Malta travel itinerary

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Valetta seen from Sliema

As said in the previous post, Malta was a special trip. And, as my travel planning is usually proportional to my excitement, you can imagine that I did quite some preparation for this trip. Summing everything I learned by researching and visiting this destination, I put together a time-efficient itinerary with the best points of interest in Malta.

This guide is ideal for 6 days – but, if your stay is shorter than this, you can simply prioritize the places you want to see the most.


  • Day 1: Valetta + Sliema + St. Julian’s + Paceville

Valetta
Malta’s capital city – the smallest capital in the European Union.
Upper & Lower Barrakka Gardens, with views to the Grand Harbor and the Three Cities on the other side. At the Upper Barrakka Garden, a cannon is fired daily at noon and at 4pm by the saluting battery.
St. John’s Co-Cathedral
Republic Street: main shopping street
Explore the deserted old town side streets

Sliema
Promenade along the coast with great views of Valetta, several restaurants and swimming spots, going all the way to St. Julian’s

St. Julian’s
A big ‘love’ sculpture at the entrance
Many restaurants and bars
St. George’s Bay (beach): easy to reach, therefore usually crowded with tourists
Paceville: the youth party zone

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Blue Lagoon
  •  Day 2: Blue Lagoon + Millieha or Golden Bay

Blue Lagoon
Probably the biggest must-see in Malta!
This natural pool with transparent waters is located on the island of Comino. How to get there: drive or take a bus to Cirkewwa, and from there take a boat to the Blue Lagoon. All the boats make a few stops on the way back, showing the local caves. It’s recommended to go in the morning, when it’s less crowded.
There, you can rent a chair and umbrella to sit on the small sandy area, or simply take a seat on the rocks. We chose the second option because (a) it was free; (b) it was still easy to get in the water; and (c) we even had a great view to the Blue Lagoon from above.

If spending half a day in Blue Lagoon is sufficient for you (it was for us), you can still go relax on another beach on the main island for the rest of the day. But, of course, compared to the Blue Lagoon, they are not as impressive.
Some options near the disembark area in Malta are the Milleha Bay or the Golden Bay. In the Golden Bay, there are 3 beaches next to one another to choose from: Golden Bay per se (most easily reachable and most crowded), Gnejna and Ghajn Tuffieha (a bit more hidden and less populated).

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Azure Window, Gozo
  •  Day 3: Gozo

The neighboring island deserves a full-day visit.
How to get there: take a ferry that leaves from Cirkewwa. The ride takes about 25 minutes and there is no need to buy a ticket before boarding – you only pay on the way back. (More information and fares here).
Board with your car if you have one. If you’re using the public transport, it might be worth it to get one of the hop-on hop-off buses to visit the points of interest on the island.

Citadel: located in the capital city of Gozo – Rabat, or Victoria (many cities in Malta have two names). A medieval fortress, with a cathedral and a view to the surroundings.
Azure Window and Fungus Rock in Dwejra Bay: the famous and imposing rocky arch, where Game of Thrones filmed the scene where Daenerys gets married to Khal Drogo. As the rock is still under erosion, it is believed that the arch will disappear in a few decades.
Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary: a large church, where many believers have left messages being thankful for the cure of their illnesses.
Ramla Bay: a cozy beach with reddish sand. The Calypso Cave viewpoint has a beautiful view to the Ramla Bay.
Xlendi Bay: another beach, with several restaurants around it (including a great ice cream shop). Ideal for a pit-stop to eat.
Ggantija Temples: Gozo’s megalithic temples. If you already plan to visit the other temples on the island of Malta, maybe you can skip this one.

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Marsaxlokk
  • Day 4: The Three Cities + Marsaxlokk + St. Peter’s Pool

The Three Cities
Birgu (or Vittoriosa), Bormla (or Cospicua) and Isla (or Senglea) – (remember that in Malta many cities have two different names?)
Take a boat from Valetta to the entrance of the cities (the crossing is already a pleasant ride on its own) and explore their streets and waterfront views. If time is short: Vittoriosa is considered the nicest one.

Marsaxlokk
A quite lovable fishing village, with dozens of small colorful fishing boats by the bay. On Sundays, there is a fish market.

