If there were ever a country that ticked all my boxes, it’s Malta. Pretty beaches, although not very abundant, dot the rocky coastline. Clear blue water? Tons of it. A culinary paradise home to authentic Italian and fresh Mediterranean cuisine? Absolutely. Friendly stray cats begging to be pet? Yep. A path for a run with a view? Practically around the whole island! This country was so me, which is why it was so attractive for my 23rd birthday celebration, in addition to the appeal of it being an underrated gem in the middle of the Med.
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t know much about Malta before this trip. I would call it a “Pinterest dream” in that I had seen impossibly beautiful pictures of the islands and immediately added it to my bucket list. I now feel like it’s my duty to be a Maltese ambassador encouraging everyone to go experience its history, natural beauty, and unique mix of cultures. I mean, how else would I have learned it was the most bombed country during World War II?! And because of a period of British rule and its proximity to both Sicily and Northern Africa, Malta’s cultural blend is unmatched.
My mom and I stayed at a waterfront hotel in Sliema, a town just across the harbor from the capital city, Valletta. It turned out to be a perfect location for us, bustling with restaurants and shops and easily accessible for boat tours, ferries, and public buses.
Day 1: Comino
While Malta is the main island in the archipelago, the country also has two others: Comino and Gozo. We spent our first day at Comino’s hyped-up (rightfully so) Blue Lagoon. A boat left from the port right outside our hotel and took us on a one-hour cruise to this smaller island where we were given about five hours to explore on our own. At first we wondered how we would fill that time considering the island is not built-up at all (Population: 3) but we realized one could spend hours just looking at the water of the Blue Lagoon. I’ve been to the Caribbean, Australia, and other places on the Mediterranean and have never seen water so blue in my life. Although the temperature was only about 65 degrees and a haze blocked the sun, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim. Only a few other people were in the water, but I had seen pictures of the crowds at the lagoon in the summer and felt relieved to be there in the off-season. We had a picnic lunch and spent the whole afternoon hiking along the cliffs and taking it all in.
Day 2: Marsaxlokk, Blue Grotto, Valletta
Our second day we took advantage of Malta’s public transport to see the sights on the main island. We started in Marsaxlokk, a fishing village with a Sunday market. Unfortunately the market was full of tourists so it wasn’t as enjoyable as it sounded, but we avoided the crowds by taking a boat ride to see some of the surrounding cliffs and the iconic swimming spot, St. Peter’s Pool. For lunch, we had fried calamari and shrimp and I tried my first raw oyster, because #WhenInMalta, right?
Then we were off to the Blue Grotto, where small boats give tours of the caves carved into the cliffs. I thought the water at the Blue Lagoon was incredible, but the turquoise glow within these dark caves is something I had to see to believe. I feel like my pictures look edited when. in fact, it’s the way the light hits the water is what creates this beautiful illusion.
Our last stop of the day was Valletta, the capital. The first thing that struck me as I stepped inside its immense stone walls was the main street didn’t have any cars, so it was more pedestrian-friendly than most cities. I loved the architecture because I could detect both Northern African and European influence; buildings were reminiscent of what I had seen in Morocco while still exhibiting that European charm in the details.
Day 3: Gozo
We got to explore the third island, Gozo, on our third day with a jeep tour, guided by an enthusiastic local, Morris. This was such a fun way to get around because there was no window separating us from the views over vast farmland and the sea, and because we were traveling in a smaller vehicle than the typical tour bus, we were able to see so many different sights. The most famous attraction in Gozo, the Azure Window, unfortunately collapsed last year during a storm. However, there were dramatic cliffs and waves hitting the shore so although the arch was no longer there, it was still a beautiful stop. We got to see one of the island’s cathedrals, decorated with intricate carvings and colorful mosaics (I always love comparing the cathedrals of the European countries because they are all so different). We also walked inside the 5,500-year-old Ġgantija temple ruins, which predate both Stonehenge and the Pyramids.
Day 4: Mdina and Mosta
Our last full day in Malta, the weather was cloudy and quite cold, so we decided Hop-On/Hop-Off bus would be a safe bet. It turned out to be a disaster that I would not recommend to anyone—our driver was smoking on the bus and we got off in Mosta to see its cathedral’s famous dome only to find out the cathedral was closed. We definitely would have been better off just taking public transportation. But nevertheless, the bus led us to Mdina, another fascinating fortified city that used to be Malta’s capital. It was kind of a maze, which made it fun to just wander and get lost in its narrow streets, and when we found our way to the top of the walls at the edge of town, we were rewarded with a view of nearly the whole island.
There were some other areas of Malta we would have loved to see, like Dingli Cliffs and the beach at Golden Bay, but at this point, the weather was so dark and windy that we just headed back to our hotel to relax in the afternoon.
Day 5: St. Julian’s and Sliema
I’m throwing in some pictures from our last morning because we had an afternoon flight back to Germany. The weather was actually the nicest of the whole trip, so after a public transportation nightmare of missing buses to Golden Bay, we decided to just take a bus to the nearby town of St. Julian’s and walk back to Sliema. With the sun completely out, the views were even more beautiful as we walked along the rocky coast and stopped for an outdoor lunch overlooking the Mediterranean.
So now I have a new favorite European country to rave about besides Germany and Portugal! We jammed a ton of activities into these five days and I truly feel like we got the full Malta experience. This trip also taught me the importance of prioritizing my travels and going to places that are a good fit for me *cough cough* basically anywhere on the Mediterranean. Good thing I have a trip to the French Riviera planned for next month!