08 October 2021

How To Spend Nine Days in Malta

This is the last of my posts about my recent holiday in Malta, rounding up my overall experience: my itinerary and how it worked out, where I stayed, what I did and how I travelled around. You can also read my other Malta posts here: Valletta city guide; day trips from Valletta; and four days on Gozo. And there are even more photos over on my Flickr.

Days 1–5: Valletta

I based myself in Malta's capital, Valletta, as I knew that it would be easy to travel around the small island by bus to some of the many other places I wanted to visit. I stayed five nights at the Coleridge Hotel, a boutique hotel in the heart of the historic city centre.

Day 1. I landed at Malta International Airport at around 2 pm and despite a lengthy queue at passport control and a quicker one for COVID documentation checks on leaving the baggage hall, I reached Valletta's City Gate by bus just before 3:30. After checking into my hotel, I spent the afternoon exploring Valletta and getting my bearings, enjoying dinner at Ambrosia, followed by a gin cocktail at Yard 32.

Day 2. I took a two-hour walking tour with City Walking Tours Malta, followed by a visit to the stunning baroque St John's Co-Cathedral. After a ftira lunch at Grano and another stroll around the Upper Barrakka Gardens, I took the ferry to Sliema for a dip in the sea and some rock jumping, before returning to Valletta to get changed for dinner at the lovely Guze Bistro.

Day 3. After my usual morning routine of breakfast at Star Bistro and coffee at Lot Sixty One, I took the 44 bus to Golden Bay and Għajn Tuffieħa, two beautiful sandy beaches on Malta's west coast. I spent most of the day swimming, sunbathing and visiting some of the nearby cliffs and caves with Charlie's Discovery Boat Trips. You can read more about the logistics of this day trip here. In the evening, I celebrated my first holiday outside the UK in 18 months with a tasting menu at the excellent Noni, back in Valletta.

Day 4. My excursion of the day was to the village of Dingli, where I had lunch at the farm-to-table restaurant Diar il-Bniet before heading for a walk along the spectacular Dingli Cliffs. I then took the bus to Malta's former capital Mdina — a tiny fortified city with an impressive cathedral — and its slightly larger neighbour Rabat, where I visited St Paul's Catacombs. After returning to Valletta by bus, I took in golden hour at Lower Barrakka Gardens, and then had pinsa romana at Casa Sotto.

Day 5. The weather had been near perfect but because a storm had been forecast, I waited until my last full day on the island of Malta — when the forecast was best — to visit the Blue Lagoon on the island of Comino. This was one of my favourite experiences of the whole trip, and I've written about it in much more detail, including the practicalities, in this post. When I got back to Valletta, it was getting late and I hadn't booked anywhere for dinner so ended up eating at a restaurant near the cathedral where the ambience was a lot better than the food (although the food was decent enough too).

Days 6–9: Gozo
Day 6. Check-in at my Gozo hotel wasn't until 3 pm, so I allowed myself a bit of a lie-in before packing up and heading down to the Gozo Fast Ferry terminal. I'd booked my tickets online, but alas, I realised too late that I'd booked the outward journey of my open return in the wrong direction and there was no 11:45 ferry to Gozo on that day. I thought I'd have to wait an hour at the ferry terminal to catch the next one, but discovered there was a second company, Virtu, running a very similar service that seemed to be targeted at locals rather than tourists. As it was only €6 for a single ride, I bought a new ticket and was at Mġarr by 1 pm. NB, the seas were quite rough during my visit, but I would highly recommend sitting near the back of the boat, even if you don't usually get seasick.

From Mġarr harbour, I took a 20-minute taxi ride to the Kempinski Hotel San Lawrenz, a resort hotel near the west coast of Gozo, where I spent the final three nights of my trip. Although I arrived early, I was able to check into my room and I quickly headed straight down to the pool to read, swim and eat a light lunch. Later on, I followed the cliff path down to the Blue Hole and the Inland Sea, where I spent a happy few hours swimming, snorkelling and soaking up in the sun in the stunning geological formations. For ease, I dined at my hotel's L'Ortolan restaurant, enjoying dinner and a cocktail overlooking the swimming pool.

Day 7. The original plan had been to take a full-day jeep safari tour around Gozo, but as I've mentioned, that didn't work out. Instead, I took the bus into Gozo's capital Victoria (Rabat) to visit the Cittadella, explore the town and do a bit of shopping. In the afternoon, I caught a bus to Gozo's best sandy beach, Ramla Bay, where I sunbathed on the red-gold sand and swam in the gentle, warm waters. Again, I was all organised-out and so had another pleasant dinner at L'Ortolan before the less pleasant business of lateral flow tests and UK passenger locator forms in my bedroom (thankfully, it all went smoothly).

