Heavenly little bays, turquoise coloured sea, an exciting and rich history, and great people . . . Welcome to Malta. The small Mediterranean island beneath Sicily is a true gem which I feel doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
During a long sunset walk along the harbour it all becomes clear – Malta is the melting point of hundreds of different cultures and religions, various ethnicities and fascinating people. Valletta, the capital city, will utterly amaze you with its wonderful architecture and magnificent churches. Small bays which are dotted all around the island are perfect for snorkelling, swimming and sunbathing – but do be aware when you’re booking, as these areas can be the most overcrowded in the summer season. If you’re tired of the bustling city then why not head north, where Malta’s sister islands of Gozo and Comino offer their treasures to tourists. With my handy Malta Travel Guide, I will bring you through some exciting information about this beautiful Mediterranean country, as well as give you some tips on the best things to do in Malta to really help make the best of your holiday here.
Things to do in Malta – a true Mediterranean paradise
National day of Malta: 21 September (Independence Day)
Getting to Malta
Malta is a Mediterranean country, and it’s found pretty much slap bang in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Air travel is the simplest way of getting here, just because of how handy it is in terms of speed, frequency, and price. There is just one international airport on the island of Malta, Luqa International Airport. This airport is also known commonly as Valletta International Airport as it’s so close to the capital.
Getting to Malta from the UK is a cinch, as there are plenty of options to get you straight to this archipelago country. In fact, the route from London Gatwick is the busiest route into Malta International Airport, with roughly 380,000 passengers flying this every year. Below, I’ve listed all the options available to you to get you straight to Malta and right into exploring this beautiful country.
London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Southend Seasonal: Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester
London Gatwick, London Southend, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne
Seasonal: Belfast, Birmingham, East Midlands, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, London Stansted, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne
Belfast, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool, London Luton, London Stansted, Manchester Seasonal: Aberdeen
Thomas Cook Airlines
Seasonal: Bristol, London Gatwick, Manchester
London Gatwick, Manchester Seasonal: Birmingham, Bristol
Malta – colourful diversity with a fascinating history
Maltese history is as captivating as a Ken Follett novel. First came the Carthagians, then the Romans, and finally the Arabs. While the Turks could carry out their conquests in Europe easily, they really had a tough time conquering the small island of Malta. Even after a four month siege, the Ottomans had to leave empty-handed. The valour of this small archipelago against the might of the Turks is particularly impressive. Many of the exhibitions at the Grandmaster’s Palace are a reminder of the tumultuous history of the island.
Malta was part of the British Empire for 150 years, from 1814 until its independence in 1964. After a long lasting British influence on the economy and culture, a separate identity slowly began to form. But of course this long connection to Britain can still be felt in some areas. Many of us Brits like to spend our holidays here, in Malta they drive on the left just like we do, and all the locals speak fluent English alongside the other national language, Maltese. It really makes communication so much easier, and it will feel a little like a home away from home for you. Sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of recognition and familiarity when you go to a new country.
Rental cars – a must
Those looking to explore Malta and Gozo shouldn’t rely on the buses, even though most travel guides always advise to use them. Maltese public transport is reliable on the whole, although it may just happen that a bus whizzes past your stop simply because it’s already full. This means standing around in 30 degree heat waiting for the next bus and hoping it will be empty. Not a totally ideal scenario, huh!
A rental car is a great way to avoid this unpleasant scenario. An important tip: it’s best to choose a comprehensive insurance which gives you full coverage. The Maltese drive quickly and the side streets are very narrow. Once you’re outside the city, you can enjoy the drive to the fullest. The coastal road is currently being renovated thanks to European grants – soon exploring Malta by rental car will be even more carefree, and I guarantee taking a car out to explore will fast become one of your favourite things to do in Malta.
Valletta – a true gem
Malta’s capital city, Valletta, is definitely worth a day trip. A mixture of cute small side streets, fantastic shops and unique architecture makes a trip to this city an absolute must. It’s surrounded by mighty walls which would have shielded the local population from attackers in the past. Here, tourists and locals alike sit in small cafés next door to historical sites and nibble on pastizzi – typical sweet or savoury pastry buns which you can buy on virtually every corner. Attentive visitors will be able to discover evidence of a thrilling history everywhere they turn.
Sliema – vibrant and diverse
Those who like to stroll along the popular promenade, enjoy some food or dance the night away simply have to go to Sliema. A visit to Slimea was among my favourite things to do in Malta because the tourist heart of the island has lots to offer. During the day, colourful boats leave to go on tours around the island, you can taste amazing seafood in the afternoon, and at dusk you can fill your time with shopping in the malls and small shops and plan for the next day. Unlike the other islands, you can stroll around undisturbed without people constantly approaching you. The city is filled with a relaxed atmosphere.
The ultimate insider’s tip:The Palace Hotel. If you’re staying here you’re doing it right! The rooms have amazing views of the area and the hotel staff can tell what the guests want just by looking at them. After an eventful day you can sip cocktails at the rooftop terrace and take a dip in the infinity pool, all while enjoying a spectacular view of the city and the sea. In short – it’s the perfect place to enjoy a sunset in Valletta. The hotel’s restaurants, The Tabloid and TemptAsian, offer fresh varied dishes and great local wines, and you can drink a nightcap in the café Talk of the Town. Since the hotel also has an underground car park you won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot for you rental car, and it costs just €2 per day.
