Malta holds a special place in my heart. It’s where my husband and I spent Christmas two years ago and is actually the location where we got engaged! I had a friend who had been to Malta a few years earlier and she told me that it needed to be very high on my bucket list. So naturally, I had to go as soon as possible.
There are a few uniquely different spots on the island, all with their own wonderful features. Northern Malta boasts some of the best beaches, St. Julian’s is busy with the hustle and bustle of cafes, restaurants, and various bays, Valletta is where the old town is located and has a very distinct 16th century elegance, and the South West part of the island has magnificent rocky views over the Mediterranean Sea.
Malta was part of the British Empire until 1964 and the long period of imperial rule definitely left it’s legacy from the left-hand driving road system to the three-pin electric plugs. Malta is one of, if not the most important island in the Mediterranean and unfortunately this country has felt the affects; the fortified towns and harbours bear the scars of countless brutal invasions.
Such an interesting country with it’s rich history. The landscapes make this island extremely popular in all months of the year; rocky stretches of coast, ocean views, limestone cliffs, and hidden bays. Around every major stretch is a new town and a new bustling colourful harbour to explore.
Traditional Maltese food mixes Sicilian and Middle Eastern flavours (keep reading to find out what the best Indian restaurant was!) and it seemed like every dish in every restaurant had a curious and intriguing mixture.
The Maltese people are warm and welcoming: if you ask for directions, it's likely a local will walk with you to help you find the way. Plenty of 21st-century sophistication can be found, but there are also pockets where you feel you’ve gone back in time.
A magical island with everything you could ask for in one trip; rich culture, relaxing beaches, alluring streets, inviting restaurants. We only had three days and love to see as much as possible when we travel so here is our compiled three - day itinerary and guide to the beautiful and elusive Mediterranean island, Malta.
Exploring Valetta and the surrounding towns.
We actually flew in to Malta during the morning so we arrived in the early afternoon. We took a cab and got settled into our cute air b&b hotel in the middle of Old Town Valetta. Our cab took us as far as he could and then we became those tourists lugging our suitcases down the cobblestone back alleys and uneven streets.
Where we stayed:
Ajkla Mansion: this gem is right in the heart of Old Town Valletta. There’s a small and beautiful walking street just before the building which we strolled around a few times a day. An awesome location, just a minute walk to beautiful views of the sea with a mixture of cafes, corner stores, restaurants and shops sprinkled all around. Everything was prompt and well organized, we didn’t have any problems before during or after staying here. Click here to check out their site.
Valletta may be small (1km by 600m on a peninsula) but it’s packed full of so many amazing sights. When Unesco named Valletta a World Heritage site, it was described as 'one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world'. Valletta is a fortress city dating back to the 1500’s, is now capital of Malta, and was built in just fifteen years! Impressive, eh? They’ve made it easy for tourists and locals alike to walk around the outside of the town and take in the views along the fortress walls. But if you’re wanting to take a cab to neighbouring cities, be weary: cab drivers can only be found at the main gate of Old Town and looove to rip off tourists. If you’re needing a ride, be prepared to fork over some cash.
A beautiful fountain of magnificent scale located right in the centre right outside the city gates of Valletta. Showcasing three large tritons holding up a water basin as a symbol of the sea, it’s an impressive site sitting in the middle of the square. The Triton Fountain was constructed in 1959 by a Maltese sculptor who won the national competition for designing a fountain to decorate the main city bus station (where it sits today). He was inspired by famous fountains located in Rome. If you’re passing through Valletta go sneak a peak!
This is a must. Because the cabs are impossibly expensive and we wanted to find a cheaper way to explore more of the island, we opted on renting scooters. I hadn’t ever rode one before so that was a treat signing my life away and being tossed the bike and the keys before setting off on my merry way, without any form of lesson on the bike. Luckily my husband knew what he was doing and before I knew it (well before I was ready and comfortable) we were off winding our way through streets, parked cars, and rush hour island traffic.
Sterling Car Rentals is where we rented our bikes for the full three days. I was pleasantly surprised at the price, the staff were very friendly albeit not very official.
