Cruising the Mediterranean. What could be more romantic? Endless sunshine. Impossibly blue water. Fascinating ports with sublime food and lovely umbrella drinks. Malta is an archipelago in the center of the Mediterranean and will be the highlight of your voyage.
If you are the independent type, you will find Malta is easy and safe to head out on your own. Public transportation is ubiquitous, efficient, and very inexpensive. In addition, the islands are small, so a car isn’t necessary. English is Malta’s second official language, along with Maltese. Most folks speak English, Maltese, and Italian.
I suggest spending the day in Valletta, Mdina, Victoria, or on a Gozo tour. Choosing just one will be challenging. However, my suggestions will help you immerse yourself in Malta quickly and get the most from your day ashore in captivating Malta.
1. Explore Valletta
A City Experience
Valetta is the capital of Malta and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much of Malta’s human history has played out in Valetta and left its mark on the architecture, government, art, and faith.
Valletta is ideal for sampling the sumptuous Mediterranean food, admiring the art, and absorbing some history. Get an early start for a less crowded encounter. When the ships are in port, Valletta can be jampacked.
From your cruise ship, walk to the Upper Barrakka Lift, about a five-minute walk. Then, via fast elevators, you’ll quickly rise 190 feet to the ancient city of Valletta. The lift is free going up and around €1 coming down.
Visit The Sleeping Lady
The National Museum of Archeology is my happy place in Valletta. Home of the Sleeping Lady, a figurine found when excavating the Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, the museum beautifully presents Malta’s history. Prehistory, early history, Neolithic, and early Phoenician periods are illuminated with permanent and changing exhibits.
The museum is quiet and calm. A self-guided tour is offered that you can download to your smartphone. Tickets are €2.50–5.00.
A food tour of Valletta is one of the best 3 hours of walking and eating you can experience. Maltese food is fresh and locally sourced. Timeless recipes are influenced by the season and history. Italy, only 60 miles away, has a strong influence on traditional Maltese dishes, as do the Middle East, Africa, and Greece.
Offbeat Malta Food Trails is my choice for a food tour of Valetta. You’ll sample traditional cuisine and learn the history behind the dishes and Valletta. Ask for Daniela Aquilina as your guide. She is a native of Malta, a chef, a historian, and an artisanal chocolate maker at her company Oil and More.
A Stroll In The Shade
Leave Valletta via Republic Street, through the city gates, and across Triton Plaza. If it’s early, the plaza will have few people in the area. That’s the best time to get a photo of the enchanting Triton Fountain. Continue past the fountain to the street and cross to admire the Independence Monument.
From there, take a stroll down the tree-lined mall. Beautifully sculpted memorial statues honor Malta’s leaders and heroes through the ages and create a sculpture garden. Stop at a bench and watch the world go by. There are churches, parks, squares, fountains, and small neighborhoods along the way. When you reach the end of the mall, turn around and retrace your steps.
Before the Triton Plaza, stop into the Phoenicia for an afternoon refreshment. The 5-star hotel and resort is the crown jewel of Malta. You have several choices for food and libations, inside and out. A cool beverage at the pool or in the gardens will reveal a “secret view” of Valletta’s ramparts and walls on a sunny day.
Inside the hotel and in the gardens, you’ll find a magnificent art collection. The beautifully curated works cover all genres and several eras. Ask the concierge for guidance as you enter the hotel.
2. Experience Mdina
Especially If You Like The Cool And Mysterious
Mysterious Mdina, home for centuries to the Knights of Malta and wealthy Maltese citizens. Its narrow passages and twisting streets lined with two-story sandstone buildings and walls will beckon you to investigate. The Maltese call the walled city of Mdina the “Silent City” partly because of the strict no-car regulations.
From the cruise ship terminal, take a direct bus to Mdina; it takes about 26 minutes and costs around €2. You can also catch a taxi that will take half the time but costs several times more.
Pro Tips: Use the “trip planning” feature for local buses at Malta Public Transport. The app can also be downloaded to your smartphone.
If you decide on a taxi, use the taxi booking office on the Valletta Waterfront walkway. You pay in advance for your destination at the regular rate, then give a voucher to the next driver in line.
