For Christmas last year I made the long trek home to Australia for 6 weeks of summer. Without the luxury of an Aussie beach holiday this year, I decided to add on a little sunshine to my winter Germany Christmas trip. As the southernmost and sunniest country in Europe (with nearly 3,000 hours of sun a year!), Malta sounded like the perfect destination for a bit of Mediterranean sun and some incredibly blue water.
Aside from the red sand beaches, rocky cliffs and sea caves dotted around the three islands that make up the area- Malta, Gozo and Comino, there’s a bunch of cultural activities and historical sites to explore. In fact, Malta has been continuously inhabited for over 8,000 years and boasts 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
However, I feel that I should also mention that there is a little disconnect between the reality of the islands and what you will read about in travel guides. Whilst there are some beautiful coloured doors and window shutters, most of the buildings on Malta are made from the same monotonous yellow sandstone, and after awhile, the towns and streets start to look very similar. There’s also very little greenery/trees on the island, instead sprawling towns and farm land make up much of the scenery. Additionally, the public bus network is crazy slow.
Despite this, if you’re looking for a budget sunny weather escape for a few days, with something for city and sea lovers alike, I highly recommend a visit to Malta.
Fly into Luqa airport and head straight to the capital Valletta, a 15 minute drive away. Here, spend the first day strolling the many stone-cobbled laneways of the compact city. Built in 1565 after the siege of Malta, the capital is elegant, tranquil and full of steps. The lack of buses and most cars in the city provides a peaceful vibe, rarely found in Malta. While the entire city is World Heritage Listed, some key sites include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the Fort of St. Elmo, the National Museum of Archaeology and the beautiful Barrakka Gardens overlooking the bay.
In the morning walk the short distance to the north-western side of Valletta and take the Sliema Ferry across the bay, where you can hop on a cruise of the two natural harbors surrounding Valletta- Marsamxetto and Grand Habour. In the first harbor you sail past an 18th century fort on Manoel Island, while the second harbor takes in the Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua) on the opposite bank to Valletta. The cruise is advertised at 16€ but in the off season you can usually negotiate a cheaper fare of around 10€.
In the afternoon take the local bus to the nearby Hal Saflieni Hypogeum & Tarxien Temples or further afield to the other side of the island to Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Temples.
Take a day-trip to the islands of Comino and Gozo. Highlights include the incredibly turquoise coloured water of the Blue Lagoon and Dwejra Bay, the red sand at San Blas Bay and the ancient citadel, cathedral and basilica in the capital Victoria. For more photos and information on how to get to the islands from Malta this post.
Take a local bus to the Dingli Cliffs (via Rabat) for some stunning coastal walks. On the way back to Villetta stop at Mdina to explore the enchanting ancient walled city as the sun goes down. Originally founded by the Phoenicians as Maleth in the 8th century BC, stepping through the old gate into the maze-like stone-walled streets feels like you’re stepping through a time-warp.
Tips and further Advice
- To save money stay in St. Julian’s Bay or Sliema. Not only do they have the cheapest accommodation options on the whole island but they’re well connected by buses and boats to other parts of Malta and there’s a lovely rock-pool lined promenade to stroll along, with many seafood restaurants and lovely cafes.
- The local bus network is slow but cheap. Single tickets are 1.5€ and valid for 2 hours while 12 pass is 15€. You can pick up a map with local routes at the airport or hotels.
- Use Malta Transfers to get to and from the airport. At 5€ each way this is a fraction of the cost of a taxi and you can book advance online. They even picked me up at 3.30 for my early flight!
- Food and drink is extremely cheap for European standards, especially if you go to local cafes and restaurants. Expect to pay 1-2€ for coffee, 2-3€ for wine and spirits, 3-5€ for sandwiches and baguettes and 10-20€ for dinner.
- You can’t drink the tap water so be prepared to buy bottled water throughout your stay.
- There’s a huge British influence (the legacy of 150 years of rule) with phone booths, post boxes, lamps and a bunch of English and Irish pubs and restaurants. This makes for an interesting contrast to the Maltese buildings and weather but also means most people speak fluent English.
- The British influence also extends to power sockets. While some are adapted to suit European plugs, many are not. However it’s quite cheap to buy an adapter whilst in Malta, my hostel sold them for 3€.
- The currency is euro, Malta joined the EU in 2004 as the smallest state.
- The country is 98% Catholic. If visiting one of the many churches be sure to keep your shoulders and legs covered.