St. Julien and Silema
With our bikes we tempted fate and rode through the windy sea-view roads of Silema and St. Julien. Gorgeous buildings, harbours and friendly looking cafes and restaurants. I only had one mishap: I didn’t think I was going to make a turn so I panicked and accelerated as opposed to using my breaks, thus bouncing and accelerating off a parked van, never turning around to see how much damage I actually caused. I was a bit surprised by the entire event and my arm just missed the side view mirror which undoubtedly got smashed to pieces and flew off the car. Ouups. Accelerated on purpose and met Rudy at the top of the hill.
We stopped at St. Julien for bruschetta and coffee at the Raffael Restaurant overlooking the small and quaint Spinola Bay.
Top of the World
From Spinola Bay you can scoot scoot up to the “Top of the World” for amazing views and sunset hour. We didn’t make it personally even though our bags were packed for a lovely picnic. My husband was planning on proposing up there but realized while eating our bruschetta that he had forgot the ring in the hotel room. So if you’re planning to simultaneously see some views and propose, don’t forget the ring!!
Panorama Restaurant in the British Hotel: a very, very fancy but lovely restaurant. We felt a tad uncomfortable while we were there or at any place when there is an array of different sized forks, spoons, and knives. Regardless we had a beautiful Italian dinner overlooking the Valetta Harbour. We walked through Old Town after we were done and headed back to our hotel.
Time to explore mdina and the dinglI clifs.
We woke up in our charming Valletta hotel ready for a day of scootering! After getting the hang of it yesterday I felt a bit more confident to set out on our Christmas Day adventure. We stopped in at Dolci Peccati before taking off to fuel up on some croissants and coffee. A small, local favourite which I recommend to anyone passing though.
Mdina + Rabat
On to the main roads and highway it was about a thirty minute scooter ride to Mdina. We stopped along the way for more coffee at a very old school joint called Cafe Elia; all the local men were out having their morning coffee plus a few large families! Again, love finding the local favourites! Across the street is the Gaetan Parish Church, a beautiful, old and unique church right on the main road of Hamrun Street.
Fortifications of Mdina
Arrive in Mdina and get exploring the entirety of the castle grounds, gardens and the cute cafes on site. The fortification is a series of defensive walls which surround the former capital city of Mdina, which were once part of the Roman Empire. The golden-stone Arabic walled city makes you believe that you were transported back through time. We wandered as many streets, nooks, and crannies as we could, taking photos of the exquisite architectural detail. It is now often referred to as the Silent City due to it’s massive fortress walls and peaceful shady streets.
St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a 17th century masterpiece located in the heart of Mdina. According to tradition, the Cathedral was built on the land where St. Paul converted Publius, the Roman governor, to Christianity.
There are a lot of amazing restaurants in and around Mdina but we ended up choosing Palazzo de Piro for lunch and for it’s gluhwein. It had an amazing courtyard so you could sit outside on the terrace that was right beside the castle walls.
This town is sprawled to the south of Mdina and is quite a charming town in itself with Maltese balconies and narrow winding streets. Foreigners will often only come here on a day trip to see a few sites however daytime cafes and new evening restaurants are significantly boosting Rabat’s dining credentials.
Time to keep scootering!
Twenty minutes later on your scooter you’ll arrive at the Dingli Cliffs. Well, if I’m being honest it was more than twenty if you’re like me and stop off at the beautiful tiny towns and churches along the way.
The Dingli Cliffs
These cliffs are quite a sight. They stage the highest point of the Maltese Islands at around 253 meters above sea-level. You can spy the terraced fields below, the open Mediterranean Sea, and Filfa, the small uninhabited island just across from where you are.
Park the bikes and walk through the park until you find a bench to sit at to watch the sunset. Bring a blanket if you’re there in the winter as well as a bottle of champagne if it’s a special occasion (this is where we got engaged!!). An excellent new road now runs along the top of the cliffs and well-marked walking trails lead past the incongruous radar tower to the lonely little 17th-century chapel:
Chapel of Saint Mary Magdalene
Located on the outskirts of Dingli, this chapel sits on top of the cliffs and is dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It is often referred to as the Chapel of the Cliffs (no surprises there!). The date of construction of the chapel is not known but the oldest reference to the building was made in 1446. It is located far from the town itself because it was used by farmers who lived in nearby farms.
After you enjoy the view it’s time to scooter home. If you’re like us and came for the sunset (and are scootering) don’t leave departing too late as it gets dark pretty quickly! Unfortunately we were absolutely freezing from staying at the cliffs and didn’t think to pack a sweater (make sure you bring warm things for later!). Luckily we had one blanket which I wrapped around myself like an oversized scarf and froze my butt off for the next fifty to sixty minutes on my scooter back home. I don’t suggest scootering on the highways in the pitch black but alas, such is life. We survived.
