Tucked away in the central Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and the coasts of Northern Africa is a tiny archipelago country layered in history that offers a plethora of attracting features to every traveler. Flooded with religion, the island has left many of their traditions and cultural aspects untouched. Standing in the middle of the streets of its capital, Valletta, your gaze will shift from narrow alleyways to historic cathedrals as you walk with the crowds on the always-shaded, brightly colored streets of this fortress city. There are numerous things to do in Malta whether you are beach-craved looking for a relaxed Malta vacation getaway or a history buff in search for things to do in Malta for the diverseness of its ages.
There’s even more to Malta than its history and culture, though. Have you ever seen Game of Thrones? Take a Game of Thrones Malta Tour of the archipelago and find a plethora of locations from scenes of the popular series. From its quiet villages with weekly summer festivals, to the clear, blue Mediterranean Sea, to its admiration of culture and fireworks; it’s difficult to run out of things to do in Malta that will keep you satisfied on a Malta vacation.
I’ve backpacked around over half of Europe in the span of three years, and I still believe the eye-popping landscape, relaxed lifestyle of its people, and its long, ever-changing history makes Malta one of the top European backpacking destinations. The best advice I can give is to not make your stay too short on your Malta vacation because there is plenty of things to do in Malta to keep you busy!
Malta is an archipelago located almost 50 miles south of the Italian island of Sicily. With only a hair over 120 square miles of territory and over 450,000 residents, it’s one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries. It sits alone; centered between Italy, Tunisia, and Libya. Budget airlines offering routes for a Malta vacation make the cost of backpacking Europe affordable and perfect for backpacking Europe routes. So well-located, you’re never more than a three-hour flight from a majority of the cities on your Europe travel itinerary when you’re in Malta.
Things to do in Malta
If you’re planning a Malta vacation, there are no shortages of things to do in Malta. I’ve spent a lot of time in Malta over the years of backpacking Europe routes and am never searching for things to do in Malta. My favorite and simplest thing to do in Malta is take a bus to the West of the island and go on one of many beautiful hikes along some of the most magnificent cliffs I’ve ever seen. The sea views and imposing cliff lines are the most beautiful part of Malta.
Check out some of my Malta travel tips and top places to visit in Malta:
‘Game of Thrones Malta’ filming locations – The walled city of Mdina doubled up as King’s Landing, the island’s forts served as the Red Keep, and the stunning natural arch known as the Azure Window in Gozo was the setting for Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen’s wedding. There are plenty of Game of Thrones Malta filming locations.
The Three Cities Wine Tasting – The Three Cities is a collective description of the three fortified cities of Cospicua, Vittoriosa and Senglea. During the tour, you will drive past Cospicua, a double fortified harbour city and the largest of the three.
Popeye Village – Popeye Village Malta has grown from its days as a Film Set of the 1980 Musical Production ‘Popeye’ into one of the top things to do in Malta filled with a number of colorful fun activities for all young and young at heart.
Gardjola Gardens – The eye on the tower is a popular icon representing Malta, featured in many brochures about the Island. The gardens have palm trees and provide a spot to relax under the shade while enjoying the view.
Lower Barrakka Gardens – Situated at the lower end of Valletta on the bastions overlooking the entrance to the Grand Harbor. Strategically placed for a superb view of the harbor and surrounding cities of Malta.
St. Paul’s Catacombs – Interconnected underground Roman cemeteries that were in use up to the 4th Century A.D. They are located on the outskirts of the old Roman capital – now modern-day Mdina.
Mnajdra Temples – Located on a rugged stretch of Malta’s southwestern coast overlooking the isle of Fifla. They are a mere quarter of a mile from Hagar Qim Temples. It’s the first and oldest free-standing structure in the world.
The Blue Grotto – The site can get extremely busy during summer. To enjoy the caves at their best, go early in the morning when the sun is lower in the sky and the sea is calmer. There’s also a very nice viewing area at the top near the bus stop called “Panaromic”.
Valletta – Malta’s walled fortress capital city, home to St. John’s Cathedral and named the 2018 European Union Capital of Culture is certainly worth an afternoon. Head to the sea or check out the views from atop the city.
Gozo – The largest sister island of the archipelago. Was the home to the infamous Azure Window before it collapsed due to rough seas in early 2017. With beaches that are less busy, more colorful landscapes, and wicked hikes, a day trip to Gozo is certainly worth your time.
