How much do you know about Malta – It’s in the Mediterranean? It’s where Game of Thrones was filmed? Lots of British people retire there?
In October I spent a week in Malta. It’s a popular destination from the UK as Britain ruled it until 1964 when Malta became independent.
Malta is currently the smallest member of the EU and consists of the main island of Malta, a smaller island called Gozo and the tiny island of Comino in-between. The main thing that struck me, apart from the beautiful weather, was the number of cats.
A few facts about Malta before you go:
- Lots of mosquitos – remember your insect repellent.
- They use UK electrical plugs.
- English is widely spoken but the Maltese have their own language.
- The currency is the Euro.
- They drive on the left side of the road.
Places to visit
Valletta is the capital of Malta. It’s a walled city full of churches (over 25 in fact). You can reach Valletta by road or sea. My favourite way is to take a boat from Sliema for €1.50. It’s the best way to see the city walls.
The most popular place to look for cats is in Upper Barrakka Gardens aka Cat Garden. There’s a nice cafe here and if you gaze over the walls behind the park you get spectacular views of the Three Cites. At 4pm every day you can look down on The Saluting Battery and see the firing of the cannon. If you want to get down to Lower Barrakka Gardens and the harbour, I recommend taking the Barrakka Lift. It’s a long walk down (58 metres high!). The lift is free to take down but they charge you to take it up.
Streets of Valletta
Walking away from the main tourist pedestrian area, there are many narrow streets to explore, filled with hidden bars, interesting doorways and cats. As Valletta is very hilly, watch out if you start walking downhill as you may have to walk back up.
Next to Valletta is a town called St Julian’s. This is where young people hang out. There are lots of clubs and bars and at night it’s teaming with teenagers falling out of the generic nightclubs. Other than partying there is Cat Village, an area where locals leave tins of food and blankets for stray cats.
I stayed a few nights in St Julian’s and found it a good location to catch buses and boats from Sliema. On the way to breakfast I saw this friendly cat.
At night I took a walk to Cat Village to feed the cats. This really is cat heaven.
If you want to explore further then you can visit Gozo from the main island by taking a ferry from Cirkewwa. The ferry only takes 20 minutes and the timetable is here. You don’t pay to go from Cirkewwa to Gozo but you pay on the return journey. If you take the bus from St Julian’s or Sliema, like I did, it takes 1h40 mins to get to Cirkewwa. While Malta is a small island it take ages to cross by bus due to the number of stops and narrow twisty roads.
Gozo used to be home to Azure Window but unfortunately last year it collapsed into the sea. There is still a pretty Cittadella and the Ggantija temples, which are older than the pyramids. Xlendi is also good for hiking.
I stayed in Marsalforn in Gozo. I had seen better beaches in St Julian’s but Marsalforn seemed family friendly.
Not having a car or motorbike made it difficult to get around. There is an easy to use bus system but most buses only come once an hour so you have to get your timing right. Taxis weren’t an option as prices were extortionate: I paid €15 for a 7mins taxi drive on Gozo.
But while I missed some of the sights I did see cats (and dogs)!
On the tiny island of Comino you can find the Blue Lagoon.
It is necessary to get a boat either from outside Gozo ferry terminal or from Marfa or Cirkewwa on Malta. A return journey cost €10. As Comino is so small you can’t miss the Lagoon.
On Comino there are lockers to store your things all day until 4:30pm (€8 a large locker and €5 a small locker). They aren’t big enough for suitcases but my backpack just fitted into a large one. I’d advise getting to the Blue Lagoon early as the last boat back to Malta is before 6pm. I arrived at 11am and the beach was full up by 1pm, and this was in October, out of the peak season.
You can hire a sun lounger for €8. There are lots of fast food and drinks stands, as well as people trying to sell you tours of the area. I considered hopping on one of the crazy party boats which docked at the Lagoon and had music blaring but I thought they would be more fun with a group of friends.
The water is clear and perfect for snorkelling. A highlight was swimming in the caves. As the water is so deep, make sure you are able to swim! Over my right shoulder in the photo above is the entrance to one of the caves you can swim through.
Back on the main island, a short boat ride from Valletta, are the Three Cites. These cites are – Birgu, Senglea and Cospicua. They are fortified cites with Birgu being the oldest, dating back to the Middle Ages and Senglea and Cospicua founded in the 16th and 17th century. You only need less than a day to explore all three cities as they are very small.
Birgu, also known as Città Vittoriosa, is one of the Three Cities. You can reach Birgu by taking a small traditional boat from Valletta harbour for €2 per person.
In Birgu there was: Malta at War Museum, the Maritime Museum and Inquisitor’s Palace. I recommend the Malta at War Museum, especially to British people as it shows Malta’s contribution to the WW2 efforts. It was on the pricey side at €12 but the large underground cave system was like a maze and made it worth the entrance fee.
Tip – Birgu is where they hold a candle light festival called BirguFest. All the lights are turned off and the whole city is lit up by candles. This happens on a Saturday in October.
It was also where I met this cat.
Another one of the Three Cities is Cospicua, it’s also on the harbour and is a peaceful place to stroll around.
I met these two lovelies.
This cat was a lot more shy.
Game of Thrones fans might want to stop by Mdina near the centre of Malta. Some scenes filmed here include the courtyard of Littlefinger’s brothel, and the old gate of Medina was where Ned and Catelyn Stark said goodbye to each other in Season 1.
I found this place eerily quiet but the narrow passageways did give a sense of Kings Landing.
Other places to see
St Peter’s Pool – This place requires a car to get to and is a bit of a steep hike, but you’re rewarded with deep blue water perfect for jumping off the cliffs into.
The Blue Grotto – This is located in the south of Malta and consists of a load of caverns. There’s lots of people offering boat trips through the caves.
Golden Bay – This area is a bit out of the way but if you’re staying nearby the sandy beach here is beautiful.
The cats. I met lots of friendly cats while in Malta and it was great seeing them enjoying the warmth.
The weather. I went in October and had a week of perfect sunshine. There had been a storm the weekend before but the locals said that this was rare.
The Blue Lagoon. The water was so clear and perfect for snorkelling. If you’re looking for a beach type holiday with lots of water sports then Malta can provide this. There’s also a large diving community.
Package holidays. If backpacking and budget holidays aren’t your thing, or you want a family holiday, there are a range of package holidays to Malta. Jet2 and EasyJet have low cost deals to many of the resorts.
I would recommend visiting Malta and Sicily together. You can take a ferry between them and Sicily has great food.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find it the most friendly place. Several times during my stay I was confronted by aggressive locals. For example, the hostel I booked (Marco Polo) charged my credit card almost €100 instead of €30. When I asked them about this the Maltese owner got extremely hostile, shouting at me, it was a scary situation to be in. Also, while I was there the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb. She was a blogger that posted about corruption in her country. There is a dark side to Malta.
I wouldn’t recommend Malta to solo budget travellers. It was a lot more expensive than I expected e.g. a 7 minute taxi drive cost €15 on Gozo, and the public transport system isn’t great. Buses don’t run that frequently, they fill up quickly and will skip stops. Luckily I met a friend with a motorbike who gave me a ride. Otherwise it would have been difficult to visit places.
Cheaper alternative destinations are Montenegro and Albania. They also have their darker sides but don’t have the high price tags attached.