After having lived on the small but mighty island of Malta for three years, there is hardly a nook or cranny I haven’t yet explored. We took full advantage of all means of transportation (whether public or by car, hiking or boat) to see the Maltese islands in their entirety. When friends and family came to visit us we only showed them the best of the best in a limited timeframe. I’ve since come to perfect the long weekend tour, which is completely doable given the size of the country (only twenty some kilometers on its long end). This 3 day guide to Malta showcases its rich history, unique architecture, and stunning waterfront, as well as encompassing the best of the Maltese food scene and some pretty great photo ops. If I had only a few days in Malta, this is exactly how I would spend them.
DAY 1: Valletta & The Three Cities
My love for Valletta runs deep. For detailed info on the capital city of Malta, check out the full Guide to Valletta post, which encompasses everything the city to see, do, and eat. But this is how I would choose to spend an ideal day in Valletta and the Three Cities across the Grand Harbour.
10:00 If you’re arriving in the city mid-morning, and need a light breakfast, head to Caffee Cordina for my favourite place to enjoy a pastizzi – Malta’s equivalent of Paris’ croissants, of Italy’s cannolis, and of Canada’s street meat. Basically, you can find pastizzi on every corner. Choose from either a savoury ricotta filling or a pea puree, both wrapped in flaky filo pastry. To get there, enter the city through the main gates, admiring famed architect Renzo Piano’s contemporary intervention within a historical fabric. A controversial project locally, it’s Malta’s best example of 21st century architecture & urban planning. Continue walking down Republic street, until you reach the National Library of Malta, in which Caffee Cordina’s patio sits adjacent to the majestic entrance.
11:00 After getting your fill of pastizzi and people watching, I suggest you go check out St. John’s Co-Cathedral. As one Italian tour guide put it, “I tell my tour groups to go see the cathedral, which is nothing special from the outside. They hesitate, as Italy is full of stunning cathedrals, and seeing yet another one is not of interest to them. But then they step inside, and the interior takes their breath away.” Go on, see it for yourself.
12:30 Afterwards, make your way back to Republic Street, and continue towards the main St George’s Square, before veering right onto Archbishop Street, then right again onto Market Street, where you’ll find some casual eateries in case you’re feeling peckish. I love Cafe No. 43 for their tasty array of salads and great coffee, and my boyfriend is partial to the sandwiches at The Submarine (try the piadegella bread made fresh daily filled with mozzarella, parma ham, tomatoes, basil, with a drizzle of olive oil).
2:00 If it’s still mid-afternoon, I’d take this time to simply wander aimlessly through the streets of Valletta. You never know what a turn will yield to, there are so many beautiful opportunities around every bend.
4:00 Finally, make your way towards Auberge de Castille, a 16th-century building originally housing the Knights of the Order of Saint John, and now is the office of the Prime Minister of Malta. Turning left onto the front of the building, you’ll be greeted by its majestic main staircase before continuing down Castille Street to my favourite spot on the entire island, Upper Barrakka Gardens. This view never ever gets old, I could stare at it forever, no matter what time of day. Take however long you need to soak it all in.
5:00ish Once you’ve had your fill, take the Upper Barrakka lift down to the harbour level. Follow the signs for the Birgu ferry, which comes every half hour or so, depending on the season and day. If you can, hop onto a dgħajsa (a traditional Maltese boat), that will transport you across the Grand Harbour and let you off at Vittoriosa’s waterfront.
6:00 Birgu’s waterfront is beautiful, even with the redevelopment and insertion of mediocre tourist restaurants. Pass them all as you head towards the peninsula’s point where sits the grand Fort St. Angelo. Unfortunately, it is closed to the public at this point, only opening intermittently for special events. Nearby, there’s a somewhat hidden cove where you can sit peacefully away from the main yacht marina and enjoy a drink. The restaurant here changes, but the stunning location remains the same (currently its Etienne’s Kitchen & Yacht Lounge).
7:30 I hope you saved your appetite because you are going to need it! Vittoriosa houses my most favourite restaurant on the entire island, Tal Petut. It’s not only dinner, it’s an event in and of itself. Ideally go with a crowd, but either way, you are in for a treat. If you’re lucky enough to have the restaurant’s owner in-house, Don is sure to take care of you from beginning to end. Be sure to say hi from your Canadian friends, Cassie and Jason!
