I’ve traveled quite a few times in my life, but this trip to Malta at the end of June was one of my most desired and anticipated trips so far. I did a lot of research on this destination before going, and had the opportunity to get to know the country with a group of 4 friends that included a Maltese, besides being hosted by a Maltese lady (my first time on Airbnb). For this reason, I had the privilege to dive into the local culture and live experiences beyond tourist guide books.
Malta is one of the smallest countries in Europe (and in the world), with 316 km2 and a bit over 400,000 inhabitants. It’s an archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, between Italy and the north of Africa. The biggest and main island is called Malta; the neighboring island is Gozo; and the tiny island between both – too small to be populated – is Comino.
There are flights from several European countries to Malta International Airport (MLA), also by the low-cost airline Ryanair. Almost all locals speak English (the official languages are Maltese and English), and the local currency is the euro – which makes it very convenient for tourists.
What to expect from Malta
Malta is a destination both for beaches and for sightseeing in historical places. Everywhere you can see stone houses with their beige color, typical of the Mediterranean and Middle East. There are several paradise beaches with crystal clear water. But, contrary to what one might imagine, it’s not a very green country, especially in the summer – the landscape is sandy and dry, full of cactus, almost like a desert. Some regions are fancier, but in general the atmosphere is quite simple and casual. The nightlife is concentrated in Paceville, an area in St. Julian’s, mostly attended by very young folks (~15-20 year-olds) and/or tourists. The traffic is sometimes slow, as there are not many options of roads from one place to the other. Despite being one of the most densely populated countries in the world, it’s common not to see so many people on the streets in some cities. By the way, they are in fact cities, but with the size of neighborhoods. The Maltese people are extremely friendly and welcoming, and many times I felt as if I were back home in Brazil.
When to go
Malta has mild temperatures and is generally sunny all year long, but between October and May it might not be warm enough to enjoy the beaches. Therefore, it would be ideal to visit between June and September. July and August are always the most crowded months, as it’s the tourist peak season. We went at the end of June and it was already quite warm (over 30°C during the day and around 25°C in the evening).
How to get around in Malta
You must decide between renting a car or taking the public transport.
Having a car available is, without a doubt, more advantageous, both for the freedom and the convenience. But keep in mind that Malta uses the British driving system, as it used to be a UK colony. The driver sits on the right in the car and drives along the left lane. If that is not an issue, renting a car is the most recommended option, as you will be able to visit more places during the time you have there.
But it’s also possible to get to know Malta only by using its public transport system, and sometimes cabs. The problem is that some buses don’t come by very often and, for many routes, you need to change buses and wait for the next one, even if it’s not the most direct way to your destination. So the ride certainly takes longer than by car, and more planning and time management is needed, but you will also reach your destination.
Each bus ticket can be used for up to 2 hours and costs 2 euros in the summer or 1.50 euros in the winter during the day, and 3 euros at night. If you’re staying for around 5 days or more, it’s probably worth buying the Tallinja Card ‘Explore’, which costs 21 euros and allows unlimited trips for 7 days. More information on the official website of the Maltese public transport.
How long to stay
I’m the type of tourist who doesn’t like to waste time, and my suggestion is to spend at least 5 full days there. We saw everything we wanted to see in 6 full days, plus an arrival evening and a morning to leave (so 7 nights). But this was because we were spoiled by our Maltese friend, who took us to most places by car. So, in case you have a car: 7 nights or 6 full days are enough to see all the points of interest in Malta. If you are using the public transport system, you should add about 2 more days to that – or, instead, leave out a few tourist spots for a future visit.
Where to find accommodation
The cities with the best location for tourists are: St. Julian’s, Sliema and Valetta. If you’re counting on public transport to get around, I would recommend staying in Valetta because, for many routes, you need to change buses there anyway.
The second semester of 2016 is just beginning but I already think that Malta will be my favorite trip of the year! Highly recommended! 🙂
Check out here the full itinerary of what to see and do in Malta!