If you’re looking for some honest advice and tips for visiting Malta, you’ve come to the right place.
I was born and raised in Malta. In 2017, I moved to Scotland, however I make regular trips to Malta to visit my family and soak up some vitamin D.
As a travel blogger and Maltese native, I love listening to visitors’ thoughts and observations about my home country. Quite often I meet people who admit that Malta exceeded their expectations in terms of places of interest, culture and hospitality. I’ve also come across similar complaints from different people: Malta’s too noisy, too dirty and too hot.
To help you prepare yourself for both the good things and the less pleasant things about Malta, I’ve put together a post with my top insider tips, including advice you wouldn’t normally find in other guides.
Without further ado, here are my top travel tips for visiting Malta.
1. Visit the island between October and May
Malta is a popular summer destination. However, if you really want to make the most of your stay in Malta, avoid visiting the island in summer.
The best time to visit Malta is from October to May (or early June), when the streets aren’t chockablock with noisy crowds and traffic, and the temperatures are mild. This means you can spend long hours strolling through the streets of popular places without having to seek refuge from the heat and crowds every few minutes.
If you’re a beach lover, you can still go for a dip in the sea on a beautiful day in autumn or spring (we get plenty of them) – you might even have the whole beach to yourself! The weather in autumn and spring is also great for hiking.
2. Explore Malta beyond the beaches
Located bang in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is a much sought-after sun and sea destination. But there’s more to the island than its gorgeous sandy beaches.
For instance, did you know that Malta is home to some of the oldest standing structures in the world? The Megalithic Temples of Malta were built during the 4th and 3rd millennium BC, while the Hypogeum, an underground prehistoric site, is one the mast fascinating places on the island.
Meanwhile, Valletta, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is packed with architecture gems, including Baroque palaces and churches that house priceless artworks. The ancient city of Mdina is another must-see, although I highly recommend visiting in the evening to avoid the crowds.
If you’re looking for more amazing things to do in Malta, take a trip to Birgu and Isla, where you can immerse yourself in local history while walking through winding streets and taking in beautiful views of the Grand Harbour.
3. Stay in a traditional Maltese village
For a truly authentic travel experience in Malta, I highly recommend ditching the pricey and tacky hotels in Sliema, St. Julian’s and St. Paul’s Bay for a cosy guesthouse in a non-touristy village.
For instance, Lemon Tree Bed & Breakfast in the sleepy town of Zabbar offers a truly immersive experience in the south of Malta. Book a peaceful stay in traditional townhouse where each room has been uniquely designed by the owners and food is freshly prepared with locally-sourced produce.
Meanwhile, Casa Azzopardi Guesthouse in Rabat, close to the historic city of Mdina, is a great base for anyone who wants to stay in a gorgeous Maltese townhouse and get a glimpse of local life and culture in Maltese villages.
Another great location is the fishing village of Marsaxlokk in the south of Malta. You can stay at a guesthouse close to the seafront and watch local fishermen at work. Quayside is a bed and breakfast housed in a renovated 19th century building located right along the Marsaxlokk seafront. You can buy fresh seafood from the Marsaxlokk fish market on Sunday and cook it at the guesthouse.
Check out my Malta accommodation guide for more ideas.
4. Pack waterproof clothes
Contrary to popular belief – or to what guidebooks tell you – it does actually rain in Malta. And when it does, it’s biblical.
Rain in summer is highly unlikely, but we do get some apocalyptic storms in autumn and winter (normally they only last a day or two).
Another thing – the weather in Malta tends to be unpredictable in winter, so one minute you’re soaking up some sun on the beach and the next you’re dashing for the nearest shelter.
Check out my top suggestions for things to pack for Malta.
5. Indulge in local food
Maltese cuisine is divine. From popular snacks like ftira and pastizzi, to hearty meals like baked pasta and pork stew, there are several Maltese foods and dishes you must try.
If you’re a meat eater, make sure you treat yourself to a fenkata – a traditional rabbit meal. Meanwhile, seafood lovers can indulge in a variety of traditional fish dishes, including fried lampuki, octopus stew, stuffed squid and baked tuna steaks.
Many restaurants in Malta tend to serve large portions with a complimentary side of fresh bread. For authentic Maltese cooking, look for small, family-run restaurants in traditional towns like Mgarr (Malta), Marsaxlokk and Rabat.
6. Avoid using buses in summer
Malta has always had a terrible public transport system and it gets worse during the summer months (another reason not to visit Malta in summer).
Expect long delays, packed buses, crowded bus shelters, and slow traffic when travelling on popular routes, especially on buses to Valletta, Sliema, Bugibba, Mellieha and Cirkewwa. Also, orderly queues are almost non existent in Malta, so you might have to push your way onto the bus.
