Malta is more than just an archipelago (yes! It’s not just one island!) in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea; it’s a hidden gem and definitely holds more adventures than most people know. At only 300 square km, this island nation packs so much history, architecture, food, and natural beauty that you can spend weeks here.
I spent a long weekend in Malta visiting the main sights including Valletta, Mdina, and Gozo. I could have definitely spent the entire week on this beautiful island nation south of Sicily but I only had a long weekend to explore. I will certainly go back at some point, rent a car, and explore the lesser known areas of the country. If you’re also visiting for a three to four days and want to know exactly what to do, this is the itinerary for you!
Three to Four day Itinerary for Malta
I had a Friday to Monday timeline for my trip to Malta. Was this enough? Probably not but I was able to make the most of my time and explore as much as I could. I structured my trip this way after talking to some local Maltese friends.
Day 1: Arrive in Valletta at night and have dinner
Day 2: Valletta in the morning and Mdina in the afternoon
Day 3: Gozo day trip from Valletta
Day 4: Explore Marsaxloxx in the morning before my 4:30pm flight
Staying in Valletta
As I was not renting a car, I decided to stay in the historical capital of Valletta. This is the main old city of the country and where everyone will visit at some point during their Malta trip. If you don’t plan on renting a car and are only in Malta for a short few days like myself, then I’d highly recommend staying in Valletta. There are many Airbnb and hotel options in the old town.
Map of the itinerary
Getting from Malta Airport to Valletta
The airport is very close to Valletta. There are essentially three modes of transportation: taxi, bus, and shuttles.
Taxis and shuttles
The easiest way to get to the city is of course taxis. They will be waiting outside the terminal and have a flat rate of €20 one way. It’s about a 20 minute drive into the city. Alternatively, you can save a few euros by taking a group shuttle van. These will make multiple stops depending on where the other visitors go and costs €14 one way. This is better for solo travelers but if you’re a couple, you’d save money by using the taxi.
Malta’s most widely used form of public transport, bus routes, is accessible right outside the arrivals terminal of Malta International Airport, and the bus to Valletta is the X4 route. This bus route is available between around 5:56am and 10:55pm and passes from the Airport bus terminus every 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the time of day.
While definitely the cheapest option (€2.00 for a single journey between mid-June and mid-October and €1.50 during the rest of the year), it’s not the quickest. The bus drops off at the main Valletta bus terminal and from here you would have to walk to your accommodations in Valletta or transfer to another bus (at no extra cost) if you’re staying in the surrounding towns.
Getting around Malta
Malta is an island nation that is roughly 20km by 15km
To rent a car or not in Malta?
Many people rent cars in Malta as it is the perfect way to explore Malta’s beautiful coastline and beaches. Car rentals are also super cheap. I saw rates for €10-15 a day for a standard car. However, I think with 3 to 4 days, a car is probably not necessary especially if you’re more keen to explore the old cities. Driving in Valletta for example is completely unnecessary as it is a small city center with everything in walking distance.
Next time, I would definitely rent a car so I could explore the nature part Malta, but I think not having a car is totally doable.
Getting around by Bus
Malta has a pretty extensive network of buses that travel all around the island. I took the bus to visit Mdina, and to go to the Gozo ferry station. Buses all congregate at the main bus terminal right outside of the entrance gates of Valletta. It can be a bit confusing at first as there are three main “areas” for bus pickup. I was walking around the main part of the bus station (terminal A) looking for my buses with no luck. Turns out I just had to keep walking, take a left, and there were terminals B and C where most of the buses I needed were located.
They mostly came on time and for the price of €1.50 a ride, it was hard to beat. You pay on the bus so make sure to have change ready to go.
Day 1-2: Exploring Valletta
Onto the itinerary! I arrived at night on a Friday so there was not much to do as far as sightseeing on the first night. I dropped off my bags and went to have dinner at a quaint Maltese restaurant nearby before going to bed so I could explore bright and early the next morning.
Valletta’s modern day architecture dates back to the 16th century and the city now falls under a UNESCO world heritage sight. Valletta very much feels like an old European city due its Baroque architecture, however you’ll find evidence of British rule, including iconic red telephone booths that you find all over London.
