If heaven was a place on earth, it would be Malta.
It feels a bit unfair to be writing this post on the entire country of Malta but since I was only there for two nights, a dedicated post to each city I visited wouldn’t have been justified. I was literally in each city for no more than a few hours! Although each were incredible, I thought it would be fitting to do an entire country guide. I am dying to go back though…and soon! And that is a very rare thing for me to say.
After visiting 11 countries in 6 months, I was pleasantly surprised at how perfect Malta was. The most comfortable weather, the hearty and delectable food, the sand-coloured walls, their wild history… Pure bliss. I was completely taken by this beautiful country and my heart is longing to one day return.
Departing a very rainy Serbia and flying into the clear blue skies into Malta, just off the southern coast of Italy, was a real treat. I was so bummed out with how badly the weather turned out in Eastern Europe so I was vying for a good dose of vitamin D. The forecast predicted sun on the day we arrived and sporadic showers the next day – you’d best believe I was going to take full advantage of the sun while I could. Luckily for us, the weather was the complete opposite and not a drop of rain fell from the sky! Lucky us.
We quickly hailed a cab from Malta International Airport (MLA) to our hotel. The ride over was a gorgeous introduction to Malta: low, tanned buildings, sights of the Mediterranean Sea, yachts upon yachts anchored in the neighbouring harbor – an absolutely incredible sight to see. Our hotel, Cugo Gran Macina Grand Harbour, was a total gem. Housed in a former fortress dating back to the 16th century, the hotel featured sleek black interiors, marble flooring, and modern, minimalistic furniture yet still able to preserve original walls from the past. A member of Design Hotels, this all-suite hotel was a welcomed treat. The minute I had stepped foot in the hotel, Matthew, the front desk manager, welcomed me by name. A lovely bottle of Maltese wine and a handwritten note from the service team was a nice touch. Located in Senglea, the hotel was a quiet departure from busy Valletta. The harbor ferry is located just steps away from the hotel and is a cool 10-minute ride over into the capital.
I was only visiting Malta for 2 nights but managed to cover some serious ground by visiting Marsaxlokk, Valletta, Mdina, and Birgu. Transit is extremely easy, and on-time – we didn’t have any problems getting around at all except for some packed busses during rush hour. Seriously though – every place we went to was extremely picturesque so be sure to have that camera handy!
Getting around Malta
Bus – Again, taking the bus is super affordable here. It is only 1,50€ for a bus ticket and alots you to use it multiple times within a 90-minute window. Busses are prompt and on-time here. Just be sure to stick your hand out to wave the bus down – not doing so indicates to the driver that you are waiting for a different bus. Don’t forget this – we learned the hard way! Luckily, all busses in Malta have free WiFi – best public transportation ever!
Ferry – After talking with the concierge at our hotel, she let us know that we could simply take the ferry over to Valletta – what?! Game changer. Like the bus, it is only 1,50€ per way. There is even a roundtrip which is slightly less which you may use on any returning ferry. You can also take this ferry to St. Julians or Sliema which I didn’t have time to do.
Taxi – Taxis are very reasonably-priced in the city. We took this to and from MLA which was a breezy 15-minute ride to Senglea. It’s good to note that prices are fixed from the airport to your destination, depending on what area of the island you are in. To Senglea it was 22 €.
Walking – I walked a ton of steps when I was in Malta. If you are situated in Valletta, it is so easy to walk and roam around the city. Some parts of Malta are hilly so keep that in mind!
Things to do in Malta
Valletta – Stopping in the capital is definitely something you should do while in Malta! Get lost in its many narrow streets, hop from restaurant to restaurant, and wander in the many plazas and people watch. It is absolutely mesmerizing and I could spend a good few hours here just wandering and taking pictures.
Take the ferry – Going places? Travel by sea, rather than on the road. I only traveled from Senglea to Valletta and back but the quick ferry ride was worth the gorgeous harbor views – both in the morning and by sunset.
See the cannons go off – They still set off the cannons daily at the edge of Valletta in the Upper Barraka Gardens. The cannons go off at 11:00am and 4:00pm respectively and does get a bit crowded so hang around to ensure you get a great viewing spot.
Marsaxlokk – A one-hour bus ride to the colourful fishing village of Marsaxlokk in southern Malta may seem daunting but once you get there, any thoughts of regret are soon diminished. It’s an Instagram-worthy port city with the best seafood to offer. Visit the daily market in the daytime – it’s an excellent place to grab any Maltese souvenirs (ie. nougat, olives, capers, housewares, etc.)
St. Peter’s Pool – While you’re at Marsaxlokk, take a 20-minute walk down to St. Peter’s Pool, a gorgeous natural swimming pool to cool off. Parking is available in case you are driving but the walk isn’t bad. The water is cool and is a great spot for cliff diving. Signs are clearly labeled and you can’t get lost – you’ll see other people, locals and tourists, trekking their way to the little hidden oasis.
