Malta was a firm choice for our latest holiday for one main reason: it was a Mediterranean destination where we could relax without needing to do a whole lot, but with enough to see a handful of interesting things while we were there.
In short, we wanted a lazy trip, but not one where we we would be exclusively in a resort with no interest in the outside world – one where we could laze by the pool some days and go out and explore on others.
As I researched what to do in Malta, it turned into more of a lazing by the pool in the mornings and exploring a new destination in the afternoons. In fact, we had a day off from relaxing by the pool at all one day, because I booked a full-day boat trip to two nearby islands!
Needless to say, it became apparent that Malta offered more than I realised.
We still managed to keep it really relaxed, but here’s what we got up to on our trip to the tiny country of Malta!
Day 1 – an introduction to Malta
We landed in Malta quite late in the day after a four hour flight, which meant day 1 doesn’t entirely count, but our shuttle to our hotel went by way of Sliema, skirting the walled city of Valletta, through the party hub of St Julians, and up to our hotel further north.
It gave us quite a good introduction to Malta as a whole, despite being at night – our driver was almost giving us a tour as he went, talking about the history of Malta’s balconies and how they’re being preserved, giving recommendations of restaurants as we passed, and telling us which buses to catch to various places.
He also talked about the election, as it was voting day when we arrived, and he said he needed to make sure he got back in time to go and vote! They take elections very seriously in Malta, as evidenced by the fact there was a whopping 85.63% turnout… wait for it… the lowest in sixty years!!! Now imagine if the UK was so passionate about its politics.
It took a while to get to our hotel, but we’d actually quite enjoyed the ride, despite some of the crazy driving! Maybe he just really wanted to make sure he was back in time to vote.
After checking in, we headed out for a casual dinner at the Cheeky Monkey. Far from traditional, and blatantly geared up for British tourists, this fun establishment had all the Instagram decor you could ask for, including SWINGS! I unashamedly low-key loved it.
We weren’t expecting the food to be groundbreaking in a place like this, but it was excellent. The gnocchi filled me right up – a good start to food in Malta that was set to continue!
Day 2 – exploring our surroundings
Our first full day was actually Ash’s birthday! And he wanted to relax. Fair enough, really. Well earned.
We did take a wander around the town we were staying in, Bugibba / Qawra, but… I’m not gonna lie, we didn’t really like it. It wasn’t a great first impression of Malta, to be honest, and I’m really glad we had the opportunity to explore better places in Malta!
I think what really struck me about it was that everywhere was under construction – and yet there were so many run-down buildings too. Our shuttle driver had told us that there was no history here, and I could feel the characterless streets decaying under the weight of the attempts to revitalise it. Sometimes you couldn’t even tell if a building was being built or falling down, and it was a bizarre juxtaposition that I just couldn’t get my head around.
We did, however, take a walk out to Salina in the evening, because I’d been eyeing up a really nice restaurant there called Ta Cassia Salina and decided to take Ash there for his birthday!
I imagine this place gets packed in the summer, but there were only a couple of other tables taken while we were there. It was delightful – set in a historic Maltese house overlooking the old salt pans, it’s fancy without being pretentious, and feels really homely and traditional.
They serve a lot of traditional Maltese food, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to have the rabbit, so I went for bragioli – essentially beef olives, Maltese style. It was VERY delicious, and Ash’s steak was massive. I also had fried local cheese for a starter, funny as it’s my absolute favourite starter at any restaurant in Orkney. It was *almost* as delicious here!
Day 3 – Valletta
First thing’s first – we had a bit of a nightmare getting to Valletta. In fact, we’d actually been told not to visit until after the Monday, because people were out celebrating the election results.
…once again, imagine if the UK was like this!
However, I actually wanted to see this, because let’s face it, how often do you get to witness a cultural spectacle, even if you don’t fully understand the full velocity of what’s being celebrated? We’d had a whiff of it where we were staying, with cars going past waving banners and honking, so I could only imagine what it would be like in the capital.
So, we headed to Valletta. Or tried to. We took the bus to Sliema, where we decided to get off and take the boat over to Valletta.
We missed one by about a minute, which meant waiting half an hour for the next one, but that was fine – it meant I could get some photos from across the water. We queued up for the next one, and two minutes before the departure, it was cancelled.
Cue 50-60 people scrabbling to for the next bus.
…which didn’t turn up. Nor did the next one.
Cue many more people joining the queue for the next bus. Well, you can guess what happened.
We could not get on the next bus. Or the one after that. It was lucky, then, that five buses turned up at once. Absolute chaos! We almost missed all five buses due to the failure to get on the first two – both times, the couple in front of us were the last people on, so we were back of the queue for the next one each time!
Anyway, we FINALLY made it to Valletta. I was now in a bad mood, but it turns out that’s because I was hangry, and we grabbed some food from a stall by the fountain, and started to take it all in.
I kid you not, daytime fireworks. Kids waving flags proudly. Entire families in matching political party t shirts and scarves! And loooooads of horns.
Let me put one thing straight – this was quiet. We had MISSED THE PARADE.
