It was hot for early fall. Walking up Victoria’s busy Triq ir-Repubblika was more of an uphill grade than I had expected. Then I saw the steep stone stairs leading to the Citadel, my destination, I needed a break before taking on the challenge.
I turned around and saw Pjazza I-Indipendenza, Independence Square, a lovely tree-shaded piazza. Small tables with metal chairs of various styles were dotted about, some with two or three folks conversing and enjoying food and beverage. I was in.
Crossing the crazy, busy, narrow street was heart-stopping. Scooters, cycles, busses, cars, and lorries whizzed by. I made the crossing and found a small table. A server quickly took my order for tea and a pastizzi. After looking around, I began to think about Italy in the 1950s movies. Then it hit me, the piazza could have been used in one of those films, just the way it looked.
Victoria: The Capital Of Gozo
Victoria (also called Rabat) is home to around 7,000 citizens, making it the largest town and the capital of Gozo. The streets meander, twist, and turn. Ancient churches and chapels dot neighborhoods. Sandstone villas with painted balconies, flower boxes, and laundry hung to dry in the Mediterranean breeze will greet you. You’ll find narrow passageways leading to small open squares lined with cafes and shops. Occasionally a door will open, and you get a glimpse into a lush central courtyard, or you’ll come upon a small garden with a gurgling fountain.
As you wander and explore the town of Victoria, you might feel you’re in another era. The sidewalk cafes, street markets, and stately churches have been here for centuries. Pizza at street kiosks, Italian-influenced food in every eatery, a language with strong Italian roots, and shops close for an afternoon siesta will transport you to 1950s Italy.
The Streets Of Victoria
1. Independence Square
Make your first stop in Victoria Independence Square. Located in the center of Victoria, Independence Square is the best seat in town for people-watching.
Take a refreshment break. Surrounding the shady piazza are cafes, shops, and a street market. Pop into one of the surrounding cafes, order, and pay. A server will bring it to you in the piazza. Enjoy your refreshment and immerse yourself in Victoria.
2. Street Market
Sitting in Independence Square, you’ll likely see vendors in front of the shops. But, they are just the tip of the “street-market” iceberg. Lining narrow, car-free streets, you’ll find vendors with colorful merchandise, produce, cheese, wine, clothing, and Gozo souvenirs. There are also permanent shops and eateries in this area.
Pro Tip: A beautiful souvenir of Gozo is a silver fillagree Maltese Cross. While wandering through the street market, you’ll see many.
3. Lunch In St. George’s Square
One of my favorite things in Victoria is a long lazy lunch in St. George’s Square. Located to the south of Independence Square, St. George’s Square is the front yard of St. George’s Basilica.
Several sidewalk cafes surround the idyllic little piazza, snuggled up to shops. I’ve had something at each of these alfresco eateries; they were all delicious Maltese cuisine, with friendly service and comfortable surroundings.
Pro Tip: Choose a seat under the canopy in the summer to avoid the Mediterranean summer sun.
4. St. George’s Basilica
St. George’s Basilica was established before 1450. Today, the magnificent medieval church is called the “Marble Basilica” because the interior is covered in marble. There are several paintings and statues depicting St. George. The most popular is a statue of the patron saint, St. George. The wooden sculpture was created by Pawlu Azzopardi in 1838.
5. Il-Hagar Museum
Il-Hagar, the Heart of Gozo Museum and Cultural Center, is a relative newcomer in revealing Malta’s ancient history. This beautiful museum illuminates “Gozitan heritage and Christian culture that form this island community.” This very modern-looking facility is located in an ancient building. The exhibits are creative, informative, and beautiful. Admission is free to this little gem on the basilica’s left side, just off St. George’s Square.
6. Villa Rundle Garden
Recently refurbished, Villa Rundle Gardens offers outdoor space for families to enjoy. Beautiful gardens and trees make this a lovely spot for a picnic or daydreaming session. You’ll find this shady oasis and a visitor center 3 minutes west of the bus terminal.
Standing at the base of the Citadel is breathtaking. The honey-colored stone walls rise hundreds of feet above Victoria. These walls show their history. Stones inscribed by Romans, hospitals and jails built by the Knights, houses and gardens built by Gozations, war wounds from WWII bombing attacks. The Citadel has stood for centuries as a place of refuge when invaders attacked.
