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What to see in Malta – the perfect itinerary for one week

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What to see in Malta for a week

The diverse and rich history of Malta is immediately evident from the moment you arrive.  Ruled by everyone from the Romans, Phoenicians, Sicilians and most recently the British, the buildings, culture and language are an eclectic mix of them all.  With beautiful weather and an air of the Greek Islands about it, a visit to one of the safest countries in Europe is a must.  

Whether you are spending a week here or coming for a short weekend break, Malta has plenty to offer.  Here’s a great guide to all the things you can do in Malta in a week.

Malta itinerary – 5 days

  1. Valletta
  2. Valletta (or interchange with Gozo)
  3. Gozo
  4. Dingli Cliffs – Mdina – Rabat – St Pauls and beaches of Ghajin Tuffieha Bay
  5. Popeye’s Village (Mellieha) Marsaxlokk – Blue Grotto 

Where is Malta?

Yes Malta is a country! Tucked away 90 km to the south of Sicily and 294km to the north of Africa, the tiny 245 m country surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, is one of the least visited European countries. It’s a well-travelled summer holiday location for English people too.  Many return to the same places year after year and with a strong ex-pat community, it appears that many have also stayed.  Those with Maltese family usually make the pilgrimage semi-regularly as well.

If you want to fit in like a local be sure to refer to Malta as a country, not an island!

Malta’s history

For a tiny country, Malta has a big history, steeped in nobility and with a strong influence from several ethnic groups.  In the early 6th and 7th centuries, the Phoenicians and Romans ruled the land. They were followed by the Arabs in 1070 who held control until 1530.  At this time, Charles V changed the path of Malta by handing over rule to the Knights.  More specifically, the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, they took Malta to a level previously unseen, especially in a cultural sense. 

In 1758, the country received a dose of French influence, with Napolean overtaking the country as a strategic move en route to Egypt.  But Napolean wasn’t liked by the Maltese and so when Lord Nelson of English fame offered to remove him, the Maltese took him up on his offer.  English rule lasted from 1800 until Malta finally gained its independence in 1964.  In 2004, Malta became a member of the EU and in 2008 adopted the Euro as its currency.

Maltese culture

Staunchly Catholic, the people of Malta are warm and inviting, making you feel as though you are mixing in amongst family.  Their language is familiar and yet strangely foreign all at once.  If you listen closely you will hear the rolling of the tongue around enough words that I felt like I was in Italy. At other times, the Arabic phrases dominate and I couldn’t understand anything at all.  Many of them speak very good English.  To complicate matters, the residents of Gozo, a Maltese island speak their own dialect that even the Maltese will tell you they don’t understand!

They are a country of 430,00 people who have created untold congestion on their roads as a result of slow infrastructure growth and their passion for driving cars.  330,000 registered cars drive around this very small country, often in a way that resembles a race track.  The Maltese like to talk with their hands too and it’s a common form of communication when you’re in the driver’s seat, especially if someone does you wrong!  

They may be Catholic but they still know how to swear. Their cars are quite often old, blowing dark black smoke and associated fumes from their exhausts.  Peak hour has become a real problem for the residents.  Melanie, the Marketing Manager from Hilton Malta told us that “she lives 15 minutes away from work but it can take her an hour to get there”.  Surrounded by the sea, Malta’s vehicle problem is not an easy one to fix. Unlike other parts of Europe, the use of motorcycles here is not common.  Efforts by authorities to encourage such usage has been met with mixed reactions.

man in Malta near Dingli cliffs

Capital city Valletta Malta

Valletta is the capital of Malta.  Unlike any of the capital cities of Europe, this small city, located on a peninsula packs a punch.  With stunning views across the harbour, incredible palaces built by the Knights, churches and museums, it’s an historical smorgasbord.  So much so that the entire city has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Match it with great restaurants and street food vendors selling pastizzi and some of the oldest buildings in the world it’s a must-visit when coming to Malta.  If you walk the right way, the streets built up from the harbour offer amazing views to the water.

Here, the residents live in houses without gardens.  As a city largely occupied by palaces, open green spaces are not common.  In fact, green is not a colour generally associated with Malta at all.  Its landscapes are more of the brown, dry and dusty variety, with cacti and other drought-resistant ground matter growing where it can.

