I have to be upfront about this, this may be fairly biased because of the special place that it is in my heart. After living on the island for a year plus, it became more than a home to me. Regardless, spending a year living anywhere will result in a full and accurate guide. Malta is my favorite country I’ve been in to date.
Here’s a little more about Malta. . .
Malta is a southern European island country that sits only 50 miles south of Sicily, Italy. The island is small (122 sq. miles) but densely populated with over 450,000 people living on it – making it one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Its capital city, Valletta, is less than a square mile in area which makes it the smallest national capital in the European Union and one of the smallest in the world. The country has two official languages being English and Maltese, however, it’s predominantly English with the younger generation.
Malta is a very popular tourist destination. With a great Mediterranean climate, nine months of a summer season, and sunshine a majority of the year, it makes a great place for a vacation. Malta joined the European Union in 2004 and the Schengen Zone in 2008. The country’s currency is the euro. Many summer festivals are commonplace in Malta celebrating just about anything you can imagine.
First Impressions. . .
The first time I took steps on this tiny island, I admittedly was not too impressed – and I’m assuming you may not be either. The ride into the populated part of Malta is not too pretty. There are no clear blue bays, colorful fishing boats, or really anything you have undoubtedly seen if you search for images of Malta.
It is not until you reach the Sliema/St. Julians area that you start to really be impressed with this country. When I finally got there, that is when I knew Malta was going to live up to expectations.
Coming from the airport, I took public transportation to save a little bit of money. The public bus in Malta costs about two dollars for a ticket that gives you access to ride for two hours. This, however, was a mistake with a bunch of luggage. Instead, I recommend spending the extra money on a shuttle that will take you directly to your destination in about a fourth of the time. It will generally cost you $8-10.
Transportation in Malta is frustrating. I can imagine, especially, if you are only visiting for a limited time. Bus schedules are merely suggestions of when to be at the bus stop as more than half the time, buses will probably be running behind. Luckily, you can do most attractions in Malta by walking to each one; especially if you stay in the right area.
Hostels in Malta are kind of hit or miss. There is a fair share of good ones, but also some not-so-good ones. However, no matter where you stay, you can expect to pay in the range of $10-15 per night, usually including some kind of free breakfast.
In general, if visiting for a limited time, the closest you can stay to the Sliema/St. Julians area will probably be easiest for you. However, there are also some beautiful places to stay in the country’s beautiful capital, Valletta, but you are a little further from the hopping tourist places of Malta.
The Maltese are a very traditional culture. They like to carry on family traditions as well as remain one of the most religious countries in Europe. The older generation, although not as fluent in English sometimes, will likely be able to communicate with you, but may come off as a bit grumpy. This is not the case as Maltese, in general, are some of the most genuine people I have ever met. Respect their culture, and they will respect you.
Malta is known for its clear blue Mediterranean seawater and gorgeous limestone rock beaches. There are several popular places that are generally always packed in the summer months, however, if you are visiting in the off-season, these beaches are generally empty and the water is still swimmable.
– St. Julian’s beach – this artificial sand beach right outside of the club district, Paceville, is normally crowded to the point of all-day beach parties during the summer months. A great place for the younger crowd.
– Sliema beaches – all along The Strand there are numerous places to take a swim that isn’t as busy but still within walking distance from the two most popular cities in Malta. These places offer great views of the dome in Valletta and is a great photo opportunity.
– Golden Bay – my favorite beach in Malta, normally pretty busy in the summer months, is a real sand beach on the North end of the island (about an hour long bus ride to Cirkewwawa). The bay of water is a beautiful blue and offers numerous hiking trails right around it (ask a local where to find them).
– Riveria Beach – right next door to Golden Bay, this beach is a bit more hidden from tourists, however, it still attracts a decent crowd. To get there, keep walking west from Golden Bay for a quarter of a mile or so.
New York’s Best – a very American-ized establishment offering just about anything you could want at the likes of a normal family restaurant in the U.S. Every meal here can be found around $6-10. Free WiFi!
Pastizzerias – Everywhere throughout the island you can find these small sidewalk shops that sell cheap snack food that, when combined, could be turned into a cheap meal under $4. Make sure you try a pastizzi which is an infamous local snack pastry filled with ricotta cheese (under $0.40)
The sister island to the north of the Malta is Gozo. It’s about a 30-minute ferry ride from the North of Malta. The ferry costs $4.40 for a roundtrip fare and is the perfect inexpensive day trip. From the ferry terminal in Gozo, take a bus to the center of the island, Victoria, where the main bus station is that will have a bus available to take you wherever you want to go. Gozo, although smaller than Malta, is a more beautiful, relaxed version of what Malta is. Rent a scooter and cruise around this island all day. There is an abundance of beautiful hikes around the island.
This desolate island in-between Malta and Gozo is smaller than both and home to only 4 people (yes, 4 people). However, even being closer than Gozo, the ferry from Malta is still more expensive at an $11 roundtrip fare. This is in large part due to the island’s main attraction – The Blue Lagoon. Likely if you’ve seen a picture of clear blue water in Malta, it is probably here.
To the West of Malta is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen land meeting sea. It is an hour long bus ride from the Sliema/ St. Julian’s area, but one of the best places to take in the sun set that I’ve ever experienced. In addition, there are wonderful hikes to be done in this part of the island. There are also great rock climbing areas over here if that interests you! This is a must-see side of Malta.
St. Peter’s Pool
Potentially the best cliff jumping spot on the whole island, it requires quite a trip (about an hour bus ride south to Marsaxlokk followed by a decent 30 minute to 1-hour hike) but is worth it once you arrive. If you go in the summer months, there is a chance that it will be fairly crowded, but at least you will be able to find the places safest to jump easier! Also, if you’re brave enough, you can dive for an abundance of sea urchins here for an exotic snack.
What is there to say about a place that cannot be described? This place is, from what I’ve seen and experienced, the epitome of European partying. This is the main club district on the island and I would be hard-pressed to assume that anybody here ever sleeps.
When stepping into Paceville, it feels as if you are leaving Malta and entering into a fantasy festival. Free welcome drinks in nearly every club, cheap drinks the rest of the night, loud music, crowded clubs – this place is insane and even if you aren’t into this scene, you must go at least once. I’ll admit, it took me a while to warm up to such a place, but now I can honestly say I want it back.
More Attractions, Bars, and Restaurants. . .
– Hagar Qim (some of the most ancient free-standing temples in the world)
– Blue Grotto (a collection of beautiful caves, cliffs, boat tours, and excellent fishing spots)
– Valletta (a must-see, the capital is a tourist attraction itself)
– Smart City (beautiful seaside city to the south of Valletta)
– Casey’s Bar (cozy, live music/karaoke bar offering open mic nights on Tuesday’s and Saturday’s)
– Ryan’s (club outside of Paceville – usually a lot of locals come here)
– Guze Bistro (traditional Maltese cuisine in Valletta – not necessarily a budget place)
To wrap it up. . .
Malta is a place that is important to me. I may be a bit out of line to say that this tiny island is an excellent vacation destination. But in my opinion, with a sunny, warm climate and the sea within walking distance with cheap prices all over the island; what’s not to love?