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Malta is one of Europe’s smallest countries, but it packs a lot in its small size, ensuring that even if you only have 3 days in Malta, you’ll still end up seeing quite a lot. Beautiful blue waters rivaling those of Greece, ancient ruins older than Stonehenge, is it any wonder that Malta recently was named one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 places to visit in 2018?
Long a favorite of British travelers desperately seeking a spot of sun, the secret seems to be getting out. Malta is having a worldwide moment, even despite the loss of one of its most famous tourist attracts, the Azure Window, which crumbled into the sea amidst strong storms earlier this year.
Even without its most “Instagrammable” spot, Malta is left with boundless beauty. From the stunning architecture of its ancient streets to its cliffs and grottos, this is one gorgeous and unique island.
If the views don’t get you, the food in Malta will. I’m still dreaming of fresh octopus, flaky pea-filled pastries, and the most delicious white wine I’ve tried in recent memory.
Three days in Malta isn’t nearly enough, but it’s time enough to taste the best of what the island has to offer, and with a focused itinerary, you can end up seeing quite a lot.
If you have an extra day, I highly recommend making the trip out to Gozo to do some scuba diving in one of the best places in Malta.
Pro Tip: Even if you only plan to spend a few days in Malta, be sure you have travel insurance to protect you in case of emergency. I use and recommend World Nomads to cover me from anything from flight cancellations to scuba diving at very affordable prices
What to Do in Malta in 3 Days
If you want to make the most of a short visit to Malta, I recommend renting a car. Be aware that, as part of its legacy under British rule, all cars drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is located on the right-hand side of the car.
(You’ll also see a number of quintessentially British phone boxes and you’ll want to bring a UK-compatible adaptor!)
Traffic in Malta can actually be quite bad during rush hour. Malta is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, with around 400,000 people living on an island of less than 100 square miles.
Still, since the only other option to get around Malta is by bus or taxi, you’ll be stuck in traffic anyway. So, you might as well have the freedom to pull over and take photos, which I guarantee you’ll want to do!
If you don’t want to drive or can’t, I’d recommend a hop-on, hop-off bus. Hop-on hop-off buses are actually something I rarely advise, especially in cities like NYC, Paris, etc. that have proper metro systems. It works well for Malta as the attractions are quite spread out on the island, and you’ll save a lot of headache of trying to figure out the local bus system this way. You can pre-book tickets here.
3 Day Malta Itinerary: Day 1
Visit the old town of Birgu
Start your travels in Malta in Birgu. Birgu is one of the oldest inhabited areas in Malta, with tons of history to back it up. It is the most famous of what is referred to as “The Three Cities,” which also includes Senglea and Cospicua.
All three villages are built very close to each other around the Grand Harbor and are marked with traditional Maltese architecture, such as the famously brightly-painted wooden balconies.
Birgu was given the title Citta Vittoriosa after withstanding the Great Siege of 1565, when the Knights of the Order of St. John defeated the Ottoman attack.
Birgu’s other claim to fame is as the former capital city of Malta until 1571, when the building of Valletta was completed. Nowadays, Birgu’s population is almost 3,000, making it a sleepy though lovely part of Malta to visit.
While visiting Birgu, be sure not to miss the wine bars, shops, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that line the streets and alleyways of the city!
I ate lunch at Don Berto, which has a stunning view of the mega-yachts in the harbor. I ordered a glass of Maltese white wine and the stewed octopus and couldn’t have been happier!
A few other points of interest in Birgu include the excellent Maritime Museum (which I’m a total nerd for) and the Inquisitor’s Palace.
Both museums are definitely worth spending an hour or so in.
The Three Cities are one of the most historic places in Malta, so it definitely helped to have a guide with me. I recommend booking a tour (this one in a vintage bus looks adorable and fun!) or hiring a guide to make the most of your experience.
Fort St. Angelo
Before leaving Birgu, be sure to visit the imposing and impressive Fort St. Angelo, a must on any Malta itinerary. This fortification on the edge of the city of Birgu was built by the Knights, strategically building over the ruins of a castle which dated back hundreds of years. This fort was what granted safety to the harbor and its occupants due to its strategic position during the Great Siege of 1565.
These days the fort is of great pride to the Maltese people and while it has been restored over the years, it still maintains the old military look from when it was last used.