Luckily, inside the gates of the old city was quiet enough to enjoy, and busy enough that there was a good atmosphere.
Like everywhere in Malta, Valletta is tiny and didn’t take a whole lot of time to explore. There are lots of things to do – various museums, the Grandmasters Palace*, the striking basilica that can be seen from all over Malta.
We didn’t do any of it.
To me, Valletta was the perfect place to wander the streets, photograph balconies and doors, and find ourselves on picturesque steps and drink tea and people-watch.
*Also the Grandmasters Palace is currently closed for renovations, so we couldn’t have gone in there anyway, although I did manage to peek through the gate into the courtyard.
We did decide to go into St John’s Co-Cathedral, purely because it has comical skeleton murals on the tombstones covering the floors.
And it’s true – it does!
However – the cathedral itself is one of the most stunning cathedrals I’ve ever been into! It’s funny as it doesn’t look like much from the outside, but step inside and you find yourself in a whole different world.
After discovering that the place I’d earmarked for dinner was closed on Mondays, we spent some time debating where we should go, and decided in the meantime to grab a drink in a rock bar that had jumped out at us, Wild Honey.
To our surprise, we had so much fun chatting to an older couple, identifying all the 70s rock songs that came on, that we spent the entire evening there and ended up just eating pizza there and drinking rum and regaling stories.
I will be writing more about Valletta, as well as posting many, many photos of balconies and doors.
Day 4 – Mosta & Mdina
Mdina was at the top of my list for Malta, but when I read about the church in Mosta, I knew I needed to add that to the itinerary. Happily, Mosta is slap bang in the middle between Bugibba and Mdina, and each journey is only fifteen minutes, making it incredibly easy even to do in a half-day trip.
Useful tip: buses in Malta cost 1.50€ and the ticket lasts for two hours. That means we were able to get one bus to Mosta, check out the church and get another bus to Mdina an hour later, all on a single 1.50€ ticket!
Mosta is home to one famous attraction: the Mosta Rotunda. This church, though beautiful in its own right, is famous because in 1941, a bomb dropped through the ceiling of the dome while the entire town was inside for mass, and landed on the floor amongst them.
The bomb never went off, and was seen as a miracle. A second bomb actually landed right outside too, which would have equally destroyed the church and everyone inside – and this also never went off!
Today, a replica of the bomb is inside, and I wanted to see it.
Despite this being the main reason for our visit, we wound up loving the church itself – the ceiling is just gorgeous! And yes, you can tell where the bomb came through the ceiling, as they’ve painted over it in a different colour. Can you see it in the photo above?
From there, we hopped on the next bus to Mdina, Malta’s historic capital long before Valletta.
Mdina turned out to be the highlight of the whole trip. We explored the “silent city”, wandering the quiet streets and alleyways all afternoon. We popped into a lovely courtyard café for lunch, set inside the walls of a historic palace, and we took in the views of virtually the entire east coast of Malta from the city walls before settling in to a gorgeous square with glasses of wine in the sun.
We actually decided not to explore the newer part of Mdina, although I’ve heard it’s definitely worth checking out if you have time. We were just enjoying the old city too much to venture anywhere else.
I’ll be writing more about Mdina very soon, as we loved it!
Day 5 – Comino & Gozo
On our final full day, I had booked a boat trip to Comino and Gozo, two islands just off the coast of Malta. It’s easy to get to Gozo on public transport, and the ferry is only a few euros, however there are no ferries to Comino and this has to be visited as part of a tour.
As the boat trip was only 25€ each with Sea Adventure, I thought this was well worth it and took the hassle out of finding our way to Cirkewwa for the ferry to Gozo, as the boat trip left from just down the road from our hotel.
You can also take boat trips from Valletta, although the boat ride would be much longer.
We turned up for our tour, to be told our names weren’t on the list. After a slight panic and me double checking all my booking details in case I’d somehow booked the entirely wrong day, we got it all confirmed and they added our names to the list, no issues at all. Once on the boat, we had the option to pay an extra 5€ each for a return shuttle bus to Victoria, the main town on Gozo.
Even though the public buses are only 1.50€, with the limited time we had we were happy to pay the extra. After our experiences of unreliable transport in Malta, it was a no-brainer anyway as we didn’t want to risk being stuck in Victoria!
We took the long way around Comino, which turned out to be for a reason – these awesome caves!
The highlight, the piece de resistance, of Comino is undoubtedly the Blue Lagoon. I usually pretend to not be very impressed by these types of things, but…
Wow! Even on a relatively cloudy day, the sea shone bright blue and invited everyone in to its dazzling depths.
I didn’t go for a proper swim, partly because it wasn’t blazing hot which meant I don’t know how quickly I would have dried off before getting to Gozo. I did go for a slight paddle though, and got down to this beautiful, tiny beach before anyone else. (Minutes later, most of the tour had joined us!!)
Some people swam over to the other side of the water, but most stayed close to shore and enjoyed the presence of the sun that had magically appeared right for this moment.
It was perfect timing, as by the time we got to Gozo, it had clouded over again.
