Still under explored by travellers, this tiny island sure took my ordinary summer holidays to a whole other level! This is all about Malta Island you need to know for your next holidays: what to do, where to go and a complete itinerary and how to get around.
Malta island still has a reputation of another Mediterranean destination for doing some soulless beach holidays that I had a slight distrust it did not correspond to the reality.
And my hunch was right.
While hanging out near the crystal azure waters is surely rewarding during the hot summer days, Malta is primarily an island of contrasts, filled with an enriched tradition arising from its tangled and rewarding history.
WHERE IS MALTA ISLAND ON THE MEDITERRANEAN
Map of Malta Island
Malta sits south of Sicilia, right in the heart of the Mediterranean. Its main towns are Mellieha, Valletta and Mosta.
To try to see the most of the island we divided our stays between two places: a few days in the relaxing and beachy north of Malta, in Mellieha plus a few more days in lively urban Sliema. Today I can say this was the best possible option as it allowed to complete our list of places we wanted to see much more efficiently.
Getting around the island
While planning to this trip, the first question we asked ourselves was:
– Should we rent a car in Malta?
Obviously, a car can take you to the remote places much more quickly as you have total freedom to explore not only Malta but also Gozo. However, after reading a ton of travellers complaining about how horrendous was to drive in Malta (poor driving standards and horrible signage were the hot topics) I began to feel uncomfortable with the idea. And then I came across with this maltese saying:
In the UK they drive on the left. In the US they drive on the right. In Malta we drive on the shade.
Even though I have gone on road trips in the past, I can’t drive. I mean, seriously. I can’t even drive properly in an empty road, how on earth would I be dealing with traffic madness in a small island ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD?! No way.
We headed for option B. A 7-day public bus ticket (it is actually a piece of paper) costed only 6,50€. Shockingly cheap! Of course this brings the inconvenient of relying on schedules, but we were aware of the times between bus passages and sometimes, used Google Maps to find out the bus schedule. We visited Blue Lagoon, Ghadira Bay, Ghajn Tuffieha, Mdina, Marsaxlokk and Valletta pretty easily, just by using bus.
While in the major bus routes the buses are modern with comfortable seats, in smaller ones, my favorites, you get a bumpy ride in a mini-van throughout the middle of nowhere. This russian roulette of comfort just added to the experience!
PART 1 – THE NORTH PART OF THE ISLAND OF MALTA
In the first part of our trip, we headed north. After a crazy taxi ride from the airport with a driver that didn’t know what Portugal was, we arrived at Mellieha. With is very laid-back pace, it’s the ideal place to rest without the hype of tourist crowds. You can enjoy little big things like seeing the stars at night or watching the sunsets while still swimming at the beach:
Still, the best thing about Mellieha (or anywhere in the Northern part of Malta) is that gives you access to several sandy beaches such as Ghadira Bay, Paradise Bay or Armier Bay or even diving spots like Popeye Village (where the original 1980 movie was filmed). Make sure you go to Ghajn Tuffieha as well. The beach itself is quieter, there are free boat rides to the coast nearby and I was delighted with the views around the bay I managed to get after some exploration.
Mellieha is also a short bus trip away from the Cirkewwa Terminal, where the ferries to Gozo and Comino islands depart. You can read about my excitement on the crystal clear waters of the Blue Lagoon in Comino. Seriously, I don’t want to repeat myself saying how COOL is that places so I’m just gonna move on.
Besides the beaches, while we were based on Mellieha we also explored Mdina, located in the heart of the island and dating back 4,000 years(!). It is now nicknamed Silent City and you immediately know why. Walking its narrow streets and monochromatic alleyways provides a relaxing atmosphere. Very few cars are allowed and there are several silence signs scattered by the city. It makes you dive back into time right after you cross the city walls.
The Phoenicians knew what they were doing when they founded and fortified Mdina. It benefits from being the island’s highest point, far away from the sea which is perfect to ensure protection from the enemies. Mdina was made the capital of Malta in 1091 by the Normans and stayed that way until 1530, when the Knights of Malta decided to move it to Vittoriosa, one of the three fortified cities across the Grand Harbour in Valetta.
