A Local’s Guide to Malta
Sophie Georgalakis, 8.11.18
Malta has become an increasingly popular European destination to visit in recent years and there’s many reasons why. Although an island (also known as ‘the rock’ as the locals call it) it has many things to offer: beaches, culture, history, surrounding islands to visit, vineyards, different nationalities from all over the world and warm mediterranean weather. Plus it’s only an hour ferry ride away from beautiful Sicily in Italy!
Firstly here are 5 facts about Malta:
5 Malta Facts
1) It’s not a big country
It isn’t a big country, well correctly speaking, an island. The size of Malta is approximately 16.8 miles long (27km) by nine miles wide (14.5km). You can probably drive across the length of it in about an hour but with windy narrow roads, and traffic in busy areas, it could take you about six!
2) Malta is an archipelago!
Malta is actually made up of seven islands! Only two, however, are inhabited (Gozo and Malta) and Comino is considered a holiday resort island.
3) There are 359 churches in Malta
Yes that’s right, 359 churches! (313 in Malta itself and 46 in Gozo) are located in a small but densely populated country. Malta is considered very religious, with 98% of the population being Roman Catholic which makes it one of the most Catholic islands in the world! Listen out for the church bells ringing on Sundays and the fireworks used for celebrating the festivals of the Saints in the Summer.
4) It has a large population for a small area
For a small country it does have quite a large population of people, with approx 435,000 and that’s not including the high volumes of tourists that come in the Summer!
5) The 1st season of Games of Thrones was filmed there
Games of Thrones fans will be glad to hear that areas in Malta were used to film the first series of Games of Thrones. For example, Mdina was used for King’s Landing before it was moved to Dubrovnik in Croatia, and the Azure window that once stood was where Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen got married.
See our blog on locations where movies were filmed to discover other fantastic film and TV destinations.
Places to go to in Malta
Valletta is Malta’s capital. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its history of 16th century architecture and is full of sights to see. Because people still habit and shop there — and it’s a popular tourist destination spot in Malta — Valletta is described as ‘one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world’, as read in the Lonely Planet guide of Valletta.
It was voted the European Culture Capital of 2018 and I’m not surprised. For a fairly small Capital city, there’s a lot to see and admire round every corner as well as the modern art and opera performances that are held in the open roof theatres in the summer. It’s full of history and definitely worth spending a day there to take it all in.
View of the city of Valletta. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Valletta top spots
Renzo Piano's Parliament Building
This something to admire as it has a slightly more modern take compared to the 16th and 17th century surroundings but still is in keeping. It’s easy to find as it is the first thing you will probably see as you come through the entrance to the capital city.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
Admire the naval history!
Grand Master’s Palace
Hal Saflieni Hypogeum
The cannons at the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Get yourself lost in the old, tall walled medieval town of Mdina. Once considered the original capital of Malta or Città Vecchia (Old City in Maltese) it’s thought to trace back 4000 years and still holds it’s religious charm. Mdina is often referred to as ‘the Silent City’ due to little noise at night and the streets are all lit by candle-light. Horse and carriage rides are available to help meander around the city, transporting you over the bridge and through the grand entrance to the city.
Me outside the Mdina walls. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Silent City sign in Mdina. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Wandering through the streets of Mdina. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Gozo is the second largest of the maltese islands and was famous for the Azure window, a 28 metre tall natural arch that stood in the sea. Unfortunately, stormy weather in 2017 caused it to collapse.
However, you can still visit the Ggantija temples from the Neolithic times, as well as Ramla Bay, where Roman ruins remain. During the summer, it’s best avoid visiting this in the middle of the day. I recommend going early morning or late afternoon, when the sun isn’t so strong.
There are hotels in Gozo you can stay at but I recommend booking months in advance before the Summer period to guarantee a room. Also, you can only get to Gozo by ferry so you need to check how often these go as the frequencies change and sea conditions affect scheduling. This island is definitely worth visiting if you’re in Malta!
Azure Window before it collapsed in 2017. Credit: Berit Watkin
More of an island resort to escape to, Comino is famous in Malta for it’s amazing turquoise blue sea surrounding the island. Only accessible by boat from Malta’s main island, you’ll find a mass of boats and yachts surrounding Comino in the summer - including an ice cream boat that goes round the boats selling ice cream!
You can take a day boat trip here, anchor up and swim up to the island which I did and loved it!
