Malta is one of those countries that usually gets passed over by travelers. It’s a popular summer destination for Europeans but, for everyone else, it’s mostly ignored for other places in Europe.
While the country has seen a resurgence in tourism in the last few years (those British retirees were on to something!), it’s still pretty under the radar for most people.
I loved my time in Malta. The tiny island nation boasts friendly people, ancient medieval towns and castles, warm weather, and charming (if a bit dated) cities.
Owing to its unique position between Africa and Europe, Malta offers visitors an interesting cultural blend. As you explore, you increasingly notice the Italian, English, and North African elements in the food, language, culture, and architecture.
To top it all off, it’s relatively cheap compared to mainland Europe and the beaches and seafood here are excellent.
This travel guide to Malta can help you save money and plan an epic trip to his off-the-beaten-path destination!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Malta
1. Explore Valletta
2. Wander Mdina
3. Hike a coastal trail in Gozo
4. See the Tarxien Temples
5. Relax on the beach
Other Things to See and Do in Malta
1. Attend the Carnival
Malta throws its own version of Carnival every February — and has been doing so for over 500 years! Celebrations are held all around the island during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, with parades, dancing, and costumes. Much of the population heads to Gozo for the weekend, so be sure to plan ahead as public transportation during that time can be a nightmare (more so than usual!). Book your accommodation in advance too!
2. Cruise around the island
If you want to get a different view of the island, take a ride around the coast. You can hire a boat to show you around for about 50 EUR per person. Tours usually stick to a certain region of the island and the more expensive trips include lunch. Tours usually last between 4-8 hours, stop off at a few beaches, and highlight some of the many shipwrecks around the country.
3. Explore the Citadel
This fort was built by the British in Rabat/Victoria (this is the Rabat on the island of Gozo; not to be confused with Rabat on the main island of Malta). Known as the Cittadella or the Castello, it was built in the 16th century, though fortifications that have been found in this spot go back over 2,000 years (the area was settled in the Bronze Age). It’s free to enter and explore, with lots of little shops hidden down the alleys. The fort offers a great view of the city and surrounding area, making it a good place to come at sunset.
4. Go diving
Malta isn’t known as a diving destination, yet the island is surrounded by a plethora of shipwrecks that make for some great diving expeditions. The water in many places is incredibly clear so you have excellent visibility as you explore. Some of the most popular dive sites are the Um El Faroud oil tanker (it was sunk intentionally to act as a reef), the Double Arch cave in Gozo, and the Blue Hole (also in Gozo). You can also dive to see the fallen Azure Window (a famous rock formation that collapsed in 2017). A two-dive package starts around 60 EUR per person.
5. Hit the road
Most tourists who visit Malta never stray far from Valletta. If you want to really see the country, rent a car. There are lots of remote places to explore in Malta and a car gives you the freedom to do so. Considering the island is so small, you can just spend the day exploring the aging and decrepit towns that dot the island. You can find car rentals for as little as 10 EUR per day so it’s an affordable choice if you want to get away from the crowds and see the country beyond Valletta.
6. Relax in the Lower and Upper Barrakka Gardens
I love these gardens. Located in Valletta, they overlook the harbor and make a great place to watch the comings and goings of people and boats. They were created in 1661 as the private grounds for some of the knights that resided here. They were opened to the public in 1824 and are a relaxing nook of the city. Bring a book or a snack, grab a spot on a bench, and watch the world go by. Don’t miss the Siege Bell Memorial, which was built in 1992 to commemorate the 7,000 people who lost their lives during the Siege of Malta in World War II (the bells chime daily at noon).
7. Explore St. Paul’s Catacombs
Located near Mdina, these underground tunnels were used by the Romans as cemeteries up until the 4th century (and possibly as late as the 7th century). They were built in the 3rd century and are composed of over 30 different areas, 20 of which are open to the public. In the Middle Ages, the catacombs were used for religious worship, though they later just became storage areas until their re-discovery in the 1980s. Admission is 6 EUR.
8. Visit the Hypogeum
This is one of Malta’s most popular historical attractions. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Hypogeum was carved over 5,000 years ago and was an ancient temple/burial site in the Neolithic Age (over 7,000 bodies have been found here). It’s really cool and the displays provide lots of detailed descriptions and context. It is so popular during the summertime (and into the autumn) you need to book your tickets up to 4 weeks in advance. Admission is 35 EUR and includes a guided tour. It’s one of the best-preserved historical sites in the country and worth every penny. It’s just 15 minutes south of Valletta by car.
