I booked our trip to Malta without fully researching what to do and how long to stay. I was shocked to learn there was so much to do, and more than one island! Most of our trips, with the exception of summer and winter holiday, are short 2-3 day trips, so I was originally worried 4 days in Malta would be too long. It turned out to be quite the opposite! I personally wanted to stay on the mainland and wasn’t sure if we would venture elsewhere. The idea of switching hotels after two days didn’t appeal to me, so I just assumed we’d stay on the mainland. However, the Islands of Gozo and Comino looked beautiful and intriguing, and once I learned they are easily accessible by the ferry system, I decided to book day trips. This allowed us to keep one “home base” and still see multiple places in Malta. We booked both of our tours through Viator, and would recommend them as they were excellent and exactly what we were looking for! We choose to stay in Sliema due to it’s access to restaurants and the ferry to Valletta (plus, lots of hotels with air conditioning!).
The first day trip was to the island of Gozo, where we went on a Tuk-Tuk tour of the entire island, seeing many sites. Gozo is one of 21 of the Maltese Islands. The island of Gozo is rural, but still boasts an incredible coastline, and beautiful churches and cathedrals. The tour began with being picked up by a van in front of our hotel. The van picked up a few other passengers before heading to the ferry terminal at Cirkewwa, on the other end of the island. The ferry was large and we enjoyed views of the stunning Maltese coastline along the way. It was an easy process, as our guide and Tuk-Tuk were both waiting for us at the ferry terminal. The groups were split according to language spoken. On this particular day, it was just us and one other couple who spoke English, so we lucked out with a smaller group.
After leaving the ferry port, it wasn’t long until we were in a more rural area. The island is hilly and green, and it was a beautiful ride. Our guide stopped often to point out landmarks and share information about the island. We did stop to view some churches briefly, but he explained that there were a ton on the island and we couldn’t possibly see them all. We did stop to take a quick picture of a cathedral in the distance before winding along to the coast. At the coastline, we were greeted with views of the stunning Sanap Cliffs. The limestone cliffs are beautiful, and accented by the gorgeous hues of the water. While walking around the cliffs, our guide pointed out the wild capers — it turns out, capers are plentiful on Malta, which makes sense as they were in several dishes we ordered.
After seeing the cliffs, we explored more of the Maltese Coastline, stopping for to take in the sights and snap a few photos. Our tour continued to Xlendi Bay, which is a popular beach spot for the locals. Following that, we headed into town and stopped a store where we had the opportunity to sample local products such as nougat candies, jellies, liquors, and more. As we drove through the center of town, preparations were underway for the Feast of St. George taking place that weekend. The decorations were quite elaborate and spanned several blocks; it definitely looked like a giant street party would be taking place! We arrived in a town on a harbor, and had a delicious 3 course meal for lunch served outside. I find Maltese food to similar to Italian cooking, but with it’s own flare.
After lunch, our journey continued along the coast, where we continued to feel the breeze (open air Tuk-Tuk ride) as we marveled at the island’s beauty. We stopped by some salt pans along the sea, before heading to a modern Cathedral, called The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta Pinu (or Ta Pinu, for short). The Cathedral is a Roman Catholic minor Basilica and shrine, set in the countryside where visitors are treated to views of the island. As far as impressive Cathedrals in Europe go, Ta Pinu is relatively new. The groundbreaking was in 1920, not too long ago considering many churches are 1,000 years old. Built with Maltese stone, the Cathedral is beautiful both on the outside and inside. It is definitely worth a visit when on Gozo.
You may notice that Maltese architecture has some uniformity; the lightly colored stone buildings are all constructed of limestone. Why is that, you ask? Sure light colored buildings keep things cool in the heat, but more importantly is the access to limestone. Limestone is abundant on Malta, and being an island nation, they use what they have. Our tour took us past one of the limestone quarries. The sheer size was incredible, and it was so interesting to see how the limestone is mined (not that I completely understand how it works, but it does look pretty fascinating). The Maltese certainly import some products, but they are also very self sufficient as well, not only with utilizing limestone, but also growing crops, making their own (delicious) wine, etc.
