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3 of the best places to visit in Malta: Marsaxlokk Dingli and Mdina

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maltese man

Malta attractions in the south

If you haven’t visited Malta, it would be easy to dismiss it as a place worthy of missing simply due to its size.  However, to do so would be a great injustice, both to this wonderful country and to you, as a potential visitor.

There is nothing difficult about travelling here.  My suggestion is to stay at least one week so that you can spread yourself across the island,  but it’s also the perfect place for a long weekend.

Read my guide for a 5 day stay in Malta

From our hotel in St Julian’s, we did a day trip that covered Mdina, the Dingli Cliffs, Marsaxlokk and the Mnajdra and Haġar Qim Temples and the Blue Grotto.  This article gives the highlights of the best Malta attractions in the south of Malta.

Marsaxlokk

The brightly coloured fishing boats, called Iuzzus, bob up and down on the harbour, their brightness only matched by the vivid colours of the doors and windows on the stone buildings that line the road nearby. Marsaxlokk has always been a traditional fishing village, and despite a downward trend over time of both inhabitants and fishermen, the industry remains an important one.

colouful fishing boats in marsaxlokk

The action happens at the start of the day here,  so if you want to get a taste of the real Marsaxlokk, be sure to arrange to get here early.  In doing so, you’ll be rewarded with the fishermen unloading their catch from their boats and cleaning the fish.  You’ll also witness them doing all-important maintenance work, both on their boats and at the dock.  At any part of the process, they are happy to have a chat and tell you all about their fishy haul, just like these two did when we stopped by.

fishermen in marsaxlokk
Cleaning the daily catch

It’s almost as though Malta has been perfectly described in this village, and you can get it all in one picturesque gaze around the harbour. 

marsaxlokk harbour

The boats are a standout on their own, but they carry so much more untold significance than just being brightly decorated.  Every boat has eyes!  Yes, eyes!  At the front of every vessel, an eye is painted on both sides.  The legend of the eyes is largely superstitious. 

It is said that the eyes form part of  Phoenician folklore and represent the Eye of Horus, their god of protection.  Placed on the boats, they are a symbol of health and protection, ensuring that the fishermen are kept safe whilst out at sea and ensuring a safe return.

The eyes are also part of Vietnamese culture and tradition for similar reasons also.

the eyes have it - maltese iuzzu

Markets

Sunday is the best day to visit Marsaxlokk.  On Sunday, local markets also line the waterfront.  Whilst a lot is touristy souvenirs, there are some beautiful lace tablecloths and other crafts on hand and it’s a great opportunity to wander slowly and chat to the local stallholders.  Watching the fishermen fillet their catch is also a must-do.

When in Marsaxlokk, eating fresh fish should be high on your agenda.  Find a small restaurant along the waterfront that is run by locals and serving the fresh fish bought in by the fishermen that day.

Marsaxlokk Parish Church

The main church in Marsaxlokk is the Parish Chruch and it can be seen easily from the water.  Sundays are particularly special here, as the local community come for their Sunday mass.

Fort Delimara

Fort Delimara is another example of a large number of fortifications built in Malta to protect it from enemies.  This one is built into the cliff face so isn’t open to the public.

St Lucian Tower

If you are in Marsaxlokk on a Saturday, don’t miss going for a tour inside the St Lucian Tower.  Another building built by the Knights, it is a significant watch tower built to protect the coastline of Malta.

How to get to Marsaxlokk

By car

Marsaxlokk is only 12 kilometres south of Valletta and just under seven kilometres east of the Malta International Airport.  Marsaxlokk is a small village so parking can be difficult.  There are several public carparks here but try to avoid parking in the village centre.  Parking on Sunday when the local market is on will always be difficult.

If you are planning on getting a rental car, this is easiest from the airport.

By bus

The hourly bus 119 from the Malta International Airport travels directly to Marsaxlokk.  Bus 81 or 85 departs from Valletta.  From Sliema and St Julians you first need to travel to Valletta.

Tours to Marsaxlokk

From Valletta: Half-day tour to Marsaxlokk and Blue Grotto

  • Browse the Marsaxlokk market 
  • See all the coloured Iuzzu fishing boats
  • Boat cruise around the sea caves
  • Blue Grotto cruise
  • Hotel pickup and drop off Valletta

Check availability and book online

Dingli Cliffs

The sunsets are epic at the Dingli Cliffs, so I’m told!  Due to the timing of our day trip, we weren’t able to witness this, but I’m quite sure they are right.  At 220 metres above sea level,  the Dingli Cliffs tower above the ocean below.  In some locations the rock slopes more gently down to the water, but in others, it’s a sheer drop straight down. 