Buses run more efficiently during the off-peak season, but you should still consider renting a car if you want to get off the beaten track in Malta.
7. Drive carefully
Hiring a car is the best way to get around Malta and Gozo. However, driving in Malta requires stamina.
Due to the increasing number of cars on the island, most of the main roads are always busy. Reckless driving is also a problem, so drive carefully and try to avoid arterial roads in the morning and afternoon rush hours.
Driving through the countryside is a far more pleasurable experience, but you will encounter several roads in bad condition (and epic potholes!). Also, many countryside roads are narrow and two-way, so it’s always a good idea to honk your car horn before going around a bend.
8. Be prepared for long traffic jams
Malta has a major traffic problem. There are just too many cars on the island and public transportation is not a popular option among locals. If you’re visiting Malta in summer, expect frequent bus delays, congested roads and overcrowded buses on popular routes.
With the exception of the morning and evening rush hours, the traffic isn’t too bad in winter unless it rains. Malta’s poorly surfaced and badly designed roads are prone to flooding, leading to total chaos every time the island is hit by heavy rain.
If you’ve got a tour or an activity booked, try to travel to your destination very early. A 30-minute drive or bus trip can easily turn into 1.5 hour-long journey.
9. Spend two full days in Gozo
Gozo may be a third of the size of Malta, but you’ll be surprised to learn that there’s plenty to see and do on the island.
Tourists often make the mistake of thinking that they can see all of Gozo in one day. Whilst one day is all you need to see the main sites, I highly recommend spending 2 days exploring Gozo at your own pace.
If you want to get off the beaten path in Gozo, walk along the rugged coastline, go for a swim at a secluded beach and explore the island’s picturesque hamlets.
10. Expect a lot of noise and dust
Malta’s ever-growing construction industry has turned touristy places like St. Paul’s Bay, Sliema and St. Julian’s into overpopulated concrete jungles.
Sadly, traditional buildings are constantly being demolished and replaced by large apartment blocks or new hotels. You can find a construction site on almost every street in Sliema and St. Paul’s Bay (and that’s not an exaggeration).
If you want to experience the magic of Malta, try to base yourself in a traditional town or village and spend at least a day or two exploring the island’s beautiful countryside.
Meanwhile, Gozo is more peaceful than Malta and most of its traditional towns remain largely undeveloped.
11. Be wary of the sea
While Malta has some stunning beaches, the sea can be very unforgiving. Every year, several people die after being swept away by waves or currents.
Only swim in designated swimming areas and don’t get too close to the shore when the sea is rough. Also, avoid jumping off cliffs or walking along cliff edges. Malta’s coastline is battered by violent waves in winter, which often cause fissures in the rocks that often lead to parts of the cliffs collapsing.
Worried about jellyfish? The kinds of jellyfish you find in Maltese waters are not dangerous, although their sting can be very painful. They’re normally pinkish so they’re a bit easy to spot. Watch out for sea urchins when swimming in rocky bays – avoid stepping on rocks when you’re in the sea.
Download this app to check which beaches are safe on the day you want to go swimming.
12. Avoid Paceville like the plague (unless you’re a party animal)
Paceville is often promoted as the perfect place for a great night out, but it’s really not. Picture an overdeveloped and congested area brimming with grubby nightclubs playing deafening music, rowdy groups and intoxicated people – in short, Paceville is a hellhole.
If you want to enjoy a bottle of wine in a less chaotic setting, spend the evening bar-hopping through Valletta.
Some of my favourite Valletta wine bars and cafes include:
Trabuxu: This wine bar on Strait Street is housed in a 400-year-old vaulted cellar. It is known for its wide selection of wines and delicious cheeses.
Gugar: This friendly and colourful bar is the perfect place to unwind with a nice drink. This bar also houses a tiny library and art gallery, and serves many vegan snacks.
San Paolo Naufrago: Mingle with locals at this traditional Maltese cafe, which serves a variety of snacks, including wraps and salads. You can chill out on the steps outside or just enjoy the bar’s cosy atmosphere.
13. Make a note of the bird hunting seasons
This is one of the things that many Maltese people, including myself, are not proud of.
Bird hunting is a popular ‘sport’ in Malta and it’s actually legal, despite being a threat to certain bird species. Illegal hunting is a common crime. Every year dozens of protected birds are shot.
If you’re visiting Malta in spring or autumn and planning to go hiking, you must take a few precautions if your trip coincides with the bird hunting season. There have been several cases of unsuspecting hikers being assaulted by hunters for trespassing on privately-owned land (often marked as RTO – restricted to outsiders). Stick to marked hiking trails and well-trodden paths and you should be OK.
