My complete guide
Flights to Malta
Malta is 3 hours flying time from the UK, we went via Gatwick as wanted to travel on a Sunday but there are several flights daily from other airports.
Air Malta – our journey out, was an hour delay, only slightly better than Easy Jet but more expensive.
British Airways – our return with more comfortable chairs, no more leg room But better hospitality and some snacks on offer.
30 minutes delay on getting home.
We saw Easy Jet, Jet 2 and Thomson flights. Prices may be cheaper by paying separately for everything. We went via Expedia and also got top cashback.
What time of year to go to Malta
April – we travelled at the end of April, not as many people, pleasant warm weather but the sea would be a bit chilly. Numbers multiply in the summer season and temperatures roar. So April and May is a very good time to visit – the beginning of the season. However Malta welcomes tourists all year.
Hotel Transfers and Taxis
Transfers – We pre-booked a private car but due to the delay we got fobbed off with a mini bus dropping everyone off first increasing our delay by another hour. Then we found out it was only one way £15 and they wanted to charge us 25euro for the trip back but we discovered Uber and Bolt while we were there, download the app and you can have a taxi in minutes from anywhere on the island much cheaper. A taxi ride back to the airport via Bolt was 16euro. A 20 minute drive from St Julien’s.
The Place we stayed in Malta
We stayed in St Juliens (St Gilian) an island bay, perfect for 20 somethings who love some nightlife, street food, activities etc We found the main hub too lively for us, a bit like Malta’s ‘costa Del’ but we were the other side of the bay, minutes’ walk to Sliema and a tad quieter. But to be honest we picked the location because we wanted a 5* hotel with heated indoor pool and good food.
Plenty of restaurants, cafes, bars and waterside promenade – it’s not a traditional sandy beach but there are some rocky areas beside the sea you can bathe on along with local diving schools for snorkelling.
The beach side promenade is walkable all the way to Sliema and then on to Valletta but we used local busses* (see below)
Staying at the Marriott a massive 5* hotel with several restaurants an outdoor roof terrace pool and bar area plus an indoor pool with spa area, steam room and sauna.
We upgraded to include the 24 hour M lounge – a private coffee lounge with complimentary drinks, snacks, biscuits, meal time free booze incl. prosecco and spirits along with set meal times offering a buffet style tapas type menu.
Perfect for before bed hot chocolates, cool drinks after a walk and an evening meal if you have indulged at lunch time.
The main breakfast buffet was impressive. They also had a friendly bar serving cocktails and a fine dining restaurant overlooking the bay at the front of the hotel.
On a good and bad side of things there was building works opposite but improvements to the hotel, building a massive outside landscaped pool area, which I’m sure will be ready by the summer season 2023.
Transport – Local Buses – its only 2 euros any journey per person on the island, I believe locals get the buses for free. And they run regularly from the bay to Valletta the capital via Sliema. Going the other way buses run every hour to Mdina. However we managed to jump on a vintage bus that runs 2 hourly for 2.50 Euro one way that only took 2o minutes rather than the bus around an hour. You can also get regular buses to the airport only 5 mins walk from the hotel or where ever you are.
Bolt runs takeaway deliveries, taxis and scooters – hire a scooter to whizz you up the promenade but each scooter hire requires one phone app.
As mentioned before download the Uber and Bolt apps – as they come in handy.
Sliema – seems a lovely part of the island, it’s across the bay from Valletta but quieter than the city life. There is more shops, cafes and restaurants in Sliema than St Julien’s plus a shopping centre. With some lovely streets to wander down.
We found ‘Beirut Bay’ a Lebanese restaurant in a street off the main road. Lovely little place offering super tasty authentic Persian food.
We also had Italian Pizza at Vecchia Napoli.
Sliema is also where you will catch boat trips from and the ferry to Valletta (1.50-3 euro one way), we nearly booked a day trip by boat to Comino, the Blue Lagoon island and Gozo for around 30-40 euro pp.
Valletta is the capital, a beautiful Medieval walled city with loads of boutique hotels, tons of restaurants, Cafes and bars. Tons of history lots of tours and easy access to the ferries. The cannons are shot at midday from the gardens so plenty to see and do – night time is lovely wandering around the hilly roads. I would definitely stay here if and when I go to Malta again – probably doing a 2 centre holiday of Gozo too. There is a big hotel in Valletta but its outside the city walls, near the main bus station.
We did a Food and Drink walking tour (£25 pp pre booked on line) – 3 hours with a lovely walk around discovering a bit of history.
We tasted PASTIZZI at one of the vendors by the bus station, they are crispy puff pastry pasties filled with either mushy peas or ricotta. Further down the stalls is a place called DATE – it sells Imqaret – essentially a deep fried fig roll but so satisfying to eat, apparently the deep fried ones are the best lots of places offer cold baked ones but he (the tour guide) was right they weren’t as good.
We also tried FTIRA from Museum Café, it’s just a sarnie but made with a big beigel like ciabatta roll, locally made filled with all sorts – the most popular one is flaked tuna, with capers, marinated veggies, olives and always dressed in olive oil and rubbed with tomatoes. They sell them all over the island and are perfect picnic food, which we took in the saluting battery. Then we had something sweet from a traditional bakery called Figolla, many of the desserts are made with almonds as was this biscuit like cake with icing.