Because it was Christmas we wanted to eat out again. We had a fancy dinner the evening before so we opted for vegan comfort food. It was delicious and more our style. Local wine that was extremely cheap accompanied with a few amazing local comfort food dishes. Always appreciate when we find tasty vegan restaurants when traveling and coincidentally the restaurant was called Soul Food.
After our Christmas dinner feast we went to the TapRoom which was a very unique and trendy looking bar and tapas establishment. There were big velvet booths with a huge community table in the middle of the restaurant. Interesting drinks and great, cozy vibes, I’d recommend popping in here for a drink if not a full meal.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Christmas Eve service brought to you by Ta’ Giezu Church which ended up being a very traditional midnight mass. The service was definitely not in English so we weren’t able to stay for long. However it was really amazing to be there for a while and observe everything going on around us; Christmas in Valletta is a very memorable and special experience. It was quite the production! We tried to go to St. John’s Co-Cathedral but it was unfortunately full.
Wander to both of these churches in the day to peek the stunning detailed interior. St. John’s Cathedral is an alarmingly large and very impressive church built between 1573 and 1578 where the Knights would gather for communal worship. One of the greatest treasures is the huge painting of John the Baptist by Caravaggio that hangs inside.
Drink Gluhwein (at Christmas)
If you’re North American I hope you’ve done some European travel around Christmas time in order to try this delicacy; gluhwein is hot red wine with delicious spices (can also be white) that is just to die for. It can be found at all of the traditional European Christmas markets but luckily we also found it in Valletta which we were very thankful for. We stopped in at the Kantina Cafe which was a nice outdoor terrace just outside of St. John’s Church. Despite it being well past midnight the streets were absolutely packed and the terrace was jammed! I guess everyone wanted the hot wine before bed! Once stomachs and hearts were at their limit, we went back to the hotel to get some rest for our last day in Malta.
More scootering. More exploring.
We woke up nice and early to make the most of our last (nearly full) day. We got on our bikes and rode all the way up to the northern part of Malta. We got to Bugibba which was about an hour scoot. Bugibba was so far up the island I think it would have been possible for us to hop on the ferry that takes you to Gozo (but we didn’t want to risk it as we were tight for time)! However I highly recommend going to Gozo and spending an afternoon exploring this top small island. Unfortunately the Azure Window does not exist anymore (which is still so insane to me!) but I think it would still be worth it to take a day trip!
This little town is right on the sea and is very, very touristy. Lots of classic cafes and ice cream parlous (not mad about that) and a ton of local shops. We sat in the Bugibba Town Square and had coffee and a smoothie at a healthy side cafe to get our blood sugar up before the ride back!
St Paul’s Bay
This is the bay that is located in Bugibba, named after the Apostle Paul who was shipwrecked here in AD 60. His stay and work on Malta laid the foundations for Christianity to flourish. Panoramic views from waterfront restaurants and cafes, scenic rocks from which to swim, this area is the most built up, being entirely devoted to tourism.
We eventually made it back down to drop off the scooters and then took public transit back to Valletta which took about twenty minutes. Much easier to use than I was expecting and much much cheaper than hailing a cab.
Saving one of the best dining experiences for last: TukTuk served us some of the best Indian food ever. So authentic and so wonderfully fresh, this is a place everyone needs to get to. I would suggest making a reservation as it’s a decently small space and tables fill up quickly.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
Once we got back to Valletta we had a little bit of time to kill so we walked over the Upper Barrakka Gardens which are perched high above Grand Harbour; one of the best views in Malta. Make sure to go check out the cannons that are there which showcase where they once fired salutes to visiting naval vessels.
We eventually (and sadly) made our way to the airport. We also ended up taking the bus because the taxi drivers had made us very annoyed the other day. A bit more to organize but it’s just so cheap it makes it worth it in the end.
We were very sad to be leaving Malta and it definitely was not enough time to see the entire island. However I was pretty impressed the distance that we covered on our scooters and everything we checked off our list of things to do and places to see in our three days. It’s such a special and diverse country, there isn’t really anything else like it in the world. If it’s not on your bucket list, I hope it is now. I for sure will one day be going back.