon and we had decided to take it easy. If you want to explore more of Malta’s capital, you may want to consider adding another day to your itinerary here.
Day 2: Southern Malta – Mdina, Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Temples, Dingli Cliffs, Blue Grotto
During our second day we wanted to explore a different part of the island. We were truly looking forward to exploring some of the ancient Maltese temples, and Hagar Qim stood out to us in particular. Before that, however, we made our way to Mdina, commonly known as the Silent City. We would then pass the Dingli Cliff on our way to the temples, and finish our day at the Blue Grotto.
Mdina is a fortified city which served as the island’s capital in Ancient and Medieval times. It has recently gained immense attraction from tourists as it served as one of many filming locations for Game Of Thrones (just watch people taking selfies at the gate). Ironically it is known as the Silent City, although the tourist hordes are slowly chipping away at this title. We had consulted Google as in how to get here, unfortunately due to misinformation we had to trek uphill in the scorching heat for several kilometres as we had been instructed to get off at the wrong stop. All the buses stop just outside the city walls, so there is no need to get off any earlier. You enter the city through the beautiful city gate and cross a dry moat as you do so.
We saw St. Paul’s cathedral and wandered some of the more quiet allies before we decided it was time to move on. If you are planning on buying souvenirs here, you might be interested in the famous Mdina Glass, one of the leading glass makers in Europe.
From Mdina we were unsure which bus to catch to get to Hagar Qim, but as bus 201 happened to arrive at the bus station at the same time as us, we simply boarded it. It is an impossibly long bus ride, but it does offer spectacular views if you sit on the right in direction of travel. If you wanted, you could get off at the station “Cliffs” and take a couple of beautiful landscape photos. Just know if you do, that there is absolutely nothing around apart from a small kiosk and bus 201 runs rather irregularly (about once per hour). You could use your waiting time for a picnic overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, if you can stomach the steep drop!
Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Temples
We finally reached the temples in the early afternoon. Fortunately they were easy to find and admission was very swift after we paid the 10€ entrance fee. We first decided to receive a short introduction into the temples’ history and took a seat in the 5D cinema. The showing included audio-tactile elements, such as water droplets falling from the ceiling and loud thunder alongside bright thunderbolts. It provided a nice taste of what we were going to see in the flesh.
We left the visitor centre and made our way to the first excavation site. The Hagar Qim temple is believed to have been built between 3600 and 3200 BC which makes it one of the most ancient religious sites on Earth. In 1992 the monolithic temple was deservedly declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mihir and I spent a lot of time exploring each and every corner of the ruins. One can only marvel at the construction techniques which were needed to move such gigantic pieces of stone. As we brushed the weather-washed surfaces of the walls with our finger tips, we were left wondering about the people who once worshiped in these rooms. Unbelievably until today experts do not agree for what purpose this temple was built exactly.
A bit further down the hill lies the Mnajdra Temple. It is probably the most impressive of all Maltese megalithic temples. My personal favourite element was a dressed limestone which graces the temple’s entrance. The temple most likely served some sort of astronomical purpose, as the main doorway aligns perfectly with the direction of the sunlight during equinox.
After taking a few snaps and enjoying the cool ocean breeze, we made our way back uphill. You could take a gold cart shuttle for 1€, but we decided against it. Visiting the temples was a pleasant experience, especially because they were virtually deserted. Apart from us there was only a handful of tourists, which means you can explore in peace.
As we still had a little bit of time left, we thought we might as well visit the Blue Grotto as it was not too far from the temples. We contemplated it might be worth it as the Azure Window, one of Malta’s main attractions, had recently collapsed and the grotto might be a good substitute. As we had no idea when bus 201 was supposed to pass our bus stop, we decided to walk down the hill. After all, it didn’t look too far on the map. Oh well, it took us quite a while, but we did finally reach the Blue Grotto View Point, which is located on the hill just before you descend towards the boats. From here we got a couple of fantastic snaps of the grotto. If you’re not keen on spending any more money, you could end your trip here.
We, however, decided to walk down the hill and go for one of the boat rides. The ride costs about 8€ per person and takes you out on the water in a small fishing boat. The best time would probably be in the morning as then the sun will shine into the caves, giving you the best views. Alas, it was late afternoon when we arrived, but the ride was still pleasant. The guide gave us a little bit of information along the 20 minute ride, but we mostly just enjoyed the view of the limestone cliffs and the crystal clear waters surrounding us.
Day 3: Gozo & Comino
For our third day we had decided to visit the island of Gozo. We got a bit of a late start and the journey to the Gozo ferry terminal took much longer than we had initially anticipated. So before boarding the ferry we decided we would not spend much time on the island of Gozo and instead carve out time to visit Comino and the Blue Lagoon.
The ferry terminal is fairly strange and resembles more of a bus station than any other ferry terminal I have ever seen. The ticket counters are very unassuming. We quickly bought our tickets and boarded the ship. Here we took the opportunity to stretch our legs, check our e-mails (free wifi onboard) and take a few snaps of the island ahead of us.