The village of Dingli includes about 3,000 people, who mostly make their money off the land, growing their own produce and selling at local markets.

dingli cliffs
The non ocean side of the Dingli Cliffs – one of the great malta attractions

Only 11km from the Blue Grotto, the island of Filfla can also be observed from here.

Malta-Filfla island
Filfla island

With a commanding view over the water, the Saint Mary Magdalene Chapel has pride of place at the top of the cliffs, marking the highest point.

the church at the dingli cliffs

How to get to the Dingli Cliffs

By car

The Dingli Cliffs are around 16 kilometres south-south-west of Valletta. is only 12 kilometres south of Valletta and 14 kilometres west of the Malta International Airport.  If you are planning on getting a rental car, this is easiest from the airport.

By bus

It’s a bit more complex getting a bus to the Dingli Cliffs.  A bus must be taken from Marsa to Rabat and then a taxi to the Dingli Cliffs.  

Blue Grotto

The narrow inlet at the bottom of the walkway was heavily congested with the brightly coloured boats, prominent in these Maltese waters.  Lines were forming at the water’s edge as drivers jostled their boats in to thrust another group of tourists into their boats.

There’s no time to think about the best place to sit or to ask a question and there’s certainly no safety briefing, despite the fact that for 20 minutes or so you’ll be out in the open water.  Thankfully, there are at least life jackets to put on.  In a flash, we are whizzing off, as fast as the little two-stroke motors could go.

waiting for tourists at the blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto was my least favourite part of Malta.  Living up to the hype was always going to be difficult.  A series of sea caves forged into the limestone rocks, with clear blue and emerald green waters provide the backbone of what is referred to as the Blue Grotto.  It is located on the southern coast of Malta, opposite the desolate island of Filfla, a haven of marine life for divers.  Named and inspired by the similar blue waters of the Isle of Capri, it’s a beauty that has been spoiled.

The coastline, with its craggy rock faces and caves, is spectacular, but it would have been wonderful to have just a little commentary from the boat driver.  Better still, it would have been fantastic for him to take his hand off the throttle, and allow us to actually see the caves properly and get to gaze into those crystal blue waters for more than a few seconds.

caves of the Blue Grotto

Unfortunately, they are persuaded only by the thought of another boatload of customers paying €8 each for the pleasure of their company.  Time is money as they say and the notion of customer service or ensuring that this beautiful part of Malta is appreciated goes unnoticed.

entering the blue grotto

If doing the Blue Grott Malta boat trip s still your thing, be sure to check the weather as access to them is only possible when the weather is behaving itself.  Getting the Blue Grotto early in the day is recommended both for the least amount of people, the sunshine and generally less wind.  Boats won’t operate in bad weather.  Boat rides start at 9 am daily.

How to get to the Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto is a series of caves in the Mediterranean Sea so are only accessible by boat.  The boat departure point is at Wied iz-Zurrieq.

By car

The Blue Grotto is 15 kilometres south of Valletta and an easy drive.  If you are planning on getting a rental car, this is easiest from the airport.

By bus

Getting to the Blue Grotto departure point can also be done by bus but is more complex and time-consuming than driving a car or taking a taxi.  From Valletta, bus 74 stops at the Panorama bus stop.  From Rabat, the number 20 bus goes to the Blue Grotto departure point.  Bus 201 also departs from the Malta International Airport for the Blue Grotto.

Tours to the Blue Grotto

Whilst we weren’t fans of the process, the Blue Grotto is indeed beautiful and I know that it’s still a tourist attraction in Malta that people love to see.    Instead of just doing a trip to the Blue Grotto, we recommend including it as part of an overall tour like we did, so you can also see some of the better places to visit in Malta at the same time.

From Valletta: Private day trip around Malta

  • Pickup and drop off from Valletta hotel
  • Includes visits to Valletta, Marsaxlokk, Blue Grotto, Dingli Cliffs, Mdina
  • Lunch overlooking Filfla Island
  • One of the most popular tours in Malta

Check availability and book online

Haġar Qim Temples & Mnajdra Temple

Located high up on the dramatic southern Maltese coastline, in between the Blue Grotto and the Dingli Cliffs lies the archaeological area containing the Haġar Qim and Mnajdra Temple.  A trip here during summer is hot, and unless the sea breeze is blowing, it can be quite uncomfortable so be sure to bring water, good walking shoes and a hat with you.