9. Visit the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is situated between Comino and Cominotto (i.e. between the main island and Gozo) and is the most iconic beach in the country. It can get incredibly busy here on the weekend, so be sure to come early to stake out a good spot. There is a regular ferry service from Malta, however, if you want to visit from Gozo you need to take a private boat. It takes about 45 minutes to drive to the ferry from Valletta.
10. See the Marsaxlokk fish market
This market happens every Sunday morning. It’s a bit touristy and gets quite crowded but it’s the best place to buy fresh fish. You can find lots of other items such as fresh produce, honey, and other local goods here too. There are plenty of restaurants around (though you should expect to pay tourist prices here). Marsaxlokk is on the southern tip of the main island, about 25 minutes away from Valletta by car.
11. Explore Popeye Village
What started out as the film set for the quirky 1980 Popeye musical starring Robin Williams is now a large tourist attraction. You can explore the village, watch a documentary about its creation, and even play mini-golf. When the weather is nice they offer boat rides around the area. Off-peak admission is 15 EUR while peak-season admission is 18 EUR.
12. See the Gozo Salt Pans
Lining the coast of Gozo, these salt pans have been in use for over 350 years. The traditional methods of harvesting salt have been passed down for generations, and even to this day you can find locals engaged in harvesting the crystals. There is salt for sale in shops all around the island (it’s a great souvenir to take home).
13. Visit the Three Cities
Vittoriosa, Senglea, and Cospicua trace their origins back to the Middle Ages and have been inhabited more or less since people arrived on the island. The Three Cities were also the original home of the Knights Hospitallers (a Catholic military order known as the Knights of Malta) and feature a lot of wonderful architecture and history. They aren’t as visited as other destinations on the island so it can be a good way to get away from the crowds. They’re just across the water from Valletta.
Malta Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostels outside the capital in St. Julian’s and Sliema cost 10-20 EUR per night for an 8-10 bed dorm. Free Wi-Fi is standard, and a few hostels also offer free breakfast. If you want a private room, you’re better to book a budget hotel or Airbnb as you get more value for your money.
Budget hotels start at 35 EUR per night for a twin or double. In addition to basic amenities like free Wi-Fi, many budget hotels also offer free airport shuttles or have pools. Some include free breakfast as well.
Airbnb is available all around the island and you can find entire homes/apartments for as little as 35 EUR (although there are more options at the 60-80 EUR range). Most listings are around Valletta and in the south of Gozo. During the high summer months, expect prices to be about 50-100% higher, especially in July. If you’re visiting in the summer, book early.
Food – Malta has been conquered by many different countries over the centuries so it has a rather unique culinary history. Most of the food has strong Italian influences, though North Africa and Britain also play a culinary role. Rabbit stew (stuffat tal-fenek) is considered the national dish. Seafood is also common (it’s an island after all), with lampuki (mahi-mahi) being one of the main staples. Fish pie is a popular dish, as is kapunata, a Maltese version of ratatouille.
For food on the go, you can find pastizzi (a savory filled pastry) everywhere for around 1 EUR. Fresh bread, cheese, and meats at the grocery store cost just a few euros if you want to make a simple lunch on the fly.
A meal of traditional cuisine at a restaurant or cafe costs around 15 EUR, while a multi-course meal at a mid-range restaurant with a drink and table service costs closer to 30 EUR. Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 8.50 EUR for a combo meal (yes, there are McDonald’s here).
Beer costs around 3 EUR (1.60 if you buy it at a grocery store) while a bottle of water costs 1.20 EUR (less when bought in bulk). A latte/cappuccino is around 2.25 EUR.
If you plan on cooking your own food, expect to spend between 40-60 EUR per week on groceries. This gets you basic staples like pasta, rice, seasonal vegetables, and some meat or seafood.
Some of my favorite restaurants were Rising Sun, The Grassy Hopper, and Suruchi.
