What are the best places to see in Malta and how to plan a trip there on your own? For us Malta was a very last minute decision – we just went to the airport, got in the plane and didn’t have any plans on what to see or do in our one week of travels!
Malta has many direct flights across Europe and we flew there with airBaltic from Riga. Actually most of other people in the flight were from other European countries such as Finland, Poland and Germany, so it made us happy that so many people choose our national airline! Our flight was very comfortable, as it was a brand new A223-300 airplane, plenty of legroom and superb dinner – duck with pea puree, beetroot and salmon with hard boiled egg, with tasty cake and tea for dessert.
It is the first girlfriends trip we do in this company – we have known each other for a while – Linda is an entrepreneur and Maija works in PR. This spring I had an idea – why don’t we travel together? And at the end of the summer my idea came to life, but slightly differently than how I usually travel – without any plan at all! All we did was book the first hotel night while waiting for our boarding to begin! And sometimes, for a change, it is quite nice to come to a place without any expectations and be surprised.
When to Go to Malta?
Malta is one of the warmest places in Europe, and no wonder, as it is at the southern side of the Mediterranean. In August temperatures were 33 degrees every day. The weather is very warm up until December. The coldest month of the year is January, as days warm up to only about 18 C and nights get as cold as 6 C. The water temperature is warmest in Europe – in summer it is over 25C, and in December around 18C. Then until May it stays around 15-17 C. Malta is an amazing destination to visit in autumn to prolong your summer, and in spring when you don’t want to travel too far, but want some warmth and sun. In spring it will be much greener than throughout the rest of the year!
How Long to Stay in Malta: From A Weekend to 1 Week
You can visit it for the weekend just to swim and enjoy the culture, but there is also plenty to do for a longer trip. We spent 1 week in Malta and while we felt like we saw most of the key places, there were a few locations we didn’t have time to visit – mostly because we took our vacation really slow, with plenty of sleep, enjoying the food, scenery and having good, relaxing time at the pool. Malta is also a destination for divers, for families with children, and for culture buffs – city of Mdina is a true treasure!
Where to Stay in Malta and How Much Does it Cost
My advice would be to pick one place on each island and stay there. As we arrived in the middle of the night, we wanted something nearby, and a place that will let us check in that late. Not all hotels allow for this, so be sure if yours does too! We got a hotel within walking distance from the airport with a code that let us enter the room in the middle of the night without hassle of the check in.
We stayed at Talbot & Bons Boutique Hotel – a brand new hotel with a pool in Gudja, Malta. First night we booked through a third party website for 150 euro (a double bed and a sofa bed in a superior room, with breakfast), then on the sport we arranged to stay longer and paid 100 euros per night (double bed and extra bed in a regular room, with breakfast). If you book direct with the hotel, minibar will be included in the price of your room, and that one is really well stocked with both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks!
For the best experience on Gozo away from the crowds, I recommend Cesca Boutique Hotel, again a brand new hotel just open for business. We paid 180 euros for room per night (double bed and sofa bed) with pool and breakfast. It is about 15 minute walk from center of Xlendi that has really nice restaurants and a beach.
How to Move Around Malta – Should You Rent a Car?
Initially, we had considered renting a car, but since they drive on the left, same as in the UK, that was a first sign for us we might not want to. We used the bus a couple of times in Malta (2 euros per person, pay at the driver and best have exact amount), the buses have good coverage but almost too many spots, so it will take longer than by car. You have to press the stop button or extend your arm as a hitchhiker for the bus to stop. We used Taxify app for booking cabs on Malta and regular taxi on Gozo. Then, checking how much we had spend for taxis, we actually spend less than we would have for the car and it was hassle free – no parking, no worries about driving on the wrong side and no crazy traffic experiences. If you do decide to rent a car, Malta has many well known rentals such as Europcar.
What to Consider When Going to Malta
- Make sure you can check in to your hotel after hours, if you arrive late.
- Bring electricity plug that will fit the local outlets. Some hotels will provide one for you for free, but not all!
- Driving is on the left side of the road here!
- Malta does not have lakes or rivers, and drinkable water is obtained by desalinating sea water. While you can drink tap water, it tastes horribly and we only drank water from bottles here. Even if you boil the water, the taste of minerals does not disappear. Soon you will be able to immediately taste which cafes use special water for boiling tea. I left very many cups of teas without drinking them. At least, they were not expensive, only 1.25-2 eur per cup.
- During the summer many churches and cities celebrate “festas”, the festival of the local saint, so check out which church and city celebrates on which day and visit it! Because of the festas, many people take the Monday off as well, so if you plan on visiting a popular spot, go from Tuesday to Thursday instead, as the rest of the week it will be full.
Key Sights Not to Be Missed
Mdina, Malta – an ancient city with only 300 inhabitants. My favorite place in Malta!