Il-Kalanka Bay – Because St. Peter’s Pool is slightly touristy, walk another 15-minute down the main road and you’ll find an even bigger oasis that you’ll have completely to yourself! No, seriously. There wasn’t a soul when I visited the area. Bring a blanket, a book, some snacks, and enjoy a quiet afternoon here.
Mdina – The walled city of Mdina is definitely a must-visit. Deemed as the “quiet city”, it is eerily silenced and very eerie and cool to walk around in. It is small but brimming full with museums, catacombs, and history. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan (like I am!), Mdina was also the set location for the original King’s Landing in Season 1. You can even find Littlefinger’s brothel and opposite to that, the spot were Ned Stark was beheaded. Not going to lie – this was a major factor why I went to visit!
Try traditional Maltese food – Maltese is incredibly delicious! As you would expect, it shares a lot of similarities with Italian food yet draws influences from Arab and Indian cuisine. Expect lots of fresh whole fish, rabbit stew, octopus stew, bragioli, bean dips, breads and baked goods. It’s also very cheap here compared to other European countries and most restaurants will offer a prix fixe menu (3 – 4 coursed out meal) for typically 25 – 30€, on average.
Maltese wine – If you are a wine lover, please give Maltese wine. I especially loved their white varietals – so crisp and refreshing and similar to an unoaked chardonnay. Their reds were also fabulous – medium-bodied and merlot-like. There are a few wineries that offer tasting rooms which I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to visit. But Maltese wines are offered in all restaurants – a great opportunity to try their local product.
Birgu – Birgu is another town, right across the harbor from our hotel that we wandered around in for dinner. A road less traveled, there weren’t many tourists in this neighbourhood which we loved. Stay away from the cafes by the plazas – great for a drink to people watch in but a total trap when it comes to food.
Is-Suq Tal-Belt Valletta Food Market – Located in the heart of Valletta is a trendy, multi-level food hall with a plethora of international eats and spacious seating. I loved the burrata bar – reminded me of the San Miguel Market in Spain!
What to eat and drink in Malta
Fresh fish – Wow, seafood is so good here. SO GOOD. I had a wonderfully cooked fresh whole sea bass stuffed with mint and tomatoes that was absolutely divine at Ta’Victor in Marsaxlokk. I’d highly recommend this little take out spot called Le Poisson by our hotel in Senglea. My mom had a tuna steak while I had a sword fish which was served with mixed rice and vegetables. Their torta tal-lumpuki fish pie was also so incredibly flavourful. Our three dishes were a total steal at 20 € and the best meal of our entire trip.
Stuffat tal-qarnit – If I see octopus on a menu, I always have to order it. Maltese octopus stew is so hearty and delicious. Tender pieces of octopus nestled in a wine-laced tomato sauce with potatoes, olives, and capers. Make sure to get some bread to sop up that sauce! The best one I had was in Valletta at Nenu the Artisan Baker – everything on that menu was delectable and to die for.
Pastizzi – You can’t walk down the street in Malta without the wafting smell of buttery aroma of pastizzi baking in the oven. Pastizzi are a traditional Maltese snack and are often filled with either ricotta cheese or mushy peas. Think of it as a flaky croissant or phyllo stuffed with various fillings. Dreamy, right? I loved the ones by Jeff’s Pastizzeria – only 0,40€ a pop!
Qassatat – Freshly baked pastry filled to the brim with mashed green peas. It may look like a snack, but these were incredibly filling! Matthew, from my hotel, recommended we go to Crystal Palace in Mdina to grab one. It was a total hole-in-the-wall filled with men drinking Maltese tea and snacking on these and other pastizzi. You can get full off of these 2€ pastries!
Hobz biz-zejt – Maltese tomato bread! Similar to Spanish tomato bread…but better. Fresh tomatoes are rubbed on a crusty, Maltese bread and topped with olives, tuna, and other pickled vegetables. This is a great snack and goes well with bigilla (broad bean dip).
Fresh pasta – It is common to find fresh, handmade pasta all over Malta. You’ll often see ravioli, risotto and other pasta noodle dishes in most restaurants. Ironically, the ravioli here was better than I had in Italy. Sidebar – the best pasta I’ve ever had was in Monaco! The irony!!!
Stuffat tal-fenek – Rabbit stew is considered the “national” dish of Malta. Tender pieces of rabbit bathing in a red wine tomato sauce with potatoes and carrots…delicious. The one I had was not very good – the sauce was its redeeming factor. You’ll find this on every menu in Malta, no doubt about that.
Cocktails – Cocktail bars are growing in popularity in Malta. I tried the some of the creations at Alchemy in Valletta – excellent but they are a pretty penny! Nice rooftop patio up top though!
Chocolates - I’m a sucker for fine chocolates and the chocolates at Chocolate District in Valletta were absolutely dreamy. They have a great assortment of chocolates, drinking chocolate, truffles, and more! I loved the specaloos, sea salted caramel and earl grey truffles. Yum!
All in all, I believe Malta is one of those places I will have to revisit. After all, I didn’t get a chance to visit Gozo Island at all or see the great Blue Lagoon. I will have to come back here one day…hopefully on my (future) honeymoon! First step? Finding a husband.