01 October 2021

Three Great Day Trips from Valletta, Malta

This is the second of four posts about my recent trip to Malta. You can read the other instalments here: Valletta city guide; four days in Gozo; and how to spend nine days in Malta.

Malta is small — the main island is just 17 miles long by 9 miles wide — and because it's easy to get around by public transport, I decided to base myself in Valletta and take day trips to visit some of the other locations. It's even easier to get around by car, of course, but I prefer not to rent cars unless I have to — I find the flexibility it affords usually isn't worth the cost (economic and environmental) and the hassle. And you can get from Valletta to almost anywhere else on the main island by bus in under an hour for a €2 fare. It just takes a little planning, as most buses run only once or sometimes twice per hour.

I took three amazing day trips from Valletta by public transport; read on for turquoise waters, ancient fortified cities, stunning geological features and perfect sandy beaches!

Comino and the Blue Lagoon
Comino is the smallest island of the Maltese archipelago, measuring just 1.4 square miles, but the uninhabited island is host to one of Malta's most popular tourist attractions: the Blue Lagoon, a large, sheltered inlet with clear, calm bright turquoise water that is perfect for swimming. 

Comino is closer to the island of Gozo but I decided to visit on a day trip from Valletta instead as I had more time in the Maltese capital. To my surprise, I couldn't find a direct route from Valletta to the Blue Lagoon. You can take a one-hour bus to Ċirkewwa in the north of Malta and then take a ferry. You can also take a 40-minute bus to Bugibba and then take an organised boat trip — with Sea Adventure Excursions, for example. Or you can catch a quick ferry to Sliema and then take an organised boat trip.

I almost went for the Sea Adventure Excursions option, but in the end decided the best combination of speed, price and flexibility would be to take the Gozo Fast Ferry to Mgarr (45 minutes; €10 return) and then take a small boat from Mgarr harbour to the Blue Lagoon (15 minutes; €15 return including a cave tour). Both the Gozo Fast Ferries and the small boats run every hour during the daytime, which meant I could spend as much time as I wanted on Comino. The small boats don't take credit cards and there were no working ATMs at the ferry terminal so bring cash.

I arrived at about 10:30 am, and after being struck by the intensity of the aquamarine waters, I quickly realised that there wasn't really any beach to speak of. Instead, deckchairs and parasols have been installed, Jenga-like, around the craggy rocks that overlook the lagoon. I rented a deckchair and a parasol for €10 for the day — it's worth walking beyond the first bank of chairs next to where the small ferries dock, as although it's just as crowded, you're further from the boats. If you're in the front row, your belongings risk getting soaked by the occasional wave, while further back, you have people walking in front of you constantly. You can hike up onto the cliffs and pitch your own base, but there's no shelter. There are a few food carts selling fast food and drinks, including the ubiquitous cocktails-in-pineapples (credit cards accepted). 

The photo below is of where I was sitting — the colours are heavily edited because of water blur on my waterproof camera. Basically, the Blue Lagoon is a wonderful place for swimming but less so for sunbathing/relaxing by the water. 

But it is incredibly beautiful and I spent hours swimming in the crystal-clear waters. Although there were a lot of people there, the lagoon is big enough that you can swim and find your own private patch of turquoise. A short swim across the lagoon brings you to a small beach with some rocks and salt pans to explore. You can also climb up the cliffs and you will be rewarded with an incredible view of the Blue Lagoon and of the turquoise waters on the other side. 

My biggest recommendation for the Blue Lagoon (and much of Malta) is: BRING WATER SHOES. The rocks around the Blue Lagoon are jagged and uncomfortable, and if you wear shoes you can swim in, climbing up the cliffs on the other side will be much more pleasant.

In the afternoon, I took a small boat tour to see some of the caves and the even bluer Crystal Lagoon (pictured below) around the other side, which is only accessible by boat. If you've done any other boat trips on Malta where you've been inside (or even swum inside) caves with cobalt waters, you can probably give this a miss. 

Afterwards, I dragged myself out of the water and walked 20 minutes across the headland to Santa Marija Bay, a pleasant sandy beach to the north of Comino. If I hadn't just been in such a perfect swimming spot, I'm sure I would have thought this beach was amazing, but although it was lovely and also much more peaceful than the bedlam to the south, the waters weren't so clear and seaweed and trash from the nearby boats marred the experience.

