Planning to do a trip to Malta soon? Here is what you need to know before visiting one of the smallest European country for a 6 days trip.
One of the most asked question I received on Instagram was “can I manage to see everything in a week?” Theoretically yes. Practically no. Malta is a small island but not as small as Santorini or any other place, you can simply go around with a rented scooter in a summer vacation. Indeed, it look small and theoretically, it is but most roads are crowded and bumpy. Therefore, some distances from place to place are quite extensive to cover by a simple scooter and before going on adventure, you might want to consider what your priorities are. Are you going for the beaches? For the Megalithic temples? For city sightseeing? Stick around your priorities and you will manage to see what you want in 7 days. Personally, I wanted to visit a bit of beaches and cities. Therfore, I’ve created an itinerary allowing me to have the best of both in my week. If you have no idea where to go and want to stay under the sun but enjoy also a bit of the best Maltese cultural life, this is the right itinerary!
What you need to know before visiting Malta.
Malta is a country with a still tangible history having been dominated by Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, British and French along the centuries. Its proximity to Sicily and Tunisia make the country one of the most diverse and multicultural places in Europe. It is not a coincidence that Valletta won the title of European Capital of Culture during the current year.
- Reaching Malta from Europe is very simple and cheap. The Luqa airport (the main hub connecting Malta to the world) operates daily flights in great part of the European countries. The main low-cost airlines operating are Ryanair, Easyjet, Airmalta and Jet2. I personally flew from the UK (East Midlands) with Ryanair and went back via Sicily with Airmalta paying no more than £150 for two people.
- The main language spoken is Maltese but great part of the population understand English, and sometimes Italian, especially in the most touristic areas. The Maltese language is very fascinating to hear as, being a Semitic language, it originates from a mix of Italian, Spanish and Arabic words often recognisable from their sound or written appearance. Hearing some conversations on the bus I was able to catch some familiar words in Italian mixed with some other unknown languages.
- Going around Malta can be challenging. Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Ergo is crowded, very crowded. This means that if you rent a car, you can remain stuck in the traffic for hours and be at the mercy of the undisciplined Maltese drivers horning at you like in the most known streets of Mumbai. Using the public transport remain the cheapest and safe option if you are not into driving and want to save money. If you choose to go around by bus, the best option is to buy a Tallnja Card, which grants you unlimited travels for 7 Days. You can order this online or buy it from one of the self-service machines at the airport. Buses connect Valletta to most areas of Malta, they are quite frequent but in summer, they might be busy with the risk of leaving you literally out of the door.
- Weather is said to be warm and pretty all year long. Although in summer temperatures reach their highest level ranging around 35-42 degrees. Therefore, bring always a solar protection and stay hydrated.
- Maltese food is delicious. The cuisine is typical Mediterranean with some Tunisian influences. My preferred dishes were Pastizzi and Ħobż Malti.
- Maltese people are very religious. There are more than 350 churches around the island attended by great part of the population. Furthermore, each village has its religious patron who is celebrated with fireworks, procession, music and dances. This in addition to entire roads “dressed-up” with the best ornamental decorations dedicated to the saint. During summer, it’s practically impossible to avoid the festa as most of the patrons’ celebrations happens during the peak touristic period. One of the best festa I’ve attended was the one of St. Lawrence in Birgu.
Day 1 – Embrace Valletta
Whether you arrive at morning or early afternoon (like in our case), the first thing I suggest you is to embrace your new destination without hurry. When I explore a new place, I always take some time to wander around with nothing in mind. This helps me to create a connection with the new place and find hidden corners out of my itinerary. Take an ice cream, do shopping on Triq-ir-Republica, watch the sunset from the amazing Barakka Gardens. You will have plenty of time to visit Valletta main attractions on a specific day, therefore enjoy the city without rushing! On our first day in Valletta, we spent the afternoon soaking in the roof pool of our hotel, exploring some hidden streets and alleys, watching the sunset at the Barakka Gardens, dining with a pizza far from the main crowded streets and looking at the fireworks from the Grand Harbour.
For our stay in Valletta we chose Palais le Brun, a lovely hotel boutique with a marvellous view on the Valletta landscape. Palais le Brun is an authentic sixteenth-century Baroque building belonged to the Knight Claude LeBrun. LeBrune family was famours for silverware and mint coinage. In 2018 the palace converted into a luxury hotel.
