How to spend your day in Malta: A Small Island With a Lot to Offer
Malta is so well known for its rich culture and unique history that it might surprise some to learn its landmass is smaller in size than most European capitals. Yet, due to its location between Italy and North Africa, Malta has been subject to countless occupations. Its many influences have resulted in a most unique mix of architectural styles, cuisine and tradition – even the Maltese language has been shaped from a combination of Italian, Arabic and English. There is much to learn about Malta, and plenty to entice you regardless of whether you’re interested in geology, history, art or cuisine – or perhaps just looking for some quality time in the sun. Like in any paradise, there are tourist traps to avoid. If you’re short of time or just passing by, read this quick guide on how to get the best deals and make the most out of your day in Malta.
The beautiful squares in the capital Valletta are lined with endless rows of restaurants and cafes, most of which offer a rich choice of lunch options. Along Valletta’s side streets, however, you’ll find cosier and often cheaper alternatives hidden away. Local chains can be found in abundance. Try Badass Burgers for – you guessed it – some pretty decent burgers, or Grassy Hopper for delicious vegetarian and vegan food. If you’re feeling like fresh smoothies and healthy wraps, try Malta’s popular Dr Juice. Alternatively you can indulge your sweet tooth at Cinnabon – a Maltese chain specializing in delicious cinnamon and chocolate rolls. For a quick bite of street food, pick up a Maltese pastry such as the cheesy ‘pastizzi’ or date-filled ‘imqaret’.
For a late night dining experience, there are many renowned restaurants dotted throughout the island – though St Julians is where you’ll find most of them. For freshly caught seafood and gorgeous bay views, try Zeri’s in Portomaso Harbour. If sushi is more your scene, you won’t want to miss Zen Bar. Electric Lobster Project offers a creative menu whilst Juuls Bar is where you’ll find healthy, vegetarian food. Also worth mentioning is Estilo Cascata which offers a little bit of everything – including a wide choice of cocktails to enjoy in a beautifully decorated setting. Lastly, Gululu offers traditional Maltese food such as local rabbit, ‘gbejna’ cheese and ‘bigilla’. To finish you meal on an equally traditional note, ask to try their prickly pear liqueur.
The ultimate party destination in Malta is indisputably Paceville. Part of St Julians, Paceville is a buzzing locality filled with clubs, bars, late night shopping centers, casinos, a bowling alley, game arcade and cinema. Trendy bars include Tapaz and Barcelona Lounge – both of which are excellent places for drinks with friends. At the top of Malta’s tallest building, Portomaso Tower, lies Club 22, where you’ll be treated to incredible views over the island. Prices for club entry and alcohol is usually low, with cocktails rarely costing more than €7. Bars also stay open until late, meaning you should start your night early to avoid heavier crowds of party people. Order your taxi from e-cabs or HiCabs, as the white taxis you see circling Paceville are notoriously expensive.
You’ll find shopping centres in Sliema, St Julians and Valletta which have both international brands and local boutiques. Whether you’re looking for fashion, electronics or gourmet food – you won’t be short of places to shop on the island. In Birkirkara and Msida lie many smaller fashion and jewellry boutiques. The main bookshop chain is called Agenda whilst Tal-Lira is where you can get hold of low-priced household items. Tourist shops can be found in abundance, however if you’re looking for a truly special souvenir then take yourself to one of the many Mdina Glass stores. These shops sell vibrantly colourful glass sculptures, tea sets and vases – all hand-crafted in Mdina.
There are three casinos in Malta. Oracle Casino, with its more relaxed vibe, is found in Bugibba. This casino is the smaller of all three and typically attracts an older crowd. Dragonara Casino is part of the Westin Hotel and has charming, palatial interior. The casino is traditional in many senses and boasts a wide choice of slots. Connected to the Hilton and Portomaso Tower is the Portomaso Casino. The most popular out of all three; the Portomaso Casino attracts many high stake players and hosts regular international poker tournaments including the island’s own ‘Battle of Malta’. The registration process for each casino is straight-forward, and there are plenty of promotional offers to keep your eye on.