As soon as we reached we boarded a bus to Victoria (otherwise known as Rabat), Gozo’s capital city. You can catch pretty much any of the buses, but 301 and 303 get you there the quickest. Our route took as a little longer, but at least we got a good impression of the island. The bus passed through narrow streets and made even tighter turns, winding its way up the hill. Most of the time there was not a soul to be seen.
When we reached Victoria a lot of time had passed, so we only took a quick walk around the Citadella which lies overlooking the market square. The structure you see today is a combination of a medieval castle and an early modern gunpowder fortress. You can walk along the ramparts and enjoy 360 degree views of the island. There are also several museums on site which you can visit for 8€.
There is plenty more to explore in Victoria and Gozo, in particular the Ggantija Temples which are part of the Maltese UNESCO World Heritage Site of megalithic temples. We had already seen some of the temples and were short on time anyway, so we decided to go ahead and travel back to the ferry terminal.
Here we booked a crossing from Gozo to Comino and from Comino to Malta. Soon we jetted across the blue Mediterranean sea in a speed boat. It only took a few minutes before we reached the Blue Lagoon, one of Malta’s most famous sights. If you wanted you could rent a couple of beach chairs here and go for a dip. But be warned, this place is very small and overrun with tourists.
It’s true, the waters are crystal clear and feeling the white sand between your toes is very well worth the trip. However, the lounge spots around the water are rough rocks and space is rare. If you are really planning on swimming, it would be best to visit one of Malta’s many other beaches. If it must be this place, you can take a quick ride over to Cominotto, a small isle that lies on the opposite side of the lagoon. It is significantly less crowded here.
We had asked the ferry operator repeatedly for departure times, but we got consistently different answers. We figured that schedules are somewhat of a foreign concept here. Best just make your way back to the dock whenever you are done and wait until your ferry departs.
On the way from Comino to Malta we passed some more limestone caves, similar to the ones we had seen at the Blue Grotto. We were lucky our return bus had just arrived at the terminal when our ferry arrived in Cirkewwa. Grudgingly we boarded the bus for our 1.5 hour return journey to Sliema.
If you really want to explore the sights and beaches of both Gozo and Comino, we recommend that you allow 2-3 days for this. If you need to see the island in a day, you may want to leave early in the morning. We spent probably around 6 hours in transit all together (including buses and ferries) which hardly gave us any time to see anything. We returned home exhausted and with achy behinds.
Days 4 & 5: Bumming at Golden Bay Beach
After we had spent 3 full days exploring the major sights of the three islands, we thought we deserved to bum out on the beach for 2 days. Fortunately the weather was favourable. We had decided on this beach because there was a direct connection and plenty of services seemed to be available on site.
As usual we made our journey by bus which was jam-packed from the very beginning. The journey takes around an hour and takes your through most of the island to Ghajn Tuffieha Bay. From the bus stop you make your way downhill past a couple of roadside stalls from where you can buy cold snacks and drinks. We ourselves picked up some ice tea, fresh fruit, water, and some crisps. The prices are fair considering the location. Next to the parking lot you can also find some public toilets.
When we reached the beach, we turned left towards the beach rental hut. From here we picked up an umbrella and two gentlemen helped us carry our beach beds to a suitable spot. We paid only 14€ for two beds and one umbrella for the whole day which struck us as quite reasonable.
During our time we soaked up some much needed vitamin D and took a couple of refreshing dips in the crystal clear waters. It was only late May so the sea was still relatively cold, but nonetheless it was very pleasant. Naturally I caught a nasty sunburn on the first day and had to mostly hide under my beach towel during the second day, but I still enjoyed my time to the fullest; and so did Mihir.
There’s also a small café at the beach where you can pick up ice cream, drinks, and some more substantial snacks. We tried some arancini which would probably have tasted better had they not been reheated in the microwave. We also briefly considered going para-sailing but ultimately decided to safe the money for a nice dinner later. In any case there is plenty to keep you entertained at this beach. It’s perfect also for children as it is much more accessible than the neighbouring Ghajn Tuffieha beach. Personally I didn’t mind it was a little more noisy as it evoked childhood memories from my family’s travels to Italy in the 1990’s.
If there was anything we didn’t like, it was certainly the return journeys. Make sure to arrive at the bus stop at least 20 minutes prior to the bus’ departure time. There will be dozens and dozens of people waiting to get on only 2 buses which run very rarely. Be prepared for a LOT of pushing and shoving as you’re trying to get on the bus and also know that you may very well have to stand for the entire return journey.
Day 6: Marsaxlokk
For our last we we were planning to visit the town of Marsaxlokk on the East end of the island. Coincidentally it was also a Sunday which is the day when the traditional fish market takes place. We were planning to take an express bus from Sliema, however the bus stopped at a different place than indicated and ultimately left without us. Grudgingly we made our way to Valletta to catch another express bus. From here the journey should have taken less than an hour.
Alas, along the way we encountered tons and tons of traffic. We also observed more and more crowds flocking into the streets, clogging them up even further. Every minute we spent in a traffic jam the noise in the streets grew louder. All we could do was wonder what all the commotion was about. We initially narrowed it down to either a major football match, or elections. The closer we came to Marsaxlokk the more certain we grew that it had something to do with elections. Only after we had returned home in the evening could we confirm that on that day the Maltese people had reelected Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party.