Day 2 – Relaxing at the Café del Mar
If you had a long and stressing winter full of deadlines and meetings, you know you need a break. This was our priority after months of non-stop working, plus on our second day in Malta, we were celebrating our wedding anniversary and we wanted to relax all-day-long! We wanted to go to the beach but considering it was high season we did not want to get stressed with the crowd, so we opted for renting a space at Café del Mar.
Café del Mar is one of the most famous Maltese Beach Clubs adjacent to the clear waters of St. Paul’s Bay. The unique infinity pool is situated at the level of the sea for giving you the best panoramic view. Reaching Café del Mar with the bus is very easy. There is a specific bus line connecting Velletta to St.Paul’s Bay that will not take more than 40 mins. Unfortunately, accessing this beach club is not free and, compared to other places, a bit pricey. However, you will be rewarded with the best view and ejoy a full day of relax by the pool in company of good music and the sound of the sea. To be allowed to the use of the pool you have to rent a sun bed in one of the areas of the beach club. During high season, the price for a sunbed range from €20 to €120 per person and it is advisable to book in advance as the spaces are filled very quickly. Food is not included in the price but there is a good restaurant inside the club serving the best Maltese dishes.
Our relaxing day at the Café del Mar passed very quickly. I’m still dreaming of being by the pool now! We ended this second day in Malta with a reserved table at the Panorama Restaurant for our anniversary dinner. The dinner was amazing and we were welcomed with some typical Maltese bread and some chef specialities. Pointless is to say the location setting is very romantic, with all the tables disposed on the balconies having the view on Valletta’s Grand Harbour. We were also lucky enough to assist the fireworks from our table!
Day 3 – Valletta, Floriana and Birgu
— Valletta —
Valletta is a city that has so much to offer! You can easily stay one week and find always things to do! Malta’s capital is very easy to detour as the most important attractions are situated into the city centre.
If you are more into a photographic itinerary, my previous blog on The most instagrammable spots in Valletta is what you are searching for!
The major cultural points are:
- The St. John’s Co-Cathedral
- The Granmaster’s Palace and Armoury
- The Upper and Lower Barakka Gardens
- Fort St. Elmo
- Casa Rocca Piccola
- Manoel Theatre
Starts early. Possibly from the places becoming overcrowded at peak times like the St. John’s Co-Cathedral or the Grand Master’s Palace. The Armoury of the Grand Master’s palace is already open at 9.30 am and an early morning visit will grant you a bit of relax far from the later crowd. Bring some water with you and something to cover your head in the warmest days. You will walk a lot under the sun, especially in summer! Take a recharging break every couple of hours (a perfect spot where to relax with a fresh drink is Castille Place).
Choosing a place where to have lunch in Valletta is not difficult. Every corner has some nice places where to rest in company of good food. However, if you want to save a bit of money but still want to have a great Maltese typical lunch, I warmly recommend you The Museum Café. This little café is located in Melita Street and serves probably the best ftira you can find in the city.
The place is fully frequented by locals, which I always intend as a sign of quality/non touristic food. The only issue is that it is small, very small. So small that there are not more than 6 tables inside and people queue outside to taste one of their delicious dishes. There is no booking system and you have to count on luck to dine there or have the patience to wait for a free table! We were quite lucky as we found a space immediately but no more tables were available for the next 30 mins! So good luck!
— Floriana —
If you are up to walk a little bit more after your Valletta tour, Floriana is the perfect place to explore. Situated less than 1km from the main gate of the capital, Floriana is an incredible hidden gem! Many tourists even don’t know they are walking in a different city because Floriana appear as a natural periphery of Valletta. In effect, Floriana was built as protective area for Valletta in 1636, but became quickly an independent city. Its original name would be Borgo Vilhena but the current name Floriana comes from the military enginereer who deisigned its line of fortification, Pietro Paolo Floriani. The best sights in Floriana are definitevely the St. Publius Church (above pictured), the Robert Samut Hall and the Argotti Botanical Gardens.
The Robert Samut Hall is a beautiful neo-gothic building situated near the Botanical Gardens. It was built in 1881/83 and known as Floriana Wesleyan Methodist Church. It was the first building in Malta having electricity; it served as repair for the British Soldier in WWII and now is used as centre for cultural activities. If you would enjoy an afternoon walk far from the Malta touristic areas the Argotti Botanical Gardens are the perfect spot. These gardens were created in 1774 and belonged originally to Pinto de Fonseca. Used originally for the study of medical plants they become a botanical garden in 1805. Tip: The Argotti gardens are free to visit and probably one of the best places where to enjoy the view of the Floriana’s bastions (picture below).
