What I’m about to say might sound harsh, but the first step towards planning your trip to Malta is to ignore 99% of travel guides you find online.
For starters, they tend to over-romanticise the island. I hate to burst your bubble, but Malta is not the ideal destination for your summer vacation. In fact, if you really want to have an amazing time on the island, I highly recommend planning a trip for autumn or spring.
So, are you ready for some honest Malta travel advice? Here are some important things you need to know before visiting the island.
1. Summers are hell
Soaring temperatures, humid nights, overcrowded beaches, rowdy EFL students, chaotic traffic, short tempers, fat men in speedos – you get the picture. Main tourist attractions like Valletta and Mdina are packed with large groups of tourists during the summer and getting around by bus is a very unpleasant experience due to long queues of tourists at main bus stops (and a shortage of buses).
Malta is best enjoyed from October till April. We get beach days up until December, when you can have the whole beach to yourself. Autumn and spring are perfect for trekking around the island, and you can get anywhere without having to queue for the bus or weave your way through large groups of tourists.
2. Public transport can be a nightmare
The country has always had a terrible public transport system and it gets worse during the summer months. Expect long delays, crowded buses and bus stops, and slow traffic when travelling on popular routes, especially on buses to Valletta, Sliema, Bugibba, Mellieha and Cirkewwa.
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. Having said that, driving in Malta requires courage, stamina and a few prayers. Maltese drivers tend to be very impatient and reckless driving is quite a common sight on Maltese roads, so drive carefully, especially on main roads.
3. Don’t expect excellent customer service
While people in Malta are generally helpful and welcoming, I’ve seen numerous bus drivers, restaurant staff and shop owners being uncouth in the presence of tourists. Tempers flare and people snap in the unbearable summer heat, yet at the same time you’ll come across individuals who would go out of their way to help you out.
Customer service with a smile is a bit of a rare phenomenon in Malta. I could write volumes on my personal experience with this issue, but let’s leave it at that. Just don’t take it personally if the person serving you avoids eye contact or is too busy chatting to a fellow colleague to bid you a good day.
4. Some of the beaches are overrated
They might look like paradise in pictures, but in summer they’re teeming with deckchairs, noisy groups, screaming children and their equally loud mothers. Add a swarm of jellyfish to the mix and you get the perfect portrayal of a terrible day at the beach.
Malta boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean, but they are often ruined by litter and sewage leaks in the summer months. Don’t despair though – you can still go for a peaceful swim in lesser-known beaches around Malta and Gozo, such as Mgiebah Bay in Mellieha, Gnejna Beach in Mgarr (Malta) and San Blas Bay in Nadur.
5. Malta is not exactly environmentally-friendly
Malta’s environmental matters have always been put on the back burner. Moreover, illegal dwellings and land occupations are scattered across the Maltese countryside, and unsuspecting trespassers risk being assaulted.
During the bird hunting seasons (autumn and spring), some areas in the countryside are taken over by hunters, who can become aggressive if they suspect passers-by of spying on them (some hunters shoot at protected species). So when trekking in Malta and Gozo, steer clear of men carrying guns (it goes without saying) and areas marked as RTO (reserved to owner).
6. There’s more to Malta than sandy beaches
Malta is mainly known as a sun and sea destination. However, there are plenty of historic sites that you can visit. 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.
And if you’re looking for more amazing places to visit 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.
Check out these amazing Malta tours and day trips.
7. Maltese food is divine
Just like any other Mediterranean country, Malta is blessed with a climate that yields a variety of crops throughout the year. Many local dishes are prepared using fresh seasonal produce. 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.
8. It can get very noisy
Malta’s ever-growing construction industry has turned touristy places like St. Paul’s Bay, Sliema and St. Julian’s into overpopulated concrete jungles. Old 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 much peaceful than Malta and most of its traditional towns remain largely undeveloped.
Check out my recommendations for places to stay in Malta & Gozo.
9. There’s never a dull moment on the island
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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