Lastly on the food tour we went to an indoor street food market, with a supermarket below.
Called Is Suq Tal Belt, for a plate of Malta specialities – local bread with a tomato puree, bean paste dip, tuna, stuffed olives, beans with crackers to dip and some peppery local cheese.
With a horrid Halva for dessert – who likes halva!
Malta is a melting pot of history and rule so the food influence is a little Arabic, a little English, a little European and a lot Italian as its only 60 miles across the water to Sicily.
Cannoli is also a favourite here as well as in Sicily – a deep fried pasta tube, filled with ricotta and ended with nuts or chocolate.
Other tours go daily from the city walls all bookable on line.
Mdina the original Capital
Mdina – is well worth a visit, buses stop outside the city walls once the capital, in a place called Rabbat – a small village with some scattered shops and catacombs to visit. Full of enchanting streets. Mdina is just a stroll away, a walled medieval city once ruled by European Catholic knights – we did pay around 10E each to go on a knights experience, a 3D show followed by a headphone visual walk round exhibition. We both enjoyed it and it took up an hour before our lunch was booked.
We booked ‘The Medina’ a Michelin recommended restaurant serving Maltese classics.
We started with seafood Frito Misto – mixed battered seafood with a local sticky honey dip, some dolmas (stuffed vine leaves) and Kapunata – a cold aubergine stew, similar to the Italian Caponata.
The starters were excellent but the mains were a little boring, too cool and salty. I had Beef Cheek with cold snails and hubby had grilled Rabbit another classic island dish, served on the bone. We finished with a standard shared Cannoli, which could do with a little more flavour.
Other classic dishes to try are Lampuki – fish pie, Bragioli beef olives and Gbejniet a local goats cheese – originally unpasteurised but now pasteurised with less authentic flavour. It’s not an award winning cheese in my opinion it’s like a dry feta.
Other Foodie places we tried –
Mr Juice is a chain juice bar all over Malta to grab those vitamins in smoothie form.
Burger Ink was a smashed pattie burger bar we found in the back streets of Valletta with some street seating. Around 12 euros incl. fries.
Prices are very similar to British prices, there isn’t much cheap. Cocktails are between 7 – 12 euros each, main meals in a good restaurant 15-25 euros, street food pizzas and pastries are reasonably priced some below a euro.
Naar bar in St Juliens right on the bay in front of our hotel, served good cocktails and the food looked ok – basic stuff like sliders, pizzas and fried seafood.
Busy Bees in Sliema offered us a coffee break, but the pizza slices and sandwiches looked good.
Carmen was a 50’s style side street bar in Valletta we enjoyed a beer, CISK is the local pale light ale and relatively cheap.
KINNIE is a local fizzy orange soda with a bitter taste like the brown can San Pellegrino have in their range, its classically a Sicilian flavour – much like Cinzano and Aperol Spritzers.
We also loved Fat City Bar in Valletta a cool, old Edwardian style cocktail bar with comfy seats and a bit of retro chic.
Gifts to Bring home
They have a few liquors from 4 – 12 euros depending on size of bottle. Flavoured with prickly pear, pomegranate or fig, etc (make sure you have a suitcase which is loaded on the plane as not allowed in hand luggage)
Honey Rings are sold in delis and supermarkets a brittle short pastry filled with a honey paste, the size of a donut.
They also make a lot of Nougat which can be bought in different sized bars, usually almond based.
All sorts of biscuits, pastry’s and fig filled cookies – all fairly dry is the nature of Arabic / Italian style baking.
Valletta is also known for glass. Plus you can pick up the usual tourist stuff like T shirts, key rings, bags and bits.
Regarding food I was disappointed in the lack of localism, farming and dishes which were Maltese. Most of the dishes go back to other cultures adopted in history. The majority of supermarkets are filled with European produce, although it was good to see Norwich Kettle Chips.
Most of what you eat is produced with exported goods even down to the water bottles from Italy and France.
The locals shake their heads at all the foreign workforce and the changes, with properties being bought up from outside and talk of a corrupt government.
I feel they need to have a competition to create national dishes and bring back food pride, farming and a thriving food industry.
But having said that Malta is beautiful, I always remember my grandparents going there and saying it was a destination for the oldies – its full of everyone at all stages of their lives and is well worth a visit. There are several Michelin stared restaurants on the island with more recommendations but in my experience food was a bit of a let-down. You will also find award winning Asian / Japanese restaurants. I saw lots of Italian style street food kiosks, Turkish kebab takeaways, a few Lebanese restaurants and other restaurants serving a pretty standard European menu.
The 4 nights we had were full of adventure but for me it was more of a city break and less of a beach holiday.
I was disappointed to have missed Gozo but that means we have to go back one week for a 2 centres holiday, 2/3 nights in Valletta followed by 1/2 in Gozo – then maybe fly to Sicily for a week of exploring and eating proper authentic street food.
Written by Zena Leech-Calton