— Birgu —
The last stop of the day, (after a brief break at our hotel), was the small city of Birgu. Birgu is known to be one of the Three Cities of Malta, together with Cospicua and Senglea. The city is known also with the name of Vittoriosa and exists since the medieval period. When the Order of St. John arrived in Malta in 1530, Birgu was fortified and named as capital of the island until 1571. The name of Città Vittoriosa came after the withstanding of the city against the Ottoman attacks in 1565 known as the Great Siege of Malta. The city was heavily bombed during the WWII loosing part of its historical heritage sites. Nevertheless, Birgu has still many points of interest and beautiful cobbled streets where to get lost. A major attraction is surely the medieval Fort St. Angelo, which is the only place in Malta hosting the current branch of the Knights of Malta, known now as Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
If you are visiting during the first ten days of August, don’t miss the celebrations known as festa for the Saint Patron, St. Lawrence. This is an unmissable opportunity to admire in person one of the most important Maltese traditions and enjoy the festive and joyful spirit pervading the city in all its beautiful ornate streets.
Day 4 – St. Peter’s Pool, Marsaxlokk and Mdina
— St. Peter’s Pool —
After three full days of cultural immersion, we felt it was the moment of going to the beach. As we knew in advance that beaches in August would be pretty crowded. We opted for a place a bit difficult to reach but allowing us a perfect swim. For this reason we chose St. Peter’s Pool. This natural swimming pool is located at the tip of the Delimara point near the village Marsaxlokk. If you are using the public transport and you are not into walking under the sun, please consider to go on another location. In fact, the St. Peter’s Pool isn’t the easiest place to find. To reach this place before the crowd arrives, (usually around 12/13 pm), you’ll have to catch the first bus in the morning from Valletta that will leave you at a distance of 35 minutes walking from your destination. Useless is saying that in August this is not the best of the things to do, especially if you are not used to the high temperatures. Furthermore, St. Peter’s Pool is mainly known for cliff jumping, as the water is very deep and clean. There is a little staircase leading you to the water if you don’t want to jump but I would not recommend it if you are unable to swim as the water is already deep near it!
From St. Peter’s Pool the next stop is the fishing village of Marsaxlokk.
— Mrsaxlokk —
We walked another 40 minutes to reach the village from St. Peter’s Pool as there was only one bus passing and we thought that walking would it be better than waiting under the sun for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve read a lot about the beauty of Marsaxlokk and I was really looking forward to visit! The village is seriously one of the most colourful places in Malta and all the things I’ve read about its beauty were completely true. The name Marsaxlokk means “port of the southeast” and with southeast people of Malta means the wind coming from the Sahara, Scirocc, which in Maltese is pronounced “xlokk”. The current village developed around 18/19 centuries. Although, a pre-existent site suggests there was a former inhabited location, probably known with a different name. Apart from its beautiful colours, Marsaxlokk is known for the Sunday Fish Market, which is considered by Maltese one of their best attractions and, indeed, is very attended by tourists. To return in Valletta from this village (if you are not by car) you have to catch the bus 81 or 85 from the main terminal (just a street behind the main photogenic road). The journey will take about 45 minutes.
— Mdina —
As a medieval historian, Mdina was my dream place: old, surrounded by walls and full of ghostly stories. Plus, and this is the jolly attiring every historian on the planet, it’s a ghost town! Yes! The last census of the population done in 2016 reports that Mdina is inhabited by just 229 people. Therefore, is not a case the city is often called as The Silent City. Nevertheless, Mdina has seen past golden days having been the administrative and cultural centre of Malta until the 16th century. Its slow decline happened after the arrival of the Order of St. John in 1530, when the capital of Malta was moved to Birgu (and then Valletta). From that moment onward, Mdina’s popularity decreased and from stronghold of the country, it slowly became a ghost town.
However, being virtually a “ghost town” doesn’t mean the city is completely abandoned. On the contrary, Mdina is leaving now a new renaissance being populated all-day-long by tourists curious of exploring this still fascinating medieval roquefort. Moreover, the city is also known to be one of the set of Game of Thrones, which increased its popularity during the most recent years.