When we finally reached the fishing town of Marsaxlokk it was already long after noon and most of the fish had been sold. We still enjoyed a brief walk through the market and picked up some traditional Maltese sweets.
Along our way we also observed the traditional fishing boats bobbing up and down in the sea and inspected a large fishing net which had be laid out to dry.
Marsaxlokk is the perfect place if you love sea food. The prices are significantly lower than inland and in the capital region. And naturally the fish is as fresh as it could possibly be.
We strolled around for a little longer, but really there is not much to see apart from the harbour. So we decided to head back home and enjoy our last evening in Sliema.
What to consider before you come
When to Come: May/June
Mihir and I visited in late May which was probably the perfect time for us. The weather was very warm, yet not entirely overbearing. Also, the sea was not too cold anymore and was pleasant for swimming. Although Malta is a quite popular tourist destination, the crowds are not as large as they are during the high season.
Don’t Forget to Pack
- UK adapters
- Sun screen
Where to Stay: Sliema
If you are planning on exploring the historic sights of Malta, you should consider staying in the capital region. For us the perfect location turned out to be Sliema which lies just across the harbour from Valletta. Hotels are relatively cheap and there are plenty of restaurant, bars, cafés and clubs to keep you busy.
In addition bus and ferry connections from Sliema are very good.
Personally we stayed at Pebbles Boutique Aparthotel which offered us with a big room, including a kitchenette, and a balcony overlooking the harbour. Needless to say we enjoyed beautiful sunset views over a couple of cold drinks every evening. The hotel is also not very far from the ferry terminal and the bus terminal. All Sliema buses depart from here which nearly guarantees you to get a seat.
Along the “Strand” there are several shopping opportunities and at the end you can find “The Point” shopping mall which also contains the only supermarket we ever saw in the city. We generally bought our drinks and snacks from local convenience stores.
During our 6 days we tried several restaurants along the Strand, but our absolute favourite was Margaret Island. Naturally you would like to try local delicacies, so visiting a Hungarian restaurant in Malta may seem a little strange to you. But the food they offer is truly authentic and absolutely delicious! Really not to be missed.
People generally think that Sliema lacks the charm of the older cities, but if you leave the Strand there are plenty of beautiful corners to explore. Walk with open eyes and don’t shy away from climbing the hills. You’ll see what I mean!
How to Get Around
Before travelling to Malta we had read in several places that exploring the island by bus was the most convenient option. To whoever wrote this: up yours! Yes, it is true, almost all places on the island can be accessed by public transport. However, the transport system is a royal disaster.
- First of all, buses run very infrequently considering the volume of passengers. I will never forget how I nearly got trampled to death trying to board a bus at Golden Bay beach.
- Secondly, bus schedules are more of a recommendation than anything else. We saw buses come up to 20 minutes late. Or were they 30 minutes early? Who knows.
- Thirdly, if you finally do manage to get on a bus, they are unreasonably uncomfortable. Most of the times you will have to stand on the bus as buses are small and only very few seats are available. Also, some of the buses do not have rear exit doors so you have to struggle to reach the front door if you want to disembark. Do not take the bus from the airport if you have a lot of luggage; there is literally no space for it.
- Finally, some of the buses go the longest possible route between A and B which will stretch your travel time considerably compared to car. If you can, get on one of the TD (Tallinja Direct) buses. They are express buses with fewer stops.
If I had to do it all over again, I might rent a car to give us more independence. Granted, the thought of driving on the left side of the road scares the living day lights out of me, but still. That being said, it must be a pain to drive within the cities as streets tend to be very narrow and very crowded.
I think transport wise Malta is in a bit of a lose-lose situation. It’s important that you always allow for more travel time than your route planner spits out. Come early to bus stops to get a seat on the bus (or to get on at all). And bring a LOT of patience.
For our purposes we had bought an “Explore Card” at the airport. For only 21€ we could travel unlimited for 7 days in both Malta and Gozo. If you get the “ExplorePlus Card” it also includes the ferries, but in our opinion it wasn’t worth the price (39€).
What to Eat & Drink
We were looking forward to stuffing our faces with delicious food in Malta even before we arrived there. We made it a point to try as many local dishes as possible. However, our personal favourite were freshly baked pastizzi. Pastizzi are savoury pastries traditionally stuffed with either mushy peas or ricotta cheese. You will have to pick them up in the morning, though, because they will all be long gone in the evening. It took us a full 3 days to get our hands on them, but they were truly delicious. Oh, and cheap!
Other traditional dishes you may want to try include:
- Rabbit stew or fried rabbit
- Ftira (Maltese flat bread)
- Sweet Maltese pastries (Read about some of them here)
And as always, wash it all down with a glass of the ever popular Kinnie, a lemonade from bitter oranges and herbs!
Now, what do you think? Have you been to Malta before? is there anything we have missed? Which restaurants would you recommend? Share your thoughts and pictures with us! Let’s stay in touch!