What I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to Malta
"Malta, where is that?" You may have heard of the small archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea, between Sicily, Italy and North Africa, from the Netflix original, The Crown. Queen Elizabeth II lived there with her husband, Prince Philip, when they first got married while he was in the Royal Navy.
We had heard from friends that Malta is a great place to escape Ireland’s darkness for some sunshine, as they have sun 275 days out of the year. Plus, with its proximity to Italy and Mediterranean climate, we knew the food had to be great. So when Dan and I were looking for a last weekend trip of our European adventure, Malta ticked all the boxes: good food, sunshine, and a solid mix of culture and adventure.
While I enjoyed my time in charming Malta, I just didn’t get that wow factor like I did in Italy and Greece. There truly is a reason why those countries have that “must-see” reputation while Malta isn’t on everyone’s radar. We visited in April and perhaps Malta is better suited as a summer destination when you can enjoy ocean activities. That being said, Malta has some of the most gorgeous water I’ve ever seen and the highlight by far was our day on Gozo, one of the larger islands.
In this post, I’m going to share the do’s and don’ts to help you plan your trip to Malta. Would I fly from the US or Asia just to visit Malta? Probably not, unless I've explored a lot of Europe already. Would I add Malta to my list of destinations on a European trip if I had some extra time? Yes. Would I recommend it for a great weekend getaway for my European friends? Absolutely!
Malta has a great balance of culture, adventure and beach. With its deep and complex history, you'll find no shortage of historical places to explore. The islands are also known for their secret beaches, as long as you know where to look.
Day 1 – Explore Valletta and ferry to Sliema
Day 3 – Tour of the western side of Malta
Day 4 – Visit the Three Cities
The Do’s and Don’ts
DO plan to spend 3-4 days in Malta if you’re there in the winter, spring, or fall. You’ll find that’s plenty of time to explore the highlights of the islands. If you’re there during the summer, add an extra day or 2 to swim and explore the island’s hidden beaches.
DO go to Malta if you love to scuba dive or want to try it for the first time. While we didn’t go for it, our friends recommend Go Dive Malta.
DON’T expect the food to be as good as Italy or Greece, in my opinion. While the produce was delicious, I just didn’t think the flavors were as good.
DO plan to spend a day on Gozo. I highly recommend going on a jeep tour with Gozo Pride Tours. This day was by far my favorite of our time in Malta. You’ll see the most beautiful natural sights and shades of blue water on the small island.
DON’T expect to see the famous Azure Window in Gozo. The structure sadly collapsed in early 2017.
Instead, DO take a boat ride from the Inland Sea at Dwejra to see the cliffs from the water in Gozo. Absolutely spectacular!
DON’T expect to walk into a hot restaurant for dinner. You must make reservations unless you don’t mind eating late.
DO make sure to try the local delicacies: lampuki pie (fish pie), rabbit, bigilla, (broad beans with garlic), pastizzi (pastry filled with ricotta or mushy peas), and qassatat (flaky pie with ricotta and/or spinach).
DON’T simply rely on the public buses to travel around the island. While they are inexpensive and convenient from Valletta, you can waste a lot of time waiting for them to show up. I highly recommend hiring a driver or taking taxis for a day exploring the western side of the island. We used Freeways for 25 euro an hour.
DO spend a day exploring the west side of the island. Check out the map below for exact spots to hit!
DON'T rent a car unless you dare. The drivers in Malta are notoriously bad and from my perspective, it didn't look like they really obeyed traffic signs or speed limits.
DO spend a day in Valletta getting lost in its narrow streets and climbing its steep hills.
DO make sure to take the ferry across to Sliema from Valetta, preferably at sunset.
DON’T try to go to the Game of Thrones sight in on Manoel Island off Sliema at Fort Manoel. We tried and failed. It’s not open to the public except for a specific day maybe once a month and must be prearranged.
DO go to Sicily by ferry if you have an extra day. They offer day trips and the journey only takes 90 minutes.
DON’T expect to understand the language, but most people speak English, which is one of the official languages. Maltese is a mix of Arabic, Italian, and English.
DO get pastizzi from Crystal Palace in Rabat just outside Mdina on your day tour of the west of Malta. Make sure to try all four: pea, cheese, chicken, and anchovy.
DO take time to learn about Malta’s complex history while you’re there, especially its role in WWII.
DO take a dgħajsa, traditional Maltese boat, across to the Three Cities from Valletta.
DO make sure to always have cash. Malta is on the euro and while most restaurants take credit cards, you’ll need cash for boat rides and snacks.
DON'T drink the water. The water is safe to drink in terms of brushing your teeth, but you may not like the taste from the desalinization process as the ocean is their main water supply.
DO take a boat tour of the Blue Grotto on the western side of Malta. Another fabulous view of the island from the water. A highlight of the trip!
DON’T plan on using Uber in Malta. You can take a flat-rate taxi from the airport to your accommodation. There is a booth at arrivals where you pre-pay based on your destination city. Cash only! There are also buses if your accommodation is close to the drop-off point.
TBP's Map of Malta
Don't forget, you can save this map to bring it with you on your trip! Make sure you're signed into your Google account and simply click the star below.