St. Peter’s Pool
A big natural pool, amazing to swim and jump into the water. It’s very close to Marsaxlokk, but the walk all the way up probably takes about 1 hour. So it is better to go by car or taxi.

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Entrance of Mdina (or should I say King’s Landing?)
  • Day 5: Mosta + Mdina + Rabat + Dingli Cliffs

Mosta
Rotunda of Mosta: the third largest church in Europe, with a big dome. During the second world war, a 50 kg bomb fell inside the church but did not explode – which was considered a miracle.

Mdina
Known as the ‘silent city’, it’s a medieval town surrounded by walls. The entrance of Mdina was shown in Game of Thrones as the gateway to King’s Landing.
Fontanella Tea Gardens: a tea house offering a famous chocolate cake and a view to the surroundings (including the Rotunda of Mosta).

Rabat
A charming town across from Mdina.
Roman Villa
Church of St. Paul
St. Dominic Convent (was also a Game of Thrones filming location)

Dingli Cliffs
The highest point in Malta (253 meters) and considered the best spot in the island to watch the sunset.

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Blue Grotto seen from above
  • Day 6: Blue Grotto + Hagar Qim & Mnajdra

Blue Grotto
Boat ride through a few grottos and caves, including the Blue Grotto, with bright blue waters. The ideal is to go in the morning to capture the most impressive shade of blue of the sea. The ride is beautiful, but we found it quite short (about 20 minutes) and felt that the boat driver, although very nice, rushed through the stops (maybe because there is a line of boats behind him).
It’s also possible to see the Blue Grotto from above, from a viewpoint next to a bus stop called Panorama.

Hagar Qim & Mnajdra
Near the Blue Grotto, you can find the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, some of the oldest standing monuments in the world (around 3000 BC). The ticket allows visiting both temples, which are next to each other.


For more photos of Malta, click here.

And this was the first trip where I not only took pictures, but also made a video record! (I said Malta was special…). Most places mentioned in the itinerary are shown in the video. Watch it here!  🙂

Top tourist attractions in Rio de Janeiro

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Rio de Janeiro: also known as Cidade Maravilhosa (Wonderful City) – my beloved city where I was born and raised. ❤

Rio offers thousands of interesting possibilities for tourists. Here, I put together a list with my main recommendations, or the things you shouldn’t miss during your first visit. These tips can serve as a basis for an itinerary, depending on the amount of time available and the traveler’s interests.

→ Important note for foreigners:
Brazilian cities are not like European cities, where most of the tourist attractions are located in the city center. The city center of Rio is a huge district, with some points of interests for tourists, but also filled with office buildings and people rushing around. Most of the tourist attractions in Rio are located in the south zone (zona sul), where you will probably spend most of your time.


WHAT TO SEE/DO IN RIO:

Beaches
There are several, including: Leme, Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, São Conrado, Barra. (I would say the most famous ones are Copacabana e Ipanema.)

Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer
The Christ statue (Cristo) is on a hill called Corcovado. You can get there by funicular or van, leaving from different locations in the city. Infos (unfortunately only in Portuguese) here.

Sugar Loaf (Pão de Açúcar)
Infos about the cable car ride to the top here.
From there, one can go walk around Praia Vermelha, Pista Claudio Coutinho and Urca.

Pedra do Arpoador
A huge rock that separates the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. The classical must-do is to watch the sunset from there (and clap at the end!).
Close by is the Copacabana Fortress (Forte de Copacabana), which can be visited. Many like to go to the Confeitaria Colombo café inside. And next to the fortress, on the Copacabana beach sidewalk, you can find the statue of the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

Mirante do Leblon (viewpoint)
Next to posto 12 (lifeguard watchtower #12), offering a view to the Leblon beach.

Mirante Dona Marta (viewpoint)
To me, this is by far the best viewing spot in Rio de Janeiro. It’s located just below the gateway to the Christ, so both views are similar – only in Mirante Dona Marta you can also see the Christ, and without the hundreds of tourists around you. An amazing spot for photos, and for free!

