Malta was unlike anywhere I have ever visited before. I didn’t really know what to expect but it was a place that caught me off-guard. I had heard a lot of mixed things about Malta before visiting. Some loved it and some wouldn’t go back. Other people didn’t even know where Malta is. One person asked me if it was a city in Italy?!
One thing is for sure though, anyone asked to describe Malta would find it quite difficult. It’s a place where cultures have collided over centuries; it’s vibrant, rugged, quaint, crazy and even a bit strange. There were times it made us feel we were in the Middle East or North Africa. And then other times we felt back in Europe.
I do want to be completely transparent here. After all, this is a travel blog and I set out to share my true experiences. There were definitely experiences in Malta that I did not enjoy. There were moments where I felt unsafe; despite almost everyone that we met being so lovely. The nightlife scene was fun, but at times felt very… dirty? I truly believe the main culprit on this trip was public transport. Yes, Malta does have a great public transport system as most would boast, but it only comprises of buses. In peak season, you could be waiting hours for a bus that will ACTUALLY LET YOU GET ON which will ultimately mess up all your plans for the day. Traffic is an issue too. Although the island is small, a 15 minute drive can easily turn into a 2-3 hour drive on a bus. If we had hired a car, I’m sure I would have seen all of this in a very different light (note: highly recommend renting a car).
Try to avoid visiting during public holidays as when we visited, it was St Augustine’s day which turned into a week long celebration and almost all shops/restaurants/bars were closed and cities were deserted. You also want to consider peak season; by the time we arrived at the Blue Lagoon in the morning, it was so packed there was absolutely no where to sit or swim and it did ruin the experience somewhat. It was such an incredibly beautiful place, if only it wasn’t swarmed with tourists (ironic, I know – considering we were tourists too).
Don’t get me wrong, Malta was stunning and I think everyone should visit (I would still like to return one day) and the good did outweigh the bad. Those were just a few things I thought I would tell you first for anyone deciding to visit – obviously traveling isn’t always rainbows and unicorns!
Where to stay
Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz. Remember Malta is actually made up of 3 islands, Gozo being the other big one. If you’re heading to the Blue Lagoon which is between Malta and Gozo Island, you might want to keep on going to Gozo and spend a night or two there. Gozo’s top hotel, the Kempinski sits on the edge of a traditional village near the coast with several outdoor and indoor swimming pools and one of the best spas in Malta.
Domus Zamittello. A beautiful 16th-century Valletta palazzo restored and converted into a smart boutique hotel right on Valletta’s main street. It overlooks City Gate, the new parliament building, and the open-air theatre.
Valetta Suites. A haven for the design conscious: modern luxury meets historic charm in these apartment suites and unassuming townhouse. Thes suites are one of the most stylish and contemporary places to stay in the city. Small extras include free wi-fi; a great sun-trap terrace, iPod sound-docks and on-demand movies.
In St Julians:
Hotel Juliani. The only luxury boutique hotel in St Julian’s, this is a tranquil oasis — complete with rooftop pool — in the heart of this bustling area of restaurants, bars and hotels.
AX The Palace. A five-star contemporary hotel in the heart of an upmarket residential area minutes from the Sliema Waterfront, rock swimming, boat trips, shops and restaurants. The Palace has designer décor and boutique atmosphere
Cugo Gran Macina Grand Harbour Hotel. The first luxury hotel in Senglea, just across the Grand Harbour from Valletta. Built into and around fortifications dating from when the Knights still ruled Malta, the Cugo Gran Macina merges clean-cut modern with historic features.
The Xara Palace Relais & Chateaux. The five-star Xara Palace, a converted seventeeth-century palazzo, is the only hotel in Mdina, offering the chance to be part of ‘The Silent City’ when the tour groups have gone.
What to do in Malta
Visit the Blue Lagoon
A short 15-minute ferry ride to Comino island will take you to one of the most beautiful sights on Malta, the Blue Lagoon! The water is perhaps the clearest I have ever come across and I do see why so many people flock here during summer, but I would try to avoid high season here. Even if you arrive before lunch, it is already packed with people and boats. My advice would be to catch one of the first ferries and arrive in the early morning so you can find a spot to sit and take it all in before the crowds arrive. There’s plenty of food and drink around too including pineapples filled with your cocktail of choice (I went for pina colada, obviously).
Explore the capital city of Valletta
You could easily spend the entire day in Valletta exploring, shopping, eating and drinking. It’s one of those places to get lost in – the small laneways have the cutest coffee, wine and cocktail bars!
Spend a day at the beaches
Malta is known as a top beach destination in Europe and there are many to discover on the island. Malta’s most popular beaches are Mellieħa Bay, Għajn Tuffieħa and Golden Bay. For smaller, quieter beaches, try those at the tip of Malta, overlooking Gozo – Paradise Bay and Armier.
Spend overnight in Gozo
Stay at Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz! We went from Malta (in St Julians), to the Blue Lagoon and then Gozo in a day and I probably would not recommend it. We spent more time on transport than anything else! If I had to do it over, I would spend the night in Gozo and explore the island, swim in the dwejra, find a nice spot for dinner and enjoy things at a slower pace.
Explore the old capital city of Mdina
Mdina is a golden-stone Arabic walled city and the former capital of Malta. Venture off the main streets into the hidden laneways for the most intricate architecture.
Swim in the Blue Grotto
Sadly this is where Azure Window once was before it was destroyed by a storm earlier this year, but the blue grotto still remains in Gozo and is a popular photography and swimming spot. Also don’t leave without taking a 2 euro boat ride tour through the caves!
Party until the early hours
Something that took me by surprise was how vibrant the nightlife scene was over there. There are events happening all week but Paceville is known as the nightlife hub. You could easily confuse a Saturday night for a Monday because every night feels like a weekend there. People flood the streets until the very early hours of the morning. There’s clubs upon clubs, beach bars, rooftop bars, lounges, more clubs, pubs, and casinos.
Explore the Megalithic temples
The Megalithic temples of Malta are UNESCO World Heritage Sites built between 3600 BC and 700 BC. This makes them among the oldest free-standing structures in the world.
Take a water taxi from Valetta
Take a water taxi from Valetta to the historic towns of Senglea and Vittoriosa using the traditional Maltese boat known as ‘dgħajsa’.
Check out Popeye Village
This village was built as the actual set used to shoot the 1980 film Popeye and is now a theme park. We didn’t end up going here as it felt a bit too touristy but it would be ideal if you’re in a family as there are lots of activities for the kids. Whilst you’re there take a refreshing dip in Anchor Bay!
Where to eat & drink
Villa Corinthia: As one of the stand-out restaurants in Malta, Villa Corinthia serves local, authentic dishes made with the finest produce.
Hugo’s Terrace: As someone who is not a big meat eater (I don’t think I’ve ever ordered steak off a menu), their mixed grill platter was one of the best meals of my life. It was served in absinthe rock on fire and I still dream of it to this day. Other platters include Italian, cheese, mini burgers and seafood. All that’s left is to pair it with one of their specialty cocktails.
Tal Petut: A family style restaurant in Birgu that has no menu, but rather they offer a plate of various appetizers followed by a selection of mains. Simply let the waiter guide you and take his suggestions – you will not be disappointed.
Wild Honey: Tucked into a cute, cosy laneway in Valetta, Wild Honey is a quirky Cafe-Bistro-Wine bar. We stopped here to order coffee, wine and a fresh antipasto platter while exploring the city and it was just perfect. I plan on going back to try the homemade pasta and intriguing cocktails.
Have you ever visited Malta before? Is it somewhere you’d love to go? I’d love to hear all your thoughts in the comments!