Take a walk through St George’s (Palace) Square

European city squares are meant for strolling and wandering without any real purpose.  Admire the beauty of the buildings here, watch the water popping up out of the ground in sequence with the music, or catch the Changing of the Guard in front of the Presidential Palace.

Presidential Palace Malta
Presidential Palace Malta

Visit Casa Rocca Piccola

Interested in what it’s like inside the houses of Maltese nobility? Be sure to visit the 16th-century palace, Casa Rocca Piccola.  It is the family home of the 9th Marquis de Piro, who lived here until just recently.   

Visit St John’s Co-Cathedral

This cathedral is one of the most beautiful you will find anywhere in the world.  Built in the later 1500s, it’s full of Baroque art, evident in the sculptures and the building itself.  It’s also a great example of the impact the Knights had on Maltese culture.

St Johns Co-Cathedral
The stunning ceiling inside the St John’s Co-Cathedral

 Visit Manoel Theatre and Museum

A striking building built by the Knights in 1731, it is one of the oldest working theatres in Europe.

Visit Upper Barrakka Gardens and Saluting Battery

The gardens are one of the few green spaces in Valletta.  Overlooking the Grand Harbour, there’s plenty of opportunities to find that perfect view.    The Saluting Battery is one of the oldest in the world, having protected its harbour for 500 years.   Every day, the guns are fired at midday to a large crowd watching from upon the city ramparts.

Firing of the cannons at Upper Barrakka Gardens
Saluting battery

Eat at Trabuxu

Located in the heart of Valletta, Trabuxu serves up modern Maltese cuisine, in a cozy bistro environment.

lunch at Trabuxu
Ravioli with fresh peas

More reading: >>Read our detailed guide on things to do in Valletta

The hilltop city of Mdina Malta

Mdina is where you can really get a sense of another world, where the stone walls of the city still protect this city perched up high on a hill.  

Take in the sights of the main areas and then slip quietly into the laneways for a more authentic wander through this beautiful city.  With a population of under 300 people, the residents are long-standing noble families, where the houses have been handed down over generations.  

It’s a place where you feel as though you should only whisper, a testament to its nickname of the Silent City.

Mdina

Get a view at the Dingli Cliffs 

The views of the Mediterranean from the highest point in Malta are beautiful, as are the sheer cliffs running down into the rocky coastal edges.  My tip for visiting here would be to come for sunset when the colour over the water makes the trip a little more worthwhile.

Things to see and do in Malta Dingli Cliffs
Dingli Cliffs

Eat at Diar il-Bniet

Lunch at Diar il-Bniet Malta

If you are anywhere near the Dingli Cliffs you must visit this fantastic restaurant.  With a farm to table food philosophy, the owners have continued a lifetime of family food legacy to bring you traditional Maltese food.  

Visit Mnajdra and Hagar Qim Temples in Qrendi

Malta has some of the oldest megalithic temples in the world.  The temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra are the best preserved and the stories of their making are fascinating.  With views over the Mediterranean to the island of Filfa, it’s a stunning location.

Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim Temples in Qrendi
Mnajdra and Ħaġar Qim Temples in Qrendi

Boat trip around Blue Grotto Caves

I’ve included the Blue Grotto in this list of things to do in Malta, as it is a common thing to do.  From my perspective though, it is without a doubt the most over-rated and non-enjoyable event I undertook in Malta.  This is a shame as the water really is incredibly blue.

Unfortunately, the greed of tourism has overrun this activity.  The boats are whisked in and out of the landing area in rapid succession and the boat drivers are gruff and just want you to sit down quickly.

They aren’t in it to enhance your experience, they just want to get you back as quickly as they can so they can take another boat load out.  The time in the actual caves is fleeting and not worth the effort or the price.

Things to see and do in Malta Blue Grotto

Visit the fishing village of Marsaxlokk

Fishing remains an important part of the Maltese way of life and there’s nowhere better to see it all unfold than at Marsaxlokk.  If you want to interact with the fisherman, the best times are in the morning when they are arriving back into the harbour.

