5 days in Malta: what to see and where to stay

The view of Valletta from Sliema Harbour. Image by Richard Coombs.

The view of Valletta from Sliema Harbour. Image by Richard Coombs.

Malta is a beautiful island nation located off the south coast of Sicily. Whether you’re looking for sun and sand or a bustling restaurant scene; Malta has it all. 

We stayed in Sliema, a perfect central location handy to Sliema Harbour, restaurants and cafes and several transport options to get out and explore the rest of Malta. Compared to other European countries, Malta is extremely affordable. Expect €2 beers, dangerously cheap happy hour cocktails, €8-11 main meals, return transport across Sliema Harbour for €3 and bus tickets for €1.80.

Sliema Harbour. Image by Richard Coombs.

Sliema Harbour. Image by Richard Coombs.

Rich and I both agreed after our first couple of days in Malta that we weren’t exactly sure what to expect but we were impressed with the intricate heritage architecture, bustling restaurant scene, the cobblestone streets and different experiences you could find in each area. The buildings are colourful and intricate with almost no balcony free of a bright flower box on the windowsill.

Reflective of its location between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, some buildings looked colourfully Parisian but if you walked a couple more blocks, the African and Middle Eastern influence was immediately obvious in the flat beige block buildings — a true feast for the eyes and even more fascinating once you learn about the history of Malta.

I’ve included the highlights of our 5 days in Malta below and I'll be sharing the best places to eat, drink and play around Malta in my next post.

Sliema

Sliema Harbour at dusk. Image by Richard Coombs.

Sliema Harbour at dusk. Image by Richard Coombs.

Sliema is a wonderful spot to stay, eat and drink. From our people watching at the cafes and restaurants along the waterfront, it seems the locals think the same. We enjoyed a late lunch on our first afternoon in Malta at Giorgios Caffeteria. Giorgios is located on the corner of Triq Bisazza and the Tigné Seafront in Sliema. We watched younger locals enjoy drinks while glamourous Maltese women enjoyed a lady’s lunch complete with their cute puppies (in equally as glamourous outfits) in tow.

Enjoying great views of the ocean from the rock pools in Sliema Harbour. Image by Richard Coombs.

Enjoying great views of the ocean from the rock pools in Sliema Harbour. Image by Richard Coombs.

The best way to see Sliema is by walking around the cobblestone streets and along the harbour front foot paths. Expect small local bakeries, cafes, gelaterias and bars in the backstreets off Tigné Seafront. Small jewellers and larger stores like Zara and Next are also in Sliema if you need a shopping fix.

If you’re staying in Sliema and want to explore other parts of Malta, see one of the kiosks at the harbourfront for ferry and boat options. The public bus system is also great and extremely affordable in Malta however; the winding roads and constant stopping can be a challenge for weak stomachs.

Valletta

One of the many busy squares throughout Valletta. Image by Richard Coombs.

One of the many busy squares throughout Valletta. Image by Richard Coombs.

Valletta is the capital of Malta. You can catch the ferry from Sliema Harbour to Valletta every 30 minutes, which is what we did on our first full day in Malta.

Strait Street, Valletta. Image by Richard Coombs

Strait Street, Valletta. Image by Richard Coombs

When you head to Valletta, make sure you wear good walking shoes! You will be walking uphill and upstairs on the cobblestone streets as you explore the charming scenery. Just like Sliema, there is lots to see in Valletta — the Basilica of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, numerous cafes and restaurants along Strait Street and the main square where the Parliament of Malta is located. Once your feet need a rest and you’ve thoroughly explored the streets of Valletta, stop for a well-earned meal at one of the fantastic restaurants in the town.

The steps next to the Parliament of Malta. Image by Richard Coombs.

The steps next to the Parliament of Malta. Image by Richard Coombs.

An important note on Valletta — while the bars and restaurants here are fantastic, several Valetta locals mentioned that establishments typically close by 11:30pm. If you’re looking to stay out later enjoying Malta’s nightlife, Sliema might be a better option for you.

Gozo

View from the Cittadella in Victoria, Gozo. Image by Richard Coombs.

View from the Cittadella in Victoria, Gozo. Image by Richard Coombs.

Gozo is an island located off the North West coast of Malta. It takes 30 minutes by ferry from the port at Cirkewwa. We explored the winding streets of Victoria, the capital of Gozo, and the historic centre of Victoria. The historic centre was incredibly impressive, demonstrating how so many hilltop towns in Malta were built for defence and protection in ancient times. Gozo was great to see but unless we were going back in the warmer months to enjoy the coastal beaches, we probably wouldn’t visit again. Mdina gave us a much better picture of Malta’s history.

Mdina

The narrow, winding streets of Mdina. Image by Richard Coombs.

The narrow, winding streets of Mdina. Image by Richard Coombs.

Mdina is a 30-minute drive from Sliema. We booked a car through our hotel reception which was €25 one-way. The bus is also an option but it will take longer with the number of bus stops and routes. We got dropped off at the grand stone bridge entrance leading us inside the historic walls of Mdina town.

We felt like we needed to brush up on our history of Malta, and Mdina in particular, to appreciate our surroundings. A visit to the tourist information centre in Mdina will give you a few options — the Mdina Experience — a 30-minute video presentation or other live experiences and re-enactments. Yes, these were typically touristy activities, but if you want to get your bearings and would like a quick understanding of Malta’s history, this will help you out! From the Mdina Experience, we strolled through the narrow, winding streets making our way to the lookout to enjoy the view over the protective walls of the town.

Image by Richard Coombs.

If your walk around Mdina is leaving you peckish, try one of the local bakeries outside the entrance to Mdina. You can grab a traditional Maltese cheese pastizzi for €0.40. I didn’t have one but our friend, who lined up with a tour guide purchasing 30 for her group, assures us it was the best food he’d eaten since being away for 2 weeks!

Stay

We stayed at the Sliema Marina Hotel. The rooms were simple, clean and had a fantastic view of the Sliema Harbour. It was a great starting point for our exploring around Malta for just AUD100 per night.

If you're looking for something luxurious, walking around the backstreets of Sliema, further away from the water, I saw the Palace Hotel which looks like a lovely option and still central to everything in Sliema.

In the next post, I'll be sharing where to eat, drink and play around Malta.