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View from Mirante Dona Marta

Santa Teresa
A residential and bohemian neighborhood, loved by foreigners and considered one of the most charming ones in Rio. Since it’s located on a hill side of the city, it offers beautiful views, both to the city center and to the south zone.
Points of interest: Largo dos Guimarães, Curvelo, Chácara do Céu, Parque das Ruínas, and the famous yellow tram (bonde) riding through the district.
Recommendations: Bar do Arnaudo (Brazilian Northeastern food) and Bar do Gomes (official name: Armazém São Thiago).
One suggestion is to go sightseeing in Santa Teresa and, from there, walk down to Lapa.

Lapa
Points of interest: the Arches (Arcos da Lapa – the old aqueduct) and the cone-shaped cathedral behind; Escadaria Selarón.
At night: some of the most popular night clubs (with live music) are Clube dos Democráticos, Rio Scenarium and Lapa 40 Graus.

City center
Points of interest: Teatro Municipal (Concert, Ballet and Opera House), Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã) and Rio Art Museum (MAR) at Praça Mauá, Olympic Boulevard, AquaRio, Banco do Brasil Cultural Center (CCBB), live samba music (roda de samba) at Arco do Teles.

Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon (Lagoa)
After a walk by the lagoon, one can also visit Rio’s Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico), and Parque Lage.

Tijuca Forest (Floresta da Tijuca)
The world’s largest urban forest.
Points of interest: hiking trails, picnic spots, waterfalls. Close by: Mesa do Imperador, Vista Chinesa (viewpoints).

Hang gliding or paragliding
Those who are feeling adventurous and would like to jump from Pedra Bonita with an instructor should look for the training academy Escola São Conrado de Voo Livre. It’s an amazing experience!

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Hang gliding in Rio

Go trekking (and enjoy the view)
Relatively easy: Dois Irmãos, Pedra Bonita
Difficult: Pedra da Gávea

Waterfalls
There are several ones in Tijuca Forest and in the neighborhood of Horto.

Pavilion of Northeastern Culture (Feira de São Cristóvão)
A huge space with restaurants, bars, shops and live music, dedicated to the Northeastern culture of Brazil. Infos (in Portuguese) here.

Maracanã Stadium
The biggest football stadium in Rio, host to World Cup and Olympic matches, can be visited for a game, or in a tour (or even just seen from the outside).

Sambadrome (Sambódromo)
During Carnival, it’s worth going there to watch one of the samba schools parades. Out of season, it can also be seen from the outside while passing nearby by car.

Casual bars and botecos
Those who wish to do like the cariocas (people from Rio) and go have a beer or ten in a very casual and laid-back way, outdoors and standing up, have several options, such as: Baixo Gávea, Praça São Salvador, Urca, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Baixo Botafogo (the end of the Voluntários da Pátria street).


HOW LONG TO STAY:
At least one week to see the main tourist attractions of the city. This duration should be increased if one wishes to visit other destinations in the state of Rio.

WHERE TO STAY:
For those who want to stay in a great hostel, with amazing location (right next to Botafogo subway station), with nice and cheerful people, I recommend the Rio Soul Hostel.
For those looking for a more “staying at home” flair, in a Bed & Breakfast or Airbnb-style accommodation: the Casa Dois Irmãos is very spacious and stylish and offers an unbelievable view to the city, together with the warm reception by the siblings Kris and Jo.


If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below.
Have a great trip and enjoy Rio!! 🙂

How I plan my trips (with little time and money)

tripplanning

Here is the first part of this article:
“How do you manage to travel so much?”

So if traveling is a priority for you in your leisure time, you should pursue it. And the best way to optimize your maybe-not-so-abundant amount of time and money is to plan in advance.

There are several ways of planning a trip that work just fine. Here, I’ll explain step by step how I do it and what works for me. (You’ll see I’m quite methodical.)

I’ve never used the services of a travel agency I always check and book everything on my own. This method might be a bit more time-consuming, but I prefer it as I have more control over my trip and I believe it to be less expensive as well.

For me, planning a trip is like getting ready for a party: it’s almost half the fun!

Things to consider:

HOW:
Define the style of traveling that works for you, i.e., what is doable (several small trips a year, or one or two longer trips a year, or a mix of both; traveling inside your country or continent, or traveling to further destinations, or a mix of both; etc.)