The sandstone buildings with their colourful doors and the brightly coloured fishing boats bobbing calmly in the harbour make this town picture perfect.

Things to see and do in Malta Marsaxlock
The fishing harbour of Marsaxlokk

Stop at Golden Sands Beach in Ghajn Tuffieha

Much of the Maltese coastline is rocky and difficult to access but Golden Sands Beach is known to be one of the best in the country.  Set back in a bay surrounded by high cliffs, the beach has clear blue, protected waters. Many hotel resorts have set up here to accommodate holidaymakers who arrive for a beach holiday.

 

Things to see and do in Malta Golden Sands Beach
Golden Sands Beach

Drive by Popeye’s Village in Mellieha

The wooden village where Popeye lived was created for the 1980 musical production of Popeye.  Looking every bit the fairytale village, it sits overlooking aqua blue waters of Anchor Bay in Mellieha. Today, it’s been turned into a themed water park for children, which kind of spoils the view from some angles, but I can imagine the children would love it.

Things to see and do in Malta Popeyes village
Popeye’s village

Take a ferry to Gozo

Gozo might be only a short 20-minute ferry away from the island of Malta but it could just as easily be a different country.  With a slow, relaxed pace on the streets (no honking of car horns here) and a language all of their own, the Gozitans have deliberately set themselves aside from the regular Maltese.

Their lifestyle remains very much attached to the ways of yesterday, preferring to stick with tradition rather than let themselves be modernised.  Just don’t call them Maltese and you”’ stay on their good side.

Visit the Citadel

From up high, the views over Gozo’s countryside and city centre of Victoria are amazing.  There is a significant restoration project being undertaken which will ensure the survival of this important religious icon for years to come.  

Gozo Cathedral
Gozo Cathedral

Continue down the steps from the citadel to the town of Victoria and walk amongst the shopkeepers selling everything from fresh fruit, bakery items, household items and knitted jumpers.

view of Gozo from cathedral
View over Gozo from the cathedral

Wine Tasting at Ta’ Mena

Agriculture is an important part of Gozo’s economy, and with a slightly greener landscape, more farming is done here.  Run by Joseph Spiteri and his family, this olive producing farmland has been in the family since 1936.  

Now a fruit orchard as well, Joey produces and manufactures his own olive oil.  Spending time with Joey as he extolls the virtues of good olive oil, and sampling a few of his wonderful house wines is a good way to spend an afternoon in Gozo.

Tasting at Ta Mena
Olive oil tasting at Ta Mena

Stop and revive at Ta’ Philip

An afternoon at Ta’ Mena is topped only by visiting his brother at Ta’ Philip restaurant.  Philip’s exuberance balances out the quieter personality of Joey. They make a good combination and it’s great to see Joey’s Ta’ Mena olive oils being used proudly in this restaurant.  This is a fine dining restaurant with plenty of flair and wonderful food.  Philip is the consummate host and a meal here is sure to wow you.

lunch at Ta Phillip Malta
Lunch at Ta Philip

Visit Ggantija Temples in Xagħra

These temples date back to between 3600 and 3200 BC, making them some of the oldest and best-preserved in the world.  They are also part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. There is an information centre attached providing visual, audio and tangible displays that explain this phenomenon.

Ġgantija Temples in Xagħra
Ggantija Temples in Xagħra

Xwejni Saltpans

In the North, on Gozo, the coastline is known for their salt pans, dating back approximately 350 years.  The production of sea salt here has been passed down through families for many generations.  Salt is generated here and then stored in the caves behind.  Usually one of the family is on hand to sell you some freshly harvested sea salt to take home.

Xwejni Saltpans
Salt pans Malta

Immerse yourself in the Three Cities of Malta

Three Cities Malta

If getting away from the crowded cities is more your style then head to the “Three cities” of Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua.  Just across the harbour from Valletta, these cities occupy the narrow peninsulas and cling together through a series of never-ending cobblestoned laneways and streets and a pedestrian bridge.  There’s plenty to find in the backstreets and it’s a great opportunity to talk to the locals that pass you by.