But let’s cut to the real reason why you’re probably interested: Fort St. Angelo was where some of the scenes from season 1 of Game of Thrones were shot. Diehard fans of the show can even take a private tour of all the locations in Malta where it was filmed.
Even if you don’t care much for the history – the views from Fort St. Angelo overlooking Valletta and the Grand Harbor can’t be beat.
Grand Harbor Boat Tour
Although you’ve already got an aerial view of it: there is no better way to experience the Grand Harbor than by experiencing it by boat.
Sit back and relax (or, if you’re like me, frantically take photos like your life depends on it) while the tour takes you around some of Malta’s majestic natural harbor.
You can take a lovely gondola ride in one of the colorful traditional Maltese fishing boats called the dgħajsa. Don’t worry, I have no idea how it’s pronounced either.
This will take you over to Valletta to continue your sightseeing.
Valletta is one of Malta’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – and with good reason.
Valletta is one of the most well-preserved cities in Malta, and while the city has survived many historical events, it has undergone no significant modifications since 1798.
The fortified city of Valletta is one of the most stunning sites in the Mediterranean. The moment you pass through its giant city walls, you’ll understand why Valletta is so crucial to Malta’s history and identity.
The main site that you shouldn’t miss in Valletta is the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, where an exiled Caraveggio’s masterpiece “The Beheading of Saint John” is displayed. The church is also unique for its tombstone-covered floor, where the epitaphs of over 400 knights and officers of the Order of Saint John were buried after having fallen during the Great Siege protecting Malta.
Maybe I’m just a bit morbid, but I found the epitaphs of the tombs to be incredibly beautiful. Either way, you’ll never again see a church quite like it: it’s one of the most magnificent I’ve ever seen.
A few other spots of interest in Valletta include the Casa Rocca Piccola, an ornate house dating back to the late 16th century, and the Valletta Waterfront. I really recommend going with a guided walking tour of Valletta, as it’ll help you understand all the reasons why this city is the European capital of culture and why it’s so important to Malta’s history.
Shop walking tours of Valletta here.
As for where to eat in Valletta, I highly recommend eating at Rampila, a delicious restaurant serving traditional Maltese dishes. The restaurant has great views of the fortification walls and is a great choice for day or night.
One of the dishes Malta is best known for is its rabbit stew. Here, it was served with an amazing stewed grape sauce – absolutely delicious, especially with a glass of Maltese white wine featuring the local indigenous grape Girgentina. Be sure to have as much as you can while you’re there, as Malta only exports something like 3% of its wine to the world at large — making trying Maltese wines a priority when you’re there. Yup, that’s permission to drink like a fish!
Don’t forget dessert! I had imqaret, a traditional Maltese dessert.
These diamond-shaped sweet pastry parcels are filled with dates, lightly fried, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with a side of ice cream. Perfect for someone like me who doesn’t like their desserts too sweet.
Upper Barrakka Gardens
The Upper Barakka Gardens overlook the Grand Harbor (just opposite from Fort St. Angelo, where you started the day).
From here, you can take in one of the most beautiful panoramic views in all of Valletta.
Be sure to stop for a coffee at the Upper Barrakka Garden Cafe and enjoy the spectacular views from above.
Try to time your visit with the Saluting Battery, a theatrical ceremonial cannon firing. It occurs at noon and 4 PM daily.
3 Day Malta Itinerary: Day 2
Wine tasting at Meridiana in Ta Qali
Remember how I said that Malta only exports a tiny fraction of its wines? So, what better place to drink Malta’s finest than at the source?
Meridiana is one of Malta’s most famous wineries and with good reason — the wines are delicious (spoken from someone who guzzled four quite generous pours before noon)
My favorite was the Melqart, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot that was delightfully velvety and soft in a way that I usually don’t think of Cabs being able to achieve. But the rosé (a Syrah and Cab blend) was also another stunner.
The grounds are also really beautiful, making a stop at Meridiana a great choice, especially on a warm autumn morning.
Eat in Dingli Village
Diar il-Bniet is a delicious agrotourism restaurant near the cliffs of Dingli with tons of vegetarian (and meaty) options.
Their Maltese ravioli is a can’t-miss and their house white wine is delicious — and if you’re brave, go for the escargot braised in beer! You can also shop for various foodie gifts inside if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir to bring home (or gorge on for yourself, no judgments here).
Take a boat ride through the Blue Grotto
The Blue Grotto is yet another incredible natural wonder of Malta. This picturesque grotto (a fancy word for a series of caves) is located near Wied Iz-Zurrieq, south of the town of Qrendi.
