A Complete Guide to Malta
Author: Jasmine Jenkins "Make You Wander"
The Maltese islands in the Mediterranean Sea are underestimated by most but were home to me for almost four months, where I had the time to explore all that Malta and Gozo have to offer.
Whatever your vice, these Maltese islands are bound to cater to your travel needs and are sure worth a visit!
Colorful and vibrant Harbor on Malta
A Medieval Mediterranean Archipelago
Abundant with rustic sandstone architecture,
cultural influence and live music echoing through veins of cobbled streets
Southern Malta is mostly untouched by tourism and offers an intriguing insight into Maltese history combining Northern Africa, Southern Europe and the Middle East in the Mediterranean Sea. This little island is bursting with culture and history, and there are plenty of museums and historical attractions to explore around the Three Cities of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.
Southern Malta is mostly untouched by tourism and offers an intriguing insight into Maltese history combining Northern Africa, Southern Europe and the Middle East in the Mediterranean Sea.
Grand Harbour Marina with Yachts and historical architecture side by side
Here, you’ll find the oldest examples of Malta’s architecture including churches, forts, bastions and palaces. We used Rolling Geeks to tour the cities and highly recommend renting one of their pre-programmed GPS buggies to take you on the perfect tour complete with an audio guide, it was really great fun to be able to explore the area at your own pace and drive through the Maltese streets. Rolling Geeks is located inside the Grand Harbour Marina, Vittoriosa just before the bridge.
The busy Grand Harbour marina itself is a grand spectacle, crowded with lush white yachts glinting in the sunlight it makes for a stark comparison to the Maltese landscape. Malta is often visited by superyachts as big as 110m lulling in the bay and is well worth a stroll down the dock just to see how the other half live!
The Capitol of Culture
Across the Grand Harbour Marina from Birgu, Valletta is connected by pedestrian ferries every 30 minutes for a £3 return trip. Alternatively, local water taxis resembling Venetian gondolas cruise the harbour for £2; some play music, they’re often bickering and if it’s windy you could get a little wet… but it’s much more fun! Whichever you choose, crossing the harbour between Birgu and Valletta is more affordable and much quicker than by taxi and is recommended as you get to bypass the superyachts on the way!
From Valletta’s waterfront, the Barrakka Lift is the quickest way into the centre and takes you directly into the heart of the city. Located just across the zebra crossing, entry is free if you crossed via ferry, or otherwise a simple €1. From here, be sure to snap the panoramic views overlooking the Three Cities on your right as you exit the lift.
This year, Valletta was crowned the European Capital of Culture and this city will certainly charm you with its veins of quaint cobbled streets lined with walls of sandstone and terracotta.
The rustic architecture of Malta romanticizes this small island
and provides the perfect setting for this cultural hub of activity which thrives all year round.
Island Romance of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea
Valletta is a quickly developing city brimming with quirky bars, cafes and restaurants. Some noteworthy establishments of Valletta include The Thirsty Barber, StrEAT Whisky Bistro, Yard 32 Gin & Tapas Bar and Cafe Society. There is a heavily Westernised influence on cuisine, however, a multitude of local eateries offer traditional Maltese dishes which I can only describe as simple with ingredients but rich in taste.
Rabbit is a popular speciality, served either as a stew or in garlic and wine. Many restaurants also offer fresh locally caught seafood and European dishes.
Malta is among the most densely populated countries in the world and receives a significant amount of tourism during the Summer months and can feel like a bit of a concrete jungle in places. I recommend avoiding the peak Summer season if you value your personal space and visiting either between March and May or September as Valletta especially can get very crowded.
The Party District
Malta also has a vibrant nightlife, in particular, the party district of St Julian’s and Paceville. Mostly a hub of Gentlemen’s Clubs, Paceville can be great fun on occasion to let off some steam with plenty of clubs and shisha bars. Most nights we found ourselves in Hugo’s establishment. You name it, Hugo probably owns it, with the largest chain of Hospitality outlets in Malta comprising of restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs and hotels.