The Blue Lagoon –. During the summer, this place gets very busy. With limited area, it can be difficult to claim a spot on the beach. Alternatively, keep walking past the Blue Lagoon about a quarter of a mile until you reach the lesser known, equally beautiful, Chrystal Lagoon.
Dingli Cliffs – The most imposing of Malta’s renowned cliff lines. Situated all the way on the west coast of Malta, it’s a bit stressful to reach by public transport so I suggest Malta car rental. Pack a lunch and make a whole day out of things to do in Malta on the west coast. Between Dingli Cliffs, the Blue Grotto, and the Mnajdra Temples, you’ll see a tri-fecta of places to visit in Malta!
Beaches and other places to visit in Malta
- Golden Bay – The best sand beach on Malta with the most entertainment. There are also several hotels surrounding it. Convenient enough to spend a nice long day there, but not within walking distance of anything besides the few hotels in the north of the island.
- Riviera Beach – Right next door to Golden Bay, however, it is less frequented. Also a sand beach, but smaller and not as much going on. A good option when Golden Bay is crowded in the summertime.
- St. Julian’s Beach – The closest and most convenient beach to all of the action. Although it is artificial sand, it is usually one of the busiest beaches in Malta due to its distance from St. Julian’s.
- Sliema Beaches – The entire Sliema coast is great as far as views and swimming goes. As long as you don’t mind rock beaches, this would be your best bet for a close option to get away from the crowds.
- Ramla Bay (Gozo) – The best beach of the archipelago, in my opinion. However, it’s quite a commute to Gozo. Worth it, though, because not many make the trip to Gozo’s largest beach.
- Crystal Lagoon (Comino) – The best alternative to the Blue Lagoon (I prefer it). Skip the crowds in Comino and make it to Crystal Lagoon.
Mdina the Silent City by Night
I had the unique experience of living in Malta for the span of about two years and experienced some of the most culturally-loaded things to do in Malta any one person can. However, one experience sticks out to me more than all else. If you’re on a Malta vacation, you must see the best city in Malta – Mdina – by night.
As locals refer to it – the Silent City (Mdina) – is one of my favorite places to visit in Malta during the day. But going at night is a much more impactful experience. I would have never thought to visit the historical fortress city that served as Malta’s capital until the medieval period at night. The photo opportunities are so grand during the daylight, but I would have never guessed its dignity under the moonlight.
As I lapped its narrow alleyways with little light in front of me, the eeriness of the silence grew. I was with a group of locals, but you could still hear a pin drop as if everyone was seeing the place for the first time again.
I recommend going for the awe-inspiring sunset on display from atop the city and staying a while after the moon reaches the night sky. It’s a completely different experience racing the streets of the city without gobs of tourists around every corner. You’ll certainly get a more intimate experience.
The Tale of the Tape for your Malta Vacation
Malta’s location centered in the middle of the Mediterranean has made it one of the most sought out naval bases throughout European history. This has led to an existence of being ruled by other countries and a long fight for independence.
Malta is known worldwide for multiple things. Its renowned capital city, Valletta, is filled with Maltese culture around virtually every street corner. Especially in the summertime, there is constantly a festival or feast with banners and lights hanging from its alleyway walls
In addition to its history and culture, Maltese beaches have become a hot holiday spot for Europeans and Americans alike over the past two decades. However, don’t expect a tropical paradise; Malta is far from that. But Malta has more to offer than all-inclusive resorts and a good tan. The Mediterranean climate brings tourists to the island, but the lifestyle of those living here is what keeps the tourists coming back.
What to eat in Malta
If you want a taste of the local cuisine, try these traditional foods:
Maltese Bread – Served with most meals that allow for ‘mopping’ at dinner and is often served in local restaurants to complement your meal as well.
Ftira – Flat baked, usually smaller-sized bread that shares its crusty outside with a regular loaf of Maltese bread.
Pastizzi – Found at Malta’s first form of fast food chains, a Pastizzeria, this fluffy pastry formed in specific shapes and stuffed with either ricotta cheese or a paste of peas (piżelli in Maltese) is the cornerstone of Maltese food.
Rabbit – Commonly served as a dish, most popularly fried (sometimes with spaghetti with tomato sauce and peas) or as a stew. The taste is likened to chicken.
