My Malta Story and How to Make it Yours Too
I’m the type of person that gets excited crossing an item off of my Sunday to do list, so just imagine how excited I am when I get to cross off a new country on my travel map. Malta marked country number 18 for me, and I have to say it is my most favorite place yet! I want to uncross it and cross it off over and over again!
Most people have never heard of Malta, and if you are one of those people then you are most definitely missing out- so allow me to change that!
- Malta is an archipelago just south of Italy and is sometimes confused as a city in Italy instead of its own country. It is made up of seven islands, only three of which are inhabited and one of the three has only four permanent residents!
- Although Malta is the smallest country in the European Union, it is the 8th most densely populated country in the world. If you were to pick up Malta and put it inside the United States, it would fit 30,443 times!
- Malta has 2 official languages- English and Maltese, but 90% of people can speak English.
- Cars drive on the left side of the road.
- Many popular movies and TV shows are filmed in Malta including Gladiator, Troy, Popeye, and Game of Thrones.
Ever since I was little I’ve dreamt of going to Malta as both my grandparents, Nanna and Nannu as they are called in Maltese, were born and raised there until immigrating to United States in their 20’s. Growing up I’ve heard story after story about what life was like there and I couldn’t wait until I could see it for myself. Being the first person in my family to visit Malta, you can imagine the excitement when I told my Nanna that it was time to cross it off my bucket list. I heard the stories from her all over again, which made me that much more excited to make my own story.
If you’re ready to make Malta your next story read on, and I’ll tell you just how to do it.
How to get there
There aren’t many direct flights from the US to Malta and if you do happen to find one you’re going to pay a pretty penny for it. My recommendation is to start from Europe, and if you’re already in Europe reading this then you’re one step closer! The airline ‘Air Malta’ is a budget airline that offers cheap flights to Malta from other European cities. I flew into Milan, Italy and without leaving the airport took the Air Malta flight from there for under $100; it was just like having a layover.
Where to stay
The city of Sliema. Sliema is a city right on the Mediterranean sea. I stayed in an amazing airbnb here that was steps from the water and had a spacious balcony overlooking the sea. There is promenade full of shops and restaurants along the water in addition to a sunbathing/swimming area. A few blocks down you’ll find the ferry port where all of the boat trips depart from, making this an excellent central location for exploring the entire island and the others.
Julian’s Bay is a very lively area full of bars and restaurants. It is next door to Paceville, the night life center of Malta. If partying is what you’re looking for then this is a great choice. However, Sliema is only a 20 minute walk away if you chose to stay there instead.
What to eat in Malta
Pastizzi’s are Matlta’s national snack! They are flaky pastries and come with many different fillings, the most popular being ricotta cheese or peas. Growing up, my grandparents made these for every family gathering so I felt pretty spoiled to be able to eat these everyday on my trip. In Malta you can find these just about anywhere, from specialty shops, restaurants, and bars. I had never had a dessert pastizzi before and found one with Nutella filling which was the most delicious thing ever!
Rabbit stew is the national dish of Malta. You can find it on just about every menu, so be sure to try it at least once. As Malta is surrounded by water you’ll find fresh fish at just about every restaurant too. The fish is caught daily and sold at the Marsaloxx market (which you’ll find on my list of places to see).
What to Do- Take a Day Trip to Gozo and Comino
As I mentioned above, Malta is an archipelago made of seven islands. Aside from Malta, the other two inhabitable islands are Gozo and Comino. The only way to reach these islands is by ferry, which you can find from the Sliema ferry port. Around the ferry port in addition to the public ferry boat, you’ll find the typical tourist stands which offer day trips and half day cruises to these two islands; I opted to take one of these tours through Captain Morgan Cruises. After a twenty minute boat ride, we arrived in Gozo and boarded a bus to explore the sights of the island. The most famous being the Azur Window. I learned that the Azur Window is a limestone natural arch created after two sea caves collapsed. The views are breathtaking and the bus stopped for 30 minutes to allow time to take pictures and explore.
After Gozo we got back on the boat and cruised another 10 minutes to the island of Comino. This is the third inhabited island with only four residents. Comino is home to the blue lagoon, known for its crystal clear turquoise waters. Here you have the opportunity to sunbathe, swim, or for 10 euros you can take a speed boat ride through the blue water to some of the hidden caves, which I highly recommend!
