WHERE TO MEANDER IN MALTA
Updated: Aug 14, 2022
When I was about to turn 15, my family decided to move to the Mediterranean island of Malta. Over the next three years, that limestone rock in the middle of a bright blue sea became my home and treasure to explore, and in this post I share some of the gems I found along the way.
Malta is an incredibly unique island. Imagine tall cliffs descending into some of the clearest waters in the Mediterranean, traces of 5000 years of eventful history engraved into its limestone rock, towns full of characters and flavours it would be hard to find anywhere else. English is a national language, and the local language of Maltese is a fascinating mix of Arabic, Italian, French, and more. If you want to party, it’s (in)famous for its nightlife among Europeans, and the clubs are all concentrated along a stairwell leading down to a beach. Many a midnight swim I’ve had…so let’s dive in.
Where do I…
...get lost along narrow alleyways
Valletta: The capital of Malta is full of beautiful baroque buildings perched behind a wall facing the Mediterranean and all those intrepid European invaders of yore. A great place to lose your way among narrow alleyways, discover a hidden historic monument, or run into locals at a popular pub. Note that the city gets sleepy after 7PM, when the action moves to Sliema & especially St. Julians.
Mdina: Mdina is my favorite place in Malta. It is called “the silent city” because cars aren’t allowed within its walled citadel. Walk down deserted cobblestoned streets where the cats that govern the town are lounging on sunny stone steps under veils of bougainvillea. You might catch a Maltese wedding at the cathedral (I’ve caught one at least twice) and don’t leave without having cake at Fontanella Tea Gardens.
...admire the Mediterranean
Upper Barakka Gardens: Gardens in Valletta that give you a gorgeous view of the three cities and the Grand Harbour. The Grand Harbour is one of the deepest natural harbours in the Mediterranean, and a popular stopover for cruise ships. Sometimes there is live music in the gardens!
Mdina city wall: It’s Mdina. ‘Nuff said.
Sliema Promenade: Beautiful park/greenery running alongside the coastline from St. Julians to Tigne Point in Sliema. You can also take a dip in the Mediterranean from any point along here.
Spinola Bay: Spinola Bay is known as “the place with the love sign” and a major meeting point for locals. Fun fact: I used to live above the supermarket right near it.
Dingli Cliffs: beautiful cliffs along the south side of the island. Great hike in conjunction with a visit to Mdina (take bus 70 from Mdina).
...dive into the Mediterranean
Ghajn Tuffieha: Most beautiful beach on the island. Bus 225 goes there. Great hiking around it. DON’T go to Golden Bay, which isn't as wild.
Qui Si Sana or anywhere really along the Sliema and St. Julians waterfront promenade: I used to live right across from a great swim spot in Qui Si sana. From our 8th floor balcony you could see all the way to the bottom of the ocean floor. That is how clear the water is! The limestone has made little miniature square pools at that spot, and many spots along the Sliema coastline, and from there you can swim to a sizable cave.
...discover pirates caves
Comino: Luzzu cruises runs affordable (and slightly less touristy) day trips to Comino and the pirates caves. 35 EUR, open bar included.
The Blue Grotto: Somewhat touristy but still really cool.
…reflect on the past
Mdina: Walk around the citadel. Pop into old churches. Get lost inside secret courtyards. Check out the catacombs before or after checking out the walled citadel. Spooky but informative.
Valletta: This is the place to wander around and get lost (and make sure to arrive by water taxi, which you can grab from the Strand in Sliema). St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral is magnificent. Check out the Museum of Archaeology for some info on Malta’s past.
Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples: See 5,000 year old monuments on the south side of the Island, constructed by the people most famous for the “fat ladies of Malta”.
Verdala School: had to add the old British limestone fort that is now my high school. Unfortunately we don’t have goats in the moat anymore. No one knows what happened to them. Malta is the kind of place where goats disappear in a moat...
...learn about Malta’s myths and magic
Mosta Dome: During a WW2 air raid (Malta had it worse than London) a bomb fell straight through the center of this dome, visible from practically every point on the island, and it didn’t go off (technical defect or god-given miracle, who knows?). The dome has been considered particularly sacred ever since.
The Jesus Tree: There is a tree just below the Mdina citadel that has a trunk looking like Jesus on the cross, that was according to local legend created after it was struck by lightning. The locals leave small gifts and flowers at the foot of the tree to honor it.
Luzzus in Marsaxlokk Harbour (and every Maltese harbour really): These colorful boats have been used by fishermen in Malta for generations. The eye of Isis (the Egyptian goddess, NOT the group terrorizing the world right now) was supposed to protect them from evil spirits and malicious sea creatures.