For making your experience even more memorable, you can finish your day with a dinner in the medieval walls of the city. Mdina is in fact situated in one of the highest point of Malta and the still strong medieval wall surrounding it can offer one of the best view of the country. The Xpresso Café and Bistro situated inside the freshly renovated Palazzo de Piro (part of the famous Xara Palace) is one of the best places where to enjoy your medieval-walls dinner. The Strozzapreti with Truffle-Beef Ragout were honestly one of the best pasta I’ve tasted in Malta!!
Day 5 – The Blue Grotto and Popeye Village
If you have a car, organizing the trip between these two places it will be much easier but by bus, believe me, it was a bit of a nightmare. This because the Blue Grotto and Popeye Village are situate in a opposite position and mainly because the bus system is not designed to make your tourist life easier. I’m not sure how many bus change we did, but be prepared to take 6/7 buses. The reason why I combined these places together, is because we didn’t want to spend all day at the Popeye Village and you can’t swim in the Blue Grotto unless you rent a private boat and do this far from the coast.
As opposite to what is believed, the Blue Grotto is not a single cave, but a system of caves along the Southeast coast of Malta. The main complex includes a massive 30mt archway visible only from the water or from a specific view point, situated in the opposite side of the departures lodge. There isn’t more appropriate name for this place, giving the colour of the water is blue crystalline. In fact, in certain point the water is so clear you can see the bottom even at distance and in certain other points, the minerals of the rocks contributed to give the water a sort of blue fluorescence. As you can imagine, swimming is forbidden for several reasons, in addiction to the protection of the area. In fact, the only way to reach the grottoes is via sea and there is a regular movement of boats crossing the shores, so, this may put tourists in danger of being hit by a boat.
The most convenient and cheap way to visit all the 7 main caves, is to go with one of the local organised tours. Official tours are performed by Maltese captains aboard of their traditional fishing boat “luzzu” and cost 8 EUR for 20 minutes. You don’t need to purchase this tour in advance because tickets are sold near the harbour in a official kiosk. We did enjoy the tour, but I have to say that 20 minutes is a short time for someone who want to shoot decent pictures. In fact, is a non-stop trip so, basically, you have to catch the moment if you want a good shot.
— Popeye Village —
Reaching the Popeye Village from the Blue Grotto it was slightly an odyssey as we have changed so many buses that I’ve lost the count! We did stop also at the Airport! Furthermore, there should be a ghost bus, the 101, which is supposed to leave you in front of the village from Gadhira Bay, but we waited for it for more than one hour (yes 1H!!) and never passed so, to avoid dying under the 13.30 Maltese sun, we took taxi costing us around 7 EUR. Well done Malta Public Transport!
If you never heard about this place, you have to know the Popeye Village is an abandoned Paramount/Disney movie set now converted into an open-air museum and fun park. The set was used to film the musical “Popeye” starring Robin Williams in 1979. To have access to the village, you have to pay a ticket of EUR 17. This ticket will include any of the services/activities of the village (e.g. cinema, museum, swimming pool, water games), a boat ride of 20 minutes around Anchor Bay, a shot of Sangria served at the bar and a free postcard at the souvenir shop. If you are wandering if the place is worth the price, well it depends. If you are a family with kids and want to spend a full day out in a nice location, this is well worthy as the kids will have definitely so much fun. For couples or other type of visitors in general, it might offer a valid alternative to the overcrowded Maltese beaches. Our time there was pleasant but, for us, it was more than enough to stay one afternoon. If you feel that 17 EUR for a museum/fun park is too much for just an afternoon, you can always overlook the village from the cliffs of Anchor Bay. To reach this point, you have just to pass the village main entrance and continue on the main road. You will see a space where is possible to seat and take pictures. Some people try also to descend the cliff but I wouldn’t recommend it as it looks very crumbling.