Not entirely intentionally, I ended up back at the Blue Lagoon towards the end of my final day in Malta, after a boat trip around Gozo. Our boat anchored just outside the lagoon and I was able to experience the waters at golden hour, and even managed a leap off the boat. Although I'm glad I organised my own trip, I can also see the attraction of having a boat on which to leave your belongings and to sunbathe — something to consider when planning your trip. Despite the crowds, it was one of the best experiences of my trip and one of my favourite places I've ever swum.

Mdina, Rabat and Dingli
If you don't fancy a beach day, Malta's former capital, Mdina, a tiny fortified city ten miles west of Valletta, and the slightly larger neighbouring town of Rabat are well worth the 30-minute bus ride from Valletta (you can take bus 51, 52 or 53). After passing through the grand city gate into the walled city of Mdina, you can spend an hour or two roaming the labyrinthine alleyways constructed from honeyed stone. Mdina's medieval cathedral is a major attraction, but it was closed for a wedding when I was there so I had to admire it from the outside instead, ice cream from Fior Di Latte in hand. If you want to eat something more substantial, the de Mondion restaurant at the Xara Palace hotel looked lovely.

Over in Rabat, the architecture is similar to that of Valletta's historic city centre, although there seemed to be a broader range of permissible gallarija colours. I took a stroll around the town centre and then paid a visit to St Paul's Catacombs, a series of interconnected subterranean passages and Christian, Jewish and pagan burial chambers spanning an area of over 2,000 square metres.

From Rabat, it's a 40-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride to the village of Dingli. I actually went straight from Valletta to Dingli (and then on to Mdina and Rabat) because I wanted to have lunch at Diar il-Bniet a wonderful farm-to-table restaurant, deli and cookery school. Luckily, they had a free table outside so I had a good lunch before my walk: froġa tat-tarja, a sort of omelette with pasta and sausage baked in, which was filling and delicious. I also had an excellent strawberry and rum cocktail and may have picked up a few small ceramic items from the shop.

After lunch, I walked 15 minutes southwest to Dingli's stunning cliffs. The view is pretty impressive when you first see it and then walk east to the St Mary Magdalene Chapel. But keep following the clifftop path southeast towards what Google Maps marks as the Dingli Cliffs Window. You can walk out onto the promontory for an even more spectacular view. If you don't want to walk all the way back, you can take the 201 bus (which runs every hour) to Dingli or Rabat, and the 52 bus runs from Dingli village back to Valletta, via Rabat (40 minutes).

Golden Bay and Għajn Tuffieħa
After two days in Valletta, I was craving a good sandy beach and decided to visit the beautiful Golden Bay and its even more beautiful neighbour, Għajn Tuffieħa, in the northwest of Malta. The 44 bus takes about 50 minutes from Valletta.

You can either pitch camp on Golden Bay beach, which is closer to the bus stop and car parks but more developed, or hike over a small hill and climb down the steps to Għajn Tuffieħa. I spent most of the day on Golden Bay, and it wasn't too busy in the morning, although it got more hectic later on. I rented a sunbed and parasol for €9 for the day. There's a snack bar on the beach, as well as a beach shop and ATM. The sand is indeed golden and soft, and the water warm and a clear blue-green. Towards the end of the day, the waves got rather more vigorous and it became more difficult to avoid the seaweed, but it was a particularly windy afternoon. 

One of the reasons I stayed on Golden Bay was because I wanted to go on a boat trip with Charlie's Discovery Boat Trips. I'd read about Charlie in my Lonely Planet and there was a sign on the beach explaining how to find him. We went on a 90-minute trip on his speedboat visiting several 'blue grottos' including one we could swim in (although the rough waters made taking good photographs difficult), and another quieter bay where we could swim. It was a great experience! Charlie also does trips from Golden Bay over to the Blue Lagoon in the afternoons.

After my boat ride, I climbed up to Għajn Tuffieħa Tower on the cliffs above the bay, took in the views and then climbed back down to Għajn Tuffieħa beach (pictured below). By the afternoon, the beach was almost as busy as its Golden neighbour, but the water and views were even nicer. And....relax.

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