In this article, we share with you our trip to Malta. We give you some tips on how you can spend three days in this warm and sunny country, located by the Mediterranean Sea. Malta lies between Europe and Africa, offering a great combo of food and nature.
Malta’s brief history
Malta is an exotic paradise not far from Europe and an historical melting pot for different cultures, nations, and foods. The country is an archipelago of about 475 000 people, formed by 3 large islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino (all inhabited). Malta has also other smaller islands that are uninhabited. Malta is the largest island and represents the political, cultural and commercial center of the country. Gozo is the second-largest island, reached by ferry from the north of Malta, and its main economic activities include: tourism, fishing and agriculture. Comino is the smallest and it has a permanent population of 3 people. It is famous because there is where the Blue Lagoon is located.
Two official languages
Malta has 2 official languages: English and Maltese. The latter is a Semitic language (from the branch of Afro-Asiatic and Arabian languages), a Latinised version of spoken Arabic influenced by Sicilian. Malta is in a strategic location and throughout history, it has had different rulers and inhabitants, including Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Aragonese, Knights of St. John, French, and British, which have left marks in the country’s ancient culture.
During World War II and for 2 years, the country was heavily bombarded by the Italians and Germans. It is emblematic of this country that even after sustaining 2 years of heavy bombardments, they picked themselves up and started rebuilding. The archipelago was a colony of the Arabic Empire for 800 years and a British colony from 1813 until 1964, joining the EU in 2004.
As people, Maltese are very friendly and chatty, well spirited and positive. Going around in Malta, you get a feeling of being in a Southern European country with Arabic influences. These influences are striking in the architecture and landscapes. You can go from modern Malta to a Tuscan village, to a Lebanese highland or a North African village and finally end up in Ancient Rome. All this variety reflects not only the people that form Malta today but also the people that were there before. This diversity also shows up in the delicious Maltese food, with strong Italian, British and Arabic influences. Apart from its fascinating history, Malta offers exciting and exotic natural landscapes. It is an intense beautiful area.
Malta offers an attractive combo of warm and sunny weather, varied culture and landscapes. From Ireland, Malta lies in a similar distance as the island of Lanzarote. It takes about a 3h/4h flight to get there. Finding flight tickets to go from Dublin to Malta wasn’t difficult as it is a popular destination. It wasn’t a super cheap, but a needed and welcoming break. The wish to explore is stronger!
Although the Island of Malta is bathed by the warm waters of the Mediterranean it is not a beach destination necessarily. Due to the rock formations, overcrowded and small beach bays, and enclaves, it is hard to find spots to bathe in. Nonetheless, if you look hard and get lucky you’re always able to find a spot in the sun. After all, the country is blessed with 300 days of sun.
When? Is the weather always warm and sunny in Malta?
We went there in October and it was sunny all the time. It was also pretty warm. During the day, temperatures ranging between 21-25oC
This is a period, during which there aren’t so many tourists around, and the weather is still fantastic with . The overall climate in Malta is never too cold and is moderately hot in the summer. Winter (December-February) is mild with 14oC to 12oC and some rain. Spring (March-May) temperatures rise to 23oC. Summer (June to August) hot and sunny 30oC with sea breezes and finally autumn (September to November) temperatures are still at 24oC.
How to get around Malta?
The best way to get around is by car. The roads are in good enough condition and the island is small enough. Also, the convenience of having a car allows you to stop wherever you want and enjoy the places for as long as you want, without worrying about bus schedules. One thing to keep in mind though is that in Malta they drive on the right side of the road, same as the UK and Ireland.
Catching the bus is an adventure in itself. They are not so frequent and usually fill up very quickly. Apart from locals, there are also a lot of tourists that put pressure on the public transportation system. This means in practice, that you should go as early as you can to the bus stop and you will have to be pushy, otherwise, you’ll never get on the bus. It’s not a very civil practice, but one gets used to it soon enough.
Day 1 – Sliema & Popeye Village
We arrived late at night at Malta International Airport, after a 4h30 flight. We took a taxi to the hotel. You can easily grab one from the airport, by purchasing a ticket inside where there’s an information desk set up. The ride was short and we soon arrived. The air was warm, there were people in the streets enjoying themselves, talking, and drinking.
It was a Thursday, and our hotel was located in Sliema, a nice town with a waterfront and a long promenade, from which it’s possible to reach Valetta (located just in front) by ferry or by bus. Both ways take a few minutes to get there, being cheaper with the bus. Close to our hotel, there was a small bay with fishing boats, a few cafes and restaurants to choose from. The view from the bay was quite picturesque view of Valetta on the other side. We felt relaxed and excited about the mood around us. It was like being transported to summer during October.