Things To Do In Mdina
When you arrive at Mdina, go to the tourist information office (take the 2nd right inside the city gates) for a map. Then, sit in the courtyard and decide which of the numerous attractions you’d like to visit. There are churches, chapels, museums, ramparts with astounding views, shops, and restaurants. You could do as I did and wander the passageways with no destination in mind.
Lunch At Bacchus
Bacchus serves the best Mediterranean food I’ve had in Malta. I’ve enjoyed the beautifully crafted food, excellent service, and historic atmosphere many times. Expect a menu that will change daily according to the season. Many things are made in-house, including the creamy burrata cheese and charcuterie. Take your time; it’s a place for a long, lazy lunch.
3. Take A Deep History Dive At The Citadel In Victoria
Victoria is the capital of Gozo, the main island of Malta’s little sister to the north. It’s a lively town of 6,900 and is the largest town on Gozo. It’s a bustling transportation hub dominated by an imposing citadel, the Cittadella. The sandstone monolith protected citizens from pirates and invaders in centuries past. Today it’s a beehive of history, churches, museums, restaurants, and shops.
Walk to the Gozo Fast Ferry terminal from your cruise ship, just a few minutes along the waterfront. Take the high-speed boat to the ferry terminal at Gozo. In front of the terminal, board a direct bus to Victoria. The cost is around €2 and takes about 15 minutes. Walk north on Triq That Putirjal to Triq ir-Repubblika. Turn west. The Cittadella is 5 minutes away. It’s the highest thing in Victoria.
What To Do
Once at the Citadella, go to the visitor info office (follow signs). A small fee is charged to visit the center, including admission to several other Cittadella attractions. You can also get a map and decide what you want to see.
Don’t miss the “historic house” for a well-presented reproduction of 16th-century life. Gozo Cathedral has a famous painting that depicts a dome that doesn’t exist. Even though there are a few stairs to climb, go up to the ramparts. The view is outstanding. You can see Gozo, Camino, and Malta.
Stroll The Street Market
Leave the Cittadella and cross Triq ir-Repubblika, then cross the plaza where folks are having refreshments and conversation. You’ll see the street market ahead. It winds and wanders through back streets and squares. It’s an excellent place to shop for locally made products and souvenirs.
4. Get Around Gozo In A Tuk-Tuk
If you’d like to get a sampler of Gozo’s beauty, I suggest a full-day tuk-tuk tour of the island. Yippee, a locally owned and operated Gozo tour company, curates chauffeur-driven tuk-tuk tours, quad tours, self-drive e-Jeeps, and GoCar explorations. Yippee tour guides and drivers know Gozation culture, geography, and history.
From your cruise ship, walk to the Gozo Fast Ferry terminal, just a few minutes along the waterfront. Then, take the high-speed boat to the ferry terminal at Gozo. Your Yippee guide will meet you at the terminal.
On The Road
Tuk-tuk tours are a maximum of six and a driver. The small vehicles can get to places the large tour buses can’t go. You’ll visit villages, towns, cliffs, terraced farms, salt pans, and a Roman laundry. Stops are made frequently with your comfort in mind.
The full-day tours include a Mediterranean lunch at an oceanside café. It’s a wonderful taste of the Mediterranean diet. After your tuk-tuk tour, you’ll hop aboard Yippee’s boat and sail to Camino Island. There, you can swim and walk before returning to the Gozo ferry terminal in time to catch your ferry to the Valletta waterfront.
Why Travel Solo?
Getting out on your own is an adventure in a new country. However, if you are ready to give it a try, Malta is ideal. Malta and Gozo are tiny islands; it’s hard to get lost. Malta is 17 miles long by 9 miles wide. Gozo is 9.5 miles long by 4.5 miles wide. In addition:
- The country’s history and architecture are outstanding.
- Most folks speak English, Maltese, and Italian.
- While many street names are Maltese, other directional signs are in English.
- Public transit is frequent, efficient, and inexpensive.
- Malta has the lowest crime rate in the EU.
- Maltese are friendly and engaging people. They love to talk about their country and help you enjoy it.
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