The busy bar/restaurant Hugo’s Lounge, in particular, felt like a central hub for the area’s nightlife and always looked after us very well. They do some fantastic cocktails and sushi and accommodate large parties but booking in advance is recommended. We visited often whilst in Malta and celebrated New Year’s Eve here. Although guaranteed to be great fun, there is little sign of culture to be found in St Julian’s or Paceville.
The Silent City
Mosta is one of the largest towns on the island, located inland and most famous among locals and visitors for the Rotunda church, the third largest unsupported dome in the world.
Just east of Mosta lies the Old Capital of Malta, Mdina which goes by many names including the Silent City and the Noble City. Together with the neighbouring village of Rabat, this region is highly regarded for its rural character and natural beauty.
Internationally recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mdina is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city and boasts an extraordinary mix of medieval and baroque architecture
Diving in the North
Malta is highly regarded in the diving community for the many shipwrecks dotted around the archipelago, in particular, Cirkewwa, Mellieha on the Northern tip. This is probably the best dive site in Malta as there are several dive sites of interest within a 40m proximity including the P29 and Rozi shipwrecks, Paradise Bay, Susie’s Pool and the Right Arch. I visited these sites with Dawn Diving from St Paul’s Bay, who I highly recommend. I dived with Trevor and Ian who are friendly, fun, experienced dive instructors and well respected in the area. You can expect to see groupers, barracudas, eels and a variety of flora and fauna. However, the Mediterranean is heavily overfished and you’ll find most of the marine life ashore in the fish markets.
Mellieha is also home to Malta’s most iconic beach, Golden Bay, which is surrounded by unspoiled countryside and popular among locals.
The Maltese islands offer some of the best diving in the Mediterranean Sea
with their clear azure waters and wide variety of underwater features.
Further North, there is Popeye’s Village which was the film set for the musical production. Filled with colourful, fun activities it’s a great place to visit with young ones and for those that are young at heart.
There are plenty of affordable accommodation outlets dotted around the island, especially in the tourist hotspot of St Paul’s Bay. These can be easily found online through Booking.com. I used Bugibba Rooms to rent a shared apartment for the weekend diving here which was very affordable and conveniently in the centre.
Go to Gozo!
Neighbouring Malta is the island of Gozo; a hidden gem in the Mediterranean Sea, there is more greenery here and a couple of beaches.
Smaller than Malta, you could easily travel and experience the whole island in a weekend, however, we only visited for a diving weekend away with Atlantis Diving and based ourselves in Masalforn; an idyllic seaside town with chilled vibes and a coastline brimming with locally owned bars and restaurants.
Gozo also has some fantastic dive sites. Most noteworthy is the Blue Hole in San Lawrenz, Western Gozo and Inland Sea, formerly referred to as the Azure Window. Here, the rock formation has collapsed into the sea, so although not so spectacular above water, below the surface the avalanche created a network of underwater caves and chimneys which contribute to the diversity of flora and fauna.
Advanced divers recommended due to the cave systems and access to the dive site is a little dodgy. We found ourselves trekking across slippery algae and climbing around cliffs… in full equipment with 12L tanks! Also, the inlet resembles a churning whirlpool, aptly nicknamed the ‘washing machine.’ But don’t let that put you off!
The diving is stunning with a dramatic coral reef drop off, and marine life
including nudibranch, groupers, moray eels, scorpion fish, tuna, amberjack, octopus and stingrays!
If you’re in need of a beach day, Gozo’s Ramla Bay in the Northeast has a beautiful stretch of golden sand and one solitary restaurant/cafe, however, this is the best beach you will find on the island.
Although small in size, Malta is big in character and was a home away from home to me for four months. The Maltese people were so warm and accommodating and I hope to return one day but now it is time to continue with my travels… where on earth to next? =)
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