Are you planning a trip to Malta soon? Even if you’ve only just begun you may have already noticed there’s a lot to know! We planned a two-week trip to Malta then immediately wondered if that might be one week too many! I mean the island nation is only 376km2 in total area across it’s 3 habited islands and a number of smaller uninhabited ones. To put this even more into perspective the main island of Malta where one finds the capital city Valletta and a host of other towns is only 27 kilometres long and 14.5 kilometres wide… you could walk across it in a day!… Theoretically speaking. However after our first couple of days there we realized that the island, although small, would take more than a day to explore… more than two weeks even actually! Read on for our guide to planning a trip to Malta to give yourself the best chance of conquering it all!
Planning a Trip to Malta – There’s a lot to Cover!
How Long Should Your Trip to Malta Be?
We’d suggest two weeks! But you might be wondering why isn’t one week enough? After all Malta is only a tiny island chain, and only the 201st largest country in the world by area (out of 240 nations as recognized by the UN). BUT! The historical sightseeing density in Malta is absolutely incredible! For example:
- The island of Ireland has a total area of 84,421km2 . It has 1 UNESCO World Heritage site in Northern Ireland – the Giants Causeway and Causeway Coast and 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Ireland (The Republic of).
- By comparison then, Malta is 224 times smaller than the island of Ireland and contains the same number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites! It is also worth mentioning that one of these sites on the main island of Malta is in fact an entire city! It’s capital city Valletta has a designated World Heritage site encompassing an area of 500 square metres with 320 monuments to be found within this area! This makes it one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.
When to Visit Malta
Actually, Malta is a good destination choice year-round! This is thanks to its Mediterranean Sea location. The climate is sub-tropical Mediterranean so the winters are also quite warm with temperatures ranging from 9C-15C daily. In the summer those temperature shoot up to 25C-30C. The sea temperatures mimic the daily maximum temperatures also, so the sea can feel warm like bath water in the summer months!
The high season (tourist season) in Malta is June through August. We spent two weeks in Malta at the end of April. Then there were daily maximums of 20C and nightly lows of around 12C. There were some cool ocean breezes, and a couple of cloudy days but when the sun was out it was hot! A recommendable time of year to visit, although we wouldn’t have minded if it were slightly hotter also.
Another consideration when planning a trip to Malta is whether you’d like to catch a festa (festival!). The Maltese have an incredible number of festas, festivals and religious celebrations throughout each year. We visited during the International Fireworks Festival which is largely based in Valetta, although often during Valletta festivals, smaller towns will participate in decorating and celebrating also. During our visit we also saw the remnants of the recent Easter festivals throughout the towns which included beautiful string lighting wrapped around the historic buildings. For more on various festival dates in Valletta see this website.
Where to Stay in Malta
Due to its aforementioned and emphasized small size, anywhere is good to stay in Malta, with regard to getting around and sightseeing. However as with all places, some places are better than/more expensive than others!
- We stayed in Buggibba, on the northern coast of Malta main island, which had a nice coastal promenade, beach, and mini-downtown area of restaurants and bars. It was neither too busy nor too quiet.
- Further around this stretch of coast can be found St. Paul’s bay, St. Julian’s and Sliema. These latter three would be our recommendation for where to stay, becoming more expensive as you get closer to the Maltese capital of Valletta. Sliema is the closest to Valletta being walking distance around the coast or accessible also by a ferry across the bay. St Julian’s is a great spot for nightlife, our big nights out were all in St Julian’s, where there are restaurants, karaoke bars and nightclubs of all types staying open until the early morning with plenty of people to fill them. St Paul’s Bay looked very picturesque and is apparently one of the quietest spots even in the summer, when Malta can get very busy.
- This website has more information on all the towns in Malta (and the island of Gozo!) and is an excellent resource for selecting the right one for your stay.
Planning a Trip to Malta: Getting There
You can get to Malta by plane to its international airport, located a twenty-minute drive from the capital Valletta. As tourism is a big industry for Malta (15% GDP) there are a lot of very competitive options for visiting, particularly in the low season. From the United Kingdom especially you can book “all-inclusive” package holidays covering flights, accommodation, transfers and all meals at resorts of varying star level. We did this and only paid $450 per person for our entire 14-day trip (excluding incidental spending outside of the resort i.e. sightseeing and nights out).
Planning a Trip to Malta: Getting Around
Once in Malta the question then is how to get around to all the many sights you’ll want to see, when you’re sick of lazing by the resort pool and nearby beach of course! By all accounts and from what we saw, you DO NOT want to drive in Malta. Most of the roads are essentially single lane, the locals drive these, including all the blind corners, very quickly, and there’s lots of congestion in the towns/cities as they’re mostly full of small single lane roads too. The bus will be your best friend for two weeks in Malta!
Our recommendation is to first start exploring via the “hop-on/hop-off” bus routes of which there are three to cover all of main island Malta (red and blue routes) and all of the second largest island in the Maltese island chain: Gozo. These bus routes cost €20 each, or there are 2 day passes available for €37. These come with an included (non-live) audio tour of the sights along each route and cultural and historical tidbits which will provide you with a sound understanding of Malta’s unique past and present. We used the company City Sightseeing Malta and bought our tickets from roadside vendors but you can view their routes and book tickets online in advance here.
Having got your bearings on the hop-on routes we would now recommend trying out local busses. We found these to be on-time, cheap and air-conditioned. The only drawback being that they can come infrequently (every 30 minutes to an hour!) especially on Sundays! Additionally, they are not immune to the perils of congested traffic so most journey times between towns are an hour or more. This website contains an excellent guide to local transport cards the “tallinja” including special package offers for tourists on local transport plus ferry rides and hop-on bus tours. When exploring Valletta try the local ferry across to Sliema or hire a dghajsa (water taxi) on the other side to see the Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Cospicua and Senglea). There are also bus routes for these destinations also.
Planning a Trip to Malta: Visa
Great news here: Malta is a part of the EU Schengen Agreement, so most visitors from most countries will not even need a tourist visa to enter and stay in Malta for up to 90 days. Italy (Sicily) is just 90 minutes ferry ride across the water from Malta, and being also a Schengen country, allows valid Schengen visa holders easy entry into the country for day-trips or longer. A great way to extend a trip to Malta!
One Thing We Didn’t Like About Malta
One thing we noticed during our two weeks in Malta was a surprising disinterest in customer service from people in customer service industries. This ranged from hotel staff continuing their personal conversations rather than acknowledge us when waiting at their desks to shopkeepers demanding exact change and then shrugging off the sale when you couldn’t produce it. We discussed this curious phenomena with some expats we met living in Malta who said it was somewhat common. Their best guess was that these sometimes unwelcoming vibes stem from a long history of invasions and periods of colonialization through to today’s annual invasions by hordes of tourists. This isn’t to say its island-wide or true of everyone you meet, but was perhaps the one blemish we found on otherwise near-perfection!
So that’s our guide to planning a trip to Malta – we hope you found it helpful! If you’re planning a trip to Malta or have been recently we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below. What’s next? Planning your sightseeing of course! Stay tuned for our next post which will cover two weeks’ worth of sightseeing in Malta! Until next time Evviva! (Cheers!) Erin & Ryan.