We got straight on a bus to Victoria, which was only a fifteen minute drive from the harbour town of Mgarr.
Now, everyone raves about Gozo. We were told, by many, many people, that it would be better than Malta.
Which is why I feel a little apprehensive saying this…
…I actually wasn’t a huge fan???
Now, I’m sure part of this is down to the fact we didn’t have much time to explore, and all we really saw was Victoria. Gozo’s gem, the famous Azure window, collapsed in 2016, obliterating one of the main sights on the island. I’ve heard that much of the coast is lovely regardless – but is it any different to Malta’s main island?
Like Mdina, Victoria has an old, walled citadel, but it took mere minutes to walk around, and we found one average-looking restaurant and decided to go back down to the main part of town and eat there instead. Everything here paled in comparison to what we loved about Mdina.
Outside of the citadel, I enjoyed a wander through the alleyways of market stalls surrounding Independence Square, and there was a pleasant atmosphere in the restaurant square by St George’s Basilica.
But… honestly, that was about it? I kept checking maps in case I was missing something – were we just around the corner from something amazing?
I won’t be writing a separate post about Gozo, but that’s okay – we can’t all love everywhere!
Back in Mgarr, waiting for our boat, I saw a sight I couldn’t quite believe. A shape floating in the water, amongst the boats in the harbour. After a few minutes of staring, I decided it was what I thought it was. Typically, at that moment, a boat turned up right in the way, but I still got a photo!
It’s a HORSE! A goddamn horse!
Better photo as the horse was getting out:
Despite not really loving Gozo, we had an excellent day out with Sea Adventure. I’d recommend the trip, to make up your own mind about the place, but also to see Comino which was absolutely lovely!
In fact, on the way back, we completed the full circle of Comino and visited another sea cave, before being battered on a surprisingly rough journey back to Bugibba.
For our final evening in Malta, we headed out to Ta Pawla Mother Earth, a restaurant we’d spotted on our way past in the shuttle bus on our first evening.
This place is a real gem in Bugibba, and lived up to its high ratings. I finally succumbed to trying rabbit, as it’s such a huge thing in Malta that I felt I had to try it. It’s on virtually every menu in Malta!
Where we stayed – Hotel Santana
This is the first time ever that I’ve booked a package holiday, so the hotel we stayed at wasn’t somewhere that I specifically scoped out and chose.
On the whole, I have mixed thoughts on our package holiday, however the hotel itself was excellent!
Our room was nice, though we were on the ground floor so perhaps didn’t get the full effect of our balcony. The service was fantastic, the waiter in the bar was already friendly and making jokes. Breakfast was great, with a full spread of buffet goodness.
It wasn’t quite as resorty as some hotels – it seemed they have an all-inclusive package, but that’s not what I wanted as we would be getting out and exploring. Their outdoor pool is pretty small, and it was actually being worked on when we arrived, so we didn’t get to hang out by it on our first day, but they had an indoor pool too.
However, and this is a big however – I wouldn’t stay in Bugibba again. Unless you are there for an all-inclusive relaxing holiday where you’re not bothered about leaving your hotel, I would recommend checking out a different area! There are far more interesting places in Malta.
Visiting Malta In March
I was quite surprised, given that so many people take winter sun holidays to the Mediterranean, that Malta wasn’t going to get above 20 degrees while we were there.
However, it was fine. We were just glad to get away. If you do want a winter sun holiday, though, I would recommend somewhere else. I sat next to a lovely couple on my flight, one of whom had visited their daughter in Malta in January, and she said there was a lot she hadn’t done last time because of the weather.
The weather on our trip was mostly fine, but if you wanted to visit for some scorching sunshine, it might be best to visit later on in the summer.
Some final thoughts on Malta
Malta was, for the most part, what I expected. It was great to finally visit a new country for the first time since 2019, and we did everything we wanted to as it’s such a small island and easy to get around even without your own transport.
I didn’t love it as a whole, but there were parts of it I loved.
There’s a strange juxtaposition of cultures that on the surface should be really fascinating, but just feel a bit disjointed. The Arab influence crossed with British history and Mediterranean surroundings left me feeling like I didn’t quite know what I was experiencing.
The language really sums this up – it’s a Semitic language with an Italian and Arabic influence that has left it with a really odd mix. It actually, weirdly, reminded me of the language in Albania, for being one of the most unique languages in the world, however the language in Malta has at least had many external influences turning it into what is not quite a specifically identifiable amalgamation. In fact, it’s the only Semitic language in existence that uses the Latin alphabet.
It didn’t quite feel like a Mediterranean island, but it didn’t feel like anything else in particular, either. And then you would turn a corner and there would be a British phone box! It was completely bizarre, but I did like this as it made it feel uniquely familiar while still clearly being a different country.
Overall, I think Malta is a really interesting country, uniquely placed to garner a complex history that’s made it one of a kind.
Stay tuned for a couple more posts on Valletta and Mdina, including lots and lots of photos – I’ve edited over 100 today! I reckon half of them are of balconies and doors. I am not sorry for this.