Malta was never originally in my plans. It’s not a country that a lot of people add to their Europe itinerary. I think some people even know it’s a country you can visit in Europe. But right there next to Italy in the Mediterranean Sea is a country that is now one of my top five favourite countries.
My plane tickets for a five day weekend in Malta were a bit of an impulse buy. I had a spare weekend during April and after hearing rave reviews about Malta from a friend I met in Brussels, and knowing how close it was from Italy, I decided to investigate how much it would cost me to get there for the weekend.
That’s when I discovered €30 flights! €30 RETURN flights. At that price it would have been rude not to book.
At that point it just seemed like a fun weekend to a new country, I had no idea how much I was going to fall in love with this country!
The best thing about Malta is that the whole country is accessible. In the same way you might explore a big city and its surrounding areas, you can explore a large majority of a whole country in just five days. I managed to get to most parts of Malta during my short stay although I was wishing for some more time.
I don’t think these five days are the last I am going to see of this county.
Beware that the bus system sucks. They leave infrequently, sometimes they are so packed with people you can’t get on, and sometimes they just don’t turn up. But despite the shitty system we managed to get around for the most part by bus, only taking a taxi when it was absolutely necessary and there were enough of us to justify the price.
Our Base- Hostel Malti in St Julians
St Julians is where the majority of the accommodation in Malta is. It was a really convenient base for exploring the rest of the island. If you are on a hostel budget you can’t go past Hostel Malta; it is one of the best hostels I have stayed at it. It wasn’t new or fancy, and the top bunks were so high I felt like I was going to hit the roof, but the staff were incredible especially the owner Chris and his gorgeous old dog.
There was a Jacuzzi on the rooftop and the Friday night we were there we paid €11 for a barbecue and sangria which was a great opportunity to meet people. I’d stay again in a heartbeat.
Five Days in Malta
The best thing about Malta is that it is the best of both worlds. On the one hand there is some incredible history, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, old towns, ancient temples and culture whilst on the other hand there are some fantastic beaches, islands and lagoons. As someone that enjoys history as much as the beach it was as close to the perfect destination as I’ve gotten.
So my five days in Malta were a mix of both of these faces of Malta!
Day 1: Valletta and Mdina
From St Julians we decided to walk along the water towards the ferry boats in Silema to catch a ferry to Valletta. This was perfect as the walk along the waterside was beautiful and peaceful, and we managed to stop in a cute kiwi run café on the way for some breakfast.
The ferry from Silema to Valletta leaves regularly and is usually quicker and more reliable than the bus. It also has one strong advantage; the view of Valetta coming in by ferry on the water is simply stunning.
Valetta isn’t like any other destination I have seen. Walking its streets I wasn’t sure whether I was in Italy, the Middle East, Greece or even the United Kingdom. It’s a city reflective of mismatch of cultures and influences that make up Malta.
My friend Liam who I was travelling with at the point kept losing me because I’d get so caught up taking photos of some beautiful alleyway, street or building. I don’t think I passed anything during my whole time in Valletta that wasn’t worth a photo.
The guy at the desk in our hostel recommended that we get to the Upper Barraka Gardens to catch the shooting of the cannon at the Saluting Battery at noon. We managed to make it just in time. Sure it was touristy and corny but it was actually also pretty cool to see. I jumped when the canon went off!
Even if you can’t make the shooting of the canon it’s worth heading to the Gardens for one of the best views over the Grand Harbour (also known as the Port of Valletta). Remains around the harbour date back to 3700 BC and the harbour has seen events from the Battle of Malta in 1283 to the Second Siege of Malta during WWII.
I would have loved an extra day in Valletta to further explore the World War History of the area. The War Museum is meant to be superb.
After the canon we headed to Valletta’s most amazing site; St John’s Co-Cathedral.
I’ve talked a lot about how every cathedral/church blends into one after a while and that I’m now rarely impressed by an elaborate cathedral (one of the unfortunate realities of travelling Europe full time). But St John’s in Valetta is still hands down the most amazing cathedral I have ever seen.
It was the home to the Grand Master of the Knight’s of the Order of St John for hundreds of years and I have seriously never seen so much gold in one place. Everything glistens and sparkles with gold, there is a huge array of fantastic artwork by phenomenal and important artists, and there are elaborate memorials and carvings located throughout.
The audioguide was free with the entrance and we spent a good hour listening to the guide and exploring every nook and cranny of the Cathedral.
I’m not sure any Cathedral is going to top this. It quite simply took my breath away.
In the afternoon we headed to Mdina, also known as the silent city. This fortified city was the capital of Malta from antiquity to medieval times and was just another example of the amazing Maltese architecture. It’s located on the top of a hill so we were able to get a great view over one side of Malta.
Day 2: The Blue Grotto, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples, and Marsaxlokk
Our second day in Malta was our biggest day, we covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time.
You can get to the Blue Grotto by local bus; well two of them. You take a bus to the airport and then another bus to the Grotto from there. But given there were four of us (including two awesome girls we met at our hostel) we decided to pay €5 to split a taxi for the twenty ride to the Grotto.
Upon arrival it was really easy to jump on a boat to take us out to the Grotto. The boat service is run by locals and there are about 6-8 people per boat. I was sitting by the driver who took an instant liking to me. He was very eager to point out parts of the amazing geographical formation that made up the cliffs above the Grotto, and to take us into other little caves.
He was also quite eager to make sure I didn’t fall by encouraging me to get up to take a photo while he secured me by holding onto my hips. It made me a little uncomfortable but it was also kind of hilarious- I figured I probably made his day.