A boat ride will take you through six caves, though I’ll admit the pace is quite rushed and the shouting of the boat driver to look and take photos diminished my enjoyment a bit. It’s still well worth a visit, though, for waters and natural formations that beautiful.
It’s possible to swim at the Blue Grotto, but you’d be dodging tons of boat traffic and I don’t think the atmosphere would be ideal. Instead, I’d recommend bringing a swimming suit and swimming nearby at Ghar Lapsi (Ascension Cave).
While nearby, you could also stop at Ħaġar Qim, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating from 3200 B.C. I’m not a huge temple person so I skipped this, but if you’re into history (or pre-history, rather!) you really can’t miss it.
Visit the Dingli Cliffs
The Maltese islands are known for their beautiful sheer cliffs which are made of layer upon layer of sedimentary rock. The Dingli Cliffs on the west coast of Malta are an especially impressive sight.
They are the island’s natural fortress, and because of this, the Knights did not have to worry about protecting themselves from invaders the same way they did in the natural harbor of Valletta. The Dingli Cliffs stretch a massive 250 meters above sea level, protecting this coast of Malta from all sorts of enemies over the years.
While the view is surely beautiful during the day, I recommend aiming for a sunset here.
I mean, do I really need to say any more?
3 Day Malta Itinerary: Day 3
Start the day with pastizzi and tea
Il-Serkin (also called Crystal Palace) is one of the best places to try Malta’s traditional snacks called pastizzi (also called cheese cake)
Maltese pastizzi is typically filled with creamy ricotta or mushy peas and amidst several flaky layers of dough.
Served with coffee or tea in a glass, you can’t ask for a better breakfast in Malta.
Old town of Mdina
Mdina’s history is long and storied, originally settled by the Phoenicians and cycling through many hands as Malta’s history progressed.
These days, Mdina is one of Malta’s most famous sites, partly due to its mixture of architectural styles, ranging from medieval to baroque. It’s also known as the “Silent City”, because of its small population (only 300) and lack of car traffic. However, visit during a busy day and you won’t find it so silent!
At night, however, it really earns its namesake, and it’s quite magical to ride through the city on a karozzin (traditional horse and carriage).
Something about Mdina makes you feel like you went back in time, from the rocky and narrow streets to the churches and quiet alleyways. Perhaps that’s why it was a filming location for Game of Thrones during the first season!
Eat a delicious Italian lunch
Italian food in Malta? Hey, why not — Italy’s only 50 miles away, after all.
Just outside of Mdina in the town of Rabat is Da Luigi, a deliciously authentic Italian restaurant.
You’ve got to eat as much seafood as humanly possible while in Malta, so I went for the seafood risotto with prawns, clams, and mussels and fried calamari. Both were absolutely delicious.
Visit the Marsaxlokk fishing village
Marsaxlokk Bay is Malta’s second largest natural harbor and where tens or even hundreds of colorful Maltese fishing boats dock, and its iconic status means you can’t miss putting it on your Malta itinerary.
The fishing village of Marsaxlokk is also home to a famous fish market which gives tourists a fascinating insight into the local life and traditions. Walk along the shoreline of the port in Malta to admire all the adorable boats, and if you have time, you can take a boat ride to Saint Peter’s Pool for a quick dip in one of Malta’s best swimming areas. But not me — my departure was edging closer and closer — and so I’ll have to save Saint Peter’s Pool for next time.
If You Have 4 Days in Malta…
I highly recommend adding a day trip to Gozo to your itinerary! Gozo is Malta’s more laidback, rural cousin. It also has stunning beaches and amazing diving!
Some of the things you can’t miss in Gozo include Ramla Bay, Tal Mixta Cave, and the Citadel of Rabat. I also recommend doing an ATV tour, and if you’re PADI-certified, you can’t miss the diving in Gozo! I dove with St. Andrew’s Diver’s Cove and highly recommend the company – the instructor was excellent and we dove through an amazing (and just slightly scary) sea tunnel, marveled at super cool underwater rock formations, and watched tons of sea life including an octopus! I also did an ATV tour in Gozo and loved the experience, especially the views of Ramla Bay we got from Tal Mixta cave.
