Malta: A Travel Guide

It looks like holidays are back this year as travel restrictions are starting to relax, but I’m not sure that I am brave enough to venture abroad this year.

* Everything in this post is in relation to my trip to Malta is September 2019. Obviously, a lot has changed since then so please, please, please check restrictions in your own country and in Malta before you travel.

Malta has always been on my travel bucket list – it appears on a lot of recommended holiday destination lists – but I had a much more personal reason for wanting to explore the beautifully historic archipelago. My Step-Dad’s family originated from Malta and he had strong connections to the Island visiting at different intervals of his life. I guess I wanted to see a little more of the country that he was from. Malta is an interesting region with a rich history, but not completely what I was expecting.

Where did I go? Qawra, in the Northern region of Malta.

When did I go? 17th – 24th September 2019.

Who did I go with? My mum!

What was the weather like? Super hot and sunny for the duration of our trip. I really couldn’t have prepared myself for the temperature or the humidity.

What currency is used in Malta? Euro

Where did we stay?

We stayed at The Qawra Palace Hotel; it was nice little hotel with an archaic feel to it, and boasted a uniquely warm and friendly atmosphere. Upon arrival we had to pay a travellers tax which wasn’t a surprise to us. We had been informed before we travelled and whilst it isn’t a lot, make sure you do factor this into your trip! We had arrived late on in the afternoon, but the early Autumn sun still shone brightly. We were hungry from our flight, so we quickly unpacked and tried to settle into our spacious room before freshening up to enjoy an abundant dinner in the hotel’s buffet style restaurant. After dinner we were still eager to see a little of what was around us before settling in to sleep, so we headed out into the early evening.

What did we find?

Despite being situated in a largely built up area, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that our hotel was placed just across the road from the wonderfully scenic Salina Bay. It offered beautiful views of the vast coastline and we were even more thrilled to discover that the pool area sidled up against the rocky shoreline. As we walked further along the dramatic Qawra promenade we found numerous shops, museums and restaurants that buzzed with the excitement of a dwindling summer. The promenade was vast and we grew tired, so we started to head back to our room ready for an early start the following morning.

We woke early and breakfasted, eagerly awaiting spending our first day exploring the maze-like streets of Qawra and Buġibba. We found ourselves lost and literally (and hysterically) going around in circles for a long while until we managed to get our bearings (and understand how to use Googlemaps). I somehow managed to navigate us to a dog happily fishing in the Mediterranean sea with his owner, who we discovered had retired to Malta a number of years ago from England.

Would I recommend Qawra Palace?

The Qawra Palace was comfortable and we settled in quickly. It was the ideal hotel, that can be easily suited to everyones needs, with friendly staff that wanted to get to know you, making the stay more pleasant. Traditional Maltese entertainment is arranged each evening for a relaxed vibe that contrasts to the busier nightclubs and bars that dominated large areas of the Qawra region. Throughout the day you can take advantage of three outdoor pools, an outdoor bar and restaurant, a gelateria, the spa facilities (at an additional cost) and an indoor pool. For us, The Qawra Palace was ideally located for basic amenities and access to travel links, but we soon realised that in order to delve into the absorbing historical side of Malta we would have to travel further around the Island.

Why choose Malta?

Aside from being renowned for its hospitality, friendliness and generosity, Malta is a lesser know Mediterranean travel destination rich in History, Tradition and Culture. Whether you want beautiful beaches and hidden sea caves, museums and historical sights or just simply a fantastic shopping experience, then there really is something of interest for everyone in Malta. With so much on offer, I really would recommend planning what you want to do and see before you set out each morning.

A view of the beautiful Maltese Countryside from the fortified walls of Mdina

How should I get around in Malta?

If you can, I would definitely recommend hiring a car. It makes seeing as much of Malta as possible, much easier, however, if like us this isn’t possible then don’t fret. Malta is well connected with a varied bus service (there have been no trains in Malta since 1931) and there are passes available for you to buy. However, we relied heavily on our holiday providers excursions and the City Sightseeing Malta service. We spent the first couple of days completely indecisive about what travel options would suit us best as we had read a lot of negative reviews about this service, but we weren’t disappointed. We purchased a ticket that lasted us a couple of days and we were able to visit all of the places that we had planned to see. The historic and cultural information we were provided with was an additional bonus, coupled with the views of the vast Maltese countryside that we saw on the journey. This service was perfect for us and I would recommend it, but bear in mind that we were in Malta when tourism was starting to drop-off for the Winter, so it may not be as easily accessible during busier periods and I would recommend doing your research before you go.

What is there to do in Valletta?

No trip to Malta would be complete without a visit to the Capital, Valletta. It was decreed that it should be “a city of palaces built by gentlemen for gentlemen” and it certainly maintains that 16th Century elegance. You are greeted by the grandeur of Triton’s Fountain, that is located just on the periphery of the impressive City Gates. These monuments alone stand testament to the wonders that lay within the walls of the great city from museums to cathedrals, and other historical attractions.