Activities – There are lots of free activities in Malta, like hiking and hanging out at the beach. You can hire a boat to take you around parts of the island for 50 EUR. Most museums are around 5-10 EUR. Diving is popular here and a two-dive package starts at 60 EUR. If you want to explore the island by bicycle, you can rent a bike for 12 EUR per day.
Backpacking Malta Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget of 40 EUR per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook all your meals, use public transportation to get around, limit your drinking, and do free or cheap activities like hitting the beach or visiting a museum.
On a mid-range of budget of 100 EUR per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, cook most meals and eat out occasionally at cheap fast food joints, have a few drinks, rent a car to get around, and do more paid activities like boat tours or museum visits.
On a “luxury” budget of 230 EUR per day you can stay in a budget hotel, drink as much as you’d like, eat out anywhere you want, rent a car to get around, and do more activities like scuba diving and visiting Popeye Village. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
Malta Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Malta is one of the more affordable destinations in Europe, but it can still get pricey — especially during the busy summer months. To help you stick to your budget, here are some money-saving tips and tricks:
- Visit during the off-season – Malta (or at least Valletta) gets crowded in the summer and prices tend to rise (cruises stop here). If you want to save money and have a less hectic visit, visit during the off-season.
- Cook your own meals – While restaurants aren’t overly expensive, eating out every day adds up. Try cooking your own meals to save some money. There are plenty of small shops and larger supermarkets (like Lidl) where you can grab basic staples for cheap.
- Avoid supermarket produce – A lot of produce at the supermarket is imported (and thus more expensive). Search out local vendors who sell their produce at the side of the road or at small stalls in town. It’s cheaper and fresher!
- Get the Malta Pass – This tourism card provides free entry to Malta’s top 40 attractions, making it worthwhile for anyone who plans on visiting a lot of sites. It also includes a free sightseeing bus (which is worth 20 EUR itself). You can get a 1, 2, or 3-day pass for 30 EUR, 43 EUR, or 53 EUR respectively. Buy it online before you go for the best price.
- Take a free walking tour – There are a few tour companies in Valletta, such as Colour My Travel, who offer free 1.5-hour walking tours. You get to explore the area and learn about the local culture, history, and architecture from a local expert. It’s a great introduction to Malta and definitely worth doing. Just be sure to tip!
- Skip the taxis – Taxis in Malta are not cheap. Avoid them as much as possible. If you do need to use them, get the eCab app. It ensures you get a reputable and reliable taxi (they are good for short distances while taxis are likely cheaper for longer journeys).
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink (though it tastes a little off). Bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Malta
While hostels aren’t plentiful, you can find them around Valletta. Here are my recommended places to stay:
How to Get Around Malta
Public Transportation – Public buses go pretty much everywhere in Malta (albeit not regularly). A single fare is 1.50 EUR in the winter and 2 EUR in the summer. Just keep in mind that they fill up fast so you might have to stand for your trip. They also can be infrequent and pass by stops without warning if they’re full, so if you are taking the bus make sure you have lots of extra time!
In addition to the public buses, there are also a hop-on/hop-off buses that have different routes around the country. These routes cover all the major sites on both islands (Valletta, St. Julian’s, Popeye Village, the former Azure Window, etc.) A ticket for a single route day pass costs 20 EUR with Hello Malta or 48 EUR for a two-day pass with City Sightseeing (who also do a 1-day pass for 24 EUR). I’d skip this and just use the public bus (or walk if it’s a short distance — it’s a small country after all!)
Ferry – The ferry to Gozo costs 4.65 EUR. Be sure to arrive in advance as it fills up fast. The ferry from Malta to Italy takes 4-7 hours and costs 95-145 EUR (depending on the time of year) EUR for a one-way ticket to Sicily.
Bike rental – You can rent bikes for around 12 EUR per day, though I’d be extra careful cycling outside of Valletta. Drivers here are aggressive and the roads are quite narrow.
Taxis – Taxis start at 6 EUR and cost around 2 EUR per kilometer. There are no Uber or Lyft here but you can download the eCab app as an alternative. It’s usually cheaper than taxis for short distances. However, if you’re on a budget, it’s best to just avoid taking them.
Flying – Flights from Malta to and from mainland Europe can be found for as little as 45 EUR, round trip. Ryanair is the most budget-friendly airline that flies to Malta so they are your best choice if you’re on a budget. Flights to and from Morocco and North Africa can be found for as little as 50 EUR per person, round trip. There are no domestic flights around Malta.