Charming limestones built houses in some places, bays, and small harbors, and a lot of life around. The nature in Malta is a mix of terraced fields, dry vegetation, rock, and limestone. As the country has no lakes or rivers, it is very dry everywhere, except by the coast. This makes water a scarce resource on the island, and is it happens in places like this, tap water is desalinated water from the sea.
The next morning we woke up with a plan already in mind: we were going to where the movie “Popeye” was filmed in 1980, a place now called Popeye Village. The set for the movie was left intact and is now a popular tourist attraction. The tickets cost 15€/adult and inside you find all the attractions and history behind Popeye’s story, souvenirs, restaurants, cafes and a beach for you to dip your toes and head in.
The Mediterranean water that surrounds it, is of turquoise color and very warm. You need to have your towel, and you’re lucky to grab an empty chair/bed to lay on. After a filling breakfast, we head out into the hot sun to catch the bus that would take us there. The way up there was our first glimpse of the Maltese landscape.
As we wandered around the village, we enjoyed some popcorn and headed out for a small boat trip around the coast of about 30min. It was quite nice to enjoy the coastal scenery of rock formations. At the same time, you could feel the force of the Mediterranean’s waves and currents pulling and pushing, which makes one think about the hundreds of migrants that try to cross this big sea from Africa to try and have a better life in Europe. Malta represents a temporary place for many of them that are looking to transition into other EU countries.
After some much-needed relaxation at the beach with a nice beer to follow, we started packing everything and going back.
Delicious Maltese modern food
We went back to Valetta and started looking for places to eat. We found Wine Bar that look pretty good called Legligin Wine Bar. Although they were on a reservation base only, as we arrived early, they said we could stay for 2h before the next reserved customers would come.
We pretty much had the place to ourselves. The set up was a cavernous cellar type place nicely decorated. The eating concept was one where the customer does not choose from a menu a la Carte, but instead, you pay 26€ for a tasting menu, which includes Maltese and other Mediterranean dishes. According to them, “Just sit back, relax, and let us feed you, the Legligin way”.
The food was perfect (a diverse and mixed set of things, from wild mushroom soup to fish and cold meats), served with some tasty local wine and mind-blowing chocolate cake as a dessert. By the time we were filling full, we had reaching only half way the set menu. So was the meal over? No way! But we couldn’t anymore, so asked for the bill. They were nice and agreed to charge only half the menu so 15€ each. It was a delicious night!
Day 2 – Comino
The next day, we decided to visit another of Malta’s islands: Comino. It is a small island, best known by its turquoise blue waters: the main attraction being the Blue lagoon, which brings thousands of tourists every year. The island has a permanent population of only three residents and you can walk from one tip to the other. It is a bird sanctuary and nature reserve. There are no paved roads, cars (except for some 4×4 that take tourists up and down the island) or urban areas. It is perfect for photographing and get lost in the blue horizon of the Mediterranean and enjoy the sun. Its coast is wild and powerful. We got close enough to take some great pictures.
Once you leave the craziness of the Blue Lagoon, which is full of people and beach bars with loud music, you can enjoy the quietness on the other side of the island. In a way, this is where tourism gets its bad reputation. Any sense of enjoyment of the surrounding natural beauty is ruined by loud music and too many people and boats altogether.
When we arrived there we tried to breathe, we bought ourselves some Pina Coladas served in big pineapples, as we started to get excited to be there. But the craziness around didn’t allow us to relax, to sit even. We quickly decided to leave and headed out to Santa Maria’s Bay, where there’s a small beach to enjoy and relax. Once we arrived, we finally were able to touch the warm water and take a well-deserved dip. The temperature was quite hot and laid down for a while.
How to get to Comino?
The only way to arrive at Comino is by ferry, and there is a lot of these departing from the North of Malta every day. The journey takes usually 30mins and it is cheap. A round trip will cost you 8€ to 13€, and if you want you can buy an extended ticket to go to Gozo, the bigger island, just next door.
To give yourself some time, in case you don’t rent a car, try to leave at say 9 am to catch the bus that takes you there. Especially given the waiting times you may have to face, we know it’s not ideal, but it’s worth to visit this small island in the Mediterranean. Imagine now, during these lock-down times, the locals must be enjoying there, and at least the Blue Lagoon gets to recover a bit. We spent a few hours there, had a bite to eat, and headed back to Sliema at around 18ish.
