Planning a trip to Malta?
This island nation is one of the smallest countries in the world. However, there are plenty of amazing things to do in Malta. In fact, I highly recommend spending a week in Malta – this should give you enough time to see the main highlights and take a trip to Gozo (Malta’s sister island).
In this post, I share my top recommendations for things to do in Malta and Gozo. The list includes cultural experiences, must-try foods, historic sites and beautiful hiking and swimming spots.
Ready to explore this amazing island? Read on!
Psst! Make sure to snag my Malta bucket list & checklist in PDF format, which you can find at the end of this post.
1. Spend a day in Valletta
A trip to Valletta should be at the top of your Malta bucket list. I may be biased, but Valletta is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Built in the 16th century, Valletta is packed with architectural gems, from Baroque palaces and churches to traditional limestone houses with colourful doors and balconies.
Malta’s capital also has a rich culture and arts scene, with plenty of exhibitions and productions taking place at the stunning Manoel Theatre, St.James’ Cavalier, and other sites across the city.
Make sure to visit St. John’s Co-Cathedral, which is home to several masterpieces, including The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Caravaggio. If you want to learn more about Maltese history, pop into The Museum of Archaeology and The Grandmaster’s Palace.
In the evening, the streets of Valletta flaunt a different personality as several wine bars and gastro pubs open their doors to locals and visitors alike.
Planning a trip to the Maltese capital? Check out my top suggestions for amazing things to do in Valletta.
2. Wander through the streets of Mdina
Mdina is one of the most popular attractions in Malta. This ancient city is known for its maze of quaint streets, harboured within fortified walls.
Mdina is perched on a hill and therefore offers beautiful views over some parts of Malta. There are also several interesting sites in Mdina, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and the National Museum of Natural History, which is housed in a beautiful French Baroque palace.
Mdina can be quite crowded during the day. If you want to avoid the crowds, visit Mdina in the evening, when the streets are much quieter (and more magical!).
3. Indulge in pastizzi
Pastizzi are Malta’s favourite snack. These are pastries that come in two main fillings; ricotta or mushy peas. Both types of pastizzi are equally delicious, and more-ish.
You can buy pastizzi from cafes and pastizzerias; small food outlets that sell takeaway snacks, including pastries, pizza and baked pasta.
4. Explore the old city of Birgu
The port city of Birgu has a lot to offer, however it is often overlooked by tourists. Whether you’re looking for a non-touristy alternative to Valletta and Mdina, or want to delve deeper into Malta’s history, spend a day exploring the historic streets of Birgu.
Birgu is located on the south side of the Grand Harbour. The city has played a vital role during the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 and during World War II.
Some interesting places to visit in Birgu include The Inquisitor’s Palace, Fort St. Angelo and the Malta Maritime Museum. Also, make sure to pop into the Sicolo Norman House, a very old building in Birgu (possibly the oldest), which has been beautifully renovated by its current owner.
Check out my top suggestions for things to do in Birgu.
5. Go on a boat trip to Comino
The Maltese islands boast a rugged coastline punctuated with beautiful sandy beaches and hidden grottos. The tiny island of Comino, which sits between Malta and Gozo and is almost uninhabited, is a popular tourist destination, mainly thanks to the crystal clear waters of Blue Lagoon bay.
You can visit Comino on a boat trip – most trips depart from the touristy towns of Sliema and Bugibba.
Tip: The Blue Lagoon can get very busy in summer, with boats loaded with tourists constantly pulling into the bay. Only visit if you don’t mind crowds. Read more Malta tips.
6. Spend Sunday morning in Marsaxlokk
If you’re a seafood lover, take a trip to Marsaxlokk. This seaside village on the southern tip of Malta hosts a fish market every Sunday, where fishermen sell a variety of fresh, local fish.
If you have no cooking facilities at your accommodation, you can enjoy some nice fish dishes at one of the restaurants situated along the promenade.
Marsaxlokk is also known for its colourful boats, including the Maltese luzzu; a traditional fishing boat painted in bright colours, with the eye of Osiris adorning each side of the bow.