Nothing could prepare me for how blue the water of the grotto is. The driver encouraged us to pass our hands through the water so we could really see the affect of the blue water. Unfortunately in the rush to leave I’d forgotten my camera at the hostel so I had to make do with my iphone for the day. Regardless, I don’t think it was possible to take a bad photo of the Grotto!
On the way back to shore the driver insisted that I help drive the boat and get a photo with him. It was absolutely hilarious!
It is only a 3km walk between the Blue Grotto and Hagar Qim, so it seemed easier than waiting for the unreliable local bus between the two. Except for the fact that we needed to get from the Grotto up to the top of the cliff to follow the road to Hagar Qim, in the blistering heat. Yes you can get sunburnt in Malta in April!
The temples are one of Malta’s UNESO World Heritage Sites and just blew my mind. Dating back to 3600-3200BC, they are older than the Pyramids of Giza!
I loved exploring the old settlements and reading the information positing how particular spaces would have been used all those years ago.
Whilst we were exhausted after visiting both the Hagar Qim and the nearby Mnajdra Temples, we were determined to get to our last destination as planned; the beautiful fishing village of Marsaxlokk.
A very delayed bus, a 40 minute wait at the bus stop at the airport (it seems to be a common bus terminus) and another bus later and we finally arrived at our destination.
Marsaxlokk was one of the cutest seaside villages I have seen. The colourful fishing boats on the water, along with the old Middle Eastern type architecture was simply gorgeous. I was definitely missing my camera here! We passed fishermen bringing in the day’s catch, fishermen repairing their nets by hand, and even glimpsed preparations for a Maltese wedding when we tried to get into the church.
This day was perhaps the best example of the diversity of Malta; we explored the natural beauty of the Grotto, discovered history from more than 5000 years ago and explored a little Maltese seaside town!
Day 3: Golden Bay
After a big night out in Paceville dancing all night, dodging creeps and eating the worst kebabs, we were well and truly exhausted on Sunday. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience the beach destination side of Malta.
We jumped on the bus from St Julian’s to Golden Bay. We spent the afternoon swimming, eating icecream, playing ball games and sleeping on the beach. We also caught up with some other people studying with us in Florence who had come to Malta for the weekend.
If you are wondering if you can actually enjoy the beach in Malta as early as April the answer is yes, well at least for when we were there. We went through a whole bottle of sunscreen trying to avoid sunburn because the sun was blistering hot. The water was incredibly cold, but swimmable for someone that loves the water as much as me. It only took you five minutes in the water for it to not feel cold anymore.
Despite the relaxing beach day we were super exhausted by the time we arrived back at the hostel and ended up ordering in delivery.
Day 4: The Island of Gozo
Getting to Gozo from St Julians was a bit of an adventure. We needed to get an hour long bus to the ferry terminal and than a ferry to this other island. The bus was packed too!
It was easy enough to arrive on the island but upon the advice of a few people we ended up purchasing hop on hop off bus tickets for our day in Gozo. I usually steer clear of the hop on hop off buses but given our previous experiences with Maltese public transport, and the limited time we had in Malta, this tourist trap seemed like the best option.
The bus arrives every forty minutes so I managed to stop in a few places and then get on the next bus. I couldn’t get to absolutely every destination on the island with just one day but felt like I say the highlights.
I unexpectedly turned back into a solo traveller this day after my friends had to head back to the hostel because one of them wasn’t feeling too well.
I decided to head first to the highlight of the island, since it was early and it seemed the best opportunity to miss the crowds. That highlight is the Azure Window. For all of you Game of Thrones fans out there you might recognise it as the setting of the wedding between Khal Drogo and Daenarys back at the first start of the session.
The amazing geological formations in the area were gorgeous, and lucky it was low tide when we visited because I was able to easily wade out to be super close to the window, past the majority of the tourists who were ruining my shot from the top.
The next stop was Xlendi. I wish I didn’t get off here. It seemed more like built up resort town than anything else. It took me all of ten minutes to hike up into a cave to get a nice and isolated view of the bay, but after that I kind of just sat around waiting for the next bus.
After how amazed I was at Hagar Qim, I couldn’t wait to explore more Megalithic Temples on Gozo at Ggantija. These were the best of the three temples I visited, the site itself seemed bigger and the information here was more explanatory and designed for tourists. I did unfortunately arrive at the same time as two big tour groups so I did have to wade through all of them to visit the site.
My final stop of the day was Ramla Bay, which is still one of the best beaches I’ve seen since I arrivinf in Europe. The red sand was incredible and the water looked so welcoming. I didn’t hop in because it was kind of cold that late in the day, and I was alone so was a little bit worried about leaving my stuff unattended on the beach.
After boarding the bus again all that was left was to admire the view from the hills between Ramla Bay and the Ferry Terminal.
Day 5: Comino Island and the Blue Lagoon
We saved the best for last and headed to Malta’s most famous location- the Blue Lagoon- on our last day in the country.
I was expecting it to be overrated and was not prepared to how incredibly Blue the water was. I’d absolutely recommend arriving early in the day; you’ll beat all the tourists you get an organised boat to the Lagoon and be able to stake out a spot on the very small beach. More importantly, the blueness of the water faded later in the day when the sun shifted and the light changed.
Lying on the beach at the Blue Lagoon, rising only to dip into the water was the best possible way to spend our last day in Malta. I’d been missing beach days all throughout my trip in Europe, especially because all of my friends were hitting the beach during the Australian summer. The Blue Lagoon helped fill that gap, even if the water was freezing!
I haven’t been as sad to leave a destination as I was to leave Malta in a very long time. Given the huge amount of English speaking jobs I saw advertised on the island, if I had the time I’d be tempted to spend a couple of months kicking back in this country.