Mdina – the WOW factor
The former capital of Malta is a real tourist magnet. Mdina lies on a hill in the middle of the island. Busloads of tourists flock here every day. Despite that, and this is surprising, the city isn’t full, hectic or exhausting, but simply beautiful! Narrow side streets, small churches and many historic and religious treasures are just waiting for you to discover them. A popular photo background is the Main Gate, a wonderful city gate, but the Vilhena Palace and St. Paul Cathedral make for quite the sight too. If you have the time, roam around to see if you can spot any unfrequented treasures as well.
The most beautiful bays and beaches of Malta
If you’re expecting endless beaches and snow-white sand then unfortunately you’ll be disappointed. It’s usually just short stretches of beach where you can bask in the sand, but that’s actually more than enough, right? The popular and recommended beaches are:
Ghajn Tuffieha in the north-west: Unspoilt and free of touristy nonsense, but with a great beach and perfect snorkelling opportunities. Empty during the week, but full to the brim at the weekend.
Mellieha Bay in the north: Located in the most popular holiday destination, this beach is the longest and also the most touristy. There are a few booths and sunbeds for hire. Before a visit to the beach you should take a quick detour to Popeye Village, a small colourful theme park.
Golden Bay in the north-west: The most popular beach on Malta. Sandy beach, shallow turquoise waters and good infrastructure. Absolutely chock full in high season, but still worth visiting. If you want to admire the view of the beach every day you can stay at the Radisson Blue Resort & Spa.
Peter’s Pool in south-east: A great bay for snorkelling and cliff diving. No infrastructure and no beach chairs, and enjoying the sun on the rocks can be a bit uncomfortable. A great bay nevertheless.
Form Ir-Rih in north-west: In calm weather this bay is a real delight. Unspoilt and largely unknown, reached after only 20 minute descent. The trip is definitely worth it. You can snorkel and dive here like nowhere else.
My tip: The island is not too big. All the great sights, beaches and bays can be reached within less than an hour’s journey from each other. So go out and explore a couple of beaches and towns! If you didn’t enjoy one place you can simply hop into your car and make your way to the next one.
Gozo and Comino – Malta’s underrated sisters
Gozo and Comino, Malta’s sister-islands, may not be advertised on every screen, but there are more great beaches, magnificent churches and undisturbed nature waiting here, all worth exploring.
Comino – more than just a blue lagoon
Boat trips to the Blue Lagoon of Comino leave many times a day from Malta and Gozo. This small bay is truly heavenly and you’ll feel like you’re in paradise when swimming here. There is however just one flaw: you will never be alone here. If you like peace and quiet, then steer clear of the Blue Lagoon and explore other small bays of this uninhabited island instead. Apart from Hotel Camino there are mainly just hiking trails and lots and lots of nature. This island, which used to be inhabited by pirates, is only 1,700 metres wide and 2,000 metres long, and apart from a chapel, hospital ruins and a historic watch tower there aren’t really any other sights. However if you’re a diver, windsurfer or snorkeller this place is perfect for you!
Gozo – perfect for Malta lovers who value calm
The small port of Gozo and the wonderful Citadel perched on a mountain welcome all newcomers with a spectacular view. A journey from Malta takes about half an hour. On board there’s free wifi and benches where you can make yourself comfortable. The world famous Azure Window once stood in the north west of the island, but unfortunately fell victim to sea erosion in 2017. It was the setting for the popular HBO show Game of Thrones, and a visit here is still one of the best things to do in Malta if you’re a fan of the series. If you park in the nearby car park and make your way away from where the Azure Window stood, you’ll reach the small hidden Dwejra Bay after a 10 minute walk – perfect for sunbathing and snorkelling. It is truly a must see for those seeking respite from the crowd.
5 things you should definitely do when visiting Gozo:
1. Rent a sunbed at the Marsalforn Bay. The people who rent parasols out have made holes in the rocks, perfect for holding one of the parasols in. Renting two sunbeds and an umbrella for a whole day costs just €10 (£7.25).
2. Take a walk in Victoria. This small town has a great market and cobblestone covered streets which are made for strolling along. Small shops will also lure you in for a little look around.
3. Try some typical Maltese cuisine. The goat’s cheese from Gozo is a real delicacy – whether alone or in a delicious sandwich it will make your mouth water! Maltese wines are also well worth tasting.
4. Go diving off the coast of Gozo. Those without much diving experience can sign up to a beginners course at Scuba Kings Dive Centre. It costs just over €35 (£25) per person and you can dive up to 6m deep.
5. Visit the vineyard in Xaghra. You can try some wines in a friendly relaxed atmosphere, learn about the vineyards in Gozo and experience the moving hospitality of the locals.
Malta and its sister islands of Gozo and Comino are great fun. The mixture of the island’s fascinating history, great historic structures, beautiful cities and perfect beaches with crystal clear waters makes it a perfect holiday destination. The friendly Maltese, always willing to help, will make you feel truly welcome!