Car Rental – Car rentals cost between 10-25 EUR per day for a small car. Just keep in mind that the cheapest rentals are manual transmissions so you need to be able to drive stick if you want to get around. The drivers here are also very aggressive and tend to see the rules of the road as suggestions rather than laws.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Malta is not recommended, simply because people just don’t stop. If you do want to try your hand at it, check out Hitchwiki for tips and information.
When to Go to Malta
The best time to visit Malta is from June-August. The weather is the warmest then, with daily temperatures around 31°C (88°F). Not surprisingly, this is also the busiest time of the year so expect crowds and higher prices.
In August, as in much of Europe, many locals leave for their own summer holidays. A lot of shops and restaurants close, which can crowd the remaining places even more. But the weather is perfect and most tourist attractions stay open.
The shoulder months of April-May and September-October offer a nice compromise of decent weather and fewer crowds. Expect temperatures around 25°C (77°F).
The winter in Malta is chilly, with temperatures dropping to 10-15° C (48-60° F). Aside from attractions closing for Christmas, everything is open though some bus schedules change to reflect the lower number of visitors in the country. In short, it’s a perfect time to visit as long as you aren’t looking to hit the beach and don’t mind some windy sweater weather.
How to Stay Safe in Malta
Malta consistently ranks as one of the safest countries in the world. Crime is rare, though it’s always a good idea to keep your wits about you. Petty theft can still occur so always keep your valuables tucked away and be mindful of your things while on crowded public transportation or while swimming at the beach.
When swimming, make sure you only swim in areas where there are other swimmers around. Riptides are common so it’s best to avoid secluded beaches unless you can be sure that it’s safe. Never swim when the sea is rough and never swim alone.
Drivers in Malta are on the aggressive side so take extra precautions when crossing roads, cycling, or renting a car. When taking a taxi, always wear your seatbelt.
Solo travelers (including solo female travelers) should feel safe here. Simply take the standard precautions while you’re out and about (don’t wander around while intoxicated at night, keep an eye on your drink at the bar, etc.).
If you’re out hiking in the spring or autumn, be aware that it is hunting season (just for small birds).
If you rent a car, don’t leave any valuables in it overnight. Break-ins are rare but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
If you experience an emergency, dial 112 for assistance.
Worried about travel scams? Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Malta Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel around Malta. They consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are always my starting point when I need to book a flight, hotel, tour, train, or meeting people!
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- LifeStraw – Since the water in Malta isn’t great (they say it’s safe to drink but it tastes bad) you need a way to purify your drinking water. Instead of buying tons of plastic bottles and polluting the local environment, get a LifeStraw. It purifies the tap water so you can drink it safely and prevent all that unwanted plastic from going to the landfill.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
Malta Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Malta Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Great Siege: Malta 1565, by Ernle Bradford
The Siege of Malta was not only one of the great military upsets in history but it also represented the ongoing clash of cultures between east and west. The Great Siege is a well-researched narrative and does an excellent job of bringing history to life in an accessible and informative way. Even if you’re not a history buff, this is a great read to brush up on your history before you go.
The Kappillan of Malta, by Nicholas Monsarrat
The Kappillan of Malta takes place during the Second World War and tells the story of a local priest who, as bombs ravage the country, does his best to care for the sick and wounded, keeping hope alive in the darkest of hours. A mighty work of historical fiction, the book is as much about the country as it is about its characters.
Like Bees to Honey, by Caroline Smailes
This is a book about grief, the past, and the ups and downs of family. The book follows Nina as she returns to Malta after having been ostracized from her family. Returning, she finds a country much unlike the one she left. The book takes a bit of a magical turn, adding an element of the unnatural to highlight the central themes. It an emotional, intimate, and reflective novel and one best enjoyed when you’re actually in Malta and can relate to Smailes’ musings and vivid descriptions.
The Information officer, by Mark Mills
Set at the height of World War II, The Information Officer is a gripping and suspenseful tale of historical fiction. Max, a British Officer, is in charge of bolstering support for the Allies at the same time the Axis is pressing closer and closer. When a local resident is killed by a British soldier, Max has to investigate, walking a fine line as the war for Europe looms closer and closer.