7. Hike along the Victoria Lines
The Victoria Lines is a defensive wall that was built by the British military in the 19th century, when Malta was still a British colony. The wall runs along a natural fault and spans almost the entire width of Malta, from Madliena to Fomm ir-Rih.
If you don’t feel like hiking along the entire wall (12km), start your walk from Bingemma (you can park next to the chapel of Our Lady of Itria) and hike along the Dwejra Lines sections.
Bingemma is also home to a network of ancient tombs and cave dwellings, which you can explore before walking up the hill towards Dwejra. Along the way, you can enjoy stunning views over the island. This route also takes you through the beautiful Speranza Valley.
You can finish your walk in Mosta and enjoy a nice drink or lunch at one of the cafes in Mosta square, overlooking the Rotunda.
8. Party with the locals at a village festa
One of the most popular Maltese traditions is the village festa. Every parish in Malta has a patron saint. Throughout the year, several parish communities in villages and towns across Malta honour their patron saint with band marches, processions and spectacular fireworks.
During the festa, the local church is beautifully decorated and the statue of the patron saint is paraded through the streets. Ground fireworks are another important feature of the Maltese festa.
The majority of festas take place during the summer months. In fact, you can hear fireworks going off almost every night in summer.
Want to put this experience on your Malta itinerary? Click here for a list of annual feasts in Malta.
9. Walk around Cittadella
If you’re visiting Gozo, your first stop should be Cittadella. This old citadel is situated on a hill in Victoria (also known as Rabat). It is believed that this area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age, and that it later served as an administrative town during Phoenician and Roman times.
Like Mdina, Cittadella delights visitors a with maze of quaint alleys, although on a much smaller scale. From the ramparts, you can enjoy panoramic views over Gozo.
The main highlight of Cittadella is the 17th-century cathedral, which you can visit along with the Cathedral Museum. I also recommend visiting the Folklore Museum, which is housed in a medieval building and offers an insight into rural life on the island throughout the centuries.
10. Stroll through the alleys of Victoria
Gozo’s capital city is a joy to explore. The winding alleys of Victoria (or Rabat) are lined with traditional houses and cute little shops.
Once you’ve roamed around Cittadella, head down to the old centre of Victoria for some lunch and a spot of shopping. A daily open-air market is held in Independence Square, with street vendors also setting up their stalls in surrounding alleys. Besides stalls selling tourist souvenirs and local crafts, you’ll also find a few tiny shops brimming with local antiques.
Just off Independence Square lies the beautiful St. George’s Basilica, which is located in a tiny square. Enjoy a coffee at one of the coffee shops in the small piazza, then carry on exploring the quiet alleys of the old town, or walk down Republic Street, the bustling main street of Victoria.
11. Visit Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Temples
Malta is home to some of the oldest standing structures in the world. The prehistoric temples across Malta and Gozo were built between 3600 and 3000 BC.
The megalithic temple complex of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are among some of the best-preserved ancient sites on the Maltese islands. The temples and on-site museum shed some light on the life of Malta’s ancient communities.
The structure of the temples is just fascinating – it includes stones over 5 metres high that weigh around 20 tonnes, stone pillars decorated with spirals, and an elliptical hole that allows light to enter the temple during sunrise on the summer solstice.
Archaeologists have also unearthed headless mini statues of a female figure, which may suggest that these ancient communities worshipped a deity of fertility.
12. Marvel at the Mosta Dome
The town of Mosta is famous for its impressive Rotunda, which is an excellent example of the Neoclassical architectural style.
Dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, this large, 19th-century church at the heart of one of Malta’s most picturesque towns boasts a range of outstanding features. Its facade is dominated by a portico with six Ionic columns and is flanked by two bell towers.
Meanwhile, the dome is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It stands at a height of 61 metres and has a diameter of nearly 40 metres.
The interior of the church is adorned with beautiful murals, stucco mouldings, religious statues and other exquisite decorations.
During the Second World War, a heavy bomb was dropped straight onto the church during mass. It pierced the dome and landed amid a congregation of around 300 people. Miraculously, the bomb did not explode.
13. Meet Popeye and Olive at Popeye Village
Popeye Village in Mellieha is one of the most colourful and photogenic places in Malta.