What to Do- Spend a Day at One of the Many Beaches
Malta has many beautiful beaches and a trip isn’t complete without a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. If swimming isn’t your thing, the coastline itself is beautiful and you won’t be disappointed with a walk along it. There are two types of beaches that you’ll find in Malta, sandy beaches and rocky beaches. The Sliema sea front is one of the rocky beaches and if you’re staying in Sliema this one is hard to miss! Instead of sunbathing on the sand, you’ll find people laying out on top of the rocks soaking up the sun. On a hot day, the rock spots fill up fast so be sure to lay your towel out early. To cool off it’s easy to dip into the sea, there are many ladders going down from the rocks to the water and is quite a unique experience. If you prefer sandy beaches, there is no shortage of these earlier, my favorites were Mellieha and Golden. At these beaches you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas to make your day in the sun most enjoyable.
What to See- Marsaloxx and the Blue Grotto
I enjoyed the Gozo and Comino tour so much that I decided to take another tour the next day. This one started off by taking us via coach bus to one of Malta’s most famous jewels, the Blue Grotto. Upon arrival you’ll see dozens of row boats lined up in the water ready to take tourists into the caves. Although the row boat was not included in the excursion price, it’s the only way to get up close to Grottos so is well worth the extra 8e. Once inside the row boat, you’re taken around the caves and inside the many hidden grottos where you’ll see the most striking glowing blue water imaginable.
After finishing touring the Blue Grotto we got back on the bus and road to the town of Marsaloxx, the cutest little fishing village. Here you’ll find traditional wooden Maltese fishing boats known as Luzzus, painted in bright colors all lined up along the canal. On each Luzzu is a pair of eyes on each side at the bow. These eyes are called the Eyes of Osiris and are believed to protect the fishing boats from the evil spirits while at sea.
Sunday morning is the best time to visit Marasolxx as there is an open air market along the canal. Here you will find many locals doing their weekly shopping. In addition to fresh fish, fruits, and vegetables you’ll find stalls selling clothes, flowers, electronics, kitchen utensils, shoes, and even souvenirs. The tour allowed a couple hours here to browse the market and enjoy lunch along the canal before returning back.
What to see- Valletta, Malta
Valletta is the capital of Malta and is a must see. Although there are tours you can take to guide you through Valletta, I chose to explore this part of the city on my own. From the Sliema ferry port you’ll find a ferry that travels directly to Valletta and back. The view of the city as you cruise in is worth the visit itself. Once you arrive, my best recommendation is to walk the streets and explore.
John’s Co-Cathedral is one of the main sights on this part of the island. Entrance costs 10E and includes a handheld audio guide with 24 stops throughout the church. Inside you’ll find beautiful ceilings, paintings, and architecture typical of a European cathedral.
The Upper Barrakka Gardens overlook the Grand Harbour and offer the best panoramic view of Malta and the Mediterranean Sea. The Barrakka lift is a free elevator that takes you 38 meters up from the Grand Harbour to the Gardens. You can choose to skip the elevator and climb up to the gardens yourself too.
Strolling the streets of Valletta you’ll find many gold shops, cafes, and restaurants. You can spend hours here just enjoying the city.
What to do- Book a Malta Adventure Excursion
If excursions are your thing, Malta has you covered. Excursions in Malta is a local tour booking agency that offers many half day and full day activities such as horseback riding, jeep tours, swimming with dolphins, and the one I chose; the quad bike adventure. This excursion was probably the highlight of my trip! I chose the half day one, and spent the morning cruising around on the quad bike seeing places that I otherwise would not have seen. If you recall above in my fun facts about Malta, cars drive on the left side of the road, which is something that I am not used too, which made driving the quad bikes even more fun, and dare I say a bit scary at first!
Two of my favorite stops were the Dingli Cliffs and Popeye Village. The Dingli Cliffs are the highest point of the Maltese Islands about 253 meters above sea level. Needless to stay, the view from the top was breathtaking.
Popeye Village was the film set of the 1980 movie Popeye, and today is a tourist attraction. We didn’t go into the village but was still able to admire the bright colors and turquoise water from the top.
I hope that you’ll be able to visit Malta someday too and create your own Malta story.