Valletta is impossibly charming
Every alleyway and street is full of charm, so be sure to look for the pregnant windows, a Maltese classic that you might spot in movies that tried to pass off Valletta as another European city. I started my exploration in the morning (around 8am) which was fantastic. The day trippers staying outside of Valletta come later on and it can get very crowded, especially in the summertime.
For the first few hours, I was just completely mesmerized by the impossibly quaint and picturesque architecture of the city. You can find alleyway after alleyway of just cobble stone streets, elaborate baroque buildings, picturesque balconies and everything else you’d think of when visiting an old European city. There are of course many sights to see in Valletta, but I think just walking around the town away from the main tourist area is a total treat. I felt like I was in Game of Thrones the entire time, which funny enough was filmed all over the island!
St John’s Cathedral
St Johns is the obligatory must visit museum/church/cathedral of Valletta. If you like churches/cathedrals in any capacity, then you should visit this one because it is quite spectacular.
The details, colors, art, and richly ornamented Baroque architectures make this place perhaps one of the most visually stunning churches in the world. I’m not an expert in European churches but I have seen a lot of them and I was blown away by the detailing here.
It’s €12 for adults to enter this catehdral and this comes with a free audio guide. If you follow all the guides stops, it will take roughly 1 hour to get through it. Be sure to see Caravaggio’s highly famous painting of the ‘Beheading of St John the Baptist’ located in the side right chapel.
Be sure not to miss the stunning Upper Barrakka Gardens, which give you panoramic views of the Harbor. Originally these gardens were used by the Knight of St. John, who are responsible for building Valletta. Note: The closer you are to the tourist attractions, the more that you’ll find prices for basics will rise.
After enjoying the Upper Barrakka gardens, be sure to pass by the elaborate buildings along Triq-In Nosfsinhar, which mostly belong to the government. Valletta is small and walkable, so meander the narrow streets until you find St. John’s Cathedral, which dates back to the 15th century.
Of particular note is the Palace of the Grand Master, which is the administrative capital of Malta since 1571. Originally used by the Knights of St. John for governing, it was also used using British colonialist times for the government. Now, this building is used by the House of Representatives in Malta. Even if you don’t enter to visit the Armory (8 euros), the exterior is worth admiring.
Be sure to stop off at the Lower Barrakka Gardens for scenic and romantic views over the water, especially around sunset. For the iconic shot of Valletta from the water, consider taking the Sliema ferry.
Eat the Pastizzi
One of the most traditional Maltese dishes is the snack pastizzi. It’s a flaky pastry stuffed with either ricotta cheese, or mashed peas. Nowadays, they also have ones with chicken and mushroom. To me, it is a combination of a croissant and an empanada. It is absolutely delicious and absolutely terrible for you.
They are readily available all over Valletta at little side stores specializing in Pastizzis, all the cafes, and even some restaurants. I would stick to eating a pastizzi at the little stores dedicated to this food as they only cost 0.50 euros each! You can eat them at all times of the day and they were the perfect breakfast snack with a coffee. I ate about 5 of them the first day and felt ill so I do not recommend eating more than 3.
Maltese cuisine is closely tied to the Sicilian region of Italy. Therefore, make sure to also have lots of canoli which you can find anywhere on the street like this delicious one with pistachios!
Eat the Maltese Style Rabbit
Another very traditional Maltese dish is Rabbit. They prepare it numerous ways including fried or in a wine sauce reduction but they are all delicious. I went to a restaurant called Rubino in Valletta that had an absolutely delicious Rabbit dish. Traditionally, it is eaten with hands and the waiters recommend it that way so I couldn’t say no. Highly recommend this!
Day 1-2: Exploring Mdina – The Old Town
The Mdina is the old town in Malta. To me, Valletta already looks like the picturesque old town that you would seek out in an European city but the Mdina of Malta is even more old and even more old town-esque.
From Valletta, take the 51, 52, 53, or 54 bus to the Rabat stop (bus comes every 15 minutes) where you can walk 500 meters to the entrance gates to the Mdina. The bus ride takes 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on which bus you get. The Mdina is very small and you can walk the whole thing in 20 minutes. It’s very tranquil here unlike the hordes in Valletta. There are 300 people that live in Mdina and I only found that out after Googling it as it seemed like there could not possibly be people that lived there.