Comino island – Blue Lagoon, Crystal bay, cliffs – take a private boat, and arrive early to snorkel, swim and see the cliffs. We paid 210 euros for a 4 hour ride with a skipper from Xlendi in Gozo. The boat fits 6. You can also buy a ticket on a regular boat for 10 euros, but you’ll basically only see the Blue Lagoon and crowds.
Town of Xlendi on Gozo – views to yellow sandstone, cliffs, salt pools, caves and a very peaceful place. You can hike to Sannap cliffs from here.
Megalithic temples – 5500 years old temples, older than the Pyramids of Giza. There are 6 of them in total that have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The oldest one is Ġgantija temple on Gozo. Don’t expect pretty paintings and superb architecture from these -they are very, very old and it’s more about seeing something that was built over 200 generations ago.
Saint John’s Co-Cathedral – a beautiful 16th century cathedral in the center of Valletta,one of the most beautiful Baroque examples in Europe. Golden decorations, fine burial sites with mosaics and an extraordinary painting by Caravaggio.
Best Places to Eat in Malta
Pirate’s Galley – swordfish, Xlendi, Gozo
Ir-Rizzu – octopus, a fisherman’s village charm in Marsaxlokk, Malta
Ocean’s Basket – take the seafood platter for two! St.Peter’s Bay, Malta
Fontanella Tea Garden – afternoon tea and orange almond cake, Mdina, Malta
First Impressions of Malta
We fly for three and a half hours and the time passes quickly. Landing at the airport it feels like there are constellations of light under our feet. Once we land, I get an incredible chance to fulfill my dream and get inside the pilot’s cabin and I even have pictures to prove it!
It takes us about 10-15 minutes to get to our hotel in Gudja. We have the entrance code in an email and there is a letter inside with the instructions on how to get to the room. We walk through a beautiful yard to the 400 year old house that has just been renovated. Our room looks like from a design magazine! Incredible bathroom, every detail accounted for in the room and we see the pool from our window.
On the next day we wake up just before breakfast finishes, so we run down to eat. The beautiful yard is the area to eat breakfast in, and we enjoy the Eco juice, croissants, fruit and cheese. After breakfast we go to enjoy the pool, that’s where we stay for the remaining part of the day! We enjoy swimming, reading, drinks from the reception and only pull ourselves together to go out shortly before sunset. We walk through Gudja that was inhabited already in prehistoric times, and observe the honey colored houses and streets. Here and there we see a picture of Saint Mary and Maltese cross, beautiful plants and a tiny car drive buy. Most of people here are older generation, who sit outside and enjoy the day. We grab a taxi and head to the Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim temples, which are two from the six included on the UNESCO list and are some of the oldest religious structures in the world. The temples are closed at this hour, but all we want to do is enjoy a picnic nearby.
What Not to Do in Malta: 3 Places We Hated
As we visit Malta without any plans in place, while going to the airport and on the first day we ask a few friends what they would recommend. Some recommend fisherman’s village Marsaxlokk, others St.Peter’s pool for swimming and someone recommends a beach club in Valletta. We decide to do all three (in a row) and the next 1.5 days we spent doing things that … make us miserable! Luckily, we got all the bad stuff out of the way and after that we have a wonderful time!
Marsaxlokk Fisherman’s Village
On the next day, after tasty breakfast we head to Marsaxlokk, a fisherman’s village many recommended to us as a wonderful place to visit, where people go to buy fresh fish. Later, when meeting a few locals, we learnt that actually some of that fresh seafood is actually freshly de-frosted, for example, shrimp! In the famous seafood market we mostly see towels, postcards and kitchen magnets. We also see colorful boats and learn that it costs 10 euros to go back and forth to St.Peter’s pool. Before doing that we decide to eat lunch and go to a restaurant near the house with beautiful colorful doors – Terrone. Unfortunately, not only the service isn’t wonderful (we can’t sit at a table of our choosing near the window and AC, because that one sits 5, but there is only 3 of us, instead, they offer a table very near a large family with small and very noisy children, so in the end we sit on the opposite side, far from window and in very hot area, waiting to be served forever), but also the food – the fish smells so bad that I can’t eat it at all. After the experience with the table I just don’t have it in me to fight it out and send it back, so I just pay and leave. Later locals told us that we just missed an amazing place on the opposite side of the square – Il Rizzu. Apparently, this is the best place in Malta to eat Octopus!
After the horrible lunch we head to St.Peter’s Pool, and the boat ride takes us approximately 30 minutes. We see salt pools and a lighthouse on the way and soon are there. After a walk of about ten minutes, we finally get to the famous beach. People are jumping off a small cliff in the water, and from what I read in the reviews, not for everyone it finishes well. This place is very popular among tourists, and to be honest – the shore is incredibly dirty, littered with cigarette butts (and cigarette smoke coming in your face non-stop) and stench of urine is just a bit too much. It’s one of those places that may look incredible in the pictures (and I got an insane amount of responses to it in my Instastories), but this is not a place to spend the whole day with a family! To make it more bearable, grab a snorkel mask and some bread, and come during the workweek if you really want to see it.
