From venturing off the well-trodden tracks to buzzy foodie hot spots, here are the best things to do in Malta and its lesser-known surrounding islands.
Malta is an extraordinary place. The small archipelago lies in the Mediterranean sea, south of Sicily and has been welcoming holiday-makers for decades. Its new low-key rhythm has made the island one of the buzziest hot spots in the world right now. Avoid the summer onslaught and visit in September and October. You’ll be surprised to know that even then the sun is deliciously warm (Malta has over 300 days of solid sun a year). You’ll discover superb hotels, laid-back secret beaches and homemade dishes like nowhere else. Read our guide to the best things to do in Malta. Book your flights now.
Where to stay
Book into Casa Ellul in the heart of Valletta for a low-key stay and you’ll be sad when you have to leave. Even if you visit for a quick dip in the ginormous bathtub (or wind down in the outside hot tub) you won’t be disappointed. Elsewhere, the Phoenicia Hotel is the kind you want to lose yourself in after a day exploring the honey-coloured capital. This pretty set-up stands just outside the city gates, overlooks the spectacular harbour and even has an infinity pool with views of the glistening water below. After reopening in April 2017, it has earned its reputation as the grandest must-book hotel on the island. It’s certainly unlike any other place. Rooms here start from €250 per night and include breakfast.
For something utterly brilliant, book yourself a stay at The Palace hotel. With 154 seriously smart rooms, there is a treat for every guest here. In the morning the chef will whip up eggs of your choice for breakfast and deliver them to your room if you’re lucky. Come evening, lose yourself in the dreamy gardens, magnificent views and mouth-watering meals downstairs in the restaurant. Stay for a drink or two and dance your way through the night.
What to see
There are three main secret beaches in Malta: Comino, Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay. Each are tucked away on corners of the island and look as beautiful as they sound. Visit Ghajn Tuffieha for its unspoilt soft sandy beaches and then stay for the sunsets. This is the kind of place to take a picnic to (though a small family-run cafe serves up extra-chunky chips, ice-cold cider and pizza slices if you’re bored of those ham and cheese sandwiches). After walking down 150 flights of steps you are hidden away from the rest of the world and surrounded by only ridiculously beautiful, quiet waters. Drive your own boats if you’re brave enough or bob along the waves on a banana float to keep the children happy. This is one of the sunniest spots on the island and will promise to keep everyone as jolly as can be (plus it’s one of the best things to do in Malta). Order a post-swim burger from the local bar and take a barefoot stroll to the water.
Malta runs only by bus and is so small you can ride around the whole island in one day. Take number 13 and hop off once you reach Ghajn Tuffieha and Golden Bay beach for a day trip. It fills up quickly with other beach-goers so set out early for a seat and a brilliant spot on the soft sand. Quick tip: beach chairs aren’t provided so pack a beach towel or two to doze off in.
Don’t leave without a trip to the island of Comino, either. While big-hitting islands are on everyone’s radar this summer, Comino and Gozo are slower, lesser-known secret spots that are even more charming. Here there are backpackers, honey-mooners, families with small children and super-smart travellers. A boat trip there will take around 2 hours but you’ll be served lunch on board if you book with Comino Ferries, and guaranteed the best views possible. The water here is otherworldly — the clearest, brightest blue you’ve ever seen. Sand is buttery soft and made for wriggling toes in as you sit back with a mojito. Order brunch just moments away from the waves and drift off into a sun-soaked doze. On your way back, stop off for dinner at Gozo — the sleepy neighboring island — that is even more dreamy and irresistible come nighttime.
Make time to head to Sliema before you head home, even if it’s just for one of their white chocolate ice creams. Situated on the harbour, it sits opposite to the capital Valletta and makes for ridiculously beautiful views. Here, houses are multicoloured, painted in glorious rich blues, sunshine yellows and deep greens. The waterfront town — that was once a fishing village — is as perfect as can be.
Where to eat
Food on the island is insane. Here, you’ll eat full and plentiful. Turn any corner and you’ll find buzzy little cafes serving up sea-fresh prawns, lobster and delicious local wine — all at seriously brilliant prices. Da Marina is tucked away on the North East side of the island and is known for stand-out service and impressive portion size. You won’t be disappointed here: no pasta dish reaches more than 7 euros.
The Medina is a restaurant every bit beautiful as it first looks. Situated in the heart of Mdina, this is one of the oldest properties in Malta’s ancient capital. Here is a charming and uncomplicated property best known for its Mediterranean cuisine. Inside you’ll find honey-coloured stone walls that wraps around a pretty indoor courtyard. Visit for dinner and sink back into the cushiony soft sofa and watch the stars glisten in the inky night skies above. The food is intricate without being fussy. Try the pan seared scallops and pork belly with sweet garlic cider — the best thing on the menu. Come with a group, share the platters and keep the cocktails coming.
If you can, reserve a spot at the seriously smart Barracuda restaurant. Sitting on the edge of Balluta Bay in St Julian’s, expect sparkling views of the ocean (best experienced over their legendary breakfast menu). This waterfront restored 18th century villa is filled with Maltese flair and is best visited when you’re not in a hurry. To drink, make it a piping hot frothy cappuccino.
Where to shop
Malta was once owned by the UK so you’ll be surprised to find a few of our own British shops on the island (M&S, Tesco, Waitrose and Accessorize). Among these you’ll find some superb souvenir shops. The island is full of trendy places, lesser-known stores off of every side street and quaint little shopping alleys. St Julians Bay is perhaps one of the best places for perusing on a lazy Sunday afternoon. You’ll walk around, warmed by the sun, and make plenty of stops by the waterfront — one of the best things to do in Malta.
Valletta is of course jam-packed with shops, buzzy coffee shops and boutiques. Expect to find handcrafted gems and trinkets and treasures. From ethically sourced handmade goods to little sugar-dusted macaroons, the city is brimming with treats on every corner. You’ll come away with a full stomach and an even fuller heart.