DAY 2: Round Malta Cruise
After yesterday’s full day of walking and city-seeing, you’ll be sure to want to give your feet a rest. One of my favourite ways to see the island is by boat, as it lends a completely different perspective than staying on land. If you have access to a personal boat or can hire a private tour, then definitely do so, as it would allow the flexibility to do exactly as you please on your own timeframe. As an alternative, the Round Malta Cruise is my top choice for a predetermined boat tour, encircling the entire main island (Gozo is not part of it), with a pit stop for passengers at the Blue Lagoon for lunch and a swim. Here’s how I would do the day:
9:00 Fuel up first by grabbing an Italian-style breakfast of espresso & a croissant at Frensh bakery in Balluta Bay. Take your goodies to the outside square overlooking the bay and savour some of the best pastries on the island. Alternatively, make your way to the Sliema Ferries, where the cruise departs, and sit for a few moments at Giorgio’s, for coffee and people-watching.
10:00 There is no better way to see the island(s) than by way of the sea. Malta boasts some pretty impressive landscapes, including sheer cliffs that can only truly be appreciated from the water. The cruise is a great way to encircle the entire island, and pit stop at the infamous Blue Lagoon. Be forewarned: this place gets busy. But beyond shoulder season (April – June, & September to October), the weekdays are the perfect time to snorkel the aquamarine crystal-clear waters, hike around the island of Comino, and enjoy the impressive shoreline that seems to be unique to this tiny uninhabited island – save for the two permanent residents. Alternatively, if you have a car, I suggest driving up to the Gozo ferry terminal and catching a boat to Comino (for 8 euros). It will drop you off at the Blue Lagoon, and then offers various pickup times up until the late afternoon. On the way back to the ‘mainland’ the boat will take through some of Comino’s caves!
6:00 Touching back onto land, you are bound to be hungry. For dinner, I favour the neighbourhood of Balluta Bay, where you can enjoy an excellent cocktail at Electro Lobster Project, or enjoy the unparalleled view from NAAR RestoBar. I also love Hotel Juliani‘s rooftop for drinks on Friday jazz nights. If still in the Sliema or St. Julian’s area for dinner, my suggestions would be: Piccolo Padre for pizza and U Bistrot for great Mediterranean food. Both are casual family-friendly spots. Again, if you pop into U Bistrot and the owner Matthew is around send your regards from me!
10:00 If you’re up for a night out on the town, the Paceville is your place. Keep walking along the waterfront towards this mini city built solely to keep the late-night partiers contained. If clubbing is not your scene, then you can opt for something more low-key at Juuls, a Reggae bar that makes a mean strawberry mojito, which you can sip sitting on the steps overlooking Spinola Bay.
Day 3: Central Malta
It’s time to take your travels inland and discover Malta detached from the sea. Although we won’t be able to stay away for too long!
9:30 One of the best spots for brunch on the island is Flora’s, and adorable cafe in the heart of Naxxar. Expect a vintage vibe with mismatched teacups and colourful plates and the best baked-to-order scones on the entire island.
11:00 Naxxar is also home to the island’s most impressive public Palazzo. Directly across from the church lies the indiscreet Palazzo Parisio – atleast from the outside that is. Step inside and you’ll be greeted by lavish gardens, grand marble staircases and ornately decorated rooms that faintly echo that of Versailles. The onsite restaurant, Luna, is also a great spot for lunch or high tea, complete with champagne of course. Even Oprah has done it!
1:00 If you’re looking for a lazy but lavish afternoon, head to Cafe del Mar to lounge by the infinity pool with cocktail in hand.
Otherwise, head to the former capital of Malta, the walled city of Mdina. Also known as The Silent City, Mdina boasts a whopping 300 people who call it home, preserving the feel of an ancient fortress. Walk the twisting streets at night for a particularly eerie experience, when the streets are lit by a dim glow you are seldom to pass another, whether resident or tourist.
3:00 If you’re looking for an afternoon pick-me-up, I suggest the Fontanella Tea Garden for the best selection of cake by the slice on the island, and a panoramic view to boost.
5:00 Rabat, a suburb of Mdina houses a much larger population and some equally beautiful scenes. One of my favourite spots on the entire island is the hidden Our Lady of the Grotto Dominican Priory. It is an old convent with an interior citrus tree orchard courtyard flanked by porticos on each side. Although the ground floor is open to the public, the second is strictly for those that reside in the convent for religious reasons. It’s beautifully peaceful to walk through, admire the gardens, and take a moment to breathe in some serenity. Also in Rabat are St. Paul’s Catacombs, an underground network of Roman cemeteries dating back to use in the 4th century, which is also well worth a visit.
7:00 For your culinary finale, dine at one of Malta’s best newer restaurants, Umami. Not only is the food divine and well beyond much of the rest of Malta’s gastronomical scene, the view from its terrace is also beautiful sitting high above most of the rest of the country. It’s the perfect end to an idyllic long weekend in Malta.
Congrats on making it through this beast! I hope you enjoyed this 3 Day Guide to Malta that I worked hard on creating for the ultimate long weekend on this incredible island. If you have any questions or want to add your own favourite place, please leave your comment below!