A favourite beach amongst visitors is Mellieha Bay located in Northwest Malta. Golden Bay is perhaps the second most popular beach, with surrounding cliffs and the nearby Radisson Golden Sands Hotel to which you can pop in and enjoy afternoon tea amidst splendid views. Another beautiful beach spot is the greener Ghajn Tuffieha Bay – however this one is more isolated than the other and will require you to hike down a flight of 200 stairs from the car park – not especially pleasurable and a scorching hot day. As a consequence, you’ll find Ghajn Tuffieha Bay to be less crowded. All of the biggest beaches have nearby toilets, ice cream parlours and beach shops. There are also sunbeds and umbrellas that you can rent for around €5. Keep in mind that sunscreen is an absolute necessity, with Maltese temperatures rising as high as 45°C in the summer months. If you’re visiting during the colder months, try relaxing at one of the island’s spas instead.
Sports and Activities
Malta is an exceptionally great location from which to scuba dive. There are several diving schools throughout the whole island will allow you to experience the rich sea life of the Mediterranean. Besides scuba diving, Malta is a perfect location for virtually any other water sport – sailing and jet skiing included. Captain Morgan’s boat cruises offer daily excursions to places such as the beautiful Blue Lagoon. On such guided tours, you will travel by boat around the coast where you can spot vast caves and sometimes even dolphins. Upon arriving at your destination, you will be given a few hours to swim, snorkel, sunbathe and enjoy a picnic before returning back. If you’re planning to go on one of such trips, be sure to book online as the prices are usually cheaper. Alternatively, you can try haggling with the sales representative.
If you’re interested in exploring unique countryside then you should consider visiting the nearby Gozo. This small island’s wildlife is stunningly beautiful, and hiring a land rover will allow you to drive along the coasts and appreciate views of the Mediterranean. In Gozo you can also see the Azure Window – a naturally formed limestone arch featured regularly in TV and cinema. Alternatively you can venture out to Xemxija and explore an ancient Roman bath house and beekeeper’s hut. If you’re interested in seeing classical architecture, you should be sure to visit both Valletta and Mdina. Mdina is a fortified city with Medieval remnants and catacombs, whilst Valletta is home to the beautiful St John’s Cathedral and historic National Library of Malta. In Valleta you will also find the Upper Barakka Gardens which is a great spot for picnicking. If travelling with kids, don’t miss the very quaint Popeye Village – a 19080 film set converted into a fun tourist destination.
Mdina is home to a number of museums including the Museum of Natural History, Mdina Dungeons and Mdina Cathedral Museum. In Valletta you’ll find the National Archeology Museum and National Gallery of Fine Art. One of the capital’s most fascinating museums, however, is the Lascaris War Rooms. In this underground complex, you will receive a guided tour of the chambers from which the allies coordinated the invasion of Sicily in 1943. You’ll even see Eisenhower’s office, and rare footage which gives an insight into Maltese life during times of war. Qawra also has its share of museums – such as the Classic Car Museum and National Aquarium.
Shows and Festivals
Being a strongly Catholic nation, Malta is keen on festivals and religious feasts. Firework displays are frequent and every small town has its own festivals. In the summer months you can enjoy Valletta’s Jazz Festival and the free Isle of MTV music festival. The small town of Birgu hosts Birgufest each October – a festival of food stalls, beautiful candle light displays and historic reenactments. Also in the October is a chocolate festival held in the small town of Hamrun. In Spring, you can see one of Europe’s most popular aviation shows – the Malta International Air Show. Regardless of what time you visit, be sure to check what is being shown at Valletta’s historic Teatru Manoel – a beautiful theatre hall with regular orchestral performances.
About The Author: Sophie Joyce is a freelance travel journalist and events planner based in Malta. Her favourite holiday locations include Bologna and Prague.