Located on a pretty, sheltered bay, this village of colourful, wooden buildings was built as a film set for the 1980 musical film Popeye, starring Robin Williams. The film set has been converted into a family fun park, with performances and shows by Popeye, Olive Oyl and other characters.
Besides popping into the cute wooden buildings and attending the range of fun shows, you can also spend the afternoon lounging by the sea or take a boat trip around the beautiful Anchor Bay.
14. Go underground at the Hypogeum
The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni is an underground prehistoric burial site which was discovered in the early 1900s and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Built on three levels, the Hypogeum is made up of a network of rock-cut chambers, some of which feature beautiful red ochre paintings and carvings on the wall. Some of the human remains that were found at this burial site date back to about 4000BC.
You can explore this fascinating ancient site on a guided tour. However, you must book your tickets in advance as there is a limit on the number of visitors per tour and per day.
15. Go for a swim at Ghajn Tuffieha or Gnejna
Malta is not short of beautiful sandy beaches. Some of the most popular beaches are found in the northern region of the island.
Ghadira Bay in Mellieha is very popular among tourists and local families, mostly due to its large stretch of shallow water.
Meanwhile, Ghajn Tuffieha is home to two stunning beaches, Golden Bay and Riviera Bay, which are right next to each other. These beaches are also great spots for watching the sunset.
Another beautiful beach is Gnejna Bay in Mgarr. While this beach is a bit smaller than others in the region, it is still quite a lovely swimming spot, surrounding by clay slopes and hills.
Malta’s beautiful beaches are usually very crowded in summer. However, thanks to the island’s warm Mediterranean climate, you can still go for a swim in autumn and spring. The beaches are much quieter during these seasons.
Wondering when’s the best time to visit Malta? Check out this guide.
16. Venture into St. Paul’s Catacombs
Located in Rabat (Malta), St. Paul’s Catacombs are among some of the earliest Christian sites on the island.
Dating back to Punic and Roman times, St. Paul’s Catacombs are made up of interconnected underground chambers and passages, which cover an area of over 2000 square metres. Some of the walls are decorated with old frescoes.
Another must-visit site is St. Agatha’s Crypt and Catacombs, which are located close to St. Paul’s Catacombs. According to legend, St. Agatha hid in a cave after fleeing Sicily – the same cave that was later turned into a crypt with impressive Byzantine and Graeco-Roman frescoes.
Tip: Rabat is a great base for those who want to book accommodation in authentic Maltese towns, away from the tourist spots. Check out this Malta accommodation guide.
17. Enjoy a traditional meal in Mgarr
Want to try some authentic Maltese dishes? Head to Mgarr!
This idyllic village is surrounded by large swathes of farmland. Mainly an agricultural area, Mgarr is home to several cafes and restaurants that prepare traditional local dishes with fresh produce sourced from local farmers.
One of my favourite retaurants in Mgarr (and Malta!) is Farmers Bar. Managed by a local farmers co-operative, this restaurant serves traditional Maltese dishes, such as rabbit, horsemeat, snails and baked pasta, prepared fresh each day.
18. Chill out in St. Paul’s Bay
Situated on a peninsula, St. Paul’s Bay is one of the largest towns in Malta. It is also a tourist town, with plenty of hotels, bars and restaurants, and swimming spots.
St. Paul’s Bay is the perfect base for your stay in Malta if you want to pair lazy days by the sea with a spot of sightseeing. You can go for evening strolls along the promenade, hang out at the bars in Bugibba square, and enjoy a nice drink or meal by the sea.
19. Enjoy a quiet swim at Ghar Lapsi
If you prefer going for a swim in a quieter setting than Malta’s popular sandy beaches, take a trip to Ghar Lapsi; a small, secluded bay near the village of Siggiewi.
Ghar Lapsi’s main allure is its natural rocky swimming pool with turquoise waters, as well as a cosy cave situated right on the bay. There are also a few of restaurants where you can enjoy a lovely meal with beautiful views over the Mediterranean Sea.
Ghar Lapsi is also a great spot for scuba diving.