14. Don’t bother going to the Blue Lagoon in summer
Comino’s Blue Lagoon looks like paradise in photos, but you might up end up being sorely disappointed upon getting there.
In summer, when boatloads of tourists descend on Comino every hour or so, swimming in the Blue Lagoon feels like being in some overcrowded hotel pool.
Comino is not worth visiting in the peak of summer, unless you’re willing to skip the Blue Lagoon and go for a hike across the island instead (although it might be too hot for that).
15. Explore rural Malta through geocaching
Despite its lack of green areas, Malta is still a great place for hiking. The island has a range of easy to challenging walking trails running along the coast and cutting through the countryside.
If you really want to experience Malta beyond the guidebook, I highly recommend getting into geocaching, which is very similar to treasure hunting.
Most of the geocaches in Malta are hidden in places that many locals have never actually been to or heard of. Some of them are very difficult to find and, depending on your level of fitness and how adventurous you are, you might end up scrambling down sinkholes or crawling into caves to find a geocache.
16. Avoid eating out in Sliema and St. Julian’s
Being the island’s main tourist towns, Sliema and St. Julian’s are teeming with expensive restaurants and tourist shops selling overpriced souvenirs and snacks.
If you want to save money when eating out in Malta, some great alternatives to Sliema and St. Julian’s include Mosta, Rabat, Mgarr, Birkirkara and St. Paul’s Bay.
Although St. Paul’s Bay (including Bugibba and Qawra) is one of the largest towns on the island and a popular tourist base, you’ll find cheaper shops, restaurants and accommodation here than you do in Sliema and St. Julian’s.
17. Visit Mdina in the evening
Mdina is one of the most popular attractions in Malta. This fortified city has a long and colourful past, and its maze-like alleys see thousands of visitors every year.
Throughout the peak tourist season, Mdina is teeming with people. Coaches packed with tourists stop off outside the gates and the streets become clogged with big groups of tourists on guided tours.
I highly recommend visiting Mdina in the evening, when it’s a bit quieter. Moreover, Mdina is simply magical at night and it’s the perfect setting for a romantic date. However, if you want to have dinner there, try to book a table at least a day in advance as some of the restaurants in Mdina are very popular among locals.
18. Head south
With the exception of Marsaxlokk and Hagar Qim Temples, many places in the south of Malta remain well off the tourist radar. Once you’ve visited Valletta and Mdina, take a trip to the Three Cities – Birgu, Isla and Bormla. Situated along the Grand Harbour, these places are packed with history and charm, particularly Birgu.
Spend an afternoon walking through the quiet and historic streets of Birgu, where you also get to see locals going about their daily lives. Visit the Inquisitor’s Palace and the beautiful Sicolo Norman House, enjoy a coffee at one of the cafes in the square, and take in stunning views of the harbour from the promenade.
While you’re in Birgu, head to neighbouring Bormla and pop into Bir Mula, an old house that has been turned into a museum of social history.
Explore Birgu and other beautiful places on these amazing Malta tours.
19. Support local farmers
Thanks to its Mediterranean climate, Malta boasts a wide variety of delicious produce.
If you want to try some local fruits and vegetables, head to the Farmers Market in Ta’ Qali. In some towns in Malta, you can even find farmers selling fresh fruit and veg from their trucks. Choose fresh, local produce over the plastic-wrapped foods you find in supermarkets.
For a real taste of Maltese cuisine, eat at one of the restaurants in Mgarr. I highly recommend Farmers Bar, a restaurant run by a farmers co-operative where you can try traditional Maltese dishes prepared with ingredients supplied by local farmers.
You can also learn more about local agriculture by visiting Vincent’s Eco Farm, where you can also get to try organic and locally grown products.
20. Attend a local event for a cultural experience
Cultural events, concerts, pyro shows and themed festivals take place throughout the year. Before booking your trip, it’s worth seeing what events are on around your preferred weeks.
If you’re visiting Malta in summer, try to attend one of the many weekly village festas. The feasts on Santa Maria (15 August) tend to be some of the most spectacular in Malta. Some of the feasts also take place in winter, including the Feast of St. Paul in Valletta (10 February), the Feast of St. Joseph in Rabat (19 March) and the Feast of St. Publius in Floriana (April or May).
In February, Carnival celebrations fill the streets of Valletta with music, flamboyant costumes and colourful floats. Other not-to-miss events include Notte Bianca (October), Earth Garden (June), Birgu by Candlelight (October/November) and the Mgarr Strawberry Festival (April/May).
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