Valetta’s night vibes
We were tired, but the evening was nice. We decided to walk around Sliema as we hadn’t explored much. Later we took the bus to Valetta and headed there for a drink. We found a cozy place in one of those narrow streets that had a great ambiance. People were out, enjoying, chatting with each other, very social. Now we only had to find a free spot to sit and enjoy as well. We found Trabuxu Bistro/Wine bar that offered a lovely vibe. It was packed inside and outside. As we looked around, we saw some people leaving and quickly jumped on it. Cheese fondue and wine, please! Both were great, the staff was pretty chilled and quick at the same time. It was a great ending to the day.
As we walked a bit more, there was a night exhibition close to Valetta’s main fountain – Tritons’ Fountain. It was an homage to the city that has been the European Capital of Culture of 2018. Night lights, music, and some nice decorations made the place shine. We watched this for a while and headed back to our hotel.
Day 3 – City of Valetta
Our last day in Malta was spent exploring Valetta. Founded in 1566, the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980, because of its 320 monuments, which have great historical value. The city is pretty much an open-air museum. It is one of the smallest capitals in Europe and one of the most picturesque to visit. It stretches 1km long by 600m wide. Albeit small, you might be surprised to find there are plenty of things to do in Valletta. In such a tiny space, you find a combo of great restaurants and bars to choose from, plenty of historical sites along with a great climate to enjoy.
The sea is just around the corner and the views are breathtaking. The city sits on the higher ground between two natural harbors (Grand Harbour and Marsamxett Harbour). Its streets were aligned in a grid-like layout, being wide and straight, which is said to have been chosen to allow the sea breeze to give its citizens a break from Malta’s hot summer weather.
Valetta’s buildings and streets
It was hard for us to catch the free walking tour to explore the city, so, unfortunately, we missed the insight we could’ve gained from it. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to stroll around the city’s streets, filled with limestone buildings and its colorful balconies. It is something one must-see live because the limestone brings soothing ease to the mind and the eyes.
The city is an exotic mix that takes you back to these ancient times. The narrow and long streets are so charming, and when the sun hits them in certain angles it creates perfect photo moments.
What did we do and see in Valetta?
After breakfast at our hotel, we took the ferry to Valetta, which costs 1.50€ and it took us 20min. The city has a strong medieval look and feels to it. The Royal Opera House and Parliament buildings for example (located just behind the main gate) are impressive and reveal the abundance of limestone the country has to offer to allow them to forge their own architectural identity. We had a quick stop at the cafe Sunday In Scotland, where we grabbed a nice cappuccino.
After relaxing for a while, we headed to our next stop, the Upper Barrakka Gardens. These are a quiet open space, with a garden and café that offers magnificent views over the Grand Harbour and the Three Cities (Birgu or Vittoriosa, Senglea, or Isla and Bormla or Cospicua). If you are there either at 12 pm or 4 pm sharp, you can witness the firing of the guns at the Saluting Battery down below.
While we were enjoying the view, a local approached us, curious about who we were and so we started chatting. He explained to us some of the histories behind Malta’s buildings and archaeological sites. He used to work as a tourist guide in these, and he missed the interaction with people, since being retired for a few years now. You could see the pride and love he felt for the city and country he belonged to, and how passionate he talked about it. It was very enjoyable to watch and listen to.
Italian influences in Maltese food
We ended our stay in Malta with one more meal at a place called Taproom. We sat for a delicious and filling tagliatelle with Portobello and porcini mushrooms, followed by a nice white wine. To finish off we tried an orgasmic pistachio fondant accompanied by a small ball of vanilla ice cream.
We waited until leaving time to catch the bus back to the airport and fly to Dublin.
Overall, our three days in warm and sunny Malta were great.
Malta, see you next time!
No need for a visa if you are from the EU.
Per person, the budget was: flights 116.56€; 3 nights 67€ per night with Hotel with breakfast; Popeye village price a total of 15€. We found food prices, ranging between 15€ and 30€, to be reasonable for the quantity and quality. In Dublin, for that quality, we would have paid double. Transportation in Malta via bus – only available from the bus driver is the two-hour single ticket which costs €2.00 to 2.50€; ferry to Valetta 1.50€; ferry to Comino around 13€ with return
Food to try
Pasta is a must, and if you have the chance you should try the Crab sauce and pumpkin agnolotti.