20. Take a boat tour of the Blue Grotto
Located close to Hagar Qim Temples, the Blue Grotto is a stunning cave system on the southern coast of Malta. These sea caves are known for their vibrant blue waters, which you can enjoy on a Blue Grotto boat tour.
The boat tours leave from Wied iz-Zurrieq, a small fishing harbour where you can take in stunning views of the sea and Filfla (a small, uninhabited island) and enjoy a nice meal at one of the local restaurants (try the seafood!).
21. Go on a night out in Sliema & St. Julians
The nightlife hub of Paceville in St. Julian’s is packed with bars and clubs. Paceville can get very crowded during the summer months, so if you’re looking for a more relaxing night out, head to Sliema instead.
The St Julian’s and Sliema promenade is teeming with cool cafes, pubs and restaurants. Shops and food outlets in these two neighbouring towns tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but you get to enjoy a nice meal and drink in lively places like Spinola Bay and Balluta Bay. Meanwhile, Sliema Ferries offers beautiful views of the Valletta skyline.
Tip: Visiting Malta solo and want to find ways to socialise? Go on a Paceville pub crawl with a local host and other visitors.
22. Hike along the coast in Mistra
Want to pair a nice swim with a scenic hike? Mistra is a great place for outdoor lovers.
Start your walk from Mistra Bay and walk up the hill towards Mistra Battery, an 18th-century coastal fortification. Keep walking along the cliffside – there is a steep pathway that takes you up a hill first and then along the coastline. You’ll even get a close-up view of St. Paul’s Islands, which are believed to be the site of St. Paul’s shipwreck.
This hike also takes you to an area known as il-Blata l-Bajda; a stretch of coastline with old salt pans carved into the limestone. You’ll also come across a few pillboxes along the way. Be careful when exploring these old structures as a lot of them are in a very dilapidated state.
Next, walk up the hill towards Fort Campbell, a fort built by the British in the late 1930s. From there, follow the road back to Mistra Bay – you can either take the long route via Selmun Palace, or walk down a shorter path which takes you back to the bay via the cliffside and Mistra Battery.
23. Climb to Ta’ Gurdan Lighthouse
If you want to take in some stunning views while visiting Gozo, take a trip to Ta’ Gurdan Lighthouse near the village of Ghasri.
Constructed in 1851 under British rule, Ta’ Gurdan Lighthouse sits on a rocky ridge at 161 metres above sea level. If an attendant is present, you may be able to pop into the lighthouse.
You will need to climb a steep hill to get to the lighthouse (though you can park your car in a road just under the rocky ridge). Once you reach the top you will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Gozitan countryside and coastline.
24. Travel back in time at Ghar Dalam
Visiting Ghar Dalam is another must, especially if you’re travelling to Malta with kids. Located in Birzebbuga, this 145-metre-long cave contains fossils and bones of animal species that became extinct thousands of years ago.
The lowermost layers of Ghar Dalam are more than 500,000 years old. Some of the remains found in this part of the cave belong to dwarf elephants, hippopotamuses and deer. These creatures inhabited Malta when the island was still joined to Italy.
Neanderthal teeth were also found in the cave, as well as pottery dating back to 5200 BC. In fact, Ghar Dalam is home to the earliest evidence of human settlement on Malta.
25. Unravel the mysteries of Ggantija Temples
The Ggantija Temples in Gozo are the oldest megalithic temples on the Maltese islands. Built between 3600 and 3200 B.C, the Ggantija Temples are older than the Egyptian pyramids.
According to legend, these temples were built by an ancient community of giants. This is due to the huge stone slabs that make up the structure – some of them are over five metres long and weigh over fifty tons.
These temples are shrouded in mystery. Archaeologists are still not sure what these imposing structures were built for, although they were likely used as places of worship. The remains of animal bones found at the site, as well as the presence of stone hearths, suggest that animal sacrifices were held at the temples.
26. Go on a wee adventure in Dingli
Situated on the island’s western coast, the quaint village of Dingli is home to the highest point in Malta. Dingli Cliffs rise up to 253 metres above sea level and offer staggering views of the rugged coast and the sea – plus a glimpse of Filfla.
Dingli Cliffs is a great place for a refreshing, coastal walk. There is a road that runs along the cliffs, with a great viewpoint next to St. Mary Magdalene Chapel.