Today it is an archeological wonder with plenty to offer the visitor interested in Maltese culture and history. These are five of my favorites.
7. Visitor Center
Follow the signs to the Visitor Center as you walk up the hill from Victoria. The €5 admission fee also allows admission to the Gozo Archaeology Museum, the Nature Museum, the Old Prisons, and the Gran Castello Historic House — a very lovely little bargain.
8. Gozo Cathedral
The Gozo Cathedral is a baroque building constructed in the late 1600s. Beautifully appointed inside and out, most folks come to see the trompe l’oeil dome. It’s such a masterpiece; you’ll find it hard to believe the ceiling is flat. You can either climb the stairs or use the accessible ramps.
9. Nature Museum
Visit the Gozo Nature Museum for a captivating look at Gozo’s natural resources and how they have been used by Gozations throughout time. Wander through 35 million years of the natural world on Gozo.
10. Old Prison
The Old Prison was built by the Knights of St. John to hold their members when they broke the rules of order. The prison was used from the mid-16th century until the early 20th. For centuries, prisoners have used the cell walls as a canvas on which to carve. Many are still visible.
11. Gran Castello Historic House
The Gran Castello Historic House (Gozo’s Folk Museum) is my favorite Citadel destination. This is where you can see the Sicilian and Catalan influences on Gozo. This house is actually a warren of several homes that are interconnected.
The exhibits are authentic to life three centuries ago. There is an impressive granary on a lower level. Many stairs and narrow passages lead to bedrooms, chapels, dining halls, kitchens, and even a guard room. Many domestic craft tools are displayed.
A Scenic Walk
12. Walk To The Seaside
Isn’t there always a scene by the seaside in romantic Italian movies? The shore is a short easy walk from Victoria. You’ll find villages, chapels, churches, shops, kiosks, eateries, swimming spots, and salt pans along the way.
One of my favorites is the Salt Pans Walk. Beginning and ending in Victoria, you’ll make a loop from the Citadel to the coast and back. For more details, review this guide.
First, you must get to Malta. Hundreds of cities worldwide have non-stop flights to the Malta International Airport (MLA). Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from any U.S. cities. I’ve had transfers from the U.S. west coast in London, Frankfurt, and Zurich. I’ve traveled on Virgin Air (my favorite), British Air (a close 2nd), Air Malta, Lufthansa, and Swiss Air.
I do not recommend getting a car. Both Malta and Gozo are small and easy to get around. Public transportation is excellent and very reasonable. Leave the driving to someone else and enjoy the scenery. Both buses and taxis are available at the airport. Go to the taxi booth in the Welcomers’ Hall. There you can pay for your fare based on your destination. You will be given a voucher to use with certified drivers just outside the door. If you choose a bus, the taxi booth can also help you.
When you are ready to go to Gozo, you will take a ferry. Gozo Channel Ferry sails to Gozo from Ċirkewwa at the north end of Malta. The ferry runs 24 hours a day. There’s a snack kiosk onboard. The standard foot-passenger fare for the 20-minute crossing is €4.05 roundtrip.
Gozo Fast Ferry and Virtu Ferries Gozo sail to Gozo from Valletta. They are both high-speed boats making the trip in about 45 minutes. Onboard, you’ll have comfortable seating and Wi-Fi. At the kiosk, sandwiches, snacks, beer, and wine are on sale, in addition to coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Fares range from €4 to €12 one way. The last ferry is at 9 p.m.
The Mgarr Harbor Ferry Terminal is also a bus terminal with busses to all parts of Gozo. In addition, several buses go directly to Victoria, another bus terminal. The fare without discounts is €2.50.
Pro Tip: Load a Tallinja card and load the Tallinja App to your smartphone. You can buy the cards at the ferry and Victoria bus terminals. Then, use your debit or credit card in the white and green machine to top off your card. Bus fare is less when you use your Tallinja card.
You can’t help but feel you are walking back in time a few decades when you walk in Victoria. Also, the influence from Italy — only 60 miles away — is strong. Folks are more laid back, and life is just a bit easier. It’s the Med, after all.