We begin the next day in the hope of having a nice day at the beach club, supposedly the most chic area in Malta, Sliema. We observe nice boutiques and dream how we will have our private beach experience! The first club we go into, is nearly full and the tiny “bed” corner we are offered for three costs insane amount of money. The next one is nearly full as well, and you can only get a table, and the first (!) order of drinks has to be 200 euros (!) to stay at it. The third one, Med Asia Playa, is the one we were recommended. Turns out, this place is very run down. We did stay in as we decided that it can’t be than bad (and paid 17 euros per person for entrance), but it was, it really was! Just as we settled in, someone started washing the floor above us, so there was a river of dirty water flowing near our beach chairs non stop. We only got a parasol about an hour after arriving (turned out, you are supposed to tip it after they bring it to you!) and it was dirty and shedding tiny flakes of plastic. The music was unbearably loud, drinks were expensive and the restrooms were so run down that most public restrooms I have seen in other countries, are better kept. We should have stayed in our hotel!
What to Do in Malta: Places We Liked
An Afternoon in Valletta – Tea Time
After disappointing morning at the beach club, we went to Valletta to enjoy afternoon tea at the hotel The Phoenicia Malta. You can see references to Phoenicia period all across Malta, as they used Malta as a stopping point in trading expeditions around 750 BC, and from 480 BC Carthaginians started growing olives and produce textiles here. While the history isn’t exactly on display at the hotel, the design is really nice and we have some tasty snacks and really good tea! This blissful stop really recharges us to continue exploring Valletta!
The Celebrations of the Saint Patrons or Maltese “Festa” in Valletta
After the tea we head to the main street and notice the elaborate decorations there for the Maltese “festa”. Every city and church has their saint patron and because of him, a special festivity is organized. Several men carry a heavy statue, in front of which a procession of monks and priests carries various religious artifacts. People observe from the windows and on the streets, there is a singer at the church, and someone drops confetti from the roof. Fireworks go off, even though it is still light. We get lucky and see the festa in Valletta! On the next day, when we walk on the same street, there is nothing left from the decorations, so we really got there at the right moment!
Saint John’s Co-Cathedral
One of the most beautiful places for history lovers is the St.Johns cathedral in the center of Valletta, a magnificent example of 16th century Baroque architecture. It has beautiful golden decorations inside, as well as the original Caravaggio painting. The entrance is 10 euros and includes an audioguide. Most people see the main hall and the one with the painting, but miss the beautiful view from the top on the second floor! Plan to spend an hour here.
After seeing the cathedral, we go to the bus station and head to Mdina, which takes us about 40 minutes.
The city was established 8th BC by Phoenicians and it used to be the capital of Malta. Romans called it Melite, and during Arabian occupation it was renamed Mdina. It’s population has significantly declined since, and it has never returned to pre-1530 size. Nowadays it is called the “Silent City”, as it only has about 300 inhabitants and most have had their properties for generations in their families.
Mdina was significantly renovated from 2008. til 2016, and it looks absolutely amazing! Caramel and honey colored houses, where color of the walls and pavement becomes one. Unusual doors and door accessories. Even at the high of the tourist season, there aren’t too many visitors, although it is visited by 700 000 people a year. I’d love to see the city at sunrise, when everyone is still sleeping, as it really has a feel of a historic movie or a book! No wonder some scenes of the Game of Thrones have been shot here! After enjoying the city, we have some tea at the Fontanella Tea Garden with the view to the fields surrounding the city. The orange almond cake is wonderful!
Dingli cliffs and Filfla Island
Looking for places to hike, we found a travel story on Dingli Cliffs, named after Maltese architect Tommaso Dingli. It is only relatively “a hike”, as we mostly walk on a paved road near the cliff, passing by few private roads leading down, with signs “do not enter or block, private property”. After some time we finally find a pathway leading closer to the sea and there is a beautiful view to the white cliffs nearby and Filfla island in the sea. This 6 hectare large island is about 5 km away from Malta and is uninhabited. You can only visit it for scientific purposes, as it is an important bird breeding area. It is thought that ancient Maltese people who built the temples facing the island, considered it to be sacred.
What to Do on Gozo
We head to Gozo from ferry terminal at Cirkewwa. The ferries go often, and ticket costs only 4.65 eur each way, the trip taking around 15 minutes with nice views to Comino island between Malta and Gozo. When we arrive to the port, turns out our Taxify app doesn’t work here and we have to get a regular taxi – a bit more pricey than the app!