Other interesting sites in the area include Dingli Cart Ruts (Clapham Junction), an ancient network of tracks cut into the ground, and Ghar il-Kbir, a series of caves, which was inhabited by Malta’s early cave dwellers.
Another beautiful place to visit is Buskett Gardens, one of the few green places in Malta. Planted in the 1500s to serve as a hunting reserve, this small woodland is made up of hundreds of native coniferous trees and groves of fruit trees.
Buskett is also home to the beautiful Verdala Palace, which was built in 1586 and was originally used as a hunting lodge. Nowadays, the palace serves as the summer residence of the President of Malta.
Suggestion: Want to do something a bit different? Explore Dingli on a Segway tour.
27. Pop into the Red Tower
Saint Agatha’s Tower in Mellieha, also known as the Red Tower, looks like the perfect sandcastle. Built in the 1600s, this red watchtower sits on a hill overlooking Mellieha Bay.
You can pair a visit to the Red Tower with a walk along Rdum il-Qammieh. There is a clear path that starts from the Red Tower and finishes at the edge of the cliff, where you’ll find an abandoned radar station. This walk also offers scenic views of the island’s rugged north-western coast.
28. Get off the beaten path in Mtahleb
One of my favourite places in Malta is Mtahleb, a rural community in the limits of Rabat. This is one of the few places in Malta that remain secluded and largely untainted by development.
Mtahleb sits along the western coast, its main landmark being an isolated church with a red dome. The path alongside the church leads down to the coast, where you’ll find a ravine in the cliffs. This area is known as Migra l-Ferha. There is a set of rock-hewn steps that lead to the sea, however it is not advisable to swim here as the currents can be very dangerous.
You can walk along the Mtahleb coast, sticking to the path for safety. This area is very scenic, especially in winter, when the hills and valley flaunt lush green hues. From the pathway you can also enjoy beautiful views of sea caves – an area known as Ras id-Dawwara.
Important tip: When hiking in Malta, you will often come across signs that read ‘private land’ or ‘RTO’ (reserved to owner). Some areas are occupied illegally. Avoid walking in areas that are marked as private, as some landowners can be very hostile towards trespassers. Check out this guide to staying safe in Malta.
29. Explore Gozo’s hidden bays and valleys
Gozo’s coast is dotted with natural wonders and picturesque bays. While the beaches of Ramla Bay, Xlendi and Marsalforn are normally very busy, you can escape the crowds by visiting some of Gozo’s hidden gems.
If you want to go for a quiet swim, head to Mgarr ix-Xini, a small sheltered bay which has starred in a film by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Another pretty swimming spot is Wied il-Ghasri, a coastal gorge with turquoise waters.
One of my favourite spots in Gozo is Wied il-Mielah, a natural arch located at the end of a valley. There is a narrow staircase that takes you down to the shore and allows you to take in a full view of this majestic arch.
30. Visit the pilgrimage site in Mellieha
Perched on a hill, the northern town of Mellieha is mostly known for its large stretch of sandy beach, Ghadira Bay. However, this peaceful town is also home to some very interesting religious sites.
Next to the imposing Mellieha parish church lies the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieha – a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The chapel was built in the 16th century and has since been enlarged several times, becoming a popular pilgrimage site. The walls of the sacristy are covered in gifts and pledges, from photos of loved ones to baby clothes and other personal belongings.
The highlight of the sanctuary is a Byzantine-style fresco depicting the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. According to legend, this fresco in the Crypt of Our Lady of Mellieha was painted by St Luke after he found himself shipwrecked on the island along with St. Paul (although it was probably painted in the 13th century).
Another must-see is the subterranean crypt of Il-Madonna tal-Ghar (or Our Lady of the Grotto). Steeped in legend and mystery, this 17th-century underground chapel was carved into the rock by a Sicilian merchant. Throughout the years, several pilgrims and devotees have left votive offerings and letters on the walls of the crypt.
• • •
Enjoyed this post? Pin it!
This post contains affiliate links. This means that I may receive a commission on any purchases made through the links in the post at no extra cost to you.