Day 6 – Gozo and Comino Cruise plus St. Julian’s
For the sake of honesty, I have to say we were quite unsatisfied with our day spent in Gozo and Comino. Not for the islands (which are incredibly beautiful) but for the cruise itself, which was overpriced, badly organised, overcrowded and fraudulent. The idea of a cruise was very last moment as we wanted to visit both islands but, after having seen how difficult it was to move far with the public transport, we immediately thought we would have lost a half day just to reach the port for going to Comino! So the cruise was the most convenient way of visiting the best of the two islands in a “short” amount of time. WRONG. If you want to see what YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE, rent a car and take the main ferry by your own. I can’t say all the cruises company are bad, but the one we chose because of the convention with our Malta Card it is and, unfortunately, is probably the most known cruise company of the island. Our day trip to Gozo (with a couple of hours in the Blue Lagoon in Comino) was actually a half day in a food factory, 1 hour in Gozo and 30 minutes in Comino. I am totally fine in visiting food factories, but only if I have a couple of days to spend in a place, not just a couple of hours! Anyway, I already reported them to TripAdvisor and also to their directory board, but if you need more details, please contact me and I will be happy to help!
— Gozo —
In the very small amount of time we visited Gozo, we were able to visit Rabat (now Victoria), which is the capital of the island. The oldest part of the city is the fortified area called The Citadel. This area was initially an acropolis converted into a castle during the medieval period. The Citadel, and its majestic walls, resisted numerous attacks, including the ones done during the Great Siege of Malta and it’s incredible that we can still walk around the oldest of its walls built in 1500.
The bastions are probably the best place where to admire a breataking view of the city, even if I had the impression that Gozo has many panoramic view points offering great photographic opportunities and incredible landscapes. The Citadel reminded me a bit of Mdina, with its cobbled alleys and warm colours. I really wanted to spend more time visiting it and I already promised myself that I will do another trip with this purpose. In any case, a sight I would not miss is the Cathedral of the Assumption, situated just at the main entrance of the Citadel and built on a pre-existent thirteenth-century church. Other top sights in Gozo are:
- The Azure Window location (this famous natural attraction has been destroyed recently but the site is still visitable)
- Xlendi Bay
Ta’ Kola Windmill
- Salt Pans
- Dwejra Bay and Tower
- Rotunda of Xewkija
- Calipso Cave
- Wied il-Għasri
— Comino —
The small island of Comino take its name from the flourishing of cumin seeds all across the territory. The former name of the island however, Ephaestia, is linked to the past Greek heritage of Malta. There are only three residents in Comino, who are under the adminstration of the main island of Gozo. During the time Comino has been sparsely inhabited and used as leisure “playground” by the Knights of Malta. The island is now known for its beautiful crystalline waters, caves and bird sanctuaries. It’s the most ideal place for diving or snorkelling and offers also great possibilities for camping and hiking. The most known place is the Blue Lagoon. This little slice of paradise has become very popular during the most recent years for its shallow azure waters. It is situated in the west coast of Comino and its reacheable by ferry or cruise (the island is car-free). We had a really short time in the Blue Lagoon and it was already fully packed with people. I guess the best thing to do is going as early as possible to avoid the massive crowd and numerous boats. In a future visit, I would probably go camping to be the first one waking up on this beautiful slice of paradise!
— St. Julian’s —
Returned from our cruise we wanted to spend our last night in Malta in St. Julian’s. This town is situated in the north coast of Malta and it’s famous for its fervid nightlife. I have to say we are not great fans of clubs and casinos so we avoided at all cost the area of Paceville, which, for your info, is the one hosting the major nightclubs, restaurants and casinos of Malta. In contrast, we preferred to have a lovely walk and dinner at Spinola Bay. In Spinola Bay are located several restaurants but is definitely less chaotic than Paceville. As I love so much to dine with a view, for our dinner we chose the restaurant Peppino’s, located just in front of the main bay. This restaurant serve the best Maltese traditional dishes and, being based on a multilevel building, gives you also the possibility of dining in one of the balconies looking at the Spinola Bay. I warmly suggest you to book in advance because, during peak season, the restaurant fills very quickly. Unfortunately, there isn’t a website where you can book your table but you can call on the number you’ll find on Google. We booked our table in the morning (for the night) and we got a nice table with a view!
Thanks so much for having read this itinerary! The map below will help you to visualise where the main locations mentioned in this post are. I hope you can get some inspiration for your next trip to Malta! I’ve planned everything according to our needs and all (apart the cruise) went very well! Malta is an incredible underrated country and I can’t believe it took me so long to visit it! Me and Alessio want definitely go again and next time we hope to can rent a car and visit also some other hidden gems! If you have any question, feel free to ask! Happy travels!