Shop day trips from Malta:
Where to Stay in Malta
If you only have 3 days in Malta, you’ll want to use them wisely and minimize your time in transport. I recommend picking a central location for that reason. I stayed at Seashells Resort in Qawra and while the hotel and pool were both lovely and breakfast was delicious, I found that I was spending quite a bit of time stuck in traffic. The WiFi was also not up to par for my needs – I literally sat in my closet by the hallway door to get work done.
It’d be fine if you’re planning a poolside all-inclusive holiday (and would likely be great for kids and families), but if you’re looking to explore as much of Malta as possible I’d recommend somewhere a bit more central.
Next time I’m in Malta, I’d opt for Valletta, Sliema, or St. Julian’s for their central location for access to other points in Malta – here are my recommendations broken down by city.
St. Julian’s: Beaches, nightlife and luxury
Budget: Malta doesn’t have much in the way of hostels and the true budget end of the spectrum, but St. Julian’s is a lovely exception. Trendy design, excellent location, and amenities such as an outdoor pool (great for the hot summer in Malta), Inhawi Boutique Hostel has excellent reviews and its dorm beds are moderately priced. However, since there’s not a lot of competition in Malta for hostels, a dorm bed is still expensive here compared to many European cities despite the overall affordable costs of travel in Malta. Check reviews, availability, and prices of dorms in Inhawi Boutique Hostel here.
Mid-range: Affordable in cost yet modern in design, The District Hotel is your best mid-range hotel you can find in happening St. Julian’s. This trendy boutique hotel has a sleek bar, modern design with elegant midnight blue accented details, and spacious rooms, plus it’s just a 3-minute walk from the beach. Sold. Check reviews, availability, and prices here.
Luxury: There are several five-star hotels in Malta but Le Méridien has the most consistently high reviews of the lot. With both rooftop and indoor pools, tastefully decorated rooms, a huge fitness center, and balconies with sweeping sea views, it’s a favorite in St. Julian’s for a reason. Check reviews, availability, and prices here.
Sliema: Proximity to Valletta and St. Julian’s, harbor views, shopping
Budget: Sliema also has one of the very few hostels in Malta, which makes it a perfect choice for budget travelers who want a more low-key vibe than St. Julian’s, which is a little more upscale. If you’re looking for a good budget option, Two Pillows Boutique Hostel comes highly recommended by solo travelers. The dorms are well-furnished and have free AC – a godsend in Malta’s hot summers. Again, same as before, dorms in Malta are more expensive than in much of Europe but that’s because there are basically two hostels on an island that gets over a million tourists a year. Check prices, reviews, and availability of dorms at Two Pillows here.
Mid-range: Again, Malta seems to do best in this price range. The Victoria Hotel has the best balance of high ratings, quiet luxury, and affordability in Sliema. I love the quirky décor that this boutique hotel offers, plus it has both an indoor and outdoor pool, an excellent fitness room, and a much-loved restaurant. Check prices, reviews, and availability of The Victoria here.
Luxury: Hello, gorgeous infinity pool – I’m never leaving. The Palace in Sliema is one of the top-reviewed 5-star hotels in the city, with enormous rooms with giant balconies, in-house amenities like your own personal Nespresso, quirky themed rooms, a massive fitness room, indoor/outdoor pools…. you get the gist. It’s kind of got it all, and the price isn’t that crazy, surprisingly, given what it offers. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Valletta: Capital of culture, good food, quiet nights
Budget: There is one hostel in Valletta — Valletta Boutique Living — but as it only has a 7.0 rating on Booking.com, it’s not something I’d recommend without seriously checking the reviews and seeing if it’s worth it to stay there (I’d pick a hostel in Sliema or St. Julian’s instead). If you do want to check it out, you can see reviews and prices here.
Mid-range: This is where Valletta shines – there’s a ton of accommodation in this price range with beautiful views and comfortable digs. I’d recommend Palazzo Paolina Boutique Hotel for the best combination of price and high reviews. It’s a mere 5-minute walk from St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the décor is over-the-top beautiful in a super Maltese way, and the rooms are spacious and comfortable for Valletta. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Luxury: Valletta has a lot of really cool upscale boutique accommodations and The Saint John is one of the coolest luxury accommodations out there. Huge spacious rooms, an in-house gastro pub, balconies overlooking Valletta city, this hotel is one of the newest in Valletta and is well-worth checking out. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Note: A huge thanks to the Malta Tourism Authority for hosting me during my stay in Malta. All opinions and experiences are 100% my own.