WHEN:
Here is what I do first of all: I open a calendar that has all the bank holidays of the year. (Important: make sure they are actually valid for the city where you live! Many holidays in German calendars, for example, are only valid in certain states, and unfortunately not in Berlin.)
Then, I list the long weekends I will have throughout the year. As an example, here are the ones in Berlin in 2016:

  • Easter: from 24/03 evening to 28/03 = 4 nights
  • Ascension Day (Christi Himmelfahrt): from 04/05 evening to 08/05 = 4 nights
    (Note: here, only Thursday 5th is a holiday – Friday 6th is not. But it is clearly worth it to take this day off, as you get a 4-day holiday for the ‘cost’ of 1 workday.)
  • Pentecost / Whitsunt (Pfingst): from 13/05 evening to 16/05 = 3 nights
  • German Unification (Tag der Deutschen Einheit): from 30/09 evening to 03/10 = 3 nights

As you can see, it’s only 4 (May 1st will be a Sunday and Christmas / New Year’s doesn’t really count). So I know that this year I have 4 opportunities of long weekends to travel: 2 x 4-night trips and 2 x 3-night trips.

WHERE:
When choosing a destination, first estimate how much time you would need to cover that place. This is a very personal decision, as different people have different paces when traveling. It also depends on whether you want to visit all the museums in town, for example, or just the must-see tourist attractions. I usually google for ‘how many days in …’ and check what other travelers think in travel forum discussions, such as Tripadvisor. If you’re a no-wasting-time traveler like me, you should also check the website Days in a City, which usually has good suggestions.

So after I’ve defined on which days of the year I can travel and how long the trips can be (see WHEN section), I can check which trips would actually fit in this amount of time. For example: I know I can’t plan a trip to Southeast Asia for a 4-night break, because that’s not enough time for this destination. So I try to find destinations that are doable in 3- or 4-night trips.

As I said in the first part of this article, I usually have 5 to 10 days of vacation per year, apart from long weekends and my time spent in Brazil. So when I want to go on longer trips (longer than a long weekend), I usually use some of those vacation days. And to optimize my time, I try to combine it with weekends. For example: if I take 5 days off (Monday to Friday), I can actually go on a 9-night trip, including the weekends before and after. So it’s a ‘9-day-for-the-price-of-5’ deal.

To decide where I’m going to travel to, I always consider:
1) Where I can go in the amount of time I have;
2) Where I am interested in going;
3) Where I can find cheap tickets to and from.

The two most expensive things to pay for in a trip are: transport (to and from your destination) and accommodation. (Food doesn’t count so much, as you will have to eat either on vacation or at home.) Fortunately, there are ways to save a lot on these two points.

TRANSPORT

I’m a scientist, so I don’t trust only one source. I like to check flights in more than one search/comparison website. I use: Google Flights, Skyscanner and Kayak.

Google Flights: this one has been my favorite for a long time now. It allows you to search for flights going ‘everywhere’, or to a country in general. You don’t necessarily have to choose a specific city or airport. You can also see what the prices look like in a whole month and which days are cheapest. You can of course filter your search according to the time when you want to fly or the number of stops, for example. Another big advantage of Google Flights is that you can save a flight that interests you and follow it over time as they show you graphs of the prices. So if you’re logged in on your Google account, you can simply go to Google Flights and see how the prices have changed in the last days. After using this tool for a while, you get a pretty good idea of how much the flights that interest you cost. I use Google Flights so much to keep an eye on ticket prices for the destinations on my bucket list that I’ve grown to learn what’s the cheapest I could pay to fly from Berlin to Stockholm, for example, and what would be paying too much. I also use it a lot to follow flight prices from Germany to Brazil, since these are so expensive and I want to get a good deal. Sometimes it feels like following the stock market: when prices go down, I’ll buy.

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Example search on Google Flights: following prices over time

Skyscanner: has the same search advantages as Google Flights, but doesn’t have the option to save flights and see the graphs. The reason why I still use Skyscanner in addition to Google Flights is that sometimes Google Flights gives me inaccurate prices (maybe it’s not updated as often), so I like to double-check it.

