There is no shortage of gorgeous beach destinations in Europe. From party-happy Ibiza to glamorous Cannes and everything in between, it can be hard to land on one spot if you’re looking for a warm weather escape. One tiny island is often overlooked in favor of larger or more well-known destinations, but it won’t stay that way for long: Malta is definitely one of Europe’s hidden gems.
My friend and I decided to spend one week in Malta for our weeklong Easter holidays, and our plans were initially received with a healthy dose of skepticism from our friends: “What are you going to do on a tiny island for 7 days?” “You really don’t think you’re going to get bored?”
I’ll be honest: I doubted my own travel acumen before touching down in Luqa. What we discovered was a fascinating blend of ancient culture, a modern capital city, and a healthy dose of charming fishing villages and friendly locals to seal the deal.
How To Get Around Malta
There are really only two options here: Arm yourself with patience and a weeklong public transportation pass, or take a deep breath and rent a car. Past trauma from a family road trip through Ireland means that I am in no way mentally prepared to drive on the left side of the road, so we opted for the public transportation route.
My advice to you is that if you feel at all comfortable with driving—rent a car. The public transportation, though inexpensive and easy to figure out in theory is… very much island public transportation. The buses will come late, they will be packed, and you probably will not be sitting down for quite a while.
For short distances (like St. Julian’s to Valletta), take advantage of Bolt, Malta’s version of Uber or Lyft. Since cars definitely move faster than buses on this island, if you’re willing to pay just a little extra, you’ll save a lot of time.
One Week In Malta – What To See
During our one week in Malta the most surprising thing for us was the sheer amount of history packed into this tiny island— it’s only a fraction the size of Sicily, but isn’t lacking in any of the amazing sites, food, or experiences. You can visit Ħaġar Qim, an ancient megalithic temple located in the south of the island, where you can walk up to and even through the old temple complex.
For something slightly more modern, check out the two gorgeous, charming towns of Mdina and Rabat. Mdina will look familiar to OG Game of Thrones fans—it was the original site of King’s Landing before the show started to film in Dubrovnik! And for travelers like me who enjoy just wandering through streets or sipping a beer outside, don’t miss Rabat. Though the town is very quiet and small, passing an afternoon here with a cold Cisk (the venerable beer of Malta), was one of my best-spent days.
And while you’re in Rabat, you absolutely cannot miss trying a couple (or more than a couple) pastizzi, savory Maltese pastries that envelop a delicious ricotta or pea filling. Locals and visitors alike agree: Crystal Palace in Rabat is the spot to indulge in these treats. I originally went in for one, but quickly realized my mistake and ducked back in for another. An hour later, I was back again, as the man stuffing pastizzi into paper bags grinned and said “You’re back!” I bought three more to have for breakfast the next morning.
Moving towards the coast, you’ll find Marsaxlokk, a rough-around-the-edges fishing village with a lively Sunday market you can’t miss. Though the bus ride to the village was nausea-inducing, once my friend and I stepped into the fresh air, we knew our decision was worth it. The market stretches all the way down the waterfront, with fishmongers and other vendors offering their products of the day. We weren’t really in the market for fish that day, so we picked up a few cold Cisks, found a spot to sit on a dock, and watched as the fishing boats passed by.
Of course, you can’t miss UNESCO’s 2018 European Capital of Culture—Valletta! The capital’s Lascaris War Rooms from WWII are integral to understanding Malta’s unbelievable courage as an island considered strategically crucial to both sides during the war. Just above the war rooms, stroll around the Upper Barrakka Gardens, where you’ll have a beautiful view over the city and the harbor.
If you’ve had your fill of sights for the day, meander down to the bottom of the city and pop inside any of the capital’s hopping bars; we found that afternoons in the city were always full of people enjoying the nice weather and a drink with friends.
An important question to consider when you’re deciding where to stay is what kind of nightlife you like! We had heard that St. Julian’s was the center of nightlife on the island; while this is definitely true, the two of us are of the age where even thinking about throwing back a shot gives us a hangover. For travelers who prefer the bar scene to the bright lights and pulsing beats of a disco, Valletta is the perfect nightlife spot. Though bars are required to close around 1am, we found that many places tended to really stay open later but stop admitting new guests.
Craft beer enthusiasts cannot miss Wild Honey, where a wide range of beers you’ve probably never heard of are poured by friendly and knowledgeable bartenders who are more than happy to give you their recommendations. The Pub is an institution in Malta, and an old stomping ground of celebrities like Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, and Oliver Reed, who famously had his last drink at The Pub while in Malta filming Gladiator.
Other great nightlife spots include Carcass, a sleek, modern spot that gets going as the night goes on, and Salumeria, a cozy bar that hosts many locals that have grown up on the island. Valletta makes it easy to visit all these nightlife spots and more—Valletta is an extremely walkable city from the outer walls to the tiny inner streets.
Have I convinced you to pay this underrated Island a visit? It may be small, but I would spend one week in Malta again in a heartbeat—crowded buses and all.
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