Now a world heritage sight, Valletta’s architectural beauty, ranging from Baroque to Modernist, makes getting lost in the charming back streets an inevitable part of your visit. This is how we accidentally stumbled upon the Upper Barrakka Gardens, a spectacular retreat from the bustle of the city, that overlooks the Grand Harbour. I would definitely recommend taking the time here to absorb one of the best views that Malta can offer you. We found ourselves settling onto a bench shaded by the trees, eating Milka ice-creams and drinking coffee to enjoy the peaceful moment. But we couldn’t stay there all day. After finishing our ice creams, we reluctantly made our way to the final stop in Valletta – St John’s Co-Catherdral. On our way, we dipped in and out of any shops that took our fancy and stopped for an impressive lunch of pasta (in a restaurant that I can’t remember the name of now).

According to my travel guide, St Johns Co-Catherdral is Malta’s “most impressive cathedral” and you can easily see why. With its Maltese baroque style, a floor made up entirely of a patchwork of marble tomb slabs and a series of Mattia Preti paintings documenting the life of John the Baptist – you will be in awe. Entry to the cathedral is around €6 (but free to children) and you are taken on the ultimate tour with a personal walkman style device. It is definitely a must see in Malta.

What is there to do in Mdina and Mosta?

After spending the first two days exploring Qawra and Buġibba, Mdina was the first place that we visited with a stop off in Mosta on the way. We had read about the The Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady or The Mosta Dome and we couldn’t pass through without seeing it for ourselves. It has a stunning interior, an impressive steeple to climb and an even more magical history behind it. In 1942 a bomb fell through the dome as 300 parishioners waited to hear mass, but luckily it did not detonate and a replica of that bomb still lies in the Church. I wish we could have spent more time in there, but we were conscious of the need to catch the bus to take us to Mdina so headed back to our bus stop.

Mdina sits majestically at the top of one of the tallest hills in Malta and the approach is truly breathtaking. Mdina’s diverse history makes it an essential stop on your trip and it really is like taking a step back in time. It is easy to see why it is known as ‘the silent city’; offering a peaceful and shady respite from the crowds. We were contented just wandering the quaint streets, dipping in and out of some of the quiet shops, looking at the grand floral doorways and simply taking in the sights and sounds that surrounded us. We stopped at Rosmarino, a delightful courtyard style bistro, for some lunch before we came across the ‘Mdina Experience’. I was enticed by the antiquated feel of the building and had to go inside. For around €14 you watch three presentations detailing Mdina’s history of siege and battle accompanied by waxworks of The Knights of St John. The whole experience really brings their absorbing history to life. Mdina was by far my favourite place we visited in Malta!

Are the Marsaxlokk Markets worth visiting?

We had heard a lot about these traditional Maltese markets as soon as we arrived in Malta and decided to take advantage of a day trip our holiday provider was running to Marsaxlokk and The Blue Grotto, a natural arch set in the sea cliffs. Sadly, the weather on the day of the trip proved a little too rough for the little boats that were to take us into the Blue Grotto, but instead we enjoyed the stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea from the cliffs and an ancient watchtower before heading to Marsaxlokk.

We found that Marsaxlokk offered a slice of traditional Maltese life; with a buzzing market, a beautiful natural harbour, with an army of luzzu (traditional fishing boats) dancing with the currents and being tended to by their weathered owners. The markets were crowded and I had my first bartering experience, but I really do think that Marsaxlokk is worth a visit, even if it’s just for this beautiful view.

What else should I know?

Malta is an extremely traditional country with a strong Roman Catholic heritage and much of Maltese society remains quite conservative. So it is important when visiting the churches around Malta to cover up as much as possible, ensure your shoulders are covered and avoid wearing shorts. When we visited St Johns Co-Catherdral in Valletta, I had a skirt on so coverings had to be provide for me before I could enter.

Is Malta expensive?

I wouldn’t say Malta was expensive from my point of view, but we largely ate in our hotel restaurant as part of our package, so this freed up a little more money to splurge on the couple of meals out that we did have. In comparison to other European countries, or even the trip to Croatia the week before, it was more expensive, but I do think it is worth it to see this often underrated country.

What would I have done if we had more time?

Malta, as I have said is a largely built up country particularly where our hotel was situated, so I do wish we had visited more of the Maltese countryside. We did manage to get small glimpses of the beautiful rural world that still exists in Malta from the open top bus, and from the view that the walls of Mdina overlooked, but this small fraction of what we saw wasn’t enough for me. Sadly, I also think I didn’t experienced enough Maltese cuisine. It wasn’t until we returned home that I discovered there were food tours available, of both farms and vineyards that I regret not looking into whilst we were there for an authentic glance at Maltese cuisine. But, overall our trip to Malta was wonderful and I really do recommend visiting it at least once in your life.

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