Malta. The Mediterranean’s heart. The archipelago has been coveted, conquered, and overturned many times. But today, Malta is an independent republic and an EU member. Its three inhabited islands — Gozo, Comino, and the main island of Malta — are escape pods for R&R, sun, hook-to-mouth seafood, a Mediterranean diet, and a laid-back way of life with deep roots.
Malta is not a high-cost place to visit; the price of food, accommodations, and transportation is a thrifty traveler’s delight. Moreover, its location in the middle of the Mediterranean makes it an ideal add-on to a trip to mainland Europe, Africa, or the Middle East.
I’ve spent extended time in Malta, exploring the islands and getting to know the culture. Here are my suggestions for a wonderful budget-friendly visit to the islands of Malta.
First: Two Must-Have Discount Cards
Malta Discount Card
Buy the Malta Discount Card (MDC) to save 50 percent on restaurants, heritage sites, museums, tours, boat trips, attractions, and watersports on Gozo and Malta. You will save the meager cost of this card the first day you use it. The Malta Discount Card is good for you, an accompanying guest, and three children under 12. You can purchase a 10-day or 365-day card.
Buy the card online, and it will be delivered to your lodging in Malta or Gozo. If you prefer, you can purchase a 10-day card from authorized sellers around the islands.
Pro Tip: To learn more about Malta’s heritage sites, visit Heritage Malta.
The tallinja card is a bus card used on all Malta Transport buses. They come in several varieties, but I suggest the Explore tallinja card. For around €21, you have 7 days of unlimited travel. That’s €3 per day to use Malta’s excellent public transportation. A single trip cash price is around €2, so €3 per day is a very budget-friendly transportation cost. Purchase cards from machines at all bus terminals, the airport, and some bus stops.
Now that you’re equipped with these handy cards, put these things to do in Malta on your list with confidence.
1. Walk Historic Valletta
No matter where you go in Malta, you’ll encounter centuries of Maltese heritage. The city of Valletta is called an “open-air museum.” Valletta has a grand collection of 16th-century sandstone buildings. These honey-colored structures stand beside 21st-century architectural works of art.
Try the Valletta Malta Free Walking Tour to see the major sites in Valletta. The tour is free, but a tip to your volunteer guide is appreciated at the end of your 90-minute walk.
Use your MDC in Valletta to visit the National Museum of Archaeology. It’s a brilliant place to get a century’s overview of Malta’s archaeological history. The museum is fascinating. I was enthralled by the artifacts found in the ancient temples dotting both Malta and Gozo. With the 50 percent discount, an adult ticket will be around €2.50.
2. Wander Through Mdina
Mdina is often called “the silent city.” For centuries, mysterious Mdina was the capital of Malta and home to the Knights of St. John, religious leaders, and wealthy citizens. Narrow passages and streets are bordered by two-story sandstone buildings. Cars are rare; only residents may enter the gates in a vehicle. Mdina is fun to explore; I like to wander without a map or GPS.
Use your MDC for a visit to the National Museum of Natural History. You will learn about Malta’s natural resources and how man has used them for thousands of years. Again, with the 50% discount, an adult ticket will be around €2.50.
Pro Tip: I urge you to have a “splurge lunch” at Bacchus Restaurant. The food is traditional Maltese with modern twists. Everything is fresh, seasonal, and delicious. Secreted down a narrow passage past a secret garden, Bacchus is located in what was once an armory, then a wine cave, and is now one of Malta’s best restaurants. The Maltese Platter and a glass of Maltese wine will cost around €17. It’s meant as a starter to share but is a substantial meal for one.
3. Experience Marsaxlokk
Marsaxlokk is known for its Sunday fish market and can be packed with people on that day. However, the rest of the week will see few tourists. There are eateries, shops, galleries, churches, Maltese defense sites, and the harbor to explore. You’ll also find small boutique hotels and guest houses to stay in.
A street market is set up along one end of the harbor walk most days of the week. Stroll through the market and continue along the harbor promenade. The colorful luzzus in the water are used daily to go to sea and return with the Mediterranean’s bounty.
Pro Tip: Find a seat in one of the al fresco cafes for a long, lazy lunch of caught-that-morning fish and an enchanting view of the harbor.
4. Sneak Away To Marsaskala
Marsaskala is not a tourist destination. However, it has a beautiful harbor filled with small fishing vessels. Bordering the u-shaped harbor are apartments, a lovely family-friendly park, and eateries of all types. Best of all, it’s a transit hub connecting you quickly to all of Malta.
There is a lovely Victorian park and a beautiful church on the harbor’s north end. Walk the promenade along the harbor. The view is captivating at sunrise as fisherfolk take dinghies from the boat shelters in the seawall and row to their vessels moored in the dock-free marina.
Follow the walkway around the south side. You will leave the harbor area, passing salt pans en route to St. Thomas Tower, a battery and fortification used in World War II. There is also a lovely beach for sunning and swimming at St. Thomas Bay.