Eat on the harbour at Don Berto

This restaurant is less traditional Maltese and more of a modern, chain feel about it but it still served good food.  With a view over the multi-million dollar boats, who could really complain.

lunch at Don Berto
lunch at Don Berto

Hire a buggy from the  Rolling Geeks

Self drive your own electric car and wind your way through the streets of Vittorioso and the narrow Collachio, built by the Knights.

rolling geeks malta

narrow streets of the Collachio
Narrow streets of the Collachio

How to get to Malta

Malta by air

Most people arrive in Malta by air, although ferries do operate from Sicily.  Full fare and low-cost airlines fly into Malta International Airport.  Many European destinations are within a 2-2.5 hour flight time, making it the perfect weekend getaway.  We flew from Bologna Italy with Ryanair and back to London with Easyjet.  Both services, although budget airlines, offered a no-nonsense, direct flight to and from Malta.

Getting from the airport in Malta

The Malta International Airport is at Gudja, south-west of the capital city Valletta.  Whilst it is under 10 kilometres from Valletta, the traffic situation in Malta is one of over-burdened roads.  A lack of infrastructure and a love of cars means that the roads are often choked with heavy, smelly traffic.  If you are planning on driving or getting a taxi to and from the airport, especially at peak times of the day, expect it to take a while.

If you are planning on staying in Malta for a while or planning on seeing a bit of the country, we recommend getting a hire car.  Whilst the traffic can be bad, it’s very easy to drive around Malta, particularly outside of the larger cities.  It makes seeing all the Malta attractions much easier.  Hiring directly from the airport is the best option.  

Buses operate from the airport to Valletta, via route X1.  This bus service operates from early in the morning until late at night.  Like all of the bus service in Malta, tickets are inexpensive.  There are four express bus routes that operate from the airport.  All “X” routes will allow for stops along the way.  Any Tallinja routes (TD) are direct.

TD2Airport – San Giljan/St. Julians – Airport 
TD3Airport – Bugibba – Qawra – Airport 
X1Cirkewwa – Marfa – Mellieha – Xemxija – San Pawl il-Bahar – Qawra – Bahar ic-Caghaq – Pembroke – Mater Dei Hospital – Msida – Marsa – Luqa – Airport 
X2San Giljan – Sliema – Gzira – Mater Dei Hospital – Msida – Marsa – Paola – Luqa – Sta. Lucija – Airport 
X3Bugibba – Qawra – Burmarrad – Mosta – Mtarfa – Rabat – Ta’ Qali – Attard – Balzan – Birkirkara – Sta. Venera – Marsa – Paola – Luqa – Sta. Lucija – Airport 
X4Valletta – Floriana – Hamrun – Marsa – Luqa – Airport – Hal Far – Birzebbuga

Source: Public Transport Malta website

Taxis also operate from the airport.  For more information on approximate costs click here.

The Malta International Airport also operates Malta Transfers, a private hotel shuttle service that will take you to your hotel.  Bookings can be made here.

How to get around in Malta

Hiring a car is one of the best options when visiting Malta.  It gives you the freedom to go wherever you want, is relatively inexpensive and apart from the large cities, parking is easy enough.  If you are wanting to cover a lot of ground by yourself, having a car is recommended.

Otherwise, there is a good, inexpensive public bus service that operates all over the country.  In the large cities like Valletta, Sliema and St Julians, using the bus is quick and easy.  Catching small boats and ferries across to the Three Cities is also a great way to get around and see the harbour.

Taxis are often used to get to places like the Dingli Cliffs and the Blue Grotto as they are close enough to Valletta to not attract large fares.

Tours are also very popular here as they cover a large amount of territory in a short amount of time and are inexpensive.  The tour operators here are experienced and if you are short on time, offer good value for money.

Tours in Malta

These are some of the most popular tours in Malta.

Game of Thrones Filming Locations Tour

  • Led by actors who appears in GoT
  • Visit ancient forts, parklands and streets from GoT
  • Behind the scenes trivia
  • Explore Mdina and Rabat
  • Visit other countryside locations you’ll recognise instantly
  • Hotel pickup and dropoff

Check availability and book online

From Valletta: Dingli Cliffs, Mdina and wine tasting

  • Own time at the Dingli Cliffs and Mdina
  • Small groups
  • Wine tour of winery, tasting and Maltese platter

Check availability and book online

Tours in Valletta

Choose from a variety of one and two day tours of Valletta including the popular city walking tour.