Kayak: since it doesn’t have the ‘everywhere’ search option like the other two, I’ve only been using Kayak now when I want to search for flexible dates. You can search using an option of +/- 3 days for both the outbound and the inbound flights, and they will show you a table with all the possible combinations, and which one is the cheapest. For example:

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Example search on Kayak: in this case, the cheapest option is to depart on 15/07 and return on 18/07

It’s a great feeling to find a good bargain. I’ve booked return flights from Berlin to Copenhagen for 50 euros, to Cologne for 20, to Malta for 70 and to Salzburg for 77.

For train options: every country usually has only one national railway company, so I always check and book on their official website it’s not going to be cheaper anywhere else. For German trains, that’s Deutsche Bahn. The train companies do offer cheaper tickets if you book in advance, so it’s always a good idea to check as soon as possible.

For bus options, or for when you don’t know which option is the best (bus, train or flight):
For European destinations, I like to use GoEuro. This website allows you to compare all the transport options (also car rental). And it gives you a nice comparison list of all the different bus companies. (For some time now, Megabus has been offering some of the cheapest bus tickets in Europe. It’s the new Ryanair of the roads.)

Note: I only use all these websites to search and compare prices. Once I’ve found a ticket I’d like to book, I do it on the official company website (I find it to be more trustworthy and cheaper).

There is also the option of car sharing, like BlaBlaCar in Germany (which is quite cheap), or even hitchhiking (which is free). Personally, I’ve never used these options, but go ahead if you feel comfortable with them.

Other things to consider when deciding on transport:

  • Sometimes flights are cheaper than trains or buses;
  • Sometimes buses and trains take the same amount of time (and buses are usually cheaper) one example is the ride from Berlin to Prague;
  • Flight prices don’t always only increase over time with Ryanair, for example, they can fluctuate A LOT.

ACCOMMODATION

I always book my transport tickets first, and only then my accommodation, because the former is usually more expensive. Also because you can often change or cancel your accommodation booking for free, but the same is not true for transport. But it’s a good idea to at least have a look at accommodation options before booking your tickets, to avoid surprises. Some local events such as Oktoberfest in Munich and St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin make accommodation prices become 10 times more expensive.

You should think of what is most important for you when choosing travel accommodation. For me, it’s price and location. (OK, comfort comes third…) And if you don’t mind sharing a room or a bathroom, you will usually find cheaper offers.

WIth this in mind, I usually consider 3 types of accommodation: hostel, hotel or Airbnb.

Hostel: I take this option about 90% of the time. It’s the option I take when it’s a lot cheaper than the other 2 options; or when I’m traveling alone.
To compare and book hostels, I use the websites Hostelbookers and Booking.com.

Hotel: of course, this is the option I give preference to since it’s the most comfortable one but it’s usually also the most expensive one. I take this option about 10% of the time: when it happens to be the same price as the hostel option, or almost. This usually happens when I’m traveling with a group of people. (Note that it’s usually a low-budget hotel or pension.)
To compare and book hotels, I use the website Booking.com.
I really like Booking.com as the platform is very clear and easy to handle (e.g. to filter searches, make alterations in your booking, etc.). And if you have any problem, they have a good customer service and will mediate everything you don’t need to contact the hotel on your own. Plus, after you’ve booked a few places, you become a ‘Genius’ client and get special rates.

Airbnb: this is a website where you can rent a room in someone’s apartment. I’m just starting to experiment with the Airbnb option. I’d take this option only when:
a) hotels are way more expensive than hostels and Airbnb;
b) plus the Airbnb offer and the hostel both have great locations but Airbnb is the same price or cheaper than the hostel;
c) plus the Airbnb offer is a private room (so more comfortable) and the hostel option is a shared dormitory;
d) plus the Airbnb host has great reviews and looks trustworthy;
e) plus when I’m not traveling alone.
(So as you can see, I’d only use Airbnb in very particular cases.)
Website: Airbnb

One also has the option of CouchSurfing staying at someone’s apartment for free. I’ve never taken this option as I don’t feel comfortable with it, but you should consider if it’s worth it for you.

In general, prices for low-budget accommodation in Europe range from 10 to 30 euros per night per person.


I hope this very thorough description of how I plan my trips can be helpful and inspiring! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.

Checking travel tickets online is harmless and costs absolutely nothing. So just try it. You’ve got nothing to lose.  🙂

(Note: this post was not sponsored by any of the companies mentioned here.)