Formerly a quiet fishing village, St. Paul’s Bay is nowadays the largest town in Malta by population. The peninsula of St. Paul’s Bay is comprised of three main neighbourhoods: Bugibba (the touristy area, with plenty of shops, restaurants and hotels), Qawra (a residential area with a few hotels and pubs) and St. Paul’s Bay (the old fishing town where you can still see some traditional summer houses).
I grew up in a traditional summer house in Bugibba, with the long stretch of rocky coast as my playground. Sadly, my hometown has gone through a not-so-pleasant makeover over the last twenty years or so: many of the beautiful summer houses have been demolished and replaced with ugly flats, while structures have been erected on the coast.
Although the town is packed with hotels, bars, restaurants and tacky souvenir shops, there are several ways you can enjoy a pleasant stroll along the shore, take perfect Instagram shots, and immerse yourself in local history and culture.
In this Bugibba travel guide, I share my top tips and advice for first-time visitors, recommend a few good restaurants and suggest some amazing things to do.
Where to eat in Bugibba
There are many good restaurants in St. Paul’s Bay and Bugibba, and since moving to Edinburgh I’ve always looked forward to going back to my favourite places whenever I visit home. Here are some places I highly recommend:
Benjawan Thai Cuisine: An authentic Thai restaurant near Bugibba square. Their Massaman curry dishes are very delicious!
Tal-Pjazza: A restaurant in Bugibba square known for its hearty pasta dishes and oven baked pizzas.
Oblico: A cosy cafe situated along the promenade that serves a variety of sandwiches, salads and pasta dishes. They also have an array of homemade cakes – I’m a big fan of their Red Velvet and Oreo cakes!
The 1930s Carpentry Wine Bar: A tiny and super cosy wine bar housed in a beautiful old building where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine and platters prepared with local ingredients.
Federica Kiosk: A kiosk in the Sirens area (St. Paul’s Bay) that serves all sorts of hot snacks. Not only is this place located in a very beautiful swimming spot, but it also very cheap – oh, and they serve lovely cakes, too!
Ta’ Pawla: A restaurant in Bugibba that specialises in Mediterranean and local dishes, including rabbit and fresh fish. You may want to reserve a table as it tends to be a bit busy, especially in summer.
Best swimming spots in Bugibba
You don’t have to visit Malta in summer to spend long days at the beach – it is normally warm enough for a swim between March and November. Unfortunately, there aren’t many sandy beaches in St. Paul’s Bay and Bugibba, so it might be a bit difficult to find a comfy sunbathing spot in summer.
Swimming zones are marked by floating ropes – avoid swimming beyond these markers or outside of designated swimming zones as some boats and jet skiis tend to come close to the shore. Also, the rocky surface is a bit too rough in some areas so make sure there is an easy and safe way to return to shore after your swim – you can find steps and ladders along the coast.
These are some of the best swimming spots in Bugibba and St. Paul’s Bay:
The swimming area in front of Oblico and San Antonio Hotel
There are two sandy beaches in this swimming zone, as well as a few kiosks where you can grab a refreshing drink or an ice-cream. If you’re not a fan of sandy beaches, there is a ramp right behind the water park where you can lie down comfortably and access the sea safely with a ladder.
The swimming area near the Sirens Waterpolo pitch
Between the Gillieru Hotel and Wignacourt Tower, there is a lovely swimming area where you can relax in one of the old baths carved into the rocks and have lunch at Federica Kiosk.
The small sandy beach near St. Paul’s Bay Primary School
This small beach situated next to the town’s primary school is a hidden gem. It’s difficult to spot from the road – keep walking around the school until you reach a steep hill known as Sqaq tax-Xama’ where you find a ramp leading down to the beach.
Things to do in Bugibba
1. Treat yourself to an ice-cream from SottoZero
While there are plenty of gelaterias in Bugibba and Qawra, SottoZero near Bugibba Square is known for its wide selection of delicious flavours. This place is normally busy, but trust me when I say that it’s hands down the best ice-cream parlour in St. Paul’s Bay.
2. Walk from Bugibba Square to Ta Fra Ben along the rocky coast
The Bugibba promenade is normally teeming with people in the summer months, but you can easily escape the crowds by walking on the rocky coast. Wear good walking shoes as the coast is quite rugged.
Check out these 10 things to do in Bugibba with kids.
3. Go for a pleasant stroll along the promenade in St. Paul’s Bay
If you want to get away from the loud bars and crowded beaches of Bugibba, walk along the promenade in the direction of St. Paul’s Bay. On your way there you could stop at the jetty and the picturesque area known as Gillieru to take photos of the colourful wee boats, admire the beautiful Wignacourt Tower, and just absorb the stunning view of the bay and St. Paul’s islands.
4. Walk to Xemxija
The neighbouring village of Xemxija is home to several ancient ruins, including a Roman apiary, Punic tombs, well-preserved Roman baths and a carob tree that is estimated to be over 1,000 years old. The Xemxija Heritage Trail is just a 30-minute walk from St. Paul’s Bay – you can walk along the main road of St. Paul’s Bay or the bypass to Xemxija (the safer option). The bus trip from Bugibba/St.Paul’s Bay to Xemxija should only take 10 minutes.
5. Have a picnic in Salina Park
Being an overbuilt peninsula, St. Paul’s Bay doesn’t have a lot of green areas. The Salini National Park is the only place in St. Paul’s Bay where you can enjoy some greenery and perhaps have a break from the busy town centre and crowded promenade.
Walking alone at night
St. Paul’s Bay is relatively safe, but if you’re travelling to Malta solo, you should avoid walking through dimly-lit side streets at night. If possible, stay at a place that is close to Bugibba square. There are several areas in Bugibba and Qawra that I would totally avoid when walking back home alone at night. Sadly, I’ve been on the receiving end of street harassment several times while walking alone in Bugibba and St. Paul’s Bay.
If you are concerned about your safety, or want to make sure that your accommodation is not located in a shady area, feel free to drop me a message and I will suggest places to avoid.
Avoid leaving your bags unattended when going for a swim. Beach theft is common in many popular beaches in Malta. If you’re heading to the beach on your own, consider getting a waterproof bag that you can take into the sea with you.
Make sure you pack these 10 items for your trip to Malta.
The island is often battered by strong winds and high waves. Avoid swimming in choppy water – it might not seem very bad at first, but the sea can get very rough in just a few seconds. Also, stay away from the jetty and the shore on windy days as the waves can be pretty violent. It’s not worth putting yourself at risk for that perfect Instagram shot.
Crossing the road
Please exercise extra caution when crossing the road, even when using pedestrian crossings. Bugibba and Qawra are popular weekend destinations among locals, especially among party-goers, and this causes a lot of traffic in the peninsula. Unfortunately, over-speeding cars are common in the main roads of Bugibba and Qawra (particularly along the coast), and currently there are no measures in place to deter such reckless driving.
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