I spent some time just leisurely strolling through the narrow winding roads chalk full of cobblestone streets and impressive Baroque buildings. Game of Thrones filmed numerous scenes in the Mdina including the beheading of Ned Stark at the end of the first season. I made sure to retrace my steps and find where those locations were as well!
I’d also recommend having a drink at the Fontanella Tea Garden for expansive views of the Maltese countryside.
Day 3: Gozo Day trip
My Maltese friends all told me I had to visit Gozo. Gozo is a smaller island the north of Malta. They are all part of the same country but Gozo offers a much slower, and chilled vibe compared to Malta. My friend told me Gozo is what Malta was like 30 years ago before massive foreign investment and development took over. There is only 30,000 people on the entire island and things run at a different speed.
Gozo was primarily a getaway for people from Malta in the past. Nowadays, Gozo is a frequent visit for tourists, with some completely bypassing Malta and only staying on Gozo. From amazing natural landscapes, to amazing historical sights, and spectacular diving, there is something in Gozo for everyone. Gozo makes for a perfect day trip.
How to get to Gozo from Valletta
I would highly recommend starting this day trip early. With all the things to see on Gozo, I would try and leave Valletta around 8-9am at the latest. From Valletta, it is roughly 1.5-2 hours to get to Gozo.
Take the #41 or #42 bus from the Valletta bus terminal to the last stop (just over an hour) which is the ferry terminal of Cirkewwa. From the ferry terminal, boats leave regularly throughout the day. The ferry is €5 for a round trip ticket (credit cards accepted) and is a 30 minute ferry ride.
The ferry ride offers you stunning views of Malta, Gozo, and Comino. Make sure to go to the upper deck and appreciate the views!
Take the hop on hop off bus
If you’re only visiting for the day and do not have a car, the best way to see the highlights of the island is to take the hop on hop off bus. The island is still quite big and it’s not possible to bike or walk the island and see anything. The public bus is also an option but for those with just a few hours on the island, you will not see as much as you can with this tourist bus.
I bought a ticket on the ferry ride from Malta. They have a stand for the hop on hop off bus which was selling a day ticket for €15. I went in April so not peak season, and they may try to charge you more during the summers. With the hop on hop off bus, it visits 12 different sights around the island and buses come every 45 minutes. This means, you can stop off anywhere, visit for 45 minutes, and take another bus to the next destination (or 90 minutes if you really like it).
Where to go in Gozo
I arrived in Gozo around 11am and immediately started the tour from the port town of Mgarr, Gozo. The last bus is around 6pm so you need to make sure you finish your tour before then or you’ll have to figure out how to use the public transport or take a taxi back to the ferry. Ferries run until late at night.
There are a total of 14 stops and I stopped at a few of them. The highlights in my opinion are Xewkija, Victoria/Rabat, Dwejra, Xlendi, Ggantija Temples and Ramla. The other stops were not so interesting for me but I could also be wrong as well!
Dwejra at the western tip of the island was famous for the azure windows, a stunning natural arch portruding from the bluffs. It unfortunately collapsed in 2017 so there is literally no remnants of the arch anymore. It is still worth a stop to take a canoe trip into the caves as well as if you are a scuba diver, this is where you can dive the infamous Gozo blue hole, not to be confused with the Great Blue Hole of Belize, or the Blue Hole in Dahab!
Day 4: Exploring Marsaxlokk
Depending on your day, I recommend leaving Gozo earlier to have time to head towards Marsaxlokk, one of the gems of Malta that you cannot miss during your three to four day trip to Malta. Even if you only have a few hours, this place is worth it (and a few hours is all you really need).
It will take roughly 30-45 minutes from Valletta making it a quick little half day trip. The seafood and fish available here is the best according to my Airbnb host and Maltese friends. Makes sense as this is where all the fisherman are!
Marsaxlokk is an easy day trip from Valletta if you have an evening flight and prefer to stay in Valletta, otherwise you can do it as a half day trip prior to departing for the airport. Among the countless other amazing view points, add Marsaxlokk to the “Most Instagrammbale places in the world” to your list. If it matters to you that is!
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