...make friends with locals
Any local pub, swimming spot, park...the Maltese are friendly and very opinionated. People of character that you should get to know!
FOOD & DRINK
Mint: bakery and cafe in Sliema owned by a couple from New Zealand. Delicious food!
Cafe Juliani: my favorite writing/working cafe, located in Spinola Bay.
...eat lunch & dinner
Gululu: Maltese cuisine overlooking the water in Spinola Bay. The national dish is rabbit. If they have fenkata (rabbit stew), try it!
Vecchia Napoli: my favorite pizza place when I lived on the island. You can sit outside, right near the water.
Exiles Beach Bar: chill lounge and restaurant right on the water in Sliema.
...have a snack
PASTIZZERIAS: These greasy flaky pastries sold out of hole-in-the-walls are the ultimate mid-afternoon snack / late-night drunk food. Common fillings are either ricotta or peas mash.
Gelat d’or: My favorite gelato place, near where I used to live on Triq Gorg Borg Olivier. Hopefully it still exists!
…take shots with European teenagers
Nordic Bar: I was one of the first patrons when it opened, and excited to see it is still going strong. The Nordics know how to party. When I frequented there, they would also give you a tray of shots for 1 euro if you rolled a 6 on a dice. DANGEROUS.
Hugo’s: a popular tapas restaurant and bar. It can get pretty wild!
Twenty Two: rooftop bar on Malta’s first skyscraper (the Hilton tower).
LOCAL FOOD & DRINK TO TRY:
Lampuki pie (dolphin fish pie!)
Fenkata (rabbit stew)
Nougat (buy it off carts on the Sliema waterfront - so many different flavours!)
Wine (Marsovin vineyards is one of the most popular producers)
Prickly pear liqueur (great souvenir)
Prickly pear jam (once again, a popular souvenir - just don’t try to pick a pear yourself. They truly are prickly!)
Hobz biz zejt (Maltese bruschetta)
SUGGESTED 4-DAY ITINERARY
Day 1 - Wednesday (Sliema & Valletta)
Arrive to hostel
Brunch at Mint
Morning swim in Qui Si Sana
Tigne waterfront walk
Water taxi to Valletta from the Strand
Exploring narrow alleyways
St. Paul’s Co-cathedral
sunset at Upper Barakka Gardens*
Dinner at Ta Xibu Wine Bar
Other food & drink recommendations:
Cafe Cordina for classic Maltese ftira (round flatbread)
Cafe Jubilee to get a taste of what Valletta was like during British rule
Offbeat Music Bar for live jazz
Day 2 - Thursday (Gozo & Comino Day Trip OR Megalithic Temples & Blue Grotto)
Gozo & Comino option:
Luzzu Cruises to Gozo, Comino & Caves (leaves 10:00 from Sliema, returns 17:30, $35 incl open bar), includes:
Blue Lagoon (1.5 hrs)
Day 3 - Friday (Mdina & Dingli & Paceville)
Blue Grotto & Megalithic Temples
Boat ride to blue grotto & swimming/snorkelling
Haqar Qim & Mnajdra temples tour
Bus back to Valletta
Getting lost in the walled city
Cake at Fontanella Tea Gardens
St Julians (food & drink)
Dinner in Spinola Bay
Twenty Two rooftop bar
Juuls for mojitos
Nordic Bar for shots
Pastizzi!!! (best drunk food)
Day 4 - Saturday (Ghajn Tuffieha + temples?)
Brunch at Cafe Juliani
Ghajn Tuffieha (pronounced Eye-en Tough-ee-eha)
Take bus 225
Chill on beach (don’t get off at Golden Bay, make sure you take the narrow staircase down to Ghajn Tuffieha)
Go for a brief hike up the opposite end of the beach from the staircase. There are some cool caves there.
Dinner at Vecchia Napoli (pizza right off the promenade) or Exiles (Mediterranean lounge right on the water)
Dessert at Gelat d’or
Evening stroll along promenade
Marsaxlokk Fish Market on Sunday mornings & St. Georges Pool
Now that I have hopefully piqued your interest in visiting this fascinating city, here is some useful info.
🗣 Language: Maltese, a unique blend of Arabic and romance languages that is the only official Semitic language in the EU
💵 Currency: EUR
💸 Tipping: Not necessary, but if service is good, round up slightly
🚰 Tap water: safe to drink
🚕 Transportation: There are plenty of buses to navigate the island, and Uber is also available in addition to regular taxis. The island is small so it takes no more than 20 mins to drive anywhere, but beware of some crazy driving!
🏛 Favorite fun fact: Tiny Malta has a whopping 359 churches, almost one for every day of the year, to serve a devout Roman Catholic population.