Our hotel is between Munxar and Xlendi towns, even newer than the previous one, opened just two weeks ago! It has even more incredible private pool. We decide to go to Xlendi to find out what’s there to do and have a dinner. It takes us about 15 min to walk to the seaside and we laugh that walking back up will probably take us longer.
Right behind the houses there is a beach and children are swimming. We see a man selling tours and arrange with him to rent a private boat with a skipper for 4 hours to head to Comino, costing us 210 euros. You can book regular tours too – 10 euros return for just seeing the Blue Lagoon and spending as much time, as you want there, and 5 euros more for going around the island. We decide for the private tour where we will have a chance to swim and snorkel from the boat, and also stop at the nicer places around the island.
As it is getting later, we quickly climb up the mountain near the town to see the caves and then head back to the opposite side of town to go to the cliffs. We pass quite a few people reading books at the benches, and it feels like my kind of town! We pass the 16th century Xlendi tower and the salt pools, where we discover a whole new different world under the main cliff plateau – everything is yellow here! You can head on to Sannap cliffs from hear and have a real hike, not the kind of near Dingli!
As the sun is setting, we go back to Xlendi and have a dinner at the Pirate’s Galley restaurant, recommended to us by the boat guy. We get lucky – there is one table just by the water, and previously so quiet town has come alive! We have very tasty swordfish for dinner, which was definitely tastiest meal we had during the trip!
On the next day we are back at the shore at 9 am and ready to board the boat. We have a really nice captain and a whole boat to ourselves! He takes us right near the cliffs, brings the boat in the caves and we see incredible, dark blue, but very transparent water in them. Soon we reach the famous Blue Lagoon. We are here quite early but crowds are beginning to gather already! We jump in the water and swim, it is warm and pleasant. It is not too sunny, so the water does not look as incredibly blue as in some of the pictures we ave seen, but at least we don’t get as sunburt. When it feels like people are gathering by the thousand on the shore, we head to the Crystal Bay and snorkel here. We are feeding the fish the bread we brought with us, and soon I hear a strange noise and lift up by head from the water – there is an enormous ship right next to me! It becomes too crowded again and we head further, to see the elephant head cliff, another St.Peter’s Pool and soon it is time to head back to Gozo.
Once we are back to Gozo, we head to Ġgantija temple, the oldest one on the island and second oldest man made structure on earth. The legends of Gozo say that a giant woman with a child on her shoulder built this temple. Unfortunately, not much of the archaeology is preserved, as there was a cleaning of the area in the 19th century and most of soil was discarded. Visiting this place one must understand that it is not for the beauty of it but for the incredible, 5500 years old history of this location.
Back on Malta – Popeye’s Village
Our last sightseeing spot in Malta is the Popeye’s village, the location of movie set from 1980. While the movie isn’t too great, the amusement park is one of the most visited places in Malta. We ask a few locals if that would be a great idea to see it for three grown up women. Everyone smiles and says that while tastes differ, they doubt it would, but we should see it from the top. Which we do! We come here around sunset and see it from the cliff on the opposite side. Perhaps, if we had more time, we could spend a whole day here, but we felt content with the few pictures from the top.
Soon we head to the airport where we have our airBaltic flight back home, this time the crew really takes very good care of us, constantly checking if we would like something else to eat or drink, and soon we land in Riga. One week has passed so quickly!
What Linda said:
I was surprised by how intelligent, kind and helpful people are here! Noone was trying to sell us things and it was very easy to understand each other, as everyone spoke perfect English. My favorite place in Malta was Gozo – beautiful cliffs and views to formation at the seaside. I was surprised that the island is this try – having to been to other Mediterranean countries in summer I expected it to be a bit greener!
What Maija said:
Malta… Te archipelago in the Mediterranean left a positive impression, as positive and as much as you will read in guidebooks! It is a place where you can book a beautiful hotel with a pool, enjoy the sun and good company, to rent a boat to see the famous shores around Comino and snorkel in the crystal clear water. We had a whole week to ourselves and I would add the Dingli cliffs to my favorite sights, as well as ancient Mdina, and golden and marble St.John’s Co-cathedral in Valletta. But my favorite place was in Gozo, Xlendi village with tasty seafood, walking to the yellow cliffs and dunes. I also enjoyed the fact that we didn’t have to worry about parking and driving on Malta, we could just order a cab on Taxify and go!
I am thankful for support from airBaltic and Sony who made this trip possible! airBaltic flies to Malta twice a week and offers good connections through Riga for many countries! I am a big fan of their new fleet and flying A220-300 is a pleasure every time! All pictures are taken with Sony RX100V, and most of video, with some shots done with Sony Action Cam FDR-X3000. As it was just us, ladies this time and I was responsible for the pictures, I really enjoyed that I didn’t have to do much and pictures turned out beautiful on the automatic settings, as well as that I could easily send them to my phone from the camera to share on my Instastories.