Day 8. I wasn't able to do the full-day jeep tour, so my hotel booked me onto a half-day tour in the morning. As I've noted before, it was a little underwhelming — lots of waiting around and too much rushing at each of the sights — but I did get to see the salt pans at Xwejni and do a nice walk along Xlendi Bay. After lunch, I split from my group (who were going to Comino by boat) and took a circumnavigatory tour around Gozo with Xlendi Pleasure Cruises. This was indeed a very pleasurable experience, with lots of swimming and snorkelling, including a final dip in the Blue Lagoon. 

I wasn't expecting to end up in Victoria and quickly realised that booking is required for some of the best restaurants. I had a great Neapolitan pizza to take away from Casa Vostra, but was sad I didn't get to try Maldonado. After a stroll around the Cittadella by night, I took the bus back to San Lawrenz.

Day 9. I spent the morning at the hotel pool before check-out at noon, when I walked back down to Dwejra Bay for a final swim and snorkel. I timed it well and was able to catch one of the hourly buses back up the hill, before lunch at Ta' Dbiegi Crafts Village, a few minutes' walk from my hotel. 

I stopped by the hotel to get changed and pick up my suitcase, and then took two buses back to Mġarr, before catching the Gozo Fast Ferry to Valletta. I paid the €1 fare to ride the Barrakka Lift, avoiding the steep climb back up to the bus station, just outside the City Gate. The bus to the airport normally takes about 30 minutes but there's major construction going on outside the airport (they're building a tunnel to speed up travel into Valletta) so it took about 45 minutes. Luckily, I was able to take advantage of a cheap offer to upgrade to Club Europe, which meant speedy check-in (or document check in my case, as I wasn't checking any bags) and security control, plus access to La Vallette Club Lounge, before my flight home, which took off just after sunset (7:20 pm) and landed at Heathrow around 9:30.


Getting there. I flew to Malta International Airport, in Luqa, from Heathrow with British Airways. The flight time is just over three hours. From the airport, you can take the X4 bus into Valletta (around 30 minutes, but there are major roadworks as of September 2021) or take a taxi (about 20 minutes). You can also arrive in Malta by ferry from Sicily, although you'll need to bear in mind the additional complications of travelling internationally in these COVID times.

Getting around. I mainly travelled around the country using the excellent public bus network. You can get almost anywhere on the main island of Malta from Valletta in under an hour, and coverage is good on Gozo too. Single journeys cost €2, but you can also buy a 12-journey card for €15 if you're planning to take a lot of buses. You can transfer onto another bus within a two-hour period. Most routes in more remote areas run around once an hour during the daytime, with greater frequency closer to Valletta and Victoria. I also took both the Gozo Fast Ferry and the Virtu Gozo Ferry to get between Valletta and Mġarr on Gozo.

Language. The Maltese language reflects the diverse origins of the country itself, with a high proportion of Arabic vocabulary, as well as Italian, English and other influences. English is also an official language and both languages are spoken fluently. I learned a few Maltese words and phrases like grazzi ('GRAT-si'; thanks) and bongu ('bon-JU'; hello), and this was very well received.

Money. Malta has used the Euro since 2008. I found that credit card/contactless payments were accepted in most places in Valletta, but cash payment was either required or preferred outside the capital, and especially on Gozo. To avoid the charges of 'pop-up' ATMs in more rural areas, it's worth withdrawing cash from a bank when you're in a bigger town, though try to avoid notes larger than €20 if you can. Interestingly, several shops and eateries in Victoria also accepted payment by Revolut transfer.

Power outlets. Malta uses the 'type G' British standard plug and socket system. At least one of my hotels also had a European ('type C') socket, but it's best to err on the safe side and take an adapter if you are taking non-UK devices.

Travel in the time of COVID. There's not much point in me writing a lot about my experience of travelling during COVID, as the UK rules have already changed and the information will rapidly become even more out of date. You should consult Malta's government website for the latest COVID travel information; the Visit Malta website also has a very good section on COVID. Of course, you should also check your home country's government travel guidance for information regarding leaving and returning home. 

Overall, my experience was very smooth. I didn't have to take a COVID test to enter Malta, as I'm fully vaccinated, but did need to complete Malta's passenger locator form before departure. Heathrow wasn't too busy on the way out and the COVID document checks didn't take very long. I packed a COVID lateral flow test I had booked through Chronomics, which I took two days before returning home, when I also completed a UK passenger locator form. Malta's airport was quite busy so I was grateful for my priority check-in/security control and lounge access. When I landed at Heathrow on a Friday night, passport control was busy but I've seen it a lot worse and I was through about 20 minutes after the plane touched down. Two days after my return, I took a PCR test, also ordered through Chronomics, which I posted off and got a (negative) result a few days later.

Weather. Malta is one of the sunniest countries in Europe, with Valletta itself laying claim to the title of sunniest European capital city. Indeed, other than a few overcast hours on my first day and a 20-minute torrential downpour a couple of days later, the weather was perfect: 28 to 30 degrees and sunny, sometimes with a light breeze.

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