Blue sea surrounding Comino Island. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
This place is one of my favourite places to eat a good full English breakfast (they do cook those!) in beautiful surroundings. Palazzo Parisio is an 18th century stately home situated in the area of Naxxar (pronounced Nash-ar). You can eat outside in the terrace surrounded with a mass of bougainvillea trees in different colours - purple, orange, pink and white. When you’ve finished eating, you can then wander around the adjoining well kept, exotic estate gardens and sit by the fountain. You can also walk around the palace and investigate the old rooms and how they lived in the 18th Century.
The breakfast at Palazzo Parisio might be slightly more expensive than most of the Maltese restaurants but it’s a more elegant setting and service and you get to benefit the colourful gardens.
View of terrace gardens at Palazzo Parisio. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Marsaxlokk (pronounced Marsa-schlok) is Malta’s second largest fishing village and a stroll through the bay will lead you to an amass of fresh fish markets and sites of colourful fishing boats dock. I’m a big fish eater so I enjoyed eating at the many fish restaurants there. However for those not so keen on fish, there are many pasta dishes to eat too.
Fish dish at a fish restaurant in Marsaxlokk. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
Bay at Marsaxlokk. Credit: Sophie Georgalakis
I couldn’t help but mention this place. Popeye Village is famous for being the set of the 1980 film Popeye which featured a young Robin Williams. The village is kept the same with the set’s buildings still on display to look at and walk through, as well as swimming pools dotted in different parts and you can then wander down the hill to the bay where you can get involved in various water sports. It’s great for families!
View of Popeye Village. Credit: rhinoferos
Malta Travel Tips
What language do they speak in Malta?
The Maltese speak Maltese and English, with English being the most spoken language. The Maltese language itself is interesting as it is a combination of Arabic (65-70%) Italian and English (35-30%). This is due to heavy influences from it’s history of various colonies settling over hundreds of years in Malta.
Is it easy to get around Malta?
Yes it’s pretty easy to get around the Island of Malta itself as there are frequent buses to different towns and taxis. The roads are quite narrow so I recommend hiring a small car to get around. Otherwise grab a taxi at the airport for about €20 - €30 to the centre (price differs depending where you want to go) and then use the buses. To get to the islands of Gozo or Comino, you have to go by boat from Malta’s main island.
Many areas are referred to as bays which reside next to each other, such as St Julian’s bay and Sliema bay. But as the country is small, it’s easy to walk from one bay to the next in 10 minutes and be in a completely different region!
What side of the road do you drive in Malta?
They drive on the left hand side of the road in Malta. Having once been a British colony, Malta kept to the British tradition of driving on the left. This makes it one of four European countries that drive on the left (the others countries are Cyprus, United Kingdom and Ireland). So be prepared if you are used to driving on the right side!
What airlines fly to Malta?
For a small country, there are many airlines that frequently fly to Luqa international airport, which is Malta’s main airport. The airlines that fly to Malta are Air Malta, the national carrier, which has many direct routes to other destinations, including Catania in Sicily and London Gatwick and Southend airport in the UK. Other airlines that fly to Malta are Lufthansa, Air Serbia, Alitalia, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Ryanair, Easyjet, Air Baltic, British Airways, Ryanair and Air France.
You cannot fly domestically within Malta so be prepared to know how far you need to travel by other means of transport to where you need to go.
What do the locals eat in Malta?
The Maltese love their food and take pride in the way they cook it. A lot of the fruit and vegetables are mainly grown iin season due to the Mediterranean climate which makes the local produce so much more enjoyable. For instance, the watermelons in the Summer are delicious and so juicy.
The local traditional dish of Malta is Rabbit and to enjoy a real hearty taste of the Maltese cuisine, I recommend eating at Gululu restaurant in Saint Julian’s Bay, which overlooks the boats in the bay.
Non-meat eaters can enjoy many pasta and pizza dishes as a lot of the Maltese cuisine is heavily influenced by the italians.
Top 3 things to eat in Malta
Pastizzi is another pastry snack filled with either ricotta cheese or a mushy pea filling.
The very moorish savoury small rounded biscuit (more like a cracker) that can come plain or with herbs
Ftira (pronounced F-tira) is a traditional Maltese sandwich that comes in a ciabatta style semi-flat bread. The filling is made of tuna fish, black olives, onion, tomatoes and sometimes capers.
If you’re looking for a getaway that involves a mixture of the mediterranean lifestyle in Europe with close links to Italy, then I highly recommend going to Malta!
Malta is a relatively cheap country for food, transport around and accommodation. Read our blog on the cheapest countries in Europe!
Check out our other local’s guides