These temples have become a very important part of Malta’s tourism offering and a visitor centre now provides a very good exhibition/museum of artefacts.  It also gives some insight into the traditional engineering methods that would have been used to build these enormous stone temples.

artefacts inside the visitor centre

The Haġar Qim temple sit just outside the visitor centre, whilst the Mnajdra temple is a bit of a walk away.  Whilst only approximately 500 metres, it’s all downhill, meaning that it could be difficult for some people to get back up, especially in the heat.  The visitor centre runs a buggy that will bring you back up for a minimal cost. 

The temples are now covered with sun shades in a bid to reduce both the impact of the sun and the natural erosion caused by the prevailing ocean winds.    In the Haġar Qim temple, the largest stone of any Maltese temple can be found.  Weighing 20 tonnes and measuring 6.4m long by 3m wide, it’s a beauty.

the largest stone in any maltese temple

inside the temples

Mdina Malta

Mdina was a special place to visit.  If the streets of Valletta and its surrounding suburbs were crazy, Mdina was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.  Known as the Silent City, for good reason, this hill-top city and its narrow, stonewalled laneways are just a delight.

It’s still a tourist drawcard, but hop off the main street and into the laneways and take your time meandering through the buildings full of stories and history.  

Today, only around 300 permanent residents live here, mostly aristocrats and nobility.  Palatial homes line the streets and are handed down through the generations.  

streets of Mdina Malta
One of the stately homes in Mdina
The moat turned into a garden
The moat in between the walls has been turned into a garden

Not surprisingly, a church built by the Knights is found inside the walls, it’s dome the only real part of the city that can be seen above the walls.  Inside, the church is elaborately decorated, as are most of the other Maltese churches I’ve witnessed.  Inside the dome was particularly stunning.

inside st pauls cathedral mdina
Inside St Pauls Cathedral

The floor was where the beauty also lay, with incredible marble tiles used to identify the tombs of nobles and priests.  The tiles cover every part of the floor and we even saw one “ready” for the next priest.

tiles on the floors

Where to eat

Located nearby the Dingli Cliffs, we ate at Diar il-Bniet, or “House of Girls”.  In a former farmhouse, founder Dorianne Kurtcu Mifsud brings her farm to plate philosophy to those who dine here.  Inspired by her grandmother who would cook up hearty meals for the family, traditional Maltese food made on the produce from their farm is the cornerstone of this restaurant.

A fresh batch of homemade lemonade sits up on the bench near the kitchen, and our guide Maria instantly orders us a glass.  “It’s beautiful”, she says, “all lemons are grown on the farm”.

lemonade
The traditional lemonade

If you are looking for traditional food, this is one of the best places to come in Malta, with everything grown locally on the family farm.  The platter of antipasti or Hobz tal-Bidwi was a meal in itself.  It’s certainly great for sharing. 

The board consisted of traditional bread, round in shape and cooked in a wood oven.  Accompanying it were water biscuits,  caponata ( a blend of green peppers, aubergine, onion, garlic and capers), broad beans fried with garlic, fried zucchini, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, bigilla (a dip made from dried beans)  and gbejna, a fresh sheep cheese.  It was delicious!

the platter of antipasto

Tip:  If you are planning on visiting Diar il-Bniet bookings are essential.  It is an intimate restaurant with only a small amount of seating, and is very popular.

Armed with the knowledge of a local, Maria asked our waitress “can you see if the chef will do a smaller portion of the rabbit please?”.  Soon after she returned with the chef’s response, “the dish is half a rabbit, what am I meant to do with the other half?”

Sure enough, half a rabbit turned up not long after.  It’s not a pretty dish to look at but it’s hearty and full of flavour.

rabbit
Locally farmed rabbit

The boneless chicken was a little more modern looking and was equally yummy.

Tiġieġa Disossata Mdawwra Fil-Bejken u Mimlija bl-Ispinaċi, Ġbejniet tan-Nagħaġ, Kurrat u Kkapuljat tal-Majjal
Local boneless chicken wrapped in bacon and served with vegetables

An on-site farm shop also provides an opportunity to take some of the beautiful food back home.

Where to stay in Malta

We stayed at the Hilton Malta in St Julian’s, within a short drive of Valletta, the nation’s capital.  Public transport is also accessible from here and there are many dining options nearby.  

You can read more about our stay at the Hilton Malta here

We do recommend staying either in Valletta, Sliema or St Julians as a base.  All other places in Malta can be accessed from these main cities by car, taxi, bus or tour.

For hotels and other places to stay in Malta, check availability, prices and reviews on Trip Advisor.

Malta travel planning

Looking for some reading material to help you plan your trip to Malta?  These are some of the most popular guides, all available online.

Malta travel reading

Malta is a great place to spend a few days or a week.  You can read more about our experiences in Malta here.

Hilton Malta – A great 5-star hotel in Malta

Best family hotel in Malta

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