Cisk – The most popularly brewed beer on the island. Cisk is an easy, light drink that’s generally liked by foreign beer lovers. Perhaps not the smoothest of beers, it has a gentle flavor and is very refreshing on a warm day.
Where to stay in Malta
There is one area of Malta that takes up less than 10% of its area and is home to over 75% of the island’s residents. The Sliema-St.Julian’s area is the hub of all life in Malta. This is where you should stay. There are plenty of hotels, hostels, and Malta AirBnB accommodation options all over this area.
However, as an alternative, cheaper option in the busy summer months, you can also look for a place to stay in the Msida, Gzira, or Bugibba area. These cities are centrally located as well – you may just have less public transportation options to some places to visit in Malta.
How to get there/get around:
As Malta is an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, you’ll most commonly arrive by plane. From the airport, you can take a taxi (about $22) or the airport shuttle which is about half the price. Alternatively, a public bus will take you to anywhere on the island from the airport.
However, if you have limited time in Malta, I would recommend avoiding public transportation at all costs. One flaw about the country is the public transportation system. The buses in Malta are very slow and unreliable. The traffic around the area you’ll be spending most of your time in is too congested for a bus system to work efficiently.
You’re much better off opting for Malta car rental which will run you about $35 per day on average. Gas prices are high on the island, but the distances you have to travel are short.
American Survival Guide
A Night Out
A beer in the heart of Paceville (Malta’s infamous club district) is fairly affordable. Expect to pay around $2.50-$3.50 for a pint of locally brewed Cisk anywhere you go.
Like mentioned earlier, a Pastizzeria is the place to go for fast food in Malta. You can find many small pastry, sandwich, and pizza option for cheap. Expect to fill up on less than $3 – no matter what you eat.
Bus or Train
Public transport is fairly inexpensive in Malta when compared to other cities more regularly on a backpacking itinerary. It costs $2.20 for a two-hour ticket on any buses in Malta. In the winter season, that price falls to only $1.65 as Malta receives much more tourists in the summer.
Alternatively, you can pay about $23 and receive a week-long pass. You will need to map your itinerary and places to visit in Malta to determine if this is worth it for your trip, but I can’t imagine it ever saving you money.
There’s a fairly wide selection of places on Malta AirBnB. Generally speaking, you can usually find an entire apartment in the Sliema-St. Julian’s area for around $70 per night in the summertime. There are also very luxurious penthouse apartments starting for around $100 per night.
For an individual room, one person can normally find a bed for less than $20 per night – even in the summer.
However, if you journey outside of the heart of the tourist area just a bit, prices are lower and you can find a bed for as cheap as $13.
Malta has two national languages; Maltese and English. Since Malta was an English colony until the Sixties, they kept English around. Although, be warned, the accent can be difficult to understand at times. The Maltese language is a mixture of Arabic, Spanish, and Italian languages.
If you want cell service, it’s important to check with your provider about international charges. In addition, it’s always a good idea to alert your provider (and your bank) that you’ll be traveling internationally.
Credit Card Transaction Fees
It’s important to check your credit company’s policy on international transactions before using it abroad. There are plenty of credit cards available that advertise “No International Transaction Fees”. If you want to get a new card before leaving, find one like this.
There are a lot of places in Malta that only accept cash and using your card on small purchases is generally frowned upon in Malta.
Things to have before you arrive
It’s not imperative; however, I’ve always found travel much more relaxing when you arrive without a dire need of any essentials. Here are a few of them:
- Electrical Adaptors
- Power Bank
- Offline Map (app)
- Directions to your accommodation
Malta is a country a part of the European Union – which means Americans are granted 90-days in a 180-day period to travel freely throughout the E.U. This means if you plan to be in Europe for longer than three months, you should take a look at this.
In Malta, tipping is common. A 5% tip is an acceptable amount as waiters tend to make a higher salary in Malta. Be careful that gratuity isn’t already included on your bill!
Discover the top things to do in Malta and places to visit in Malta
Malta and its people will always be a part of home for me after two years on the island. If you want to feel the history and culture of a place you visit, a Malta vacation is the right thing for you. This Malta travel blog is only one part of a series of Europe destination guides on Flying and Travel’s Europe travel blog.
If you want to find out more about the cost of backpacking Europe and how to plan a trip to Europe on a budget, and all that it has to offer, click on over to our Europe travel blog page dedicated to tips for backpacking Europe! You will find these to be informative, giving you excellent insight into planning a trip through this multi-cultural continent.