Following our stop at the quarry, we headed to the Blue Grotto. We stopped at a tiny swimming hole where locals and tourists gather to enjoy the clear water. For a few euros, you have the option of hopping in a rowboat to go through the cave and see the grotto up close. We were so glad we did this, because the colors are indescribable! The purple hues of the submerged flora are also reflected against the caves, making it even more incredible. Fun fact, the Blue Grotto was in the movie Troy, with Brad Pitt. Definitely check this out if you have the opportunity; I’ve never seen water so vibrant and blue.
Our last stop on our wonderful day tour of Gozo, was the Citadel. The tour actually gave us an entire hour there. It wasn’t enough time to see everything there, but we were satisfied, and we also saw incredible views from Citadel, or Castello. The Citadel of Victoria is in walking distance to the center of town. The ancient Citadel was first fortified by the Bronze Age people, around 1500 BC. Inside the Citadel complex is the baroque Cathedral of Santa Maria. Like much of Malta, the history of the Citadel is complex and reflects all the changes and inhabitants of Malta over the course of history. The sweeping views are worth the stairs and hilly climb.
Again, we wanted to see as much of Malta as possible while maintaining our “base” in Sliema. We also didn’t want to deal with renting a car. We live in England, so we are well aware of how to drive on the left side of the road; we just didn’t know how easy it would be to finding parking. Soooooo…. another day trip! This time we wanted to see the small, mostly uninhabited island of Comino. Or simply put, we wanted to SWIM in the waters off the coast of Comino and enjoy a relaxing day. A day trip on a catamaran accomplished all of this! This trip was relatively cheap, around $30 a person. It did NOT include transportation from Sliema. However, public transportation can take you to Bugibba, where the trip departed. We opted for a cab, and while I can’t recall an exact price, I want to say it was around 25 euros. All of the cab fares in Malta are set price.
While we enjoyed this trip, and loved that we could swim and snorkel for hours, the boat was a bit crowded and large. It was worth it, and the price was right. Definitely try and find a more secluded spot on the catamaran. We went straight upstairs to front, where there were two seats together. The tour also offered people the opportunity to go to Gozo, which we passed on because we had been the day before. However, if you are short on time, you might consider doing both in one day.
The day began with sailing along the Maltese coastline on the way to Comino. The first point of interest was called St. Paul’s Island. It is said that St. Paul was shipwrecked here around 60 AD, while on his way to Rome to face charges. He was rescued by the locals and remained on Malta for some time. The boat also sailed past beautiful cliffs and came in close to some coves, to feast on the splendor of the sparkling blue water. We continued onward to the main attraction for us, the Blue Lagoon. This particular tour brings you to the Blue Lagoon in the morning, BEFORE it becomes extremely crowded. The boat moors for about 90 minutes before making a quick trip to Gozo to drop off those who elected to see both islands in one day. It then returns to Comino, but as the day progresses, the spot becomes crowded. We loved using the water slide in the Blue Lagoon, and also brought our snorkels; it’s amazing how far down you can see!
The island of Comino is uninhabited. You are able to get off the boat or out of the water to walk around. There are also many vendors selling food and drink on the island, and the boat sells food as well. I was glad we had the catamaran as our “base” despite how crowded it was, because the small beach at the Blue Lagoon was completely packed with people on every inch of the sand. We basically only ventured on the island to grab some lunch and take some pictures; it was way to crowded for us. We spent most of our time in the refreshing water. In the afternoon, the boat made a swimming stop at the Crystal Lagoon, which is close to the Blue Lagoon, but with less people. We actually enjoyed this spot the best. Not only was it beautiful, but you could also swim through caves! The boat returned to Malta in the early evening. I’d say this day was a win; if you like swimming, this is the trip for you! Oh and the bartenders make a great frozen drink, aptly named “the Blue Lagoon”.
If you are spending more than a day or two on Malta, definitely consider visiting the islands of Gozo and Comino. If you don’t like crowds, skip the Blue Lagoon in the summer! Gozo is definitely an island I would like to see more of, particularly Victoria, if we ever return to Malta.
Is Malta on your bucket list yet???