Check availability and book online

Tours in Gozo

Choose from a variety of one and two day tours of Gozo including the popular jeep tours.

Check availability and book online

Where to stay in Malta

We stayed for a week at the Hilton Malta, a beautiful five-star resort right on the Mediterranean.  With a range of rooms from superior right through to executive suites, there are rooms here for families, couples, solo and business travellers.  Its close proximity to public transport, the capital Valletta and the rest of the main destinations on the island make it a perfect spot to base yourself.

Click here to read my review on the Executive Room at the Hilton Malta

Alternatively, the Westin is also located nearby and  Sliema, a neighbouring area has many three and four-star hotels.  There are a variety of other hotels and resorts all over the country

Check out the reviews, prices, photos and availability of hotels in Malta on Trip Advisor.

Best time to visit Malta

Blessed with a wonderful climate and plenty of sunshine, Malta is one of those destinations where you could almost visit all year round.  The summer months are undoubtedly the best, although of course, they are also the busiest.  The rain usually stays away during summer as well, so the temptation is even stronger during June to August.  Wintertime in Malta still gets cold and many of the interesting locations are closed.

Malta travel planning resources

If you are planning your trip to Malta, it always pays to have one of these handy guides at your disposal.

More Malta reading

We were guests of the Malta Tourism Authority for the duration of our time in Malta.  As always, all editorial, content, images and opinions are always our own.  A very special thank you to Maria, our personal, professional and wonderful guide for the week.

16 thoughts on “What to see in Malta – the perfect itinerary for one week”

  1. Punita, there are also lots of resorts here where you could just hang out for a while longer….or, my tip would be to spend a week in nearby Sicily. It’s only a short distance away so you could stay there, or simply catch a ferry for a few days from Malta.

  2. Malta for us has always been a dreamy kind of place that fuels our imagination. Your post brings us so close to the place and gives us a feel of what Malta really is and what we can expect to see and experience there.I was really intrigued by Popeyes village. The other place that I would love to visit is St. John’s Cathedral, the ceiling is so exquisite and reminds me of the Vatican Museums. Lovely and complete guide to Malta that is sure to stand us in good stead when we plan our itinerary.

  3. I wish we would have had enough time in Italy to make it as far south as Malta, it is absolutely stunning. Quite amazing that it lacks tourism in comparison with other European countries! The architecture alone would be enough of a draw, and the rich history would be a win for my husband.

  4. Your five day itinerary of Malta sounds so perfect for us. All the ingredients that we look for in a memorable holiday are included..architecture, history, art, and food. Malta is climbing higher on my list. What do you recommend we club with it to fill a two week trip?

  5. Your photos are just ridiculously gorgeous! The water…honestly, it’s beautiful and so striking. I’d love to visit Malta! But I am disappointed to hear about the Blue Grotto because it sounds like it should be a truly magical experience, but has been ruined because of the greed for tourist dollars. Such a shame. The food looks great!

  6. I don’t know much about Malta so I appreciate all the details about the food, culture, history, and sights in this post. Love seeing all your photos! Looks like a beautiful place.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing a detailed guide along with stunning photos. Malta is looking awesome. I particularly love the nature and architecture there!

  8. Sounds like an amazing place to visit! I would love to go to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, looks like there’s an amazing view from it! I would also have to take a boat ride around the Blue Grotto Caves! I love how colorful your photos are. It makes me really want to take a trip to Malta!

  9. I’ve been meaning to go to Malta forever and somehow still haven’t made it there! It’s mainly the history and culture I would go for, that and the beautiful historic architecture. Your photos really bring it alive and showcase how much there is to see and do. The food looks way better than I had thought too. This is inspiring me to get on with organising a trip!!!

  10. Malta has been on my list for a long time, especially now that we have lowcost flights to the country. I’ll definitely save this itinerary for later. Thanks for the insights!

  11. A fascinating country and wonderful photos. I was interested in your experience of the Blue Grotto – I had my own experience of that – bad weather and very frightening!

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