5. Go To Gozo
Malta’s little sister, Gozo, is a delightful day trip destination. However, most folks visiting the main island of Malta don’t go to Gozo. They miss this slow-paced rural setting and the island’s magnificent cliffs, caves, and blue lagoons. Gozo is small, but there is plenty to do.
Gozo has 18 villages, each with its own beautiful church or chapel. Terraced farms and pastures climb from the shore, producing fruit, vegetables, and dairy for the sumptuous Mediterranean diet.
Gozo Tuk-Tuk Tours
I believe the best way to see Gozo is with a Tuk-Tuk tour of the island. Yippee is a locally owned and operated Gozo tour company. All of Yippee’s drivers and guides are multilingual. They are knowledgeable about Gozo, its culture, history, and geography. They will make your tour the highlight of your visit to Gozo.
The chauffeur-driven Tuk-Tuk tour is an absolute bargain at €75 for adults. You will be picked up at your lodging, then sailed to Gozo via Yippee Island Hopper boat or the Gozo Channel Ferry. Your Tuk-Tuk picks you up at the ferry terminal. Included is a sumptuous Maltese lunch served at a beach-side café. This is when you’ll fall in love with the Mediterranean diet. At the end of your trip, you will go to Camino Island to swim and explore on foot. From there, you’ll be returned to your pickup spot.
Stops include scenic ocean vistas, salt pans, churches, ancient temples, old Roman baths, the Victoria street market, and a citadel. You’ll also have a chance to visit a gift shop with locally made lace, clothing, liquors, and sweet treats.
6. Live Like A Local
By far, the most budget-friendly lodging in Malta is an apartment. If you choose a hidden-gem village, your budget will thank you many times. The not-so-well-known towns and harbors have lodging at much lower rates — as much as 50 percent!
In an apartment, you can prepare your own meals, do your laundry, work remotely, and entertain. Outside your apartment, you can get to know your neighbors, shop, and try neighborhood eateries. Every Malta village has historical sites, churches, a park, or perhaps a beach. My two suggestions are Marsaxlokk (#5 above) or Marsaskala (#6 above).
7. Get Restaurants Discounts With Your MDC
The MDC (one of the trusty cards from above) is a great resource for restaurants. You will get a whopping 50 percent off your first meal at a participating restaurant. Each visit after that will include a 25 percent discount. I love my MDC!
8. Eat At Village Eateries And Kiosks
Small mom-and-pop pubs, restaurants, and cafes have the best menu prices and the best selection of traditional Maltese dishes. One of my favorites is Sammys Il Kcina Tal Barrakka Restaurant in Mgarr, Gozo. It’s a local’s favorite and family friendly. The authentic Maltese dishes are cooked with love and quality fresh ingredients. The menu can vary daily according to the day’s catch. Be certain to try the house-made wine.
Kiosks are food stalls selling pastizzi (savory Maltese pastries), pizzette (Maltese pizza), hand pies, sausage rolls, and an assortment of traditional Maltese food at friendly prices. You can have a small pizzette and a cold Cisk beer for around €4. These fast street food stalls are always delicious, and bargain hunters delight.
9. Buy Food At Food Shops And Supermarkets
Small food shops, or convenience stores, as Americans call them, will surprise you with the selection of fresh food. You can find the ingredients for a picnic or dinner at your apartment. They are also a wonderful place to pick up local wine and beer.
Large supermarkets can be found in larger villages and towns. Most have a wide selection of local produce, meat, liquor, wine, and beer. Additionally, you’ll find household goods and picnic supplies.
Pro Tip: The best bargains will be for local produce such as olives, olive oil, dates, figs, tomatoes, fennel, hummus, cheese, and of course, wine.
Getting To Malta
You’ll fly into Malta International Airport (MLA). Many EU countries have non-stops to Malta. When coming from the U.S., expect to change planes in Europe.
You can take a ferry from Sicily to Malta. The three-hour sailing on Virtu Ferries will cost under €100.
Getting Around Malta
Malta is a walking-friendly place. So pack your walking shoes and cover the island on foot. There are countless walking trails crisscrossing Malta and Gozo. Many have been used by man for thousands of years. Find some well-curated tracks on the Visit Malta website.
Malta Transport is excellent. Buses run 24 hours a day to all parts of Malta and Gozo. They are modern, clean, safe, and efficient. Get your tallinja card, and the bus fare can be as little as €3 per day.
To get to Gozo, you take a ferry. The Gozo Channel ferry runs between south Malta and Gozo’s Mġarr Harbor on the southeast side of Gozo. Gozo Fast Ferry and Virtu Ferries Gozo go to Gozo from Valletta.
Because Malta is an archipelago in the middle of the Mediterranean where R&R is a way of life. Because its beautiful landscape is populated by warm, generous people that hold tight to their traditions and celebrate their history. Because the water is warm and clear, the seafood is fabulous, and Maltese hospitality is lovely.