The truth is that unless you are an architecture savvy, there are not that many specific sights to see in Mdina. It is one of those places where I eventually saved the map in my pocket and just wander around the streets until I get lost imagining how it was like to live there in the past. Or until I need to find a shadow to avoid being cooked because of the hot blazing sun. But I loved Mdina, I just wished I could have been there by night for a creepy walk!
The north had been amazing so far, but it was time to make camp in the South!
PART 2 – THE SOUTH PART OF THE ISLAND OF MALTA
From the south part of Malta’s exploration, we were based in Sliema in an hotel near to awful. No air-conditioning, no wifi, no friendliness, no nothing. One of my biggest fails in online booking accommodation’s history! I can’t help myself: It was so bad I have to say it was Alborada Apart Hotel! Seriously, stay away from it. We just wanted a place to crash at night, but still was not very clean and had depressing views to an abandoned building. Overall, probably the most soulless place I’ve ever been!
Moving on. Sliema, along with St. Julian’s next door, is the center of the world for both the Maltese and tourists. It’s got the majority of the hotels, the shopping centers, the seafront, the nightlife and even a place to swim with a very nice view of Valetta.
Actually, from Sliema you can have the best views from the capital and I can confirm La Valletta is definitely a charm from any angle.
In addition, being only a 10-minute ferry trip away from Valetta, Sliema also gives you access to the biggest bus terminal in the island. It was from there that we hop on the bus 81 to visit Marsaxlokk.
The promenade between Sliema and St. Julians also have a ton of restaurants that fill up at night. We decided not to risk tourist traps and went for the inner streets in search of typical Maltese food. We did find one amazingly good. It’s called Trakis and it has the most popular maltese dish, rabbit cooked in garlic and wine, as well as other highly-caloric but delicious dishes.
Another day, another stop. Further southeast in the island, there’s Marsaxlokk. It’s the main fishing harbour in Malta and it’s base for 70% of the island’s fishing fleet. It is the best place to see the Luzzus, the traditional Maltese fishing boats which all have the mythical eye of Osiris painted on their prows. It is quite a scenery to see such a colorful bay! However, the smell of fish can be quite intense sometimes…
St. Peter’s Pool was nearby so we decided to ask what was the best way to get there. And nice man offered himself to take us there and picked us up later in the afternoon. Next thing we knew we were sitting on the back of a dark van. While we appeared to have created a kidnap situation, when the only way to get there is a dangerously narrow dirt road, even a hostage-like 20-min journey is better than walking.
Once again, the sea at St. Peter’s natural pools has an amazing mix of azure and green colors, offering both a swimming bliss and a perfect snorkel opportunity. We did both quite enthusiastically.
It is a bit of a remote place, not so easy to find and there are no facilities of any kind. As a result, there weren’t nearly as many people as in other beaches in Malta.
I adventured myself jumping into the waters from several meters up. Actually it was only 4 or 5 meters, but hey as I’m terribly afraid of heights, for me it seemed 20m or 30m!
St. Peter’s Pool is a real treat for people looking for a special spot out of the busy areas. You can experience the beautiful Mediterranean without laying on one of its thousands of tourist-crowded beaches. This is what makes this island unique, I think. And it left me wondering how many more places like this Malta has to offer.
MALTA TRAVEL INFORMATION
How to get there
Even though there are ferry boats available, you’ll want to get to Malta by air. Malta Luqa airport is well connected to several european countries, specially Italy, Spain and the U.K.
Where to stay
Valletta or Mellieha are some interesting places to stay in the island. Avoid St Julians or Sliema unless you’re in Malta just for the booze.
I’ve pre-selected the best hotels in Malta island for you to start your search. These are well-located, with WiFi and with good-to-excellent reviews, can’t go wrong!
How to get around
As for transportation, the decent network of buses is a great value-for-money option to get around in Malta. I feel that is safer than driving in the road madness of the island.
Do not miss
Mdina, the Silent City. The Blue Lagoon, despite the crowds and some jellyfish. And the views from the Grand Harbour from the Upper Barakka Gardens.
What to eat
Pastizzi. These palm-size layers of crispy pastry filled with either ricota cheese (the best ones) or pea (funny taste) are